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The Apocalypse Will Be Televised
March 11, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Indeed, all over the world, millions of born-again Christians have vanished into the mystical ether--leaving behind their clothing, their eyeglasses, even their dentures--along with every child under the age of twelve. Airplanes are crashing, automobiles are veering driverless and out of control, and fetuses are disappearing from their mothers' wombs, as the born-again and the unborn alike are abruptly "raptured" to heaven. Harper's Magazine reviewer Gene Lyons discusses apocalyptic entertainment.
posted by iamck (48 comments total)

 

posted by tommyc at 8:43 AM on March 11, 2005


great piece, and terribly sad. They're deluded and used by our politicians, by their own peddlers of "biblical infotainment"...
posted by amberglow at 8:47 AM on March 11, 2005


I've learned several things about our fundamentalist Christian brethren: First, theirs is an embattled faith, which requires an ever evolving list of enemies to keep its focus.

Good article. This line jumped out at me as a result of another of today's posts.
posted by 327.ca at 9:00 AM on March 11, 2005


You know, a couple of years back I watched a lot of Christian apocalyptic thrillers, and some of them aren't half bad.

This one in particular, is pretty good. Lots of quote-worthy fun.

I gotta say, it's important not to dismiss this stuff as corny, over-the-top garbage: it has a market, and I think it's in everyone's best interest to try and understand that market.
posted by rocketman at 9:01 AM on March 11, 2005


Didn't Kirk Cameron star in the Left Behind movie?
posted by SisterHavana at 9:09 AM on March 11, 2005


I gotta say, it's important not to dismiss this stuff as corny, over-the-top garbage: it has a market, and I think it's in everyone's best interest to try and understand that market.

Why?
posted by 327.ca at 9:11 AM on March 11, 2005


Didn't Kirk Cameron star in the Left Behind movie?

Yes.
posted by iamck at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2005


great article, iamck. thanks for posting.
posted by quonsar at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2005


all over the world, millions of born-again Christians have vanished into the mystical ether

Ah, if only it were true.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:24 AM on March 11, 2005


The obsession with rapture seems to lie not in the concept itself, but on the idea that certain people will be saved while others will not. That being said, I always thought that in such a situation God would reap the chosen while leaving earth to the four horsemen -- recent rapture theory (including things like that rapture email service) imply that the chosen will simply disappear while the others will continue living much like before (which, if you like living, sounds like a good deal).

I don't get the idea of the unborn being raptured though. If that is so, wouldn't every unborn child everywhere in the world, as well as every newborn baby, be raptured regardless of religion (because it's not a choice of conscience until a certain age).
posted by clevershark at 9:32 AM on March 11, 2005


Why?

Because their market is large enough to swing elections?
(See also "atheist+elected+dogcatcher".)
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:34 AM on March 11, 2005


Books like these are a sort of pornography for people who need to be affirmed in their beliefs, but can't possibly get that affirmation through outside evidence. All they do is say "you were right all along, and all those people who thought they were so smart: they're not," and that makes you feel better. They aren't based on biblical prophecy, they're based on attractive lies, but make an appeal to imaginary authority so that these people will pay money for them.
posted by Hildago at 9:37 AM on March 11, 2005


Anything to make the PAX channel go away is all right with me, but I suspect all those Fox News bastards aren't going anywhere.
posted by briank at 9:41 AM on March 11, 2005


The rapture is, yes, a way for fundamentalists to feel special and chosen, one of the Saved. Much like getting 23 virgins for setting off a suicide bomb.

It is also a tool of control for those tempted to question church authority. In the old days, the Church could only threaten to send you to hell when you died. In the meantime, you could gamble that there would be time to repent after you sinned. Now, since Jesus could come back at any moment, you better stay right with the Lord all the time or it's the fire and burning for you.

