Numbered by the Beast

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if we look with a fresh mind, a news report can reveal to us just
how much we have already given up, how complacent and unquestioning
we have become, and how comfortable we are wearing the chains forged
for us.

February 20 article from the London Telegraph reports that
clerics and theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church met "to
decide whether changes to Russia's tax system heralded the coming
of the Antichrist." The reason for this extraordinary meeting?
The introduction of an individual number for each taxpayer.

to the report, the conference sought to allay the fears of an imminent
apocalypse. Thousands of believers are boycotting the tax codes
and some dioceses are in a panic over the changes. The source of
this remarkable resistance is a passage in the Book of Revelation
prophesying that the Beast "causeth all, both small and great,
rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand
or in their foreheads." The believers denounce the tax numbers
as the mark of Satan and "a humiliation of man's dignity incompatible
with the holy design of man in God's image and form."

story did not receive much play here in the Land of Mammon, where
the Social Security Administration's "numbered from birth"
initiative proceeds apace, and an individual's SSN increasingly
becomes the key link to more and more commercial and government
databases. No, no such qualms from this nation's clerics
and theologians; no need to question the nature of this government
based on the revelations of the nature of evil in scripture. No
silly superstitions here. We are a pragmatic people, and readily
recognize the administrative necessity of accepting and using the
"name" given to us by the State in lieu of the one given
us by our parents. Come, let's enjoy a chuckle at the fears of these
simpleton Russians.

is not the first occasion, however, that orthodox believers have
resisted numbering by the State. The former Soviet Union labored
mightily to free its people from the superstition of religion. The
masses could have no legitimate need for opiates in the Worker's
Paradise. Stalin, especially, was so impatient to hasten the withering
of the State foretold by Marxist-Leninist doctrine that he imprisoned
hundreds of thousands of Christians in the labor and death camps
— to help clear the way.

was the practice in these camps to assign each prisoner a number
and require him or her to sew it on in three places on his newly
issued prison garb. In The
Gulag Archipelago
, Solzhenitsyn documents a remarkable case
of resistance to this practice:

again, they quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis a practice
which had proved valuable to them — the substitution of a number
for the prisoner's name, his "I," his individuality,
so that the difference between one man and another was a digit
more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures. . . . .

people for whom the numbers were indeed the most diabolical of
the camp's devices were the devout women members of certain religious
sects. There were some of these in the Women's Camp Division near
the Suslovo station (Kamyshlag) — about a third of the women there
were imprisoned for their religion. Now, it is plainly foretold
in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 13,Verse 16) that u2018it causes
all . . . to be marked on the right hand or the forehead.'

women refused, therefore, to wear numbers — the mark of Satan!
Nor would they give signed receipts (to Satan, of course) in return
for regulation dress. The camp authorities . . . showed laudable
firmness! They gave orders that the women should be stripped
to their shifts, and have their shoes taken from them . .
. , thus enlisting winter's help in forcing these senseless fanatics
to accept regulation dress and sew on their numbers. But even
with the temperature below freezing, the women walked about the
camp in their shifts and barefoot, refusing to surrender their
souls to Satan!

with this spirit (the spirit of reaction, needless to say; enlightened
people like ourselves would never protest so strongly about such
a thing!), the administration capitulated and gave their clothing
back to the sectarians, who put it on without numbers! (Yelena
Ivanova Usova wore hers for the whole ten years; her outer garments
and underwear rotted and fell to pieces on her body, but the accounts
office could not authorize the issue of any government property
without a receipt from her!)"

Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Volume 3, Westview Press,
1998, pp. 58, 66-67.)

that! Here was a group of women who, infused with the passion of
belief, perceived their world in the light cast by scripture, and
so knew that the desire to number them revealed that their government
was — the Beast! And then acted upon that belief for the sake of
their immortal souls! Not for a day, not for a week or a month,
not to "make a statement" or for the sake of the evening
news, but until the end of their sentences — or death. This they
perceived, this they acted upon, while Western intelligentsia
and academics were busy orating and penning encomiums to, and apologies
for, Communism as the greatest, most moral system yet devised for
instituting the brotherhood of man on earth! What greater illustration
of the difference between belief in God, and belief in Man as the
Measure of All Things?

we have some indication of just what it is to resist the State.
Solzhenitsyn's story perhaps gives some clue that the Russian orthodox
clerics have in essence capitulated to the use of tax numbers. The
theologians do not say that the desire to number citizens indicates
that the government is Evil incarnate and call for resistance. Instead,
they criticize the proposal on the basis of the more mealy-mouthed,
secular humanistic claim that the numbering system does not respect
the "dignity" of man.

man's "dignity" is a thin reed to hang resistance upon.
Few things are more quickly bargained away. Besides, it seems that
our "dignity" has a remarkably compressible quality, always
shrinking to a new level that is just below the reach of the latest
encroachments by the State, so that we do not have to take action
— just yet. No, that day will come when some new encroachment crosses
the line — as yet undrawn. So the State wishes to number us. Pffft!
Big deal. It's just a number for administrative convenience, to
distinguish me from all the other persons, past, present or future,
who have the same or a similar name. Surely my dignity does not
inhere in so little a thing as use of my name! Call me what you
like; I will use any name you like. It's not the real me.

those who require a more "objective" assessment, consider
this. Tax time is upon us. It is necessary, in order to claim a
personal exemption for one's dependents, to report their social
security numbers on Form 1040. This year, a personal exemption is
worth $2,800, and marginal tax rates are 15 to 39.6 percent. Thus,
if you dutifully fill in the number, you will receive a tax benefit
of somewhere between $420 and $1,109. Here, then, I suggest, is
the going price for a man's dignity. Unless, that is, "dignity"
does not inhere in consenting to the numbering of your children,
but dwells in some more rarefied, removed, compressed sphere.

do not believe that the women who resisted Stalin's numbering system
did so because they thought it inconsistent with their "dignity."
I think that they thought that their State — or certainly the camp
administration — was Evil incarnate, that they believed that to
accept the numbers would be to surrender their immortal souls to
Evil, and did not shrink from acting on this belief.

such resistance here in the Home of the Brave. Here, the most we
will do is vote for a politician who will, hopefully, maybe, someday,
begin to reverse course. If helped by other politicians elected
by others.

Many Americans doubtless believe that numbering is an innocuous
administrative necessity. In truth, your SSN is becoming the gatekeeper
that establishes your status as a citizen in good standing and permission
for your activities. The laws creating your feudal status have already
been enacted and are rapidly being implemented, and if you are interested
to know the extent of it, you may check Charlotte Twight's article,
You — Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans
in The Independent Review, Volume IV, Fall 1999.

look at just one fact. Under current federal law, your employer
cannot hire you unless the government confirms that you are not
an illegal alien, a process that requires submission of your SSN.
Thus, the reality is that you cannot (legally) work unless you have
an SSN. In Stalinist Russia, they stripped women to their shifts.
But here in the Land of the Free, you cannot live unless
you are numbered. Oh, and do not think you will be eligible for
the State's charity if you do not work. No, you also need the Number
to receive welfare and food stamps.

then, you persist in thinking that numbering is a mere matter of
orderly procedure, then I would submit that by this law the State
has indicated, oh so casually, that it is willing to hold your life
hostage to compliance with its administrative dictates, that its
administration trumps your need to support yourself — your
right to life. Whether this be Evil, is between you and God.

23, 2001

Jeff Snyder is an attorney
who works in New York. He is the author of the upcoming book, Nation
of Cowards – Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control, available
in April from Accurate Press (800-374-4049).

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