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.”
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.
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.