It's an extremely effective tool; you literally risk damnation in every moment that you dare to think a non-approved thought. When I was a fundie 9-year-old kid, I woke up one Saturday morning and no one was around, and had a terrifying few minutes when I wondered if I'd missed the Rapture.
posted by emjaybee at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2005


I'm taking signups for the antichrist's armies.
posted by baphomet at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2005


Those Christians are so wacky!
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2005


Why?

Because their market is large enough to swing elections?


I think the original poster was talking about the christian apocalypse movie market, but I take your point.

Recently the Dems have been talking about "reaching out" to evangelical christians, something I find depressing. If the price of political power is sucking up to groups who show absolutely no interest in compromise, then maybe it's better to wait for the pendulum to change direction.

I was listening to someone on the CBC the other day talking about what makes fundamentalist extremists different than other people with an axe to grind. His point was that they have no fear of death. How can you trust someone who believes that they will be rewarded for the most extreme irresponsibility toward the rest of the human species by some kind of heavenly reward?
posted by 327.ca at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2005


That was a good article. I wish he had hit a bit harder on the American Puritanism points. Thanks.
posted by sciurus at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2005


Because their market is large enough to swing elections?

Would you sell your soul to win an election? That seems to be the implication.
posted by clevershark at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2005


I hear they are working on a Cylon styled 'faith machine' (based on technology stolen from Scientologists) that will weed out the rest of us now.
posted by lazymonster at 10:14 AM on March 11, 2005


er, that was supposed be Cylon DETECTOR styled... uh. yeah, not funny anyway. backing away from keyboard in horror.
posted by lazymonster at 10:18 AM on March 11, 2005


Would you sell your soul to win an election? That seems to be the implication.

Not at all. Fundamentalist Christians constitute a voting block that has no equivalent in terms of size or insanity in any other western democracy. They have to be recognized as an important force. Personally, I favor attempting to marginalize them as much as possible; drive a wedge between them and non-fundamentalists wherever it can be done.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:21 AM on March 11, 2005


If you believe that you are going to live forever with God after you die, why would you be worried about when Jesus will manifest in the material world?

Store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:22 AM on March 11, 2005


Excellent piece. I like that the author worked from within a largely Christian framework to expose (Baum-style) the pathetic little men hawking their wares from behind the curtain of dispensationalism.

I'd also suggest, however, that the ressentiment and thirst for revenge that fuels the success of products like the Left Behind series (and other BiblePorn) may have more to do with central aspects of Christianity, generally, and not just "kooky dispensationalism," specifically. I say this not in the interest of flaming or derailing, but because the author's approach ("Look, Jesus didn't condone any of this Terminator nonsense and you can bet he wouldn't be tooling 'round the 'burbs in an H2 if he were around today...") got me thinking. Two things:

1.) The whole Christian narrative hinges on a blood sacrifice of atonement. Fathers killing sons to atone for the sins of their fathers. (Any father that's willing to command the murder of his son, be he Abraham or Jehova, should be a candidate for our deepest contempt, but that puts me in de-rail territory so I'll move on ...)

2.) The "was-Jesus-a-pacifist?" sub-thread seemed to ignore the point that he quite richly (do I detect a sense of LaHoye-like glee, even?) hints at the eternal torture and suffering that non-believers will experience at the hands of his father (who's technically him, too, I know - but I'm not going to go into that).

Selective reading of religious texts is lame regardless of who does it. Fundies hung up on sexuality go to Leviticus for their butt-love-is-bad fix. Okay, fine. That's open to all sorts of attack, as we've seen on Metafilter whenever the topic comes up. But Lefties hung up on social justice (oh, relax, I mean it affectionately) who emphasize the Golden Rule, love-your-neighbor-and-by-that-I-mean-everyone, feed-the-poor ethical teachings of the guy, while ignoring the fire-and-brimstone, there's only one way to heaven (i.e., to avoid an eternity of torture in my dad's scary basement), claim-to-exclusive-truth aspects are "guilty" of the same "sin" as the fundies they decry.

