Last night I completed one of the least ambitious reading projects I have ever undertaken. I have now read all sixteen volumes of the Left Behind series.
As I am sure you are aware, this is a series of novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, describing the Earth’s last days as foretold in the Book of Revelation. It begins with the Rapture of the church, in which millions of believers disappear from the face of the Earth. This is a bit awkward for those folks driving cars or flying planes at the time. The story then meanders its way through eleven subsequent volumes, documenting the rise of the Antichrist (who is a big supporter of evolution, by the way) and his attempts to make life unpleasant for Christians. Not to worry. Jesus wins in the end.
Why would I subject myself to this right-wing awfulness? Well, first, you should keep in mind that we are talking about large print and wide margins here, so even with sixteen volumes to wade through this was not a large investment of time. Second, these books have sold over sixty million copies (with another 30 million for the accompanying kids series). Looks like quite a lot of people think these books are great literature. When you add this to the incredible success of Mel Gibson’s super-right-wing Passion movie, it paints a sobering picture of where to locate the mainstream of American Christianity.
I won’t attempt a formal review of the series. Even granting their somewhat idiosyncratic understanding of Revelation, as literature this is pretty thin gruel. Paper-thin characters, clunky writing, implausible plot twists, that sort of thing. The pretense that this was an engaging, suspense-filled story that happened to be set during the End of Days gets thrown out pretty quickly. Most of the pages in most of the volumes are given over to outright prostletyzing, whenever the characters can be persuaded to take time out from mocking unbelievers.
The remarkable thing about the story is that there is little to distinguish between Christ and Antichrist. Both are petty tyrants who insist on constant acts of supplication from their followers. Both rain down unplesant consequences on those who disobey them. The only difference seems to be that Christ is more powerful. It is hard to understand the mentality of people who find this an appealing worldview. If it’s true, then I guess we’re stuck with it. But why should anyone want it to be true?
To show you what I have in mind, permit me a few lengthy excerpts. All are taken from the final volume: Kingdon Come. (I have already returned the other volumes to the library, you see.) Christ has returned and has established his milennial kingdom on Earth. We are ninety-three years in, and the only things people seem to do anymore are preach to the children born after Christ’s return (who must still make a choice to follow Christ), go on various missions from God to root out pockets of unbelief, and infiltrate the occasional group of Satan worshippers. I don’t understand how they keep from going mad with boredom.
At this point in the story the leadership of Egypt has managed to vex the Lord by failing to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Finding them insufficiently faithful, God has afflicted them with drought, and has now sent a group of believers to lecture to them. Without going into the details, the “good guys” here are Rayford, Tsion, Kenny and Chaim (AKA Micah. Don’t ask). Here we go:
Without so much as a call or an official invitation, Rayford Steele’s small band entered the Egyptian parliament building that had been rebuilt in Cairo during the first year of the milennial kingdom. Whatever had been going on, the entire place fell mute, and all heads turned to watch the men approach the dais.
The man presiding immediately said, “We’ve been expecting you,” and several members of the government stood to applaud. Others glared at them until the ovation petered out.
Tsion strode to the microphone with the others forming a half circle behind him. “Excuse me,” he said as the presiding official moved away and took his seat.
“Micah!” someone shouted, and it seemed to Rayford that many who began clapping again recognized Chaim, the famed leader of the Jewish remnant at Petra during the Great Tribulation, standing behind Tsion. But again, the applause was short-lived.
Rayford had seen Tsion Ben-Judah in countless situations, but never had he seen him carry himself with such authority and — clearly — anger. “On your knees!” he shouted, and immediately the assembled slid from their chairs to the floor.
“Woe to you says the Lord God of Israel, for helping to scatter His people throughout the generations. He healed your land and reestablished you, populating you solely with believers until your offspring were born. Yet you kept the name of your nation, a stench in the nostrils of God. Egypt: `temple of the soul of Ptah,’ indeed. Ptah a pagan deity from generations past. Where is he in your time of need?
“You deigned to rebuild this structure after the global earthquake, somehow believing God would be pleased by an edifice that looks nothing like a temple dedicated to Him but rather harks back to your days worshipping patron deities? Still, all He required of you was to observe the sacrifices and feasts, and you thumbed your noses at Him. Is it any wonder He has cursed your land?
“Where was your backbone, your leadership, when unbelievers persuaded you to commit the affront of absenting yourself from the Feast of Tabernacles?”
A man looking not much younger than Kenny stood. “Sir, if I may argue our side of the issue –”
“Your side? You are accursed! Or are you a believer, confident you shall live past your hundreth birthday?”
