I must apologize for the extended pause in our journey through the world of Left Behind. Dwelling in this abysmal novel is like working with lead paint — one needs the occasional break to avoid the dangers of prolonged exposure.
I have, as a kind of antidote, been re-reading Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This is a whipsmart book that I hope will serve as a prophylactic against the potential intellect-eroding effects of LaHaye and Jenkins’ stupefying work.
But why take the risk at all? Why expose myself and the readers of this blog to the potentially toxic foolishness of Left Behind?
Because LB is more than simply a wretched novel. It is a wretched novel with serious consequences. It is, among other things, an assault on the central beliefs of the Christian faith, as Mennonite theologian Loren L. Johns writes:
At the end of the day, this series is ultimately a rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ. I say this because it rejects the way of the cross and Jesus’ call to obedient discipleship and a new way of life. It celebrates the human will to power, putting evangelical Christians in the heroic role of God’s Green Berets. In this story, premillennialist dispensationalism meets American survivalism. This is a story about so-called Christian men who never really grew up, who still love to play with toys and dominate others, and whose passions are still largely unredeemed. Love of enemies is treated as a misguided strategy associated not with the gospel, but with the Antichrist. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have the right to offer any kind of interpretation of Christianity and of the end times that they wish. Ultimately, it is not their interpretation of the end times that troubles me so much as their interpretation of Christianity. It is devoid of any real theology, or substantial Christology, or any ethics that are recognizably Christian. This is a vision of unredeemed Christianity.
That’s dead on, but I think Johns is still too sanguine about L&J’s interpretation of “the end times.” Their twisted eschatology co-opts and corrupts all that the Gospels have to say about the kingdom of God. This is the very “pearl of great price” — not a peripheral piece of adiaphora.
But please don’t think of all this as a simple for-Christians-only intramural struggle affecting only the church and those within it. L&J present a political perspective that is every bit as corrosive as their theological views. And that political perspective is being read and absorbed by millions of Americans.
The political impact of L&J’s brand of dispensationalism is difficult to measure and difficult to overstate. It affects people’s attitudes toward religious pluralism, multilateral and international institutions, diplomacy and peacemaking. To give one specific example, adherents of L&J’s apocalyptic worldview are vocally opposed to the “road map” peace initiative in the Middle East. At a very basic level, this worldview opposes and undermines any long-term thinking, any sustained effort to make the world a better place — replacing the hope of redemption with a perverse longing for apocalypse.
As such, L&J ultimately are like any given set of villains from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They want to open the Hellmouth and bring about the end of the world. Stopping them, as always, begins with research.
So let’s send Xander out for donuts and get back to hitting the books.