L.B.: The Antichrist Checklist

Left Behind, pp. 135-142

Buck Williams has his work cut out for him. He's in charge of investigating and reporting the biggest story in the history of the human race.

What caused the instantaneous disappearance of 1/3 of the world's population? Could this strange event have been the result of foul play? Are the missing still alive? Is it possible they could return just as suddenly and mysteriously? What does it mean to suddenly find ourselves in a world without children?

None of these questions occur to Buck or to his editor, Steve Plank, as they sit down to discuss his duties in the days ahead. They aren't yet able to answer even the most basic questions about the disappearances — who, what, when, where, why, how? — but none of this seems to bother them.

Buck thinks he should be investigating international financiers. Steve, on the other hand, thinks Buck should focus on the Jews. Yes, you don't have to be a member of the John Birch Society to work here … but it helps!

Here again we see the hurdle facing LaHaye and Jenkins: So much prophecy, so little time. They haven't got the luxury of following up on the aftereffects of the "rapture" because they've got a rise-of-the-Antichrist to follow. Buck and Steve have already moved on to this next plot point. Even though neither one of them is aware of the importance of the Antichrist in premillennial dispensationalist mythology, and neither is aware that Nicolae Carpathia will become the Antichrist, the authors know all of this, and so the authors begin Chapter 8 with an extended conversation about Carpathia.

The Antichrist of PMD is the same one you may have read about on old heavy metal album covers. Iron Maiden and Hal Lindsay may be cheering for opposing sides, but they share a common mythology.

These are the sources to which you'll have to turn to learn about this character, the Antichrist, and what he means to folks like L&J. Without this basic Darby/Lindsay/Scofield/Iron Maiden framework in mind, it's unlikely that you would come away from the Bible with this idea of "The Antichrist." The word "antichrist," after all, only appears in one book of the Bible and it's not Revelation. The term doesn't come from John's Apocalypse, but rather from his epistles. And there, actually, the word is plural: "you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come."

The singular, capital-A Antichrist of PMD prophecy is based on a variety of passages cobbled together from throughout the Bible. He is the Beast of Revelation; the King of the South and the King of the North from Daniel; the false Christ(s) that Jesus warns against in Matthew's Gospel and Paul's "man of lawlessness" from Thessalonians (which is a delightfully Nietzschean phrase). The composite sketch derived from all these descriptions yields a portrait that looks a little like Nebuchadnezzar, a little like Antiochus Epiphanes, a little like Nero or Diocletian, and a little like Victor von Doom.

The favorite passage of both metalheads and prophecy experts is from Revelation 13:16-18. Many of the items on the Antichrist Checklist are derived from this passage:

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

Later, we'll explore some of the details of the Antichrist Checklist. For now, the particulars of this list are less important than the basic point that the list exists, and that it forms the outline for the remaining chapters of Left Behind. This checklist is the subtext of today's section of the book, and why the authors have Buck and Steve improbably discussing the new president of Romania:

"Didn't they just elect a leader, what, 18 months ago?" Buck said, remembering Dirk's tip that a new leader would seem out of place and time.

"Big shake-up there," Steve said. "Better check it out."

Scarcely 36 hours ago the world was plunged into chaos. Against such a cataclysmic backdrop, it's hard to imagine how any change of political leadership anywhere could seem out of place. Apparently, however, not a single head of state was among the disappeared, so aside from Romania, every other administration remains intact. This means that every head of state is both a heathen and an expert politician — since each of them has been able to weather the turmoil that might be expected to follow the disappearance of all of their nation's children.

Their discussion of Carpathia continues, offering choice bits of dialogue such as:

"… the only wrinkle in Carpathia's history is some rumors that he was ruthless with his business competition years ago."

"How ruthless?"

"People took dirt naps."

"Ooh, Steve, you talk just like a mobster."

Plank does have a fleeting flash of perspective, but Buck talks him out of it:

"We're talking Romania here, Buck. Romania. Nonstrategic, scant gross national product, never invaded anybody, never anyone's strategically. There's nothing there but low-level internal politics."

"It still smells major to me," Buck said. "Rosenzweig was high on this guy, and he's an astute observer. Now Carpathia's coming to speak at the U.N. What next?"

