The Devil and Jerry Falwell
Chatting with the late reverend about Judaism and the Antichrist.
Falwell is right: Evangelical preachers are constantly accusing the Jews of harboring the Antichrist.
I asked Falwell if he knew the actual identity of the Antichrist. No, he said. "People might say, it's a certain person, it's Henry Kissinger, like that, but the Lord does not let us know that."
So there's a chance, then, that I'm the Antichrist?
Falwell chuckled a condescending chuckle. "It's almost amusing, that question. Of course not. I know that you're not."
"The Antichrist will be a world leader, he'll have supernatural powers," he said.
He got me there—I have no supernatural powers. I can't even drive a stick shift.
I pressed him further on the identity of the Antichrist, but Falwell wouldn't play. "We'll know the Antichrist when he arrives," he said.
Most evangelical leaders, in fact, refuse to publicly guess the name of the Antichrist—though, as Falwell suggests, Kissinger is a perennial favorite, at least among those evangelicals who believe the Antichrist will be Jewish. For most of their history, Christian leaders had been content to ascribe the characteristics of the Antichrist to the Jewish people as a whole. "Ever since the 2nd century CE, the very beginning of the Antichrist legend, Christians have associated Jews with everything unholy," Andrew Gow, who teaches Christian history at the University of Alberta, told me. In the minds of early Christian leaders, the church was the new Israel; God's covenant with the Jews was obsolete. Therefore, the Jews who remained on Earth were there to serve devilish purposes, Gow explained.
There are plenty of evangelical thinkers who differ with Falwell, who believe, like LaHaye, that the Antichrist will be a gentile who rises out of Europe. "The Antichrist is supposed to make a peace treaty with Israel," Ed Hindson, the author of Is the Antichrist Alive and Well?, explained. "Why would a Jew make a peace treaty with a Jewish state?"
Hindson suggested that Satan will make the Antichrist the leader of the European Union—the revived Roman Empire, eternal enemy of Israel—though Hindson disputed one popular idea advocated by Monte Judah, an Oklahoma-based prophecy-teacher, that Prince Charles is the Antichrist.
"There's no way Prince Charles is the Antichrist," Hindson said. "Satan can do better than that."
In his book, Hindson runs through a list of potential candidates. Bill Clinton is there, of course, as well as Saddam Hussein and Ronald Wilson Reagan (six letters in each of his three names. Get it?).
Of course, none of these men are gay.
"It says in the Bible that the Antichrist will have 'no regard for women,' and so many evangelicals interpret that to mean that he will be a homosexual," Hindson said, though he added that he's not entirely convinced.
This idea—the Antichrist as gay—strikes a chord with many evangelicals, just as the idea that the Antichrist is Jewish strikes a chord.
I gradually came to see how far-fetched it was to think that I might be the Antichrist. I'm not gay, I'm not famous, I wouldn't know a euro if I found one in my wallet.
Then it struck me: Barry Diller is the Antichrist.
There's no way to know for sure. But if you wake up one morning to read that Barry Diller is the head of the European Union (and that David Geffen is his deputy), well, remember where you read it first.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.