“Left Behind” is evil

The apocalyptic heresies rampant in American evangelicalism are more popular than ever.

It's easy to dismiss these loopy ideas as a lunatic fringe, but that would be a mistake. The widespread popularity of this End Times mania has very real and very dangerous consequences, for America and for the church. ("Premillennial dispensationalism" — the technical terms for what these prophecy freaks teach — teaches that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians living today. It also undermines the core of Christianity — Jesus' death and resurrection, and the hope of that resurrection. These are not tangential matters for Christians.)

The cultural standard bearer for these Very Bad Ideas is the "Left Behind" series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. These books have become so popular that every pastor in America is now confronted with the task of gently, pastorally explaining to their congregation why the theology of these books is misguided and misguiding.

I'm not a pastor, so I won't be pastoral here. These books are evil, anti-Christian crap. This weekend, I'm beginning a new series of posts in which I'll go through these books, page by page.

Millions of your fellow citizens are reading these books. Millions. If you're wondering what that means for you, read the following, from Glenn Scherer in E magazine:

In his book The Carbon Wars, Greenpeace activist Jeremy Leggett tells how he stumbled upon this otherworldly agenda. During the Kyoto climate change negotiations, Leggett candidly asked Ford Motor Company executive John Schiller how opponents of the pact could believe there is no problem with “a world of a billion cars intent on burning all the oil and gas available on the planet?” The executive asserted first that scientists get it wrong when they say fossil fuels have been sequestered underground for eons. The Earth, he said, is just 10,000, not 4.5 billion years old, the age widely accepted by scientists.

Then Schiller confidently declared, “You know, the more I look, the more it is just as it says in the Bible.” The Book of Daniel, he told Leggett, predicts that increased earthly devastation will mark the “End Time” and return of Christ. Paradoxically, Leggett notes, many fundamentalists see dying coral reefs, melting ice caps and other environmental destruction not as an urgent call to action, but as God’s will. Within the religious right worldview, the wreck of the Earth can be seen as Good News!

Some true believers, interpreting biblical prophecy, are sure they will be saved from the horrific destruction brought by ecosystem collapse. They’ll be raptured: rescued from Earth by God, who will then rain down seven ghastly years of misery on unbelieving humanity. Jesus’ return will mark the Millennium, when the Lord restores the Earth to its green pristine condition, and the faithful enjoy a thousand years of peace and prosperity.

  • Ranjan

    Amen, brother.
    Fred, I love it when you combine your righteous anger with your detailed knowledge of Christian doctrine and scripture. Speaking as a lapsed Christian, I have learned a lot from your earlier writings on premillenial dispensatialism (and every other subject, too). I look forward to your new essays–but don’t go all out for us. I shudder at the thought of any thoughtful, educated soul going through those horrible books. A detailed rebuttal can’t be worth the mental anguish of going through them page by page. Wouldn’t it also take too long? ;)

  • Murph

    Thanks for that, Fred. I’m linking to it, since I tried to explain (in a rather ham-handed fashion) the link between this line of belief and thought and BushCo’s proposed policy on endangered species management in other countries (Kill: Capture: Abuse). You’ve done a much better job than I.

  • julia

    God, remember that piece of work Reagan put in to Interior?
    I’ll give them this – I believe that if religious fundamentalists of all ilks (yeah, communists and libertarians too) ascended bodily into whatever heaven they imagine they’re going to ascend into, there will be a regreening of the earth and a thousand years of peace.
    That’s because they’ll be gone.
    Yeah, don’t worry, numbnuts, I’ll grab the wheel when the rapture comes. Sorry you couldn’t hang til the oceanfront property in Utah thing worked out.

  • chris

    As a former Christian missionary, I have to say I’m glad others are finally clueing into this insidious part of the religious right. I remember remarking to some friends when Gingrich et al took over in 1994 that I thought there was a latent undercurrent of millenial fever, of a desire to actually incite a sort of Armageddon/end times scenario on the part of fundamentalist Christians. And I was saying it from the inside, as a follower myself. I’m outside now, watching and concerned that BushCo and supporters are in part driven by a religious conviction that in their minds condones stealing elections, starting preemptive wars, and making sure that (as the scripture says) “there will always be poor among us” through rapacious and punitive fiscal policy. God help us.

  • Rivka

    Wait a minute. Every last archaic reference in the Old Testament to how people are allowed to have sex applies, but the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t apply?

  • dave

    Rivka,
    It’s like they stopped reading the Bible after the Old Testament. They’re Christians who don’t care about the Christ parts of the Bible.
    They’re all smitin’ and no lovin’.
    dave

  • Adam Kotsko

    Worse than just stopping before the New Testament — they stopped reading before the prophets, too. It’s understandable, since the Old Testament is such a long book — they probably got to 1 and 2 Chronicles, saw that it was just a rehash of previous materials, and figured there wasn’t much left that was of any interest.

