Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Numerology for idiots, EU version

While doing some research on the composition of the European Parliament I ran across a conspiracy theory so silly it is surprising anyone believes it. It is an outdated theory, but it continues to survive on the internet (nothing ever really dies on the internet, after all).

Here's the claim: seat 666 at the European Parliament is empty, waiting to be filled by the Antichrist (666 being the number of the beast). One source of this notion is Ian Paisley, the radical anti-Catholic Ulster politician, in an article dating to 1999. (Interestingly, 11 years earlier Paisley had denounced Pope John Paul II as the Antichrist when the latter addressed the European Parliament in its previous building). Other sources are here and here.

The allegedly incriminating list of seat allocations (with an empty spot at 666) dates to 1999, when seat 666 may indeed have been unallocated. So, however, were quite a number of other seats: the European Parliament in 1999 had 626 members, but occupied a debating chamber with seats for 750 (since expanded to 785) legislators (its previous home had seats for 600 delegates, so no number 666 there). This means that 750-626 = 124 seats were unoccupied, about 1 in 6.

The claim that the number of one particular unallocated seat is anything other than coincidental is of course idiotic. But it continues to survive, even though the actual seat has been occupied for years now (first, apparently, by Sajjad Karim, a British Liberal, who when asked about the significance of his seat number in 2006 was completely flummoxed :-). Current seating plans for the Strasbourg and Brussels hemicycles can be found here.

Still, a search on the terms "european parliament", "seat", and "666" yields about 108,000 results according to Google, and plenty of websites confidently assert that the seat has never been filled. (On the other hand, the European Parliament is just one part of the EU — a search on "European Union" and "antichrist" gives about 841,000 results!)

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