This Tuesday, if you're filling out an application or writing a check, you might think twice when you write the common abbreviation for that date. For the first time in 100 years, the calendar will turn to 6/6/06. Don't think it's escaped the attention of a few religious believers--and a lot of marketers. Twentieth Century Fox decided to launch the remake of "The Omen" (about the Devil and his tyke) on June 6. Ann Coulter's book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" launches on that date, as does the new CD from the heavy-metal band Slayer. There have been reports of women who plan on inducing labor to avoid the date--and of some chapels that are being booked for weddings just because of it.
Why all the attention to 666? According to the Book of Revelation, 666 is the "number of the beast," or the sign of the Devil: "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six" (13:18). Some Christians believe the number will be branded on people's foreheads or right arms as an indication of the end times. In the ancient world, scholars say, six was "imperfect" because it is one shy of seven, which was the number of God. Three sixes would, therefore, be very imperfect, even evil. Fear of 666, also known as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, has even gripped the rich and famous. When Ronald and Nancy Reagan retired to Bel-Air, Calif., in 1989, they bought the house at 666 St. Cloud Road--and changed it to 668.
Of course, while marketers would like you to think otherwise, many Christians couldn't care less. Terry James is one of the Biblical literalists behind raptureready.com, which rates the intensity of different predictors--floods, famines, plagues, etc.--to calculate the Rapture's proximity. June 6, 2006, barely moved the needle. "It means absolutely nothing as far as prophecy is concerned," James says. Prof. Michael Barkun, author of "A Culture of Conspiracy," speculates that many believers have developed "date fatigue" because Y2K was such a disappointment, apocalypse-wise. Anxieties may have been also quelled by recent historical research indicating that the Bible may have been mistranslated, and the real number of the beast may be 616. In terms of dates, 6/1/06 was last Thursday. So if you had a really bad day or became convinced your boss was the Devil--well, now you know why.