Point being: you couple the sacrificial-scapegoat narrative to the eternal-torture-for-The-Other narrative and you have a sure-(as-hell-)fire recipe for one of the most successfully vengeance narratives our species has cooked up. To date. The bloom of this "kooky dispensationalism" didn't shoot up out of unfertilized ground. The seeds are in scripture and the seeds are in church doctrine. The seeds are in Christianity itself. The seeds are Christianity, itself.

Sorry for all the hyphens.

YMMV
(your messiah may vary)
posted by joe lisboa at 10:57 AM on March 11, 2005


I agree that the major reason these Apocalypse fantasies are so popular among certain segments of the population IS the wish fulfillment angle. It's the ultimate in vindication. You get scooped up nice and easy to Heaven, then get to look down and laugh at all the heathens getting what they deserve.

The problem is that the logical route it takes to arrive at the "pre-tribulation" rapture theory is insanely torturous. Any "rational" reading of the prophecies makes it much easier to support the idea that the tribulations will occur while the Christians are still here on Earth and, in fact, they will be the final test of faith.

But these are the people who believe (with no scriptural basis) that every word of the Bible is 100% literally correct, and it can't sit too easily with them, the idea that God might let this happen to his Chosen Ones. Hence the desperate reaching out for an alternate theory that, basically, lets them reap all the benefits of Christianity without paying the implied price.

(And that's assuming you want to pay attention to The Revelation at all, which is much more rationally written off as being purely metaphorical at best.)

But, in the end, what really makes me chuckle is the final warning of Revelation and, by extension, the entire Bible. Whoever adds to, or takes away, from those prophecies is damned alongside the sinners.

These propheteers must be AWFULLY sure of themselves...
posted by InnocentBystander at 11:08 AM on March 11, 2005


Explain to me how the sudden disappearance of christian fundamentalists would be a bad thing?
posted by unsupervised at 11:15 AM on March 11, 2005


Also worth reading: Bill Moyer's recent article in the New York Review of Books, Welcome to Doomsday, about the political consquences of the Rapture/Tribulation nonsense.

What does this mean for public policy and the environment? Listen to John Hagee, pastor of the 17,000- member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who is quoted in Rossing's book as saying: "Mark it down, take it to heart, and comfort one another with these words. Doomsday is coming for the earth, for the nations, and for individuals, but those who have trusted in Jesus will not be present on earth to witness the dire time of tribulation." Rossing sums up the message in five words that she says are basic Rapture credo: "The world cannot be saved." It leads to "appalling ethics," she reasons, because the faithful are relieved of concern for the environment, violence, and everything else except their personal salvation. The earth suffers the same fate as the unsaved. All are destroyed.
posted by jokeefe at 11:17 AM on March 11, 2005


The rapture is, yes, a way for fundamentalists to feel special and chosen, one of the Saved. Much like getting 23 virgins for setting off a suicide bomb.

I remember the GLEE with which my baptist grandparents would talk about the rapture. Yet, that enthusiasm was not so much for themselves going to be with god, but for all the people they disliked going to hell.

Lift me higher indeed.
posted by mouthnoize at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2005


"The world cannot be saved." It leads to "appalling ethics," she reasons, because the faithful are relieved of concern for the environment, violence, and everything else except their personal salvation. The earth suffers the same fate as the unsaved. All are destroyed.

Great reference. My point exactly.
posted by 327.ca at 11:24 AM on March 11, 2005


...
YMMV
(your messiah may vary)
posted by joe lisboa at 1:57 PM EST


Something tells me you're not really that familiar with the variety of churches. Try Unitarians, for example. And if that doesn't change your current view, look at Bob and the church of the Subgenius. :-)
posted by nofundy at 11:36 AM on March 11, 2005


all over the world, millions of born-again Christians have vanished into the mystical ether

Ah, if only it were true.


I was hoping, too.