  • dmm

    No, the prophets have lots of great apocalyptic visions, too. That “The World Tomorrow” guy loved quoting from Jeremiah, for example. And parts of the New Testament are still fair game — Paul could be a real scold sometimes, and the Revelation is the heart and soul of Left Behind. Shame about that Jesus fellow telling people to remove the mote from their own eye, and saying that he who is without sin can cast the first stone. He wouldn’t last ten minutes as a student at Bob Jones.
    Anyway, thanks for doing this, Fred. I really enjoyed that series you did earlier this year where you analysed the bible verses that the President was reading as part of his morning devotions.

  • Chris

    The problem we have here is that no amount of argument will break the power of these books. No argument will ever win against a powerful story.
    I respect your attempt to deconstruct these books – but even more, we need to get better at telling the gospel story.

  • EssJay

    Will the regressives ascend soon? And leave Earth to the decent people? Go! Please!

  • http://www.goringe.net/tis/archives/000264.html Things I’ve Seen

    Left Behind

    slacktivist has an opinion about the Left Behind series which seems worth sharing… The cultural standard bearer for these Very Bad Ideas is the “Left Behind” series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. These books have become…

  • liberalmediaconspiracy

    New bumpersticker: “In the event of Rapture, this world will be a lot better off without the fundamentalist Christian assholes.”

  • http://www.smerpology.org/sprocket/archives/000667.html Snort a Sprocket

    Left Behind!

    You know, the Left Behind series of books has always provoked in me a feeling of sickening dread. Perhaps it’s…

  • TR

    I think this whole “end-times” phenomena reflects a larger problem in American society: that many (most?) Americans feel powerless, helpless, victimized and lied to; they are passive-aggressive, at the mercy of impersonal bureaucracies and institutions. Many have given up on the idea of humankind improving itself or solving its problems. Many even have a kind of death wish: they’ve given up on life, and want to be taken away from this horrible place to heaven. And since they believe suicide would be frowned upon by God, they want God to perform a mercy killing on the human race.

  • BFDiehl

    The problem we have here is that no amount of argument will break the power of these books. No argument will ever win against a powerful story.
    Or, as Joe Walsh so eloquently stated, You Can’t Argue wth a Sick Mind!

  • http://www.smallish.com/mt-archives/2003/10/000057.php Smallish.com

    “Left Behind” And The Loss Of Social Justice

    Isn’t it weird how once you start thinking about a topic it starts cropping up everywhere? Or, at least, in two places? The estimable Slacktivist is running a sort of real-time book review of the Left Behind series. I assume…

  • http://WWW.offthekuff.com/mt/archives/002523.html Off the Kuff

    Slacktivist takes on “Left Behind”

    Allow me, somewhat belatedly, to add my voice to those (such as Patrick) who have cited and praised Slacktivist’s ongoing

  • on a good day

    TR: your comment couldn’t be closer to the truth, in my case, at least..
    on my bad days, I feel so helpless I truly wish God would just “get it over with” and end this crap.
    between this and actually feeling anger at God for allowing the situation here on Earth to get so bad, it’s amazing I’m still here.

  • Andy

    End Timers,
    Could anyone be more mixed up?
    What the fuck are you thinking?
    First, There is no dog.
    second, if there was, he would consider you a fool.
    Third, Dog hates fools most of all – for your silly superstitopud beliefs he’s keeping you here for ever in your imaginary hell.

  • Andy

    End Timers,
    Could anyone be more mixed up?
    What the fuck are you thinking?
    First, There is no dog.
    second, if there was, he would consider you a fool.
    Third, Dog hates fools most of all – for your silly superstitopud beliefs he’s keeping you here for ever in your imaginary hell.

  • Sweeney

    “”Premillennial dispensationalism” — the technical terms for what these prophecy freaks teach — teaches that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians living today. It also undermines the core of Christianity — Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the hope of that resurrection. These are not tangential matters for Christians.”
    I beg to differ. I am very familiar with the “Left Behind” reading, “Premillenial dispensationalists,” and there are none who believe that “Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians living today” or that think any less of CHrist’s ressurection.
    It is conceivable that the crowd I know is non-representative of the group that you say has “dangerous consequences for America and the church.” But I think it is up to you to show that there is a high correlation between the premillenialists and these anti-Jesus christians (if I may so interpret your scorn).

  • Jim

    Be very careful when asserting or quoting sources that say “Christians believe that the end is near, so there is no need to be concious of the enviornment”. Bill Moyer just tried this and got busted as the quotes he used to buttress his argument turned out to be completely fabricated. I would find some way of confirming that John Shiller said what was attributed to him as his comments don’t sound like anything a Fortune 500 executive would say.

