Terrifying Thoughts About the Power of Bad Christian Books to Change Culture

My leisure reading lately has been reviews of Christianist crap, much along the lines of Das Mervin and Jenny Trout’s sporkings of Fifty Shades of Grey Abusive Bullshit. What I do for Christianist textbooks, sites like Heathen Critique do for Christianist films and books. It’s a nice way to unwind, if you’re an odd sort like myself. But sometimes, it gets bloody terrifying, and reminds me there’s a serious reason to push back against really awful religious propaganda.

Take, for instance, the Left Behind series, which Fred Clark reads so we mercifully don’t have to. You may be tempted to dismiss them as nothing more than hack writing, lazy dime store thrillers that are nothing more than empty entertainment. But there are people who really truly believe the shit LaHaye and Jenkins are writing is prophesied to come true, and will happen any time now. Fred, being an evangelical Christian himself, is able to get deep into their worldview and show not just how fucked up it is, but how it informs their attitude towards things like taking care of the environment (why bother when you’re gonna be raptured?), world peace (anyone advocating for it is aiding and abetting the Antichrist), and war (bring on those end times!!!). These books both showcase and reinforce the fucked-up worldviews of people who believe they are living in the End Times, are Real True Christians who will be raptured, and love to smirk at those of us who will be left behind to suffer plagues, famine, war and death by their asshole of a god.

Sometimes, it gives me chills, especially when I realize how these folks are trying to make their prophecies self-fulfilling.

Fred quotes a phone call to the Antichrist from the American president in the original Left Behind book. Tell me who this reminds you of:

“Mr. Carpathia, this is Fitz. Gerald Fitzhugh.”

“Mr. President, I am honored to hear from you.”

“Well, hey, it’s good to have you here!”

“I appreciated your note of congratulations on my presidency, sir, and your immediate recognition of my administration.”

“Boy, that was a heckuva thing, how you took over there. I wasn’t sure what had happened at first, but I don’t suppose you were either.”

“That is exactly right. I am still getting used to it.”

“Well, take it from a guy who’s been in the saddle for six years. You don’t ever get used to it. You just develop calluses in the right places, if you know what I mean.”

Sound familiar?

Image is a demotivational poster of George W Bush holding a microphone and scratching his head with a derpy expression. Caption says, "Confusion. It can be a life long journey."

Thing is, this bloody awful book was written in 1995. The President of the United States talking like an utter jackass would have been unthinkable then, because while we’d had some pretty ridiculous ones, we hadn’t yet had a president quite so spectacularly ignorant. But that conversation sounds exactly like George W. Bush. Part of me is terrified that the Left Behind books got end times enthusiasts thinking all they needed to get Jesus down here ASAP was to elect a man who sounded exactly like the Antichrist’s biggest fan.

And what’s even worse is realizing that’s not a silly fear.

In a later post, Fred recounts an even more chilling story. Keep in mind that, while evangelical Christian, Fred is also a liberal with a great big social conscience. And yet…

Ooooh, martyrs! How exciting!

And here we come to the vicarious appeal of these books for American evangelicals. The perilous Tribulation that Bruce Barnes describes is frightening, yes, but at least it’s not as dull as the uninspiring sit-around-and-wait, do-nothing existence they’ve come to believe is their lot in life here in history.

Here in Left Behind they can reimagine the Christian life as an exciting adventure. It’s similar to the speakers we had on youth group retreats back in high school. They would tell these thrilling stories of Christians who were persecuted for their faith — first century believers or 20th-century Christians in China or behind the Iron Curtain. The stories would reach a crescendo where the persecuted faithful were forced to choose between denying their faith and certain death. “What would you do?” the speakers would ask. And then, with every head bowed and every eye closed, we were given the opportunity to come forward yet again to re-re-dedicate our lives to Christ.3

I don’t know whether those speakers realized the secret envy we had when listening to those stories. The lives of those martyrs seemed so much more exciting and meaningful than our own did. Plus there was something weirdly appealing about a one-time, one-question, pass-fail test in place of the tedious day-after-day. In our imaginations, at least, the martyr’s egress sounded almost easier than the pilgrim’s progress (as somebody once said, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.) We imagined that, like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” we could’ve been good kids if it had been somebody there to shoot us every minute of our lives.

