3/13/2005

Left behind

There are two "left behind" phrases that get bandied about a lot these days: No Child Left Behind, and the Left Behind book series. This post is about the latter.
But I can't help but wonder: Will the children of left-wing heathens like me be left behind or not?
Perhaps Gene Lyons, in his Harper's review of the "books of the apocalyse," can shed some light on this matter. He writes:
After living in the Bible Belt for more than thirty years, 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. It includes Satan worshipers one year, “secular humanists” the next. Panic over backward masking on phonograph records yields to fears that supermarket bar codes harbor the Mark of the Beast. Some years back, Procter & Gamble was forced to deny widespread rumors that a moon-and-stars logo on boxes of soapsuds symbolized corporate diabolism. More recently, purging school libraries of Harry Potter’s witchcraft has emerged as a cause. As if the real world weren’t scary enough, chimerical threats must be found. It often appears that no form of occultism is too arcane or preposterous to provoke alarm.
I’ve also learned that fundamentalist Christianity’s spiritual entrepreneurs are never more dogmatic than when they are ignoring, if not contradicting, the essence of Jesus Christ’s teachings. The basic con is to insist upon the historical and scientific accuracy of every syllable in the Bible—then to analyze its symbolism, unveil hidden acrostics, and decode secret messages known only to initiates.
...This is not to suggest insincerity. As Swift noted, the successful propagandist is most often his own first victim. But it does begin to explain the huge commercial success of the Left Behind series of eschatological thrillers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, a twelve-novel extravaganza combining a blandly paranoid worldview with crackpot theology to produce a form of biblical infotainment seemingly irresistible to a reported 42 million readers.
Forget all that sentimental gibberish about blessed peacemakers, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. If there are references to the Sermon on the Mount among Left Behind’s roughly 1 million words, I failed to find them. Depicting the “End Times” as an action/adventure melodrama similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator films, the books portray midwestern suburbanites and born-again Israeli converts as Warrior Jesus’ allies in an apocalyptic struggle against a U.N.-anointed “World Potentate,” who looks “not unlike a younger Robert Redford” and speaks the language of science and liberal internationalism.
Yet the media’s response to all of this nonsense has been remarkably polite. In America, of course, with commercial success comes a degree of cultural respectability. If millions of consumers succumb to a childish revenge fantasy that takes the Christ out of Christianity and treats the Bible as a cosmic Daily Racing Form, we dare not scoff at the merchandise. Indeed, the religious right is the biggest beneficiary of the “political correctness” it affects to deplore. Views H. L. Mencken once derided as the “idiotic hallucinations of the cow states” now command respect more or less proportionate to their market share. So it is that the authors find themselves consulted regularly on matters ecclesiastical by publications ranging from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. A 2002 profile in Time magazine pronounced Dr. LaHaye an “influential theologian.” (Academic titles are very big among graduates of Bob Jones University.) “Within a few hours after we met for the first time,” its author enthused, “LaHaye gave me advice about my career, my love life and my salvation—and yet his questions didn’t feel intrusive. He’s that genuine.”
Genuinely deluded is perhaps closer to the truth.


You can read the whole review from the link.

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