  • bellatrys

    Then why are LaHaye and co NOT giving all they have to the poor, but instead stashing away gobs of wealth?
    Not terribly Sermon on the Mount to me – By their fruits shall ye know them.
    BTW, Fred grew up among fundamentalists and Christian seminaries, as you’d know if you read through his posts instead of just fixating on one or two and attacking out of context. The burden is the LB crowd to explain why they’re not living the Gospels, and why they’re eager for the destruction of creation, and in their own magic-minded defiance of not knowing the day nor the hour.

  • YetAnotherRick

    bellatrys wrote:
    “Then why are LaHaye and co NOT giving all they have to the poor…”
    If you can show me that all liberal Christians who claim to *really* be following the Sermon of the Mount have given all they have to the poor, you might have a case. As it is, I don’t think you understand the use of hyperbole in Christ’s teaching. Christ also told Nicodemus he had to be born again, but some Christians seem to want to ignore that.
    “… they’re eager for the destruction of creation…”
    The burden of proof rests on you. I don’t think you or your fellow travelers know how for many of the LB crowd this is true. One of them is one too many, but the threat is grossly exagerrated. Ask yourself this: If they gave up this eschatological view, would they suddenly switch to voting for Democrats? Are there people who don’t follow the LB theology, but who don’t suppport Democratic or liberal ideas on how to be responsible for the environment?

  • jk

    I think Jim is on the right track. Leggett’s “Ford executive John Schiller” is actually Ford Technical Specialist John Shiller.
    “JOHN W. SHILLER is Emissions Planning Associate with the Automotive Emissions and Fuel Economy Office of the Environmental and Safety Engineering Staff of Ford Motor Company. His activities include the design and development of pollutant-specific air quality monitors as well as air quality modeling and the evaluation of the need for and performance of emission controls and more recently, the impact of alternative fuel strategies on atmospheric ozone concentrations and global warming. He is chairman of the Atmospheric Chemistry Panel of the Motor Vehicle Manu- facturers Association and has represented the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles at international forums on environmental issues. He received a B.S. degree in physics and an M.B.N degree from the University of Michigan and an M.S. degree in physics-from Wayne State University.” – source
    If you can’t trust Leggett to get Shiller’s name or occupation right, how can you trust his version of Shiller’s comments?

  • http://www.undercaffeinated.net/archive/001858.php Undercaffeinated

    It’s just not good at all

    I’m pretty sure David Adesnik is reading the Left Behind books not because he enjoys the quality of the writing, but for more anthropological reasons. Nonetheless, I decided to read a few pages and I was stunned by how terrible…

  • http://www.undercaffeinated.net/archive/001858.php Undercaffeinated

    It’s just not good at all

    I’m pretty sure David Adesnik is reading the Left Behind books not because he enjoys the quality of the writing, but for more anthropological reasons. Nonetheless, I decided to read a few pages myself and was stunned by how terrible…

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    Environmentalist vs. apocalyptic fundamentalist? Is this a case of loon vs. loon?

  • http://free-preteen-nudist.donesex.com Sahra Schroeder

    free-preteen-nudist

    Left Behind&quot…

  • Aurum Incontaminatus

    The funny thing? Every “argument” I’ve seen here — accusations of heresies, calling anyone that isn’t a fundamentalist Christian “decent”, et cetera ad nauseum — has been used by the funamentalists against… well, all of you, not to put too fine a point on it.
    In my eyes, both sides — they and you — are all full of it. Thank you, silly mortals, for your input. Does anyone listen to any of you anymore with any seriousness?

  • Fred

    Aurum –
    Thanks for the input. How do you think I could get people to, er, listen with more seriousness? I’ve been thinking that posting under a pretentious Latin pseudonym might help. Any thoughts?

  • Aurum Inconatimatus

    Well, it does help with the ladies (in my head, anyway). :3
    Seriously, no thoughts on that. You’re on you’re own there. In all honesty, I read because I, too, despise the Left Behind series. I have despised it since the day it came out, and I will despise it until the day of my burial. When God resurrects me (if He so chooses) and asks me, “Whaddya think of Left Behind?” I will tell Him, “It was worse than Brannon Bragga’s run on Enterprise”. (There’s my obligatory geek ref for the day…)
    I liked the films marginally more than the actual written works, and that’s not saying much. I hear the original writers were angry with Cloud Ten Pictures for departing from the original subject material. I applaud CTP for this. That material NEEDED to be departed from.
    But I digress.

