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Opinion: Trying to decipher the ‘mark of the beast’

Three recent articles brought Frankenstein and Revelation to mind. Not the crazy monster movie stuff but the Romantic Mary Shelley 1818 novel about the tragedy that comes from playing God, and the fiery end the Bible prophesies for those who turn away from God.

Of course, modern medicine has been replacing lost or worn-out body parts and generally delaying the Grim Reaper on his rounds for some time now. So, is therapeutic gene editing really fundamentally different?

On Aug. 2, The New York Times reported that scientists have successfully edited genes in human embryos to protect from disease-causing mutations. Good news, I suppose, but, a la Shelley, The Times warns about the moral risks of a technology that can be used to design smarter, stronger or, perhaps, prettier people.

A couple days later, USA Today told of 40 employees of a Wisconsin company who volunteered to have microchips implanted in their hands. The chip facilitates security and computer access. The first thing I thought about was the wisdom of surrendering privacy and, consequently, personal freedom to a technology that continuously shackles us to its seeming miracles. But, the article doesn’t really say much about that, focusing instead on “the mark of the beast” described in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.

That “mark” is the number 666, the number 6 being a symbol of imperfection (one short of 7, the Days of Creation in Genesis) repeated three times. Thus, 666 signifies human imperfection — magnified three-fold. It symbolizes what we become when we place ourselves outside creation, beyond the word of God. The number 666 concerns the buying and selling of things (“no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark”), in a utilitarian, materialistic world. In the story, after a time, God finally lets loose seven avenging angels who pour seven bowls of his wrath into the earth, and those who took the mark are cast into fire.

The Kansas City Star on Aug. 6 joined the party with a headline, “Bionic age: Body hackers get chips under their Skin.” It reports that one guy gladly accepted an implant so in the future he won’t need train tickets. Another said with these chips he’ll be able to throw away his wallet. Yet another said he’s got five implants, “mostly for functional reasons but one just for fun.” The article concludes by citing “high-profile proponents of implants including Tesla and SpaceX owner Elon Musk” as saying “that humans must reach greater symbiosis with computers in order to stay relevant in a world of artificial intelligence.”

Symbiosis means “interaction between two organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.” So, taking Musk at his word, machines are a competing organism with which we must necessarily merge in order to survive. We chip our pets to help us find them, but if we chip ourselves we leave a trail of information that can be tracked for commercial purposes or worse, just like with smart-anything technology. But unlike your credit card or cellphone, the chip never leaves your person.

Shelley’s story is Romantic, an organic warning against the arrogance of human reason. She was saying we are just a part of this world, can never step outside of it, and must remain humble in the presence of the power we can achieve through science and reason. There are more ancient codes that must be considered, more ancient warnings against human pride. Exegesis is the analytical explanation or interpretation of a text, such as the Bible, to unbundle its meaning. If we unbundle the meaning of Revelation, as a human story, we find a story with consequences strikingly similar to Frankenstein.

Musk is saying that to avoid obsolescence we must merge ourselves into the machines we’ve created, genetically redesigning ourselves to fit utilitarian needs, implanting features to make our interface with our machines more functional. Merely an implant, or the mark of the beast? While we transform ourselves into the monsters Shelley feared and the God of Revelation abhors. Can a thing we’ve designed and created be a being? If so, is it a human being? If we alter ourselves, and design our children, then the outcome, our future, must be equally self-limiting. If ever we dare to step through the looking glass and enter that world, unlike Alice, we’ll never find our way back out.

— William Skepnek is a longtime resident of Lawrence.


Steve Hicks

Very well put, William !

It's rare to see a rational, thoughtful, consideration of the very real, and very-present, meaning of "the mark of the beast."

Thank you for your insight.

9 months, 1 week ago


Kendall Simmons

Rational? Thoughtful? "Very real, and very-present, meaning of 'the mark of the beast'???" Good grief.

Mary Shelley wrote a novel. So did some guy named John. A novel he (or someone) called "The Book of Revelation". Just like L. Ron Hubbard wrote a book and tons of people fell for it and started a cult religion, so did tons of people fall for Revelation.

But I've often wondered why "6" (well, "666") is assumed to be the magic number, considering that this almighty, all-powerful god had to rest on the 7th day. And, nope, Skepneck's writing "the number 6 being a symbol of imperfection (one short of 7, the Days of Creation in Genesis)" makes no sense for this all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty god. Why should there be imperfection involved at all? Sounds moe like an excuse than anything else.

Now I understand why their god becoming tired could be seen as a sign of imperfection. But, if that's what it means, then why worship this particular god??? And, if this god WANTS you chipped, then shouldn't you happily go along with His wishes???? Yeesh.

9 months, 1 week ago


Bob Smith

Much ado about nothing.

9 months, 1 week ago


Steve Hicks

As you like it, BS1...if you're completely certain of your own infallible astuteness.

(P.S. You shouldn't be.)

9 months, 1 week ago


Calvin Anders

And all this is happening just days before a total solar eclipse is to sweep across our great nation. (Cue dramatic chipmunk video)

9 months, 1 week ago


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