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How Shock Musician Marilyn Manson
Lost his Christianity

By Paul Coughlin

In his fuming autobiography, The Long Road Out of Hell, shock musician Marilyn Manson reveals how years of false teaching about the return of Christ—and the apocalyptic conspiracy theories that enhance such teaching—left him feeling abused, cheated, and eventually caused him to reject Christianity. He, like so many within the church today, endured pounding lecture upon lecture about receiving the Mark of the Beast during these “last days.” “Those that don’t receive the mark, the number of his name (666)” warned Ms. Price, Manson’s Friday-night teacher at Heritage Christian School during the early 1980s, “will be decapitated before their families and neighbors.”

Then, as today, the Goth protagonist was told that the mark was concealed as the Universal Product Code that appears on everyday items in your grocery store, which, with the help of blatantly false reporting, works out to be the same demonic numbers, 666. All this was presented as fact—not opinion and never speculation—drawn straight from the Bible. Writes Manson, “They didn’t need proof; they had faith.”

Nightmares soon visited his 12-year-old mind. “I was thoroughly terrified by the idea of the end of the world and the Antichrist. So I became obsessed with it, watching movies like . . .A Thief in the Night, which described very graphically people getting their heads cut off because they hadn’t received 666 tattoos on their forehead.”

Manson’s landfill lyrics, lashing instrumentals and caustic stage sets were cited by damp-handed critics as propelling the murder and suicides at Colorado’s Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Indeed Manson canceled a Colorado concert soon after the shooting, reportedly in an attempt to avoid hostile demonstrations.

The study of End Times conspiracy theories shows we are hardwired to search for simple answers to overwhelming tragedy, especially when it involves the loss of children. Though we put our finger upon correct influences, we often overplay their import, which is understandable. So just as it is thin-headed to blame Manson for the sinister plans of vengeful, trench-coat-wearing youth there in Columbine, it would be equally wrong to blame the architects of today’s pop End Times prophecy as the sole cause of Manson’s descent; a dive made more likely in the pursuit of riches than to display his melding of transvestite and pro-wrestling outfits.

Though popular End Times prophecy is not the sole cause of his descent, its role cannot be easily dismissed. How we live and mis-live our lives is the result of many influences. When it comes to apocalyptic conspiracy theories shared by numerous Christians across America, those influences must not be discounted as irrelevant. End Times conspiracy theories have influenced millions of ordinary people and more noted ones such as David Koresh, his followers, the Weaver family on Ruby Ridge and Christian conspiracy theorists such as Norman Olson and Dean Compton, two of America’s more noted militia leaders who express End Times angst.

Popular and contemporary Bible prophecy and the conspiracy-prone political interpretation of the John Birch Society are dovetailed by influential church leaders such as Don McAlvany, Chuck Missler, Y2K doomster Gary North and others in this community of charismatic and self-appointed experts. It is a mindset that brought us the belief that the U.S. government intentionally killed civilians on Ruby Ridge, in Waco and at Oklahoma City as part of what they believe is a one-world government plot found in the book of Revelation, or what is commonly called the “New World Order.”

This mindset is one-part flesh (as with Waco, conspiracy theories often form around a grain of truth) and nine-part poltergeist (but as with Waco, around this grain of truth are many leaps in logic and selective reporting), graze upon our fear of the future. There is no better contemporary example than the recent Y2K hysteria that burned throughout Evangelical and Fundamentalist media. They also offer the allure of exclusive information, similar to their twin, psychic readings. Both provide a patterned and coherent world if only one is willing to truckle to their leadership and claims of exclusive knowledge. Both are accompanied by a reasonable price tag and bulging marketing, and both create a kind of crystal ball but with one telling difference; conspiracy theories appeal to the head while psychic readings appeal to the heart. They tickle the ears of those willing to pay for the newest tape or book on how to survive economic hell on earth, and those who will gladly spend two dollars a minute to discover if love is in their future.

Christian conspiracy theories are the modern-day equivalent of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As in the Garden of Eden, we long for such inside information and magic formulas of faith. But seeking solace in secret formulas was always forbidden by God—not because this shortcut worked, but because it did not. Mere knowledge of good and evil will never satisfy our longings or calm our fears. (Secrets, Plots & Hidden Agendas, What You Don’t Know About Conspiracy Theories p.199)

After a year passed, then another, then another, and the End-Times predictions of his youth panned out to be false, the young Marilyn Manson, who says he still has End-Times nightmares, felt cheated and lied to. “Gradually, I began to resent Christian school and doubt everything I was told.” He wrote in his notebook when he still went by his suburban birth name Brian Wardner, “Fools aren’t born. They are watered and grown like weeds by institutions such as Christianity.” Not exactly, Brian. Orthodox Christianity has always warned us not to call a conspiracy what others call a conspiracy (Isaiah 8:11-13). Also, many End-Times scenarios have more in common with a complex dualistic religion called Manicheism than a vibrant Christian faith (Secrets, Plots pp. 167, 198).

Brian and countless other forming boys and girls throughout the last 30 years have been caught in a net tied with earnest hands and hearts. Their innate fear of the future, mine included, was exploited in an attempt to drive them into the arms of a loving Savior. But perfect fear often casts out love. It was a message created by those who believe that there are no atheists in fearful Sunday School classes, but who refuse to acknowledge that a kid’s mind often changes when he walks into the sun of a new day. Worse, troubled Brian Wardners resent the fear and manipulation and curse the little god who they were told is behind it all. God-shock is inevitable and perhaps preacher David Hawking said it best:

“ . . .Oh, some of the prophecy preachers got a little out of hand . . .and we were even told that . . .when Israel became a nation in 1948 it would be forty years and then the Lord would come. So we back it up seven. So the rapture is coming in 1981. I’ve met people all over this country who believed that, followed that, anticipated that. It did not come and as a result many of them bombed out, dropped out, copped out; they’re not around anymore (emphasis added).” (Secrets, Plots, p.141)

It’s fitting but still distressing that Marilyn Manson, who adopted the names of two pop culture icons as his own—the first a likely victim of pop-culture fame and power, the second a sinister predator hell-bent on fame and power at any price—is himself an example of pop culture’s corrosive nature. There is the ever-present question of obligatory drug use. His lyrics rationalize that sturdy self-centeredness which he exploits so well, the same quality found in daytime soaps that are tailored toward a more sophisticated self-absorption. His body is a canvas of scars, reported to have more than four hundred. His mind, like all of ours, is a canvas as well. It began with a base layer of abuse by those who violated his young body with brutal blows and bewildering sexual acts. Then came his spiritual abuse at the hands of earnest pop-prophecy teachers, which on this canvas of the mind should be understood as splashes of blood red. They do not represent Redemption to Manson (pray that they will) but rage and disappointment with God. And the Devil walks laughing.

Paul Coughlin is a freelance journalist, photographer and former talk show host. He is author of Secrets, Plots & Hidden Agendas, What You Don’t Know About Conspiracy Theories (InterVarsity Press 1999), which investigates the political, psychological and theological components behind conspiracy thinking in America. The unabridged audio version is available through Blackstone Audiobooks.

Bible Reference

Isaiah 8: 11-13
11 The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: 12 "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread,

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