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The Antichrist is a deep and profoundly complicated theological concept, but we'll take a stab at explaining it here for you.

See, there's Jesus Christ, then there's "anti."

So the Antichrist is the opposite of Christ.

Hope we didn't lose you there.

Despite its seeming simplicity, you'd be hard pressed to find a quorum of true believers who could give you a consistent picture of what being the Antichrist entails. But there are certain broad strokes which most Christians can agree on:

  • He's bad.
  • He's the opposite of Christ.
  • He's evil.
  • He's usually a "he."
  • His arrival is an indication that the Apocalypse is at hand.
  • He's rotten.
  • He'll lead the armies of evil against the armies of good during Armageddon.
  • He's really, really, really... Well, you get the picture.
  • You probably won't know who he is until it's too late.
Once you move beyond these talking points, the discussion resembles what you might hear after a showing of "Mullholland Drive." No one quite agrees about how to explain things.

The Antichrist is a concept extracted (through some torturous interpretation) from the Book of Revelations, the final chapter of the Christian Bible, in which God wakes up, sees Patrick Duffy toweling off in the shower and realizes it was all just a dream.

Each different Christian movement has its own criteria for determining who is most properly considered to be Antichrist material, with all of these often contradictory claims purportedly based in Revelations. "Purportedly" is an important word to remember here, since (just to take one example) the word Antichrist doesn't actually appear in Revelations (it's used in a couple of epistles purportedly by the Apostle John, who is also purportedly the author of Revelations).

Sometimes these standards have to do with who most egregiously violates the moral code of the movement in question, but there are also a variety of interpretive points having to do with specific mechanical clues (like a game of Myst for very high stakes).

Depending on who you talk to, these clues can include:

  • Birthplace: The Antichrist will be born somewhere. "Where" is open to debate. Popular candidates include Babylon (which is conveniently located in Iraq), Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Rome. Some people do little numerological games with longitude and latitude to support the candidate of their choosing.
  • Astrology: This category generally includes a host of speculations regarding unusual phenomena in the sky coinciding with the birth of the Antichrist. These include but are not limited to lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, comets, supernovae and UFOs.
  • Power: It takes a lot of bureaucracy to run the Antichrist enterprise, so he needs to be in charge of something. This provides a convenient excuse to (literally) demonize powerful people whom one resents. Feel free to designate your least favorite public figure as the Antichrist. Go on, try it! It's fun!
  • Ideology: If it follows that the Antichrist is antiChristian, then naturally he's going to be peddling a line of moral goods that offends the right-minded Christian viewpoint to which you happen to subscribe. That means, depending on your perspective, that the Antichrist will be either Muslim, Roman Catholic, Satanist, secular humanist, Presbyterian, Buddhist, Hindu, Moonie, Hari Krishna, Crowleyite, pacifist, liberal Democrat, Communist, gay, a pornographer, pro-choice, French, Mormon or possibly an MTV employee.
  • Numerology: The number of the Beast, as everyone knows, is 666, which is in fact specified in Revelations. How that number manifests itself exactly is anyone's guess, and the fun thing about numbers is that they will do just about anything you want them to if you play with them long enough. If you're really committed to a particular candidate, you're not really trying unless you can hang a 666 on him.
  • Physical markings: The Antichrist will have some sort of physical sign on his body, the "Mark of the Beast," which could be anything from a UPC barcode to a Satan-shaped mole to a birthmark shaped like "666" (as per Damien in "The Omen"). Just about anything will do, as long as it's evil.
Needless to say, there's a lot of wiggle room in the definitions here. What's great about that is you can pretty much pick the person who offends you the most and pin the "Antichrist" label on him pretty easily. Leading Antichrist contenders tend to be very "flavor of the month" (just ask Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson), but here's a short list of perennial favorites: Being deceased doesn't automatically disqualify you, although it makes the "leading the forces of evil into Armageddon" thing somewhat problematic. However it is preferred that the candidate be alive, or even better, the subject of an unconvincing death with no recoverable body.

Nostradamus offers a fairly detailed list of criteria for Antichrist as well. He'll have three water signs on his astrological chart, he will rule a mighty empire, he will come to "the Romans" through Iraq (George W Bush lacks the astrological credentials, in case you're starting to wonder) . There might be a solar eclipse to announce his arrival or some kind of comet. Maybe he'll be born in Greece. Kinda. OK, this isn't very helpful.

Unfortunately, like most apocalyptic Bible prophecy, odds are good you'll be long dead before you can figure out that you shook hands with the Antichrist that one time. On the bright side, if you yourself happen to be the Antichrist, your dog will probably clue you in. Good boy!

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