“It merely happens that I respectfully disagree –”
“Respectfully? You are fortunate you remain on this Earth, for God willed that your young compatriots become examples for the rest of this nation.”
“But, sir, that is precisely our point. What kind of a loving God is so capricious that He would –”
“Demolish this building!” Tison roared. “Rebuild it as a temple to the Lord. Delight in His ways. Seek His face. Follow His statutes. Never again disobey His commands. And henceforth this land shall be known as Osaze, `loved by God.’ Lest you fear that his wrath evidences something other than His love, imagine what He could have done in the face of this ultimate insult.”
“Now we His servants shall travel throughout Osaze, teaching the whole counsel of God to the wicked and the undecided and the unbelieving. Woe to anyone who attempts to hamper this effort! While the Lord has not told us when He will restore the life-giving waters, He hereby confirms His immediate judgment of sin. There shall be no more even temporary tolerance of disbelief. THose whho choose their own way will continue to perish by their hundreth birthdays, and anyone who dares blaspheme before that shall immeidately surely die.”
As Rayford followed Tsion and the others out, the entire auditorium was filled with weeping and men and women pleading for forgiveness and mercy.
Charming. Pretty much defies comment, wouldn’t you say?
In the very next section we are shown the manifesto of “The Other Light,” the group of Satan worshipping misfits giving God so much grief. Members of TOL are keen to keep this document hidden, knowing how incendiary it is. A gruop of savvy believers managed to get their hands on a copy, lucky for us. Make sure you are sitting down before contemplating the horror of it all:
To the thinking members of the global society: Use your brains! You are capable of rational thought. We of The Other Light acknowledge that everyone who entered this period of history was a believer in God, either surviving the last seven years on earth as they knew it or returning from heaven with him.
We do not deny that God was the Creator and that Jesus is His Son. We deny that He ever came to earth in the flesh or that He died and was resurrected. We aver that He unfairly treated one of His own creations, an angel, and summarily cast him out His presence, forever besmirching his name and reputation.
Worse, He has left men and women no choice but to believe in Him and serve Him, denying our free will. We have no quarrel with those who believe and follow Him and consider themselves devout. We simply insist on the right to decide for ourselves.
And now we come to the crux of our manifesto: If it’s true that we, as His opponents, are not allowed to live past age one hundred, this merely proves our point: He will not countenance an alternate point of view. Critics and even some of our most loyal members have suggested that if it’s true, we should have abandoned our ill-fated cause when the first wave of deaths hit.
We, however, insist on our right to rebel, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Because of the new world, the population is exploding as never before. Literally billions more souls will be born with every generation, and therein lies our hope. Even if it’s true, our progeny, properly informed and coached, will — by the end of the Milennium — amass an innumerable force. God’s own prophecies indicate this.
Even if it’s true that we will continue to die out every hundred years, if we remain committed to our cause against the vengeful, bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament, we have hope. If we can equip the eventual mega-army of dissidents to where they can actually emerge victorious in the end, perhaps the new ruler will resurrect us and allow us to reign with him.
The biggest mistake God makes will be to loose our leader for a season at the end of this Millenium, for that shall truly signal the end of His kingdom. Let us not be deterred by intermittent defeats. Watch our ranks grow with every generation, and we will in the end prove that God is anything but gracious and loving and forgiving.
Our hope and wish and instruction to the future torchbearers of the Other Light is that they continue to add to and refine this manifesto until — by the last generation — it becomes the most motivational and strategic call to arms the world has ever known.
And be encouraged. Even if it’s true that we die out every generation, it stands to reason that our progeny will become more numerous each time. And if that’s true, it should be exponentially encouraging to each new wave that carries on our message.
So, what if it’s true? Add to this document. Refine it. Improve it. Pass it on. And we’ll see you on the victory stand in the end.
Now, I’m not a real big fan of Satan worship. For that matter, I’m not a big fan of worship of any sort. But just look at the sort of thing the believers find so threatening. Thinking for yourself. Choosing your own way. Rational thought. Freedom of conscience. The courage to deny authority. A willingness to see future generations improve on the wisdom of the current one.
They are right to be afraid. Such things are, indeed, the enemy of religion.
One sticking point I’ve often had with Christianity is the whole concept of eternal life. What would one do with all that time? Sounds like it would get a bit dull. Here’s what LaHaye and Jenkins offer on the matter:
The only thing that mattered now was to praise and glorify Jesus, the lover and Savior of his soul. As he and the billions who had lived through the Milennium ascended, he saw descending the most beautiful and massive foursquare city of transparent gold, so stunning that Rayford knew his finite mind would never be able to take it in.
All that matters is praising and glorifying Jesus. For eternity. Is that really such an improvement over swimming in a lake of fire?