L.B.: Apocalypse & Power

OK, so I'm headed out of town for a few days, causing a regrettable delay in this week's installment of Left Behind Fridays. Hope to have it up here by Saturday evening.

Until then, here's a provocative little passage from David Dark on the subject of apocalyptic literature (from the introduction of what turns out to be a review of Radiohead's "OK Computer"):

"As a literary genre, 'apocalyptic' is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it." N.T. Wright (The New Testament and the People of God.) …

We've apparently got the word "apocalyptic" all wrong. It's not about destruction or fortune-telling, it's about revealing. …

Apocalyptic shows us what we're not seeing. It can't be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of "the way things are" whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as "the way things ought to be" and whose greatest virtue is being "realistic." Thinking through what we mean when we say "realistic" is where the apocalyptic begins. If the powers that be are the boot which, to borrow Orwell's phrase, presses down upon the human face forever, apocalyptic is the speech of that human face. Apocalyptic denies, in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, the "forever" part.

That takes one a lot closer to understanding the meaning of St. John's Apocalypse than anything LaHaye and Jenkins have written. It also illuminates just why the pseudo-apocalyptic literature of L&J is so deeply awful. L&J may not themselves be "the powers that be," but they are thoroughly invested in the status quo. So in a sense they are writing from a perspective that is roughly the opposite of John's.

Discuss.

Bonus question: To what extent can snark be characterized as a form of apocalyptic literature?

(I'll be back Saturday with the belated LBF.)

  • Darryl Pearce

    So, um, er, uh…, do the “left behind” people get to say, “I’m sorry. I apologize. You were right.” and thengo to heaven? Or do they get seven-years of tribulation… and then go to hell?
    I mean… seven years of tribulation in exchange for eternal bliss? No brainer. Seven years of tribulation and then eternal damnation? What’s the point?

  • Scott

    They love the smell of napalm in the morning
    Good, if shallow, piece in The Washington Post this weekend about a Washington and Lee University course on apocalypticism. …
    …Apocalypticism taps into deep currents of what National Post regular Colby Cosh has described as “the pervasive collective feeling (present in all human ages) that the world has gone wrong” and offers an answer to this problem.
    The solution is, hold fast to the faith and wait for deliverance by a higher power. The prof rightly tells Kenzie that the end of the world in the apocalyptic context is the beginning of something else. What comes after depends on whether one had faith in that deliverer all along.
    Kenzie does a good job of observing the scene — and God bless her for those anecdotes — but I wish she had asked more questions. To wit:
    1) Historically, the Apocalypse has tended to be more popular with persecuted religious sects that with sects that have it relatively good. Why is it so popular with many American Christians today?
    2) When popular culture adopts apocalyptic themes, does it tend to swallow them whole or is it a lot more selective in its use?
    3) Are apocalyptic themes in fact more prevalent today? Have there been any attempts to quantify this?

  • James

    Nice to see Dave quoted. I seem to remember that in the book proposal for Everyday Apocalypse he made some reference to LB (something along the lines of “I wouldn’t want to characterize this book as a response to the popularity of LB, but..” (quoting from very vague memory).
    Fred – I’d be interested to hear your take on Dave’s latest book, The Gospel According To America, the first chapter of which can be found somewhere on the Christianity Today website.

  • James

    Nice to see Dave quoted. I seem to remember that in the book proposal for Everyday Apocalypse he made some reference to LB (something along the lines of “I wouldn’t want to characterize this book as a response to the popularity of LB, but..” (quoting from very vague memory).
    Fred – I’d be interested to hear your take on Dave’s latest book, The Gospel According To America, the first chapter of which can be found somewhere on the Christianity Today website.

  • coriolis

    Scott:1) Historically, the Apocalypse has tended to be more popular with persecuted religious sects [than]with sects that have it relatively good. Why is it so popular with many American Christians today? I think you have to look separately at the anxiety of the believer in the pew, who sees his situation as much worse than his parents’ generation (e.g. “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”) and the “believer” who has it good, but has the nagging doubt that Jesus was serious about the whole camel/needle thing. 2) When popular culture adopts apocalyptic themes, does it tend to swallow them whole or is it a lot more selective in its use? Warning!This answer has been deleted, by the system, because it contains the flame-bait words Derrida and deconstruction.3) Are apocalyptic themes in fact more prevalent today? Apocalypticism showed up at the end of the first millenium and the end of the 19th century. Something to do, I think, with “the tyranny of even numbers.”

