L.B.: Peace in the Middle East

Left Behind, pp. 8-9

Here in reality, the "road map" peace plan is stumbling and staggering and likely to fall apart. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seem determined to undermine the plan in any way possible. Its two-state solution, and its stated goal of an independent Palestinian state in what is now the occupied West Bank by the year 2005, seems highly optimistic.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins don't believe in the road map peace plan. They have their own idea of what is necessary to end the perpetual conflict in the region. The problem, they say, is that Israel simply is not yet wealthy enough. Increase Israel's GDP, they argue, and peace will bloom like a magically fertile desert.

L&J like to drop startling, audacious plot points with little fanfare. It's a tendency that can give the reader whiplash. For instance:

The prosperity brought about by the miracle formula changed the course of history for Israel. Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors. Free trade and liberal passage allowed all who loved the nation to have access to it. What they did not have access …

Wait — did you catch that second sentence? L&J fly by this remarkable development offhandedly, but it seems that in the fantastic world of Left Behind there is a firmly established peace in the Middle East.

Never had Israel enjoyed such tranquility. The walled city of Jerusalem was only a symbol now, welcoming everyone who embraced peace.

Even the thorniest question of the Middle East peace process — the status of Jerusalem — has been easily and breezily dealt with. The entirety of Jerusalem is simply accounted as a part of Israel, but everyone else is permitted to freely come and go within it. And no one in the region has any qualms about this tidy arrangement.

How neat. How convenient, how simple and, like so much else in Left Behind, how utterly out of sync with anything resembling reality.

How this remarkable tranquility actually came about — how decades and generations of violence, hatred and mutual mistrust were swept away — L&J don't say. They, again, don't even seem to be interested. And it doesn't occur to them that their readers might be interested in or curious about such a startling development.

In the real world, or in an even semi-realistic fictional world, any hint of progress toward peace in the Middle East is the stuff of Nobel prizes and banner headlines. The path toward peace is marked with the graves of brave men — Sadat, Rabin — assassinated for their willingness to pursue anything other than continuing conflict. Yet L&J see no dramatic potential in exploring such a story. They simply present a miracle formula which in turn brings about a formulaic miracle: agricultural bounty = wealth = peace and an end to all animosity.

L&J believe that "biblical prophecy" foretells the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous Greater Israel — one which includes not only the entirety of the West Bank, but everything from the Mediterranean to the freaking Euphrates. Israel, according to this strange prophecy, is like a Red Giant. It is destined to swell as it dies, swallowing up Jordan, Syria and a sizeable chunk of Iraq before ultimately going supernova at Armageddon and collapsing forever into a black hole. (L&J would not approve of this metaphor — they consider the life cycle of stars a fiction of corrupt, secular humanist evolutionary theory.)

Now, try to conceive of any possible course of events that would — in the space of a few short months or years — take us from the world we live in today to a world in which the state of Israel has expanded to such a vast extent while simultaneously making fast friends with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

Can you imagine any way this might happen? L&J couldn't either. That's why, as they often do when conveying something ridiculously implausible, they simply assert it matter-of-factly in the hopes that the reader won't pay too much attention.

L&J sincerely believe that we are now living in the End Times. They wrote Left Behind in the hopes of convincing others that this is so.

Yet on page after page the reader is confronted with jarring illustrations of how glaringly, insurmountably incompatible this End Times world is with the actual world we are living in. The more you read, the more this book undermines the argument that our world and the world of the End Times are the same thing.

If you accept L&J's belief that Left Behind accurately portrays the world of the End Times as they believe it to be, then, by their own standard, you must conclude that the End is a long, long, looooong way away from here.

  • Jorge

    Isn’t that a good thing? Sure it makes for lousy literature and really undermines their driving goal of being the last generation, swept away by the bloodiest war in the history of humankind, praise jeebus. But for us dirty humanists with our athiestic science, this is fuel for the pro enlightenment argument.
    I’m loving the crit, keep up the good work!

  • Constantine

    What’s striking about this passage from LB is that it demonstrates that the weakness from Jenkins & LeHaye is not just from their poor theology, but how they view all of the problems in the Middle East through a very American lens. Right after September 11th, the (somewhat conservative) columnist Paul Campos wrote, “[M]uch of American politics has come to be based on the assumption that the rest of the world would eventually agree that the point of life was to acquire ever-larger televisions and sport utility vehicles.” This passage from LB is a very telling manifestation of this mentality Campos was decrying… that only if Israel were rich enoguh, then the world would love the country. Perhaps this is because LeHaye and Jenkins feel that in America, people’s problems will be solved and people will more well-liked if they have lots of money.
    And Jorge, I would argue that the above claims by Jenkins & LeHaye that “if we allow Israel to become rich, there will be peace” isn’t fuel for the pro-enlightenment argument, it is the pro-enlightenment argument.