Here again the United Nations is spoken of as an effective, powerful, prestigious authority. Buck seems in awe of the idea that Carpathia could rise to become the next Boutros Boutros Ghali.

This view of the U.N. only makes sense in light of the Antichrist Checklist. If the Antichrist is eventually going to rule over everyone and force them to accept his mark, then he will have to preside over a single, all-powerful World Government. If you believe that this One World Government is destined by prophecy, and that this prophecy is going to be fulfilled very soon, then you will look on any existing multilateral, international organizations — no matter how ineffectual or marginal they may appear to be — as the precursors of this global totalitarian reign.

This is why everybody in LB speaks of the U.N. as an all-powerful and malevolent institution. This is also how readers who swallow the LB perspective come to think of the U.N. and or of any multilateral cooperation or treaty. Another small reminder of the way these books and their popularity influences American politics and policy.

Steve reminds Buck that his assigned priorities are the upcoming conventions in New York of "Jewish Nationalist" leaders, "Orthodox Jews" (a separate, but equally Jew-y group) and "international monetarists setting the stage for one world currency."

All of these conventions are still on, their schedules unchanged and undisturbed by the events of the last few days. It doesn't occur to Steve or Buck or the conferees themselves that a global cataclysm might be expected to alter either their travel plans or their pre-cataclysm agendas.

Steve sends Buck home to rest before returning to the office later that evening. Mercifully, Jenkins only spends half a page detailing the logistics of Buck's cab ride.

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  • Merlin Missy

    So, in addition to voting Democrat, they should be putting all their efforts into encouraging serious interest in a single world currency and making the UN the most powerful governing body in the world.
    But you’re forgetting: per the mindset at work here, the good Christians are vastly outnumbered everywhere by us heathens, unbelievers, Unitarians, gays, and so on. They can rest assured, voting for BushCo. won’t matter on a global scale because we are destined to bring our sinful lifestyles to the forefront and outvote ’em, thus bringing about the Rapture regardless. I’m sure many of these people had to have a lie-down after the election, as it is very hard to claim the “outnumbered” and “persecuted” cards and still have what amounts to a razor-thin electoral majority.
    (I didn’t say it made sense.)

  • Jay Denari

    Thanks to various folks who posted the funny numerology references.
    And there, actually, the word is plural: “you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.”
    Of course, what’s very clear from the context of this Bible line is that it referred to events happening then not in today’s world. The whole concept of those “prophecies” having anything to do with the present is delusional.
    If the Xian right wants to find a one world govt, they DON’T have to look for any multilateral organization at all. In so doing, they’re ignoring the US military, which has a presence in 100+ countries, IIRC. That meets anyone’s definition of an organization that projects govt power globally, and is a lot more believable than the UN.(In fact, Christianity itself is also far more influential globally than the UN is.)
    These people never imagine that the administration they support might in fact BE the one they’re supposedly opposing, even though the Bible contains numerous warnings about false prophets, false messiahs, and the deceptive capabilities of the devil. I agree with Bob that this stuff is periodic… but he forgets than those periods of “mass stupidity” often reached the level of bloody, raging psychosis, with Inquisitions, crusades, and other kinds of brutality inflicted by “true believers” on the rest of us, Christian and otherwise.

  • delagar

    “Apparently, babies in the womb disappeared overnight, along with all kids under 12 ….but people can get pregnant now, if they like. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like the kindest thing to do to kids, to bring them into a world ruled by the antichrist. On the other, if they haven’t been conceived, how can they get into heaven? It’s just weird all over.”
    Okay, so according to this theology, we’re going to have a God abort all the women who are pregnant at the time of the rapture (snatching the fetuses up to heaven, yes, I get that bit), likely killing the heathen women who had been pregnant at the time, since this traumatic God-induced abortion will likely be fatal, BUT women who are so evil as to want to CAN conceive children after the rapture, and those children will be condemned to everlasting hellfire?
    See, this is how we can tell it’s whacked mythology. It violates the asshat God rule. As any “any God who acted by those rules would be an asshat. If an asshat, not God.” Therefore…

  • cassandra

    Yo, anyone who says Romani had no stratetic importance is an idiot–three words: Ploesti oil fields.
    And from the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network:
    “Romania held at least 517 million cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil reserves in 1994. Another 100 million barrels were discovered in the Romanian sector of the Black Sea in the late 1990s.”