  • Patrick Mergner

    for all you people that havent even read the series, you can just be quiet. That is why it is called FICTION. its not meant to be taken as true

  • Jesurgislac

    That is why it is called FICTION. its not meant to be taken as true.
    Oh NOES! Say it’s not so!

  • D. S. Farris

    I grew up dispensatinal. I went to dispensational private schools. After much research, I now hate dispensationalism. I have written a book called: PROPHETIC TOOL CHEST FOR DISMANTLING THE DISPENSATIONAL DELUSION. This manuscript along with my Radio shows can be viewed and heard at: http://www.prophetictoolchest.bravehost.com. I have spent much time developing a methodology to utterly destroy that false system. Dispensationalism is one of the most destructive and dangerous systems in the Christian world.

  • Ken

    That is why it is called FICTION. its not meant to be taken as true.
    Left Behind isn’t the only one with that kind of fanboy problems. Around last Easter (when Discovery, History, and National Geographic channels were going “All Da Vinci Code, all the time”), I heard of Da Vinci Code fanboys harassing tour guides in Rome. The tour guide would be doing his/her spiel about a location or history of a site, and some fanboy on the tour would pipe up “NO! YOU’RE WRONG!”, take out their copy of DVC, and start quoting chapter-and-verse from it. How Dark the Con of Dan…

  • Word Warrior

    I have read D.S. Farris’ material and listened to his radio show. I encourage any who believe in dispensationalism to check his materials out. If you hate dispensationalism, I also encourage you to check his materials out. He quite possibly had the most comprehensive information on this subject. He proves that dispensationalism has its roots and mythical Judaism and Jesuit theology. Not to forget that dispensationalism was not the belief of the reformers nor the Apostles. If you are interested in exercising your brain, I suggest you visit his site.
    T.R.

  • Debra

    Just have to say something here about the Left Behind Series. I don’t know where you guys got the idea that they are evil. I have studied for a long time these books. It goes directly too what is going to happen. Don’t know how you guys can say it doesn’t.

  • ako

    I don’t know where you guys got the idea that they are evil. I have studied for a long time these books. It goes directly too what is going to happen.
    Fred has multiple detailed posts going into depth about what’s wrong with Left Behind, why it’s evil, and why it does not go into detail about what happened (hint; try reading Revelations straight through, instead of matching select quotes to a chart). If you’re interested, read any entry in the “Left Behind” category.

  • D. S. Farris

    Hello, my name is D.S. Farris. I have been arguing against dispensationalism for years. A while back I posted a comment on this blog explaining where my online book can be found and where my radio shows can be found. My partner and I have changed web addresses for the book and show. The New web site for PROPHETIC TOOL CHEST is: http://www.hearingthetruth.org. We argue all kinds of topics. The Left Behind DELUSION is the most rediculous system of theology on the planet.

  • Parasum

    “”Premillennial dispensationalism” — the technical terms for what these
    prophecy freaks teach — teaches that the Sermon on the Mount does not
    apply to Christians living today.”"

    ## Maybe the PDists have a point about the S on the Mt. But not for their reasons. It takes the validity of the Law for granted – and, notoriously, Christians do not. Jesus was a Jew – Christians are almost all Gentiles.

    That apart, PDism = very very very very  very very very very…..bad idea. Exegetically, doctrinally, theologically, politically, morally. I would classify it as another US mythology, like Mormonism. 

  • Marshal Valor1

    Perhaps this feeling of powerlessness in the face of ominous governments is part of why the post-apocalyptic genre in general is so popular. There is precious little true adventure, freedom, and frontiers left that haven’t all been parceled and legislated by stuffy pencil-pushers in suits.
    We feel that we can’t tear down these institutions ourselves,  but if some convenient catastrophe (war, virus, zombies, etc…)  could do the heavy gunning for us, we would (after being amongst the lucky survivors, of course) be free to do our own thing, Road Warrior-style, rebuild society to our own image (without any pesky politicians telling us how to run things), and get a chance to be awesome action-survivors each day. Best of all, we’d have the most convenient excuse ever for all our actions – we’re struggling for our very existence.

    No wonder so many of us don’t dread the End of the World as We Know It anymore… in fact, we kinda feel fine about it…

  • Guest

     Perhaps God is giving us a chance to better our own lot and change our ways before He pulls a tabula rasa again…

  • Hth

    Happy aluminum anniversary, Fred! (Wait, can that be right? Aluminum, seriously?)

  • Hth

    Er…that was supposed to go on the post linking to this one. Sorry, future historians, for confusing your archival research.

  • James M

    Left Behind = Harry Potter for Dispensationalists

  • melissia

    Don’t be so harsh. Harry Potter actually does, or tries to do, something vaguely heroic. He also has sane, human traits. The same cannot be said of these losers.


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