And joe lisboa, while many conservative and some liberal Christians believe in the "Jesus is the only way to heaven" meme, doing so requires an intentional misreading of the Gospels.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2005


There's a very good movie from 1991 called The Rapture starring Mimi Rogers (she has HUGE tracks of land) and a young David Duchovny. The director basicallt decided to deride these insane theories by taking them seriously. The movie shows a very literal treatment of them. It's a very good, very watchable movie. Mimi Rogers (she has HUGE tracks of land) does a first rate job with the material. Highly recommended.

"Hon, do you see no irony in your
being offended by the man we're convinced
is the Antichrist? ... You expect
common courtesy and decency from the
most evil man in the history of the universe?"

"... When you put it that way," she
muttered, "I suppose I am being oversensitive."

Funniest. Quote. Ever.
posted by berek at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2005


... ah, but I am, nofundy.
The Unitarians? Don't make me quote the prophet Homer J.! :) ... I will throw a nice discordian "Hail Eris!" your way though, fair enough?

You'll notice I didn't reference any other faiths, only Christianity, so I'll assume you meant that I should become more familiar with the different "flavors" of Christianity out there. And maybe it's partly the product of my Catholic upbringing, but my beef is with any sect that dumps all the difficult or upsetting or challenging (or challenged!) elements of the purported message of its messiah. Whether it's done in an attempt to make the message more palatable, sweeten sales of that message to cash in on those sacred cows (Moos for Jesus?), or whatever.

I don't think (IANATheologian, just an amateur student of religions and a professional teacher of philosophy) you can divorce the doctrines of Christ's divinity or salvation/damnation from the religion and still call it Christianity without gutting the term completely. I see a lot of "that Jesus was a nice fellow with some nice ideas, pity so few put them into practice" and it riles me because, at the very heart of his message is this whole retributive (divine cookie (vs.) divine spanking) foundation that can't be divorced from his teachings in an honest way.

To be clear: I think the superficial ethical teaching of Jesus (i.e., the Golden Rule) are largely good. I also know that an honest thinker wouldn't give him credit for inventing them. Beyond this nice but unoriginal concept of love-others-as-you-wish-to-be-loved, are there any uniquely Christian ethical teachings that stand on level with anything to be gained from any other religious / philosophical tradition? Well, there's the whole motivation-thing. Why be good, according to Jesus? Because if you don't, your soul will rot in hell and his eternal father will torture you for eternity.

Jesus believed in Hell and preached in light of this. So, in the spirit of "knowing folks by their fruits," I have to judge his teachings in light of that.

And they're wanting.
Big-time.

(on preview: I misspoke [mis-typed?] upthread when I invoked the only-get-to-heaven-through-Jesus meme ... I meant, rather, to invoke his belief in damnation. Sorry for the confusion!)
posted by joe lisboa at 11:58 AM on March 11, 2005


joe l,

I think you have a good set of points about selectivity and what it gets you. I'm actually more concerned with the liberal acceptance of the pacifist Jesus because of what it lets in the back door than I am of the revenge fantasy coming from the other way.

I read an article a couple of years ago on Znet I think that talked about the liberal American (Anglo+Indian) Hindus who are funding very extreme Hindu political parties in India, partly because they do not understand the stakes of politicized religion in a country where religious intolerance regularly results in bloodshed. (Sorry I don't have a link).
posted by OmieWise at 12:01 PM on March 11, 2005


On review: I didn't mean "superficial ethical teachings" in a pejorative sense. More like "content" versus "motivation" - the content of his teachings is "Love the Lord your God, etc., and your neighbor as yourself" whilst the motivation for doing so is salvation (and by extension, avoiding damnation).

Skipped lunch so my brain hurts, apologies.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:03 PM on March 11, 2005


There's a very good movie from 1991 called The Rapture starring Mimi Rogers (she has HUGE tracks of land) and a young David Duchovny. The director basicallt decided to deride these insane theories by taking them seriously. The movie shows a very literal treatment of them. It's a very good, very watchable movie. Mimi Rogers (she has HUGE tracks of land) does a first rate job with the material.