  • Patann

    only if Israel were rich enoguh, then the world would love the country.
    How much richer do they have to be? They’re well on their way, I think. (But, uhh-h, they, the authors, forgot to notice that it hasn’t worked for us [U.S.] … the being rich enough part …)

  • Abigail

    Unfortunately not, Patann. Israel is currently in the grip of severe recession, stemming mostly from the tenuous political situation of the last three years. The country’s tourism industry has all but imploded, and unemployment is rampant. Each year the budget slashes more and more social programs – this year concentrating on single-parent families, the promised reduction in the cost of higher education, and pension funds. Increased defense spending also eats into these programs, and contributes to the country’s poor economy.
    Israel experienced nearly a decade of economic growth prior to the outbreak of the second Intifada. Foreign investors, feeling that peace was on the horizon, were eager to funnel money in (and of course this period also encompassed the high-tech boom, no less rampant in Israel then in Silicon Valley or Seattle). The end of serious hope for peace also brought an end to this prosperity. In fact, it seems that L&J have it entirely backwards – peace will bring Israel wealth, not the other way around.

  • Peter

    “Even the thorniest question of the Middle East peace process…has been easily and breezily dealt with…How neat. How convenient, how simple and, like so much else in Left Behind, how utterly out of sync with anything resembling reality.”
    I think that’s the point of the whole book series. It is to me an enjoyable work of Christian fiction. And to somehow think that there’s 55 million readers out in the world believing otherwise is a bit of a stretch. I’m a Christian and I found the series enjoyable because it served as a piece of work by which to analyze my own beliefs. Do I take Revelations literally? No. Do I acknowledge that there’s people in this world that do? Sure. Did I find it mentally stimulating to contemplate the end of the world? Yes. I highly doubt, however, that there’s 55 million literal interpreters of the Bible out there reading this series and making environmentally unfriendly decisions based upon their belief that the end is near.
    While I’m not the most studied person on the Bible, I do know that there’s more to leading a Christian life then believing Jesus lived and died for us. And that doesn’t change, even after the rapture happens. And I for one have yet to hear a Christian I know personally say anything to the contrary.

  • Patann

    Abigail, I know their own ‘war on terror’ has been expensive for them. But they are far from a third-world nation. Israel is not an impoverished country.
    Your last statement just reminds me how much in the thrall of the L&J mindset both Israel and the U.S. are. One wonders if these books would have any of the appeal they do if there were actually ‘peace on earth’?
    Foreign investors, feeling that peace was on the horizon, were eager to funnel money in …
    This also happened in the W. Bank. Many well-educated Palestinians who had left had moved back to try to make their life there. I don’t know where they are now.

  • Patience

    I would love to see someone write a companion series of novels called “No Child” which bravely tried to reconcile all the inconsistencies, factual errors, and tortured logic in the Lahaye/Jenkins oeuvre. The person who could pull that off would deserve the Pulitzer, the Booker, and probably the Nobel Prize too.

  • Abigail

    Patann, I am Israeli. I see the results of the recession around me every day, and more importantly, I remember the promise of the decade that preceded it. I’m one of the students whose tuition has failed to be cut, and may yet be raised, and while my financial situation remains comfortable, I see my friends struggle to make ends meet. Last year there was such a rush of applications for dorm rooms at my university that many deserving students were left without housing (dorms are assigned according to financial status). My aunt, an architect specializing in educational buildings, hasn’t had serious work in months, and the work she does get is rarely building new schools but repairing old ones. I know that we aren’t a third world country and I never claimed otherwise, but there is a huge continuum between a third-world economy and being rich, and right now Israel’s location on that continuum isn’t wealthy enough to afford medication in all hospitals. Things are bad here, and there’s no sign that they’re going to get better.
    I’m a bit confused by this:
    Your last statement just reminds me how much in the thrall of the L&J mindset both Israel and the U.S. are.
    Do you mean that you think I view the goal of peace to be financial prosperity? I can see how you might come to that conclusion, but as the sister of a boy who will be enlisting in the IDF next summer, I can assure you that my desire for peace has many other, more important, motives. However, there’s a difference between desiring wealth on a private scale and wanting your country to be wealthy enough to fully fund special education schools, and your economy to be robust enough so that you aren’t afraid to leave your job because there’s probably nothing better out there. The former might be a vice, the latter is something that I think most people hope for, and consider themselves lucky to have.