  • stencil

    Right-wing Xian radio does have AntiChrist watchlist, according to a friend of mine who listen while taking a drive through Missouri last fall. At that time, John Kerry was the favorite of all the listeners calling in. I’m guessing his stock has fallen.
    The probably have Clinton back on top, a man from friend said one caller asked if it was OK to pray for his death.

  • Kirala

    Fred, let me say how much I admire your efforts. I read the entire LB series (I hate not finishing something I’ve started, and I got halfway through the series before I totally lost hope that it would get better). Turning my brain off entirely, I was still in pain by the end of it. I’m impressed that you’re managing to read through even one with your brain so totally turned on.
    It’s the biggest problem with fundagelical thinking, isn’t it. The only way most people can understand/deal with it on its own terms is to turn off their brains, just when it’s most needed to question the most dangerous assumptions.

  • Chris

    Whether the LB’s president is Dem or Rep, though, it seems odd that he (or she – since we’re trolling for antichrists) hasn’t said anything or made any publuc statement. It would seem to be just about the ultimate photo op.
    If s/he didn’t want to express an opinion on the cause, how about a Presidential Committee of Inquiry?
    Perhaps he or she was just too busy gloating about the new 40-15 Democratic majority in the Senate.

  • Chris

    “Apparently, however, not a single head of state was among the disappeared, so aside from Romania, every other administration remains intact.”
    Actually, I have to say that that’s a rather American comment – in that you’re one of the very few countries in the world where the head of state is also the head of government. You and Saudi Arabia.
    The Head of Government in Australia – oddly enough, Queen Elizabeth – could be raptured tomorrow, followed by a prince a day to the end of the line, and it wouldn’t affect the Australian Prime Minister except by giving him a coronation to attend on the days when rain affected the Ashes. Likewise France, Israel, Ireland, Canada, India, etc etc.
    And, as it happens, Romania;
    Chief of state: President T. BASESCU
    Head of gover’t: Prime Minister C. Popescu-TARICEANU

  • Andy

    I have a question, don’t know if you’ve already covered it somewhere or if the books answer it later. What happened to pregnant women during the Rapture? Assuming that Jenkins and LaHaye consider fetuses fully human and no doubt fully innocent, do pregnant women find themselves suddenly unpregnant? Do women become unable to get pregnant after the Rapture? How does that work?
    PS, you’re amazing.

  • Andy

    Ah, I see now, this got covered in the comments already. Sigh. Here I thought I was insightful.

  • wintermute

    Chris: Actually, Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for all Commonwealth nations. They each elect (though in some cases (Zimbabwe comes to mind) it barely deserves that word) their own head of government, normally with the title Prime Minister, or President.

  • wintermute

    However, if you change Fred’s comment “Apparently, however, not a single head of state was among the disappeared, so aside from Romania, every other administration remains intact.” from “head of state” to “head of government”, it becomes more precice (and satisfies the distinction between the two roles) without affecting the meaning or intent.

  • Scott

    and those children will be condemned to everlasting hellfire?
    In all fairness to the fundies, post-rapture conversions are allowed (and figure in LB) – not everyone there or born after the rapture goes to Hell, according to their beliefs.

  • Dan MacQueen

    Queen Elizabeth II is actually only head of state for some of the Commonwealth nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and about a dozen others (mostly Caribbean island nations). All of the monarchies other than the UK have governors-general who are officially represent the Queen, but are really figureheads appointed by the prime minister. The remainder have presidents, though often their presidents have a mostly ceremonial role (like the Queen does) and the prime ministers do the real work as heads of government.
    On the other hand, didn’t someone mention the Pope was raptured in this series? That’d mean one head of state gone.

  • Aumgn

    I don’t have the book on me, but I think the passages explored here also list German as one of the official languages at the UN, which it isn’t. LaHaye/Jenkins’ absolute refusal to do any research is astounding. But my favorite screwup is in Tribulation Force, where Jenkins uses the word “apocryphal” when they meant “apocalyptic”. Just unbelievable that anyone takes these things seriously.

  • CatMoran

    In all fairness to the fundies, post-rapture conversions are allowed (and figure in LB) – not everyone there or born after the rapture goes to Hell, according to