Beastly mini-marks

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The mark of the beast can be polarising. Adventists get caught up in discussions of whether something is or isn’t a feature of the mark. Or whether talking about it puts people off.

According to Revelation 14:6-12 the three angels’ messages about the beast and its coercive mark are meant for the whole world. But for fear of misfiring we’re in danger of not firing at all.

While we’re distracted internally on questions of messaging about the mark of the beast, the world is running headlong into coercive forms of government on several fronts. JK Rowling recently flouted a new hate speech law in Scotland, daring the police to arrest her. She tweeted supporting women’s rights and freedom of speech while going directly against the law’s supposed protection of trans people from the newly implied hate crime of misgendering.

Pockets outside of Adventism have their own conversations about the mark of the beast, often going down questionable rabbit holes. Meanwhile Adventists are debating internally just exactly how and why issues such as freedom of speech or bodily autonomy aren’t what the mark of the beast is all about.

We risk missing the point. Even worse, missing a massive opportunity. Our message of freedom against totalitarianism risks being neglected right when its clarion call is needed most.

Let me back up.

Humanity faces dreadful emerging threats. Artificial intelligence is a frightening new frontier; as is the social media quagmire of disinformation and misinformation. Not to mention mental illness and social isolation—paradoxically perverse outcomes of digital social networking! Pandemics have new potential thanks to the pressures of human technology, development, population densities and movement. Armed conflict and hostilities are possible in a plethora of new dimensions. Environmental disasters such as climate change loom as an existential threat in the minds of many. And social justice movements champion diversity, equity and inclusion on multiple issues.

It is reasonable for governments to respond to all these dangers. Whether specific responses are actually coercive or totalitarian is a debate I won’t try to resolve. Suffice to say, many and prominent voices around the world believe governments have strayed into coercion and totalitarianism, the opening example being just one of many. Citizens are rediscovering the value of personal freedoms and rights over collective rules and action in large and growing freedom movements around the globe.

I say ”rediscovering” as it was back in the Reformation, Enlightenment and establishment of the New World, where these values became the bedrock of Western civilisation. Freedoms and rights are codified particularly well in America’s Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights–known collectively as the Charters of Freedom.

The freedoms of Western liberal democracy have largely been taken for granted over our lifetimes. Few of us in the West have experienced anything else.

The emergent threats outlined above, and today’s innovative technological options for mass surveillance, lend themselves to totalitarian and coercive solutions. It’s understandable to optimistically anticipate the future as a “brave new world” (intentionally borrowing from Aldous Huxley) rather than veering off to Orwellian totalitarianism. But that’s precisely the point of this article.

Consider this question: Will the mark of the beast come as a novel imposition on a functioning liberal society, or will it be introduced as the next ”logical” step of authoritarian responses to genuine global threats? If it was to ”come from nowhere”, the chances of its control being effective would be minimal. It seems much more likely that the mark of the beast enters as merely the next ratcheting of an increasingly coercive government control apparatus.

To be effective at forcing and controlling worship, the mark of the beast needs a context in which that type of response to societal threats is considered appropriate. Unless a hostile dictator can seize power while avoiding nuclear Armageddon, the consent of the governed remains important for the foreseeable future. Ellen White wrote in The Great Controversy that the people will push governments to enforce the mark of the beast.

Revelation 13 and 14 foretell restricted freedom of commerce based on worship choices, culminating in no freedom to exist. God’s way, on the other hand, is based on freedom (Galatians 5:1, John 8:32,36).

The transitionary steps from the freedom we currently know to the coercion of the mark of the beast are not prophesied in detail. It seems reasonable to anticipate an incremental transition. Significant steps may already be behind us.

Adventists sometimes point to obscure Sunday laws to warn about the mark of the beast. But there are more compelling preparatory steps in the transition from freedom to coercion in areas other than in worship. Forced versus free worship is the end game.

The world has already seen seismic shifts away from freedom of speech. In France a new law prohibits misinformation about a particular medical intervention–or even questioning it. No, loss of freedom of speech isn’t the mark of the beast, but it is a beastly mini-mark.

Use of cash is rapidly diminishing. Central bank digital currencies are innocuous in themselves, but they make totalitarianism much easier to implement. Removing cash paves the way for the trade restrictions foretold in Revelation 13:17.

Environmental and climate protection are increasingly issues of public consciousness and action. Governments may conceivably consider reducing freedoms in personal travel, consumption and emissions, given that 76 per cent of respondents to a 2021 international Kantar Public survey would accept stricter environmental regulations.

The social justice landscape is increasingly complex, often putting individual freedoms at risk. Transgender rights claims seem to clash with women’s rights, creating a minefield for those caught in the middle. Those highlighting the inconsistencies risk cancel culture in the court of public opinion on top of substantial legal consequences.

The tools and mindset are already moving into place for the mark of the beast to be welcomed and effective.

We may not have authoritative insight into the truth or virtue of these threats and causes outside of the domain of worship. In some cases ”freedom” from government response may not be the answer. In many cases, however, there is potential value in taking a stand for freedom against control and coercion, highlighting the relevance of the three angels’ messages.

The COVID pandemic has normalised societal lockdowns, prohibition of worship gatherings and mandated medical interventions. None of this is the mark of the beast. But repeating this disclaimer misses the point. COVID policy responses helped to normalise government control over domains where civilisation has, over the past 200 years at least, been predominately free.

Consider three reasons for speaking publicly against beastly mini-marks before the real mark of the beast appears.

Firstly, it habituates standing against coercion as a matter of principle. Character and courage are developed by speaking counter-cultural truth in love amid increasingly troublesome and authoritarian times.

Secondly, society benefits by preserving freedoms where possible. While the Bible foretells loss of freedoms we shouldn’t simply roll over and accept coercion.

Thirdly and most importantly: when we find our voice in sounding the freedom call of the three angels’ messages, we give God the chance to use us to reach those looking for answers. Many who do not yet know the truth of God’s love are looking for an alternative to coercive societal controls. We shouldn’t hide the three angels’ messages until Sabbath worship freedom is threatened. Their gospel message of love and freedom is relevant now! Multitudes will resonate with the truth and love of God’s government based on freedom, in contrast to increasingly totalitarian earthly government.

God’s principles of love and freedom are applicable for every area of life, not just the specifics of the mark of the beast on how we worship. Let’s broadcast God’s end-time message of love. The clarity of its freedom call is needed now!

Daniel Livingston has a PhD and leads a science and research team at a large utility in the Hunter region of NSW. He attends Newcastle University Adventist Church with his family.

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