  • J Mann

    Oh good lord. Please please please do the whole series. I don’t care if you have to do two pages a day for the rest of your life, although I recognize you might. I would gladly read it for the rest of mine.

  • Patann

    Abigail, I meant in a general way — that both our countries seem to see pursuing arms, etc. as the way to prosperity, not the other way. I should have explained it more when I wrote it. I certainly know the U.S. does — so basically I was agreeing with you — L&J do have it backwards.
    How are people there seeing the new Switzerland Accords? It hasn’t gotten much traction here in the U.S.
    Sorry, I was not trying to make light of such a serious situation.

  • Chad

    I’m unclear as to what is meant by the phrase “pro-Enlightenment argument”. Even L&J accept some of the basic premises of the Enlightenment – e.g. that the Bible can and should be “proven true” via historical events which they perceive as empirical evidence. In this way, they are as much a part of the Enlightenment as Stephen Jay Gould. No one (theist or otherwise) can live in the centuries after the Enlightenment without being profoundly affected by its presuppositions about the world in which we live. L&J may wish to be “anti-Enlightenment”, but their characterization of this movement’s ideals would be a caricature at best.
    By describing the harm L&J are doing to political and theological discourse in the US (and beyond) by accepting a false dichotomy of pro-and anti-Enlightenment factions, however, we uncritically accept the combative terms of Fundamentalist Xty. At the risk of beginning a theological debate here, I pose the question: are all those who profess some sort of religious attachment “anti-Enlightenment”? Is it really helpful for us to place every person in one or the other camp?

  • Abigail

    How are people there seeing the new Switzerland Accords?
    Everything from shouting hallelujah (that would be the lefties) to demanding that the people responsible be tried for treason (that would be the righties). Frankly, I think the ordinary Israeli is so jaded by now that the idea that there may be a new hope for negotiations is very hard to accept. And I don’t believe there is any hope. The Geneva document was agreed upon, on the Israeli side, by a person who is no longer even an elected member of parliament, much less a representative of the government. I don’t like my leaders and I wish they hadn’t been elected, but that doesn’t give me, or any other person, the right to speak for my country in any formal capacity. The Geneva document doesn’t have any standing, and at this point it strikes me as more of a PR stunt then anything else – Beilin is trying to remind people that he still exists, and that there still exist people who believe in the peace process.

  • Eli

    Okay, you finally got me to pick up the book. AAARGH! Now I won’t be able to stop reading it till you stop! Your analysis so far seems dead on. It’s funny until I remember how freaking popular the things are.
    Anyway, one thing you seem to have passed over in this target-rich environment, regarding Israel’s agricultural miracle: “…Israel made peace with her neighbors. Free trade and liberal passage allowed all who loved the nation to have access to it. What they did not have access to, however, was the formula. … Maintaining that secret ensured the power and independence of the state of Israel.” In other words, they’ve got the ability to feed the world, but they keep it under wraps for political advantage. And the result is peace and love? Apparently so… until two pages later when Russia finally gets sick of their refusal to “[share] the wealth with the hordes of the north,” and tries to wipe them off the map.
    I don’t know which is weirdest, the idea that Rosenzweig’s elixir could be so blithely kept secret (while Rosenzweig himself just hangs out at a kibbutz where foreign reporters can access him – though Buck, to his credit, “had not even asked the old man to reveal the formula”; that would be unsportsmanlike) – or the notion of the rest of the world being all cool with that – or the way Russia decides that the best way to “dominate and occupy the Holy Land” and get some of that wealth would be to nuke it all into a toxic puddle.

  • Scott Cattanach

    If “wealth = peace and an end to all animosity” held, wouldn’t all that Arab oil have already brought peace?

  • none

    No, no, no. Oil is connected with technology and dark Satanic mills. Good, honest agriculture, that’s what brings peace.

  • Alison

    Its two-state solution, and its stated goal of an independent Palestinian state in what is now the occupied West Bank by the year 2005, seems highly optimistic.
    So looking back, isn’t it funny how things can change? OK, it’s not an independent state but I thought Israel would never pull out of any of the west bank either.

  • JPL

    And looking back, isn’t that highly optimistic too? Israel just *arrested* the Palestinian government.
    Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Serpentiger666

    How naive . . .

  • melissia

    “How this remarkable tranquility actually came about — how decades and generations of violence, hatred and mutual mistrust were swept away — L&J don’t say. They, again, don’t even seem to be interested. And it doesn’t occur to them that their readers might be interested in or curious about such a startling development.”

    Hell, we could write a sixteen book series on THAT ALONE.