[snip]

The intended readers of Left Behind are waiting for the end of the world. Or for war. Either one would do. Either one would seem more meaningful than the headache and trivia of daily life that constitutes what they now think of as “discipleship.” And Left Behind lets them experience both, at least vicariously.

Think of these attitudes, and then remember life under Bush: a total dipshit president leading us into war after war in the Middle East. Realize that the people who put them there are same people LaHaye and Jenkins were aiming at. Those people vote their beliefs. And they believe the world is supposed to end soon. They believe there has to be war and chaos in order for Christ to come back, and that anyone calling for peace and disarmament is potentially the Antichrist or his helpers. Just imagine the kind of person they’re going to try to vote into office in 2016. These books and the movie franchise are whipping them on.

We’d better damned well get out the vote, or we’re going to end up with another disaster.

Image shows Rainbow Dash. Caption says LOL NOPE

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Terrifying Thoughts About the Power of Bad Christian Books to Change Culture
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4 thoughts on “Terrifying Thoughts About the Power of Bad Christian Books to Change Culture

  1. 1

    It turns out that Christians have been expecting the end of the world since 40 AD. Many of the first generation thought the world would end in their lifetime. In fact there is a branch of theology called Eschatology that deals with just these things. Many folks also thought in the medieval times the end was near (and of course the black death was one such time).
    If you consider that Christianity is neoplatonist in outlook and the material world is relatively an imperfect place then the feeling that the imperfect will be replaced by the perfect follows. A link to the Wikipeida article on Christiand eschatology:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_eschatology. Some folks thought that 1000 ad would mark the end of the world, and indeed some folks thought this of 2000 also.
    So really nothing new the imminent second coming of Christ has been expected since the first christians.

  2. 2

    Another, similar group are the survivalists. I think of that as essentially a form of live-action roleplaying — you get to imagine yourself as the hero in a cool little post-apocalyptic movie that runs inside your head all the time. The problem is that after you’ve invested thousands or hundreds of thousands into your fantasy scenario, the temptation to actually get to live it must be enormous. It would infect everything you did — including the way you voted, obviously. The line between preparing for disaster and rooting for disaster becomes harder and harder not to cross.

  3. 3

    the wannabe martyr and the revenge fantasy of a three year old, such common Christian nonsense. It’s pretty much in line with the wannabee soldier/police officer who would never stir themselves to be in danger or responsible. My husband, who has served, just hates those idiots.

    the Left Behind novels are mildly entertaining with their characters with porn star names.

  4. 4

    Speaking of people who act (in part or in whole) on their apocalyptic beliefs-
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/utah-parents-who-fatally-drugged-children-feared-the-apocalypse/

    The bodies of Benjamin and Kristi Strack and three of their children aged 11 to 14 were discovered by the Stracks’ lone surviving child and his grandmother on Sept. 27 in Springville, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

    “It was a fairly common theme for the parents to talk about, the apocalypse, the end of days, final judgment,” said Springville Police Department detective Greg Turnbow, the lead officer on the case.

    “Their surviving son, when he was interviewed, indicated that his mother had made comments that if things got bad enough she would much rather take herself and her family out in a comfortable way, rather than a painful way.”

    The information was released at a press conference on Tuesday that covered information from a medical examiner and broader information about the case, Turnbow said.

    The parents deaths were ruled suicides. The children ages 11 and 12 were ruled homicides, and the 14-year-old son had a note in which he was aware of his “possible impending doom,” Turnbow said.

    The father had heroin in his body and the others had methadone and over-the-counter medication, Turnbow said, citing coroner’s findings. There was no sign of a struggle.

    Among the items recovered from the home by investigators, according to the warrants cited by the Deseret News, were empty bottles of liquid methadone, as well as 10 opened and empty packets of nighttime cold and flu medication

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