It’s easy to forget about Romania. For many North Americans, it’s just another former Communist country in Eastern Europe, and most of what they know about it actually applies to the various countries around it more accurately. For starters, Romanian is a Romance rather than a Slavic language, so the Romanian people have a lot more in common with Western Europe than most North Americans realize. Also like Western Europe, Romania’s history is marked by the unification of a number of separate principalities that shared a language, and by a split engineered by the Soviet Union (which created the Republic of Moldova).
What an alarming number of Westerners are apparently certain of when it comes to Romania is that it will bring forth the Antichrist and from there, the end of the world as we know it.
As the extremely popular Left Behind novel series would have it, a Romanian politician genetically engineered for the purpose will someday come to dominate the United Nations, turning it into a terrifying world dictatorship and the seat of a cult of idol worship called “Carpathianism.”
That sounds more like a northern Romanian separatist movement than a cult, but whatever, that’s not even close to the weirdest thing about Left Behind.
His armies will force the entire world to join his new cult and participate in its rites. Part of this process will involve a virtual-reality program, offered freely, that either transforms the user into his thrall or kills them, depending on how much they resist. And no, it’s not World of Warcraft.
The souls of the entire human race would be lost to his MMORPG (and the new world order’s concerted bombing campaign, lest we forget) if not for the band of born-again Christians that help fulfill the prophecy of Jesus Christ’s return. Since the Romanian’s ascent is 100% Satan-powered, and for the last third or so he is in fact a corpse-puppet animated by Satan, that works out handily.
Left Behind is, of course, a modern-day reimagining of Christian eschatology, but one that has attained such cultural currency that most Christians’ idea of the End of Days actually comes from this series rather than the Bible or the words of their priests, so it’s worth treating on its own. (I’ll get to Christian eschatology proper in a future installment, promise.) This is true even for Christians from sects explicitly designated as heretical in the novels, such as Catholicism, despite the series’s writing being so absurdly, obnoxiously terrible that Slacktivist has devoted 146+ entries of his blog to deconstructing it. It’s from Left Behind that we get the image of empty sets of clothing littering the streets, their devout owners transported to heaven as the Antichrist rises out of obscurity in…Romania. To take over the world via Everquest and the United Nations.
Sometimes I wonder whether evangelical Christians can ever decide what exactly they’re afraid of from one rage-fantasy of theirs to the next. Now it’s video games? The medium certainly isn’t friendly to them, if the famously terrible Left Behind video game is any indication. It might be disabled people, since substantial plot points hinge on people with disabilities throwing in their lots with the Romanian Antichrist to have their blindness or paraplegia cured.
Come on, Left Behind. You could have been so much more. A spirit of deception cast out of its strange and alien realm brings vast swaths of the world under its sway, using a power-hungry politician as its vessel? And then compels those thralls to cast their thoughts toward a series of huge golden statues for some invisible purpose? And it is ultimately undone by a group of people it tries valiantly to add to its collective, who summon a similar spirit-being to cast the deceiver into a pit of fire? That is fantastic science fiction. This could have been a saga on par with Stargate and Firefly, talked about by entire conventions of costumed aficionados for decades. This is Ragnarok-level gold here.
Instead, we get Cold War-era paranoia pitting a Communist stand-in from a poorly-understood Eastern European country, who like all non-Christians in this fantasy is secretly a devil-worshipper out to destroy the universe, against the ever-dwindling, ever-persecuted ranks of the ultra-Christian. And people of insufficient social privilege, such as the handicapped, are to be feared, since they have something to gain from a deal with the devil. And this schlock is heartily bought into by dozens of entire sects in the United States in particular who couldn’t point out Romania on a map while fist-deep in a plate of sărmăluţe cu mămăligă. Joe McCarthy would have been proud.