Every end of the world tale needs the antichrist. It’s not really the end of the world without him.
For those of you that may not know, the antichrist is kind of the evil mirror image of Christ, as the name suggests. The antichrist is mentioned in the Bible several times, along with other antichrists, who are connected to him. It’s not strictly stated what the antichrist(s) relationship is to Satan. We only know that the antichrist is a bad person who will do many bad things.
In our pop culture, however, the antichrist is always directly tied to Satan. This isn’t a complete invention of pop culture; though no explicit relationship is stated in the Bible, the relationship between Satan and the antichrist is in many Christian traditions. Some think the antichrist is Satan incarnated in human form, much like Jesus was God incarnated in human form. Others think the antichrist is autonomous from Satan, but rather is Satan’s son following after his father in the ways of evil. However, this leads to an interesting theme that’s been popping up in our pop culture. Let’s take a look!
There are a lot of movies with adult antichrists, but I don’t want to talk about those. Why? Because they’re boring. Adult antichrists are always evil, mustache-twirling villains with little to no personality. Who wants to read a post about that? No one, that’s who. I would like to talk about the antichrist’s evolution in pop culture though. You see, somewhere along the line someone realized that if the antichrist was in human form and was supposed to be this mirror image to Christ, well then, he had to grow up like Christ, right?
The Omen is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. It takes that basic idea that people sometimes speculate on: if you met someone who you knew would grow up to be evil could/would you kill them when they were an innocent child? Damian, our little antichrist, is not an innocent child, I don’t even think any part of him is human, but to most of the adults around him he appears to be, thus dealing with the moral debate of the above question.
Some brief background information: Robert Thorn, the U.S. ambassador to England, and his wife Katherine suffer a tragedy when Katherine’s baby is born dead, but a “kind” priest points out that another baby lost its mother. He convinces Robert to switch the babies and spare his wife the sorrow of losing their baby. Thorn agrees and begins raising Damien. Many creepy deaths happen around Damien, along with having a creepy nanny, and acting violently when he’s near churches. Eventually, after much convincing from priests and a photographer, and after the death of his wife, Thorn finally realizes that Damien is the antichrist and tries to kill him. He fails and is shot by police and Damien is taken to live with the president of the United States who was conveniently a close friend of Thorns.
Though the main characters in The Omen are unsure and often deny that Damien is the antichrist, it’s only done to build the suspense of the audience. The evidence the viewer is presented with makes it extremely clear that Damien is the antichrist. The audience even sees moments when Damien is simply alone with his nanny that more than reveal his evil nature. There is never a moment where one feels that Thorn is hallucinating things.
In this way, the character of the antichrist doesn’t develop much from the adult version. He is still pure evil, but he’s a little kid. This did have one major development however, the idea that the antichrist could grow up with a human family and maybe even have a human mother. This idea allowed for many interesting changes in the character of the antichrist.
I like to think that people are good people and that human beings are somehow special. I think this comes, in many ways, with the territory of being a Christian. Humans (also everything ever) was created by God and thus basically good, and since humans were created in God’s image and likeness we have a special place in creation. To me this naturally evokes many humanist concepts. All people regardless of religion tend to believe there is something special about humanity (of course we’re also all humans, so I guess we’re kind of bias).
Humanism is a major theme in Supernatural. Pitting the very human Sam and Dean against monsters, demons, and angels. Humanity, despite all its flaws and weaknesses, is what makes Sam and Dean so strong.
Another major theme is free will. Humans have the distinct ability to make choices that these other beings don’t, at least not without consequences.
These two themes come into play in the evolution of the antichrist. If the antichrist is not evil incarnate but simply born of an evil being and a human than the antichrist has to have that same spark of humanity and the same free will. In the same way that Christ could have chosen not to start his ministry and die on a cross, the antichrist could choose not to bring about the reign of the evil one.
In Supernatural, Sam and Dean come to a town where lies children believe (the tooth fairy, your face will freeze that way, etc) begin coming true. They discover this is because of a boy named Jesse, who is the product of a demon (notably not Satan) and a human woman the demon was possessing. Jesse doesn’t know any of this. Nor does he know he has powers. Castiel, the angel, realizing the boy is the antichrist tries to kill him despite Sam believing that Jesse could choose not to be evil. Castiel fails and is followed by Sam and Dean, who want Jesse to choose to fight with them, and then Jesse’s demon father who is trying to convince Jesse to join the devil. After the truth is revealed to Jesse, the boy makes a decision. He gets rid of the demon, puts the town back to normal, and uses his powers to disappear. Choosing not to fight for either side but remain out of the war all together.
Again this shows the unique development of a young innocent antichrist who is half human and thus, basically good, using his free will to make the correct decision. A decision not to fight all together. In this way Jesse removes himself entirely from the script both Heaven and Hell have placed on him, which is perhaps his greatest power of all.
But Supernatural isn’t the first to write a humanistic tale involving the antichrist.
How much do I love Good Omens? So much! Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, tells the story of the end of the world. The story focuses primarily on an angel and a demon who have grown attached to the world, and a young antichrist who has grown up with a normal middle class family in England. The story clearly is at least partly satirizing The Omen. Adam, the antichrist, is meant to grow up with a wealthy American family in America, but a mix up in the hospital (run by Satanic nuns) causes little Adam to grow up in a completely average family and environment.
Adam realizes he has powers and at first is tempted to use them. In an otherwise hilarious book one scene comes off as actually being pretty spooky. Adam uses his powers to control his friend’s will. This only lasts a minute or two before he realizes how wrong what he’s doing is. Adam’s powers allow him to figure out how the world will end, and he and his young friends leave to try and stop the apocalypse. Adam faces down the four horsemen (including Death himself), Beelzebub, and the Metatron. Adam, when faced with these supernatural beings, seems genuinely annoyed with them and determined to defend earth and humanity.
“I don’t see what’s so t’riffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.”
Good Omens really focuses on humanistic ideals. Adam, despite being the literal son of Satan, grows up a normal human child with good parents, friends, and a great life. He sees the virtue of humanity and is annoyed by Heaven and Hell for trying to make humanity into something it isn’t. Adam himself shows the virtues of being human by living just a normal life and being able to make choices, and the right choices at that.
The end of the world focuses a lot on good people and bad people, the Saved and the Damed, but these more humanist versions of the antichrist ask a fundamental question: What is the real sin? Perhaps it’s not being human. People are created as people, but then try not to act like people because they think that what they are is flawed and wrong.
The fun thing about shows like Supernatural and books like Good Omens is that they explore what really makes humanity what it is what makes them good, using the narrative of the end of days to show how great people can be and important humanity really is.
Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Humanity at the End of the World
Tune in next time and get some religion!