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March 31, 2003

Theological porn, delivered to your inbox

There's nothing like the Christian fringe to turn any day into Aneurism Day for me. So imagine my apoplexy at seeing, on the MSN home page this morning, the question "Is the Rapture upon us?" No, Billg's house organ is not stumping for apocalypse... but some very wealthy Christofascists are. It was a banner ad
for Left Behind - Interpreting the Signs, a/k/a the Left Behind Prophecy Club.

I took at deep breath and clicked the link to find, in screaming type, "Will WAR IN IRAQ launch an unstoppable chain of events that lead to ARMAGEDDON? Find out when you subscribe to the Left Behind Prophecy Club." (Note the lack of subject-verb agreement there.) In other words, it is yet another revenue stream for Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins, who must be God's favorite moneychangers in the temple. For just $29.95 a month, you can get even more dangerous twaddle about world events piled into you inbox!

For those of you lucky enough to have missed all this, Left Behind is a best-selling series of sub-Clancy-grade thrillers that riff upon the should-never-have-made-the-Bible prophecies of Revelation. The absolutely flabbergasting thing to me about this is that two well-known fundamentalist theologo-politicos would dare touch this material; Revelation is, after all, the only book of the Bible with a tripwire. To wit:

For I testify unto everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, and from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

But of course the Fundies ignore what they will despite the ridiculous claim that every word (even the self-contradictory ones) are the infallible Word of God.

So anyway, on this shifting rock have LeHaye and Jenkins build a towering edifice: an 11-book (and growing) series based upon the supposed signs of the coming of the end, with titles like "Apollyon: The Destroyer is Unleashed" and "The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession" and even (in full colonic fugue) "Assassins: Assignment: Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist." The truly sad and terrible thing is that millions and millions of these books have sold-- not only to people who were admittedly already victim to the worst fire-and-brimstone brainwashing but to a whole new class of otherwise normal people. For God's sake even David-- who is afraid he will burst into flame if he so much as darkens the door of a church-- has a copy of the first book, which he actually liked as a thriller. (Along with his blanket fatwaagainst leather furniture, this was the only moment I have doubted our otherwise wonderful relationship. But I digress.)

If they take any of this even half-seriously, how many of these Left Behind readers now bear the mark of what I call Eschatophilia? Because make no mistake... LeHaye and Jenkins love The End and want you to, too. The believe the world is so bad that it needs to end, right now. Eschatophilia is a sick brew of fear and anticipation based on a misguided theology that actually brings more happiness to its adherents the worse things get in the world. As you can imagine, that pretty well trashes the impulse toward improving things. And war with Iraq? Well, anything that brings the Second Coming closer is fine by them; if American oil companies get some sweet contracts in the mean time, even better.

If we agree to call this phenomenon eschatophilia, is there any avoiding the fact that Left Behind and its ilk is a species of pornography? It gives us something that creates a combination of thrill and dread and release, reliably enough that we know what we will get every time we open it up. And for pre-millenial true beleivers, every reading of an eschatophilic will send one prayerfully back into the arms of an angry God, begging forgiveness-- and that sounds just like every good little Christian boy I grew up with, right after he had borrowed Dad's Playboy for the thousandth time.

As you can tell, I am fairly bitter about this sort of thing. Having been raised in a church that bordered on outright holyrollerism, I got a fairly steady diet of Four Horsement and Seven Bowls of God's Wrath, etc. My family kept me from watching scary movies, but had no qualms with my reading, at age seven, Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth--previously the best selling prophetic page-turner. Of course all of its prophecies (chief among them nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union over Israel) failed to come true. But somehow these prognosticators are never held to account for their paranoid rants.

My biggest problem with the Left Behind series is that its authors seem to have hit on a strategy for removing the risk from prophecy: make it self-fulfilling. If enough people are programmed to see The End coming in every headline, they will support ever-more-reckless policies that just might bring it about. Of course, knowing that Bush and senior administration officials have read these books is terrifying. Republican administrations have been openly infested with End-Timers at least since the Reagan era, when Interior Secretary James Watt said that protecting the environment was a waste of time because "I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns."

Know your enemy: those of you who are less familiar with the "premillenial" theology behind the books would do well to read the Christian Courier's excellent and scripturally-grounded debunking. (And this is not some lefty Episcopalian site, either; it's a pretty conservative Church of Christ site with thoughtful articles arguing against the use of musical instruments in Christian worship; though it's pro-life, it is also passionate in its denunciation of the Lambs of Christ and other scary groups.) Among its other wise explanations, it deprives of its Biblical justification the unswerving commitment among many evangelicals to absolute Zionism, at whatever cost.

For the founding of the modern state of Israel is the hope upon which Eschatophilia is based. I want to be clear that there is a difference between supporting the right of Israel to exist (which I do) and believing that complete Israeli domination of Jerusalem and all of ancient Canaan is necessary for the Second Coming of Christ (which I think is the worst kind of fantasy). There is Zionism, and then there is Zion-fetishism. Zion-fetishism among Christians has contributed mightily to the current impasse by pushing the US towards a blank-check endorsement of the current Israeli administration's ruthlessly inhumane treatment of Palestinians. To the degree than Zion-fetishism influences US foreign policy to the region, it risks bringing about... exactly the catastrophes fringe Christians want to see.

Let me be clear here. I am a Christian, down to the last syllables of the Creed. That is why these people make me so unaccountably angry. What kind of a wimp do these idiots think Christ is? If God is omnipotent, His return does not depend on our petty human real estate arrangements; to believe otherwise is the worst kind of idolatry. These people seriously believe that The Temple is some sort of key that we have to unlock for the Almighty. Umm, hello? This Bible you claim to know so well and love so much? "For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night."(First Thessalonian 5:2) Like a thief in the fucking night, people. Notice the Bible doesn't say, "Like a thief in the night who makes sure people can read in MSN with their handy Revelation decoder ring to know when he's going to break in." I mean really.

"No man shall know the day or the hour," (Matt. 24:36) and that's how it should be. We should get back to the real work of Christians-- feeding the poor, healing the sick, and generally trying to be like Christ (which is, of course, far harder than turning prophecy into best-seller big business).

The real risk (in addition to eternal damnation for themselves and a purely human-wrought apocalypse, see above!) these people run is actually delaying the thing they are trying to hasten. The Jewish commitment to "good works" on Earth is motivated by a belief that we humans are charged by God with "Tikkun," roughly translated as "repair." The Fall of Adam broke a few things, and we should do our best to fix them. God is disappointed in us when we fail to do so. Kafka summed up the project by writing that "The Messiah will come only when he is no longer needed."

I might not go quite that far, but I will say that the mass of American Christians, to the extent that they waste their time and energy reading the Left Behind books and ticking off their lists of the "Signs of the End Times," don't really seem to me to deserve the First Coming, let alone the Second.

Posted by jay at March 31, 2003 11:11 AM | TrackBack
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I love it!

Posted by: Iain on June 26, 2003 10:12 AM
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