Up here we call 'em "breasts".

Sorry. Something happens to me when we start talking about religion...
posted by 327.ca at 12:07 PM on March 11, 2005


Progressive evangelical Fred Clark (Slacktivist) has an amazingly in-depth analysis of the first 70-so pages of the first Left Behind book, and how even from a Christian perspective it's Wrong and Bad. And laughably terrible in its prose.
posted by Jeanne at 12:19 PM on March 11, 2005


Okay, last bit, I promise: I recognized on re-review that even talking about ethical motivation in this context may prompt an: "It's faith, not good works" reply, but I presume being receptive to grace (accepting Jesus as your saviour, or whatever specific hoop you think requires a good jumpin' through to be saved or eligible for salvation or whatever) would, itself, require a choice on the part of the believer, and therefore still be open to questions regarding motivation.

So, basically (and in the spirit of my initial concern) I'm suggesting that my above comments apply to Christian denominations of all stripes, provided that they accept Christ's divinity and believe that the Gospels are more-or-less accurate renditions of Christ's ethical teachings. And I stand by my claim that this would entail the vast majority of those who call themselves "Christian."

Phew. Done. Back to the meta-thread about what people think people look like.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:38 PM on March 11, 2005


That's 'tracts' of land, of course, which is funny in the context of the thread.
posted by emf at 12:57 PM on March 11, 2005


Thanks for your most valuable contributions joe lisboa.
You make excellent points. (and Mimi has excellent "tracks of land")
Sorry if I had misinterpreted and/or misjudged your original statements.
posted by nofundy at 12:59 PM on March 11, 2005


[...sorry, nothing to say, just couldn't stand the italics...]
posted by lodurr at 2:01 PM on March 11, 2005


That's 'tracts' of land, of course

yeah. i think jack chick's in on all this.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:40 PM on March 11, 2005


The linked version of the article, pointing to FindArticles.com, is badly formatted and riddled with scanning artifacts. The title is missing a word, for instance. Error-sensitive Mefites are encouraged to check out the official version at Harpers.org. (Yours sincerely, Paul Ford, Associate Editor, Harper's Magazine, etc., etc.)
posted by ftrain at 2:56 PM on March 11, 2005


As long as Lucifer is played by Viggo Mortensen, I'm willing to miss the rapture.
posted by deborah at 3:03 PM on March 11, 2005


ftrain, thanks! My editing knees were jerking all over the place with that first link.

When I was a fundie 9-year-old kid, I woke up one Saturday morning and no one was around, and had a terrifying few minutes when I wondered if I'd missed the Rapture.

Heh. Back when I was a reasonably devout Catholic (and several years older than 9, I must admit), I attended mass on Good Friday for Stations of the Cross (aka the "lean to the left! lean to the right! Stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!" mass). At one point I noticed that blood was trickling down the back of my hand, a for a few seconds all I could think of was "omigod, I've got stigmata!!!"

Then I realized I had absent-mindedly been picking at a small scab... and thus did I take another small step towards my eventual agnosticism.
posted by scody at 3:14 PM on March 11, 2005


Thanks, ftrain.
posted by bingo at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2005


Thanks, ftrain, much easier to read. It's a really well written review, I'll have to go read more from Lyons, I like his tone and cadence a lot.

As to the Rapture believers...I first had an evangelical tell me that only by renouncing my mother's (Maronite) Catholic church could I be saved...because Catholics were, and I quote here "No better than pagans and Jews". I think I was about 8 at the time...and even then, I knew that if *those* were the people getting saved...I'd just as soon sleep in, please.

As an older, more cynical self, I'm not terribly surprised by the power of the Death Cult. Saddened...but not surprised.
posted by dejah420 at 9:07 PM on March 11, 2005


The Omen series was pretty cool, though it was much less evangelical in nature than the Left Behind series.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:22 PM on March 11, 2005


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