Disclaimer: This is not a theological discussion.
Human perception is a funny thing.
We tend to be pattern-seeking and often find patterns and shapes where there are none; this phenomenon has a name, pareidolia. A few examples of pareidolia are the appearance of faces or facial features in an inanimate object, or the shape of an animal in the clouds. Whether a sub-category or separate but related phenomenon, apophenia is also common perceptual miscue; the tendency to finding meaning in random sensory input.
One of the most common examples of apophenia is the obsession with the number 666.
If the number 666 been an obsession for you, you likely scoffed at the allegation that the number is in any way ‘random.’ To be fair, mathematically speaking, 666 is a triangular number (as is 2016, FYI). The dark, satanic imagery that the “number of the beast” invokes can bring believers in evil and demonic forces to a level of fearful concern that borders on obsession.
But that’s just it, you have to not only know the backstory, but also believe it.
In the New Testament Bible book of Revelation chapter 13, verse 18 it reads:
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Right, well, depending who you ask. Some Christians with an ever-zealous concern for accuracy have pointed to the recently (1895 C.E.) unearthed Oxyrhynchus manuscripts (dated 300 C.E.) which translate the number as 616. This is, essentially, irrelevant for this discussion. We are not concerned in debating the Bible, but rather illustrating a very pernicious case of finding patterns where there are none.
‘The Mark of the Beast’ is not the only pattern of ill-repute, or renown of course. Another example of pattern-seeking and obsession plays out in the Darren Aronofsky movie Pi. The movie explores the obsession with numbers, the ease to which an idea becomes crystallized within the psyche, and the role religion can play in legitimizing and reinforcing the obsession; in this case a ‘perfect’ 216 digit number, the ‘true name of God.’
So, if the number is meant to represent something good or holy (i.e. the 216 digit number in the movie Pi) their tends to be an obsession with perfectionism (I once knew someone who was certain the “perfect number” was 22). The obsession with the number 666 comes from the opposite; an obsession with pure evil, and an obsession to avoid evil at all cost thus aligning one’s self with all that is good and holy (it is a perfect time to mention that excessive pareidolia has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder).
If, like someone who views the world in terms of ‘good and evil,’ you eschew all potential 666s and stay steadfast in your resolve as some extreme Fundamentalist Christians may opt for, it is likely that you will soon find that, like Max in Pi, if you look for 666 everywhere then you will find it everywhere. What results is not the banishment of evil but, rather, absolute obsession.
“When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere.”
Google, Visa, Disney, Monster Energy Drinks, Taco Bell, Mitsubishi Motors, Coca-Cola, etc., etc. 666 is everywhere, apparently. Need more amazing examples? Here’s a video.
If you are certain that all these images represent a finite collection of possible 666 images, including the “Mark of the Beast” hand signal, the potential to take the leap to anything or anyone being satanic increases exponentially when the use of Hebrew and/or Greek are employed.
The above is an example of Greek numerology-to-symbolism work around that was used to connect jihadi extremists with the ‘Mark of the Beast.’ This is a bit far-fetched, but I doubt many would argue on behalf of a jihadist, but what about Jesus Christ himself? the Chi-Xi-Sigma combination (pictured above), using similar numerological logic, has been linked to the common christogram or abbreviate for the Christ, IHS.
The logic that links Jesus Christ to Satan (essentially saying Jesus is satanic) through numerology is necessarily flawed. Of course, most people aren’t looking to prove that Christ is the Antichrist (as this link claims). The reality is, those who are looking to demonize that which they detest will find a means to do so. No more apparent example can be shown than this attempt to vilify Barack Obama (one of many, of course) through this same set of false logic.
If you need a bit more evidence, here is the webpage that “proves” Obama is the Antichrist.
Of course, this is not so much an attempt to vilify Barack Obama, Coca-Cola, Disney and Jesus but, rather, the very pattern-seeking that is in human nature set to the coordinates defined by a specific interpretation of a specific religion.
Another permutation of pareidolia plays out in the ‘sacred numerological message’ of 11:11 (often depicted in this clock type-face). As with extreme Fundamentalist Christianity, so too with Uri Geller and the New Age consciousness.
Along with 666, and 11:11, other double-digits and repeat patterns have been accused of a sacred nature in various numerology circles. The ultimate deciding factor on whether you dwell fearfully on the number 666 or think 11:11 somehow signals a New Age awakening seems to be nothing more than the epistemological worldview you have adopted.
Pattern recognition is one of the important mental tasks humans developed as a means for survival in the wild. Changes in our surroundings often meant a threat. A pair of eyes glinting in the forest could be a predator. A change in wind direction could imperil or herald nearby food sources. This pattern seeking only grew more acute and nuanced as humans advanced into and through the Neolithic and into modernity. Patterns of life and death morphed into good and evil and may well morph again as Humanity continues to embrace science over superstition. It is not likely that pattern seeking behavior in humans will cease to be the norm but, hopefully, that intense capacity to seek patterns can continue to be harnessed (as it has been increasingly throughout the Modern Era) into a force for improved health and well-being for as many as possible.