  • animus

    Historically, the Apocalypse has tended to be more popular with persecuted religious sects that with sects that have it relatively good. Why is it so popular with many American Christians today?
    Well, we’ve discussed before the reasons why these people feel they’re being persecuted…

  • Daddy-O

    I dunno, Fred…you’re my favorite writer on the Internets…you’re my favorite Christian, lefty, righty, whatever…you always–ALWAYS–post the most thoughtful and interesting posts you can come up with, which explains their relative scarcity compared with other bloggers…
    …but I just don’t think I can keep up with you on the Left Behind thing. Why?
    Because you’re getting right to the point where I put that worthless book down, for good. It’s getting harder and harder to care about this.
    Of course, I don’t want you to stop. That’s not my point, and you wouldn’t pay attention if it was. I’m just losing interest in the dissection of this obviously bigoted propaganda. Bigoted as in “Christians are better than the rest of the human race, and there’s nothing we can do about it”.
    Keep on keepin’ on. I’ll try to stay awake. I’ll be here the REST of the week, no problem-o.
    Later.

  • aunursa

    So, um, er, uh…, do the “left behind” people get to say, “I’m sorry. I apologize. You were right.” and thengo to heaven? Or do they get seven-years of tribulation… and then go to hell?
    According to L&J the “left behind people who …
    (1) become Christians and then survive the tribulation get to enjoy Jesus’ kingdom on earth for 1000 years.
    (2) become Christians and are killed during the tribulation go straight to heaven and then return to earth for the 1000 years.
    (3) survive the tribulation unsaved get transported to Israel for the judgment and then get cast into hell.
    (4) die unsaved get resurrected for the judgment and then get cast into hell.

  • Thomas

    “Because you’re getting right to the point where I put that worthless book down, for good. It’s getting harder and harder to care about this.”
    Well, personally I read the whole damn book at one point, so I want Fred to see it through. Unlike L&J, he keeps finding new observations to surprise me.

  • pharoute

    Apocalyptic snark? “a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer, and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight O’clock.”

  • Gus

    Are apocalyptic themes in fact more prevalent today? Have there been any attempts to quantify this?
    I doubt anyone’s actually quantified it, but I think such themes probably ARE more common. Besides the religious angle that’s been around for a century-plus, everyone has had the constant threat of nuclear holocaust hanging over our heads since WW2 in varying degrees of severity, the widespread recognition (even though denied by a fair chunk of society) of the negative aspects of our culture’s influence on nature, the issues of overpopulation, and, more recently, the recognition of the limits of the oil supply and our need to change many aspects of how we live if we want to survive long-term.
    All of these scare people even if they are not as serious threats as some think, and when you toss socioeconomic troubles into a blender that’s being spun by a society which has always had an either/or, us vs. them, “favored by god” subtext, apocalyptic thinking should surprise nobody.
    The apocalyptic vein in literature has long stretched beyond Christian books — in fact, Christian books are to some degree latecomers to popular notice. SciFi has explored such themes in various forms (sometimes with, sometimes without religious subtext, but almost always with a LOT more thought & better writing) since HG Wells “War of the Worlds” or earlier and had hundreds of titles in this vein before anyone had ever heard of L&J.
    If this is a subject that interests you and you want better books, there’s an incredibly long but still incomplete list at Empty World

  • Darryl Pearce

    How many generations of “Latter Day Saints” have there been? Eight? Nine?
    Faith is the assurance of things unseen. I’ve got to use my God-given free will to choose good over evil.
    IF I can “decide” AFTER the rapture, all skepticism is put aside and I have proof (‘cuz there’s a seven-headed dragon coming out of the ocean), THEN it’s not a test of faith and I daresay not an exercise of free will.
    Crude! We just ended up in the movie “Dogma!”

  • Buhallin

    I’ve always preferred this one: “Faith is the ability to believe that which the facts do not support.”
    As to the LB series, my only complaint in Fred’s direction is that it’s going too slow ;) There’s a lot of this crap out there now, and they’re writing it faster than he can analyze it…
    To point, I picked up their newest one, the prequel about the birth of the Antichrist… Did you know he was genetically engineered? Of course he was, that’s the big boogeyman these days… Are they even pretending to have biblical precedent for any of this junk any more?

