Why Republicans Are in the Grip of an Apocalyptic Rapture Cult Centered on Revenge and Vindication
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The following is an excerpt from Frank Schaeffer's new book, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism)(Da Capo Press, 2009) to be released at the end of this month.
Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of sixteen novels (so far!) represents everything that is most deranged about religion. If I had to choose companions to take my chances with in a lifeboat, and the choice boiled down to picking Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, or Christopher Hitchens, I'd pick Hitchens in a heartbeat. At least he wouldn't try to sink our boat so that Jesus would come back sooner. He might even bring along a case of wine.
The Left Behind novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an "End Times" cult, or rather egging it on. Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children's books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting "Christ-centered" home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the "other," as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism, the murder of doctors who do abortions, and even a killing in the Holocaust Museum.
No, I am not blaming Jenkins and LaHaye's product line for murder or racism or any other evil intent or result. What I am saying is that feeding the paranoid delusions of people on the fringe of the fringe contributes to a dangerous climate that may provoke violence in a few individuals. And convincing folks that Armageddon is on the way, and all we can do is wait, pray, and protect our families from the chaos that will be the "prelude" to the "Return of Christ," is perhaps not the best recipe for political, economic, or personal stability, let alone social cohesion. It may also not be the best philosophy on which to build American foreign policy! The momentum toward what amounts to a whole subculture seceding from the union (in order to await "The End") is irrevocably prying loose a chunk of the American population from both sanity and their fellow citizens.
A time-out for disclosure is in order. I knew Jerry Jenkins quite well many years ago, and we worked on a baseball book project together, with me trying -- and failing -- to get his book made into a movie. I liked Jerry and he was kind and decent. I also have known Tim LaHaye for years, and some thirty years ago we shared the platform at several fundamentalist events. Both men always treated me well. This may come across as maudlin BS to some people, but I mean it when I say that if I weren't convinced that their hugely "successful" work is about as innocuous as tossing gasoline and lighted matches into a nursery school, I'd never say a word about them. I'm betting that they mean well. It seems to me that they also have no idea what they have helped unleash. You can be very decent and very blind.
That said ... the evangelical/fundamentalists -- and hence, from the early 1980s until the election of President Obama in 2008, the Religious Right as it informed U.S. policy through the then dominant Republican Party -- are in the grip of an apocalyptic Rapture cult centered on revenge and vindication. This End Times death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Too bad. This weird book was the last to be included in the New Testament. It was included as canonical only relatively late in the process after a heated dispute. The historic Churches East and West remain so suspicious of Revelation that to this day it has never been included as part of the cyclical public readings of scripture in Orthodox services. The book of Revelation is read in Roman and Anglican Churches only during Advent. But both Rome and the East were highly suspicious of the book. The West included the book in the lectionary late and sparingly. In other words, the book of the Bible that the historical Church found most problematic is the one that American evangelicals latched on to like flies on you know what.
Given that Revelation is now being hyped as the literal -- even desired -- roadmap to Armageddon, it's worth pausing to note that it's nothing more than a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.
The evangelical/fundamentalist literalistic "interpretation" of Revelation is symptomatic of a larger problem: make-it-up-as you-go-along biblical interpretation suited to hyping whatever the evangelical/fundamentalist flavor of the moment is, in a desperate effort to keep religion relevant. But taken out of the context of being part of a worship cycle, the Bible became something like an extremely sharp butcher knife in the hands of children running around a garden. There's nothing wrong with the knife per se, but context is everything. Enter semi-literate American evangelical/fundamentalist rubes armed with multiple "kitchen knives" and imbued with a frontier "no bishops or kings!" suspicion of any tradition, scholarship, or hierarchy that might moderate their wild-eyed personal "interpretations" of scripture and their burning desire to make a buck.