  • Dave Lartigue

    No one seems to have picked up the “snark” gauntlet. I’ve been thinking a lot about snark myself, in an essay I’m writing for my own blog about it, so I’ll give it a whack.
    Snark shares this quality with apocalyptic literature: it revels in the negative in an attempt to demonstrate how far the writer (and the reader) is above it. Snark has nothing to say about the good…though it pretends to exist to help correct things, in reality it knows it’ll be out of a job if it succeeds. Snark wants things both ways: it wants to simultaneously condemn and appreciate, each side serving to justify the other. Apocalyptic literature has that same desire. It’s as was mentioned in a previous entry: each tale of the joy of being born again is accompanied by a salacious (and more interesting) tale of being previously damned.
    I’ve long referred to LB and its ilk as Christian Porn. It (and snark writing) share the same qualities. The content isn’t really what matters, just the feeling the writer and reader get from it at the end.

  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    “How many generations of “Latter Day Saints” have there been? Eight? Nine?”
    Not remotely a Mormon, here, but this seems a bit confused. Several sects founded in the 19th century claimed that the world would end within the lifetimes of those then living, but I don’t think the Latter Day Saints were among those.

  • Scott

    To point, I picked up their newest one, the prequel about the birth of the Antichrist… Did you know he was genetically engineered?
    Did the process involve several long phone calls between biologists? :-)

  • Robert

    I’d agree completely with Mr. Dark. Apocalypse originally meant unveil or reveal. The modern meaning is utter destruction. LB isn’t about either of those things.
    LB is about reassurance. This book is for those who want to be told that they were right. That the Truth they were taught is unassailable. As an added bonus readers get a graphic description of people who dissented from (or mocked) the Truth being subjected to the most horrible torments.
    Nothing in LB comes as a surprise. Partly because emotions like surprise are beyond the ability of L&H to convey, but mostly because that’s not what these books are about. The audience wants things to unfold according to a script they already know. Even the secular world of the book remains constant. If things like dial-tones vanished entirely the setting would become strange and uncomfortable.
    The book could use snark. It may not be descriptive, but snark has the power to both reveal and destroy, something LB completely misses.

  • Sophia8

    “To point, I picked up their newest one, the prequel about the birth of the Antichrist… Did you know he was genetically engineered?”
    Not just genetically engineered, but also the child of two gay fathers who had produced him solely out of their own DNA! Do these authors ever bother to check basic biomedical facts?

  • Andrew Cory

    Sophia8,
    please, please please tell me you are joking…

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    My husband’s got a friend in biological research who explained that this actually can be done, at least in theory. But I forget the details. Something about taking stem cells and DNA from both people wanting to be parents… So, yeah, I know just enough to put my foot in my mouth about it, but I have been assured it is, or will be in the near future, possible.

  • Jon H

    I just hope that George Lucas, now finished with Star Wars, doesn’t take up Left Behind.
    There really isn’t anyone in film who’s a better match for L&J’s characterization.

  • Panu

    Well, we’ve discussed before the reasons why these people feel they’re being persecuted…
    Make it “why these people get a kick out of feeling they’re being persecuted”. By the way, as English happens not to be my native language, and as I have never spent any longer time in an Anglophone country: would somebody be so kind as to explain that term “snark” to me, so that I could join the (insider) fun.

  • Jesurgislac

    Snark: a word (I believe) invented by Lewis Carroll. You can read his poem on The Hunting of the Snark.
    Used in speech, “snark” means a disparaging or belittling style – irritable/derisive.
    How we got from the Snark of Lewis Carroll to the snark of daily speech, I really don’t know.

  • Jesurgislac

    Snark: a word (I believe) invented by Lewis Carroll. You can read his poem on The Hunting of the Snark.
    Used in speech, “snark” means a disparaging or belittling style – irritable/derisive.
    How we got from the Snark of Lewis Carroll to the snark of daily speech, I really don’t know.

  • Matt McIrvin

    Have you ever heard of Darth Plagueis the Wise?…

  • Beth

    I don’t think snark has anything to do with Carroll’s mythical beast. Rather, it comes from the Germanic “snorken,” to snore or snort. Snark is derisive, cynical, contemptuous, snide, and usually shallow.

  • Gus

    Hi, Nicole,
    You’re right, almost. The journal Nature carried a story on 4/22/04 about a Korean experiment that produced a viable, fertile female mouse from the egg cells of two normal females. Geneticist Bryan Sykes refers to it in Adam’s Curse, where what he says suggests such a thing might NOT be possible between two males.
    A BBC story on this reported, “as a result of this modification, just two out of 598 mice embryos made it to full term.”
    “The efficiency of this technique is rather low. So it’s not a technique that can be readily adapted for practical purposes,” Professor Azim Surani, an expert in imprinting at the University of Cambridge, UK, told BBC News Online.
    BTW… did anyone really expect them to know science if they don’t even really know the Bible that means so much to them?!?

  • Dan Lewis

    “Are they even pretending to have biblical precedent for any of this junk any more?”
    Buhallin said this about the genetically engineered Antichrist. I think he is genetically engineered because organic Antichrist, while equally nutritious and safer for your body, could not survive against the demonic pests sure to infest your run-of-the-wheel-of-fire garden in Hades. And if you can’t make it in Hell, where can you make it anyway?
    Seriously, there is this tension (for L&J, anyway) between fiction and non-fiction in a story making reference to Biblical events. When you are trying to write out these future events, adhering steadily to some prophecy, you feel weird about adding fictional details for the sake of realism and drama. If your story is more like a metaphor than a report, say like CS Lewis’s The Last Battle, you will feel freer to monkey with the details. A wooden story like Left Behind is not free to indulge literary merit.
    So I think L&J probably have some obscure Bible citation for the Antichrist being genetically engineered. “The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion,” maybe (Rev. 13.2)?

  • Dustin

    Are they even pretending to have biblical precedent for any of this junk any more?
    They never did really have any biblical precedent. The entire idea of what Jenkins and LaHaye propose is based off of mininterpretation and misquoting, aside from sheer ignorance. Very little, if anything, that is written in these books fits anywhere into a biblical context.

  • Daddy-O

    Sorry, Thomas, I was just expressing my personal feelings. I’m sure Fred will continue, whether I read it or not.
    It’s becoming sort of a nauseous detail of pica…LB feels as worthless of an effort of literature as I’ve ever seen, except for its impact, of course.
    And that makes it even more worthless to me.
    What’s so bad about snark? It helped Tbogg win a Koufax…and I certainly enjoy my fair share of it. Does it seem un-Christian to you guys, or something? Sarcasm comes from the Greek “to tear flesh”. I can see how it feels over-the-top to some folks, but snark is here to stay–especially on the internets, where it’s greeted warmly as at least one underlying communication that’s pretty unmistakeable.

  • Jeff G.

    Cough cough.. Monday.. No LJ post

  • hilzoy

    Am … entering … LB post … withdrawal …
    Can’t hold out much longer …
    Please help …

  • Paolo

    I think that the best book to show what St. John’s Apocalypse reveals is David Currie’s book “Rature: The End-Times Error that Leaves the Bible Behind.” It’s a great book on how the book of Revelation unfolds in history in the first century and reveals God’s promise to his people.
    It is a maginificent book that destroys the Rapturist theology using the Bible and history.
    One of my favorite sections of the book was how he goes through history and shows how many times people thought the world would end when they misinterpret Bible prophecy and the psychological appeal of the “Left Behind” series. It also points out that Rapturism is a purely American phenomenon and shows how it historically became so.

  • Merlin Missy

    Not just genetically engineered, but also the child of two gay fathers who had produced him solely out of their own DNA!
    Nothing says “badfic” quite like mpreg (unless you’re in a fandom with aliens and even then it’s iffy). And lest we forget, we’ve got not one but two Gary Stus in the lead. If there are song lyrics that appear in a significant part of the text, we can call it songfic too and have the unholy trifecta of bad fanfic. Somebody call Henry Jenkins; everyone else over here with me. There’s LB slash just waiting to be written. :D

  • none

    Okay, that’s it. Merlin Missy’s last suggestion reveals that the Antichrist is among us.
    Help, Professor Jenkins!

  • none

    “the unholy trifecta of bad fanfic”
    I think you’re onto something. All we need to know is who’s going to wear a pair of leather pants.
    Also, we should probably decide in advance who his “shining green oceans” for eyes, and who only has “mischievous sapphires of longing”. I mean, that’s a pretty important part of any slash fanfic.

  • speedwell

    No, of course “snark” comes from Hunting of the Snark. Recall that there are two kinds of Snark in the poem; the kind that “have feathers and bite,” and the kind that “have whiskers and scratch.” I always thought “snarky” was a near synonym of “catty,” myself. Either sort of Snark is a good metaphor for the deriding, sarcastic humor than characterizes “snark.”

  • panasianbiz

    I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. As an educator myself and, in particular, an English teacher, I found this discussion quite thought provoking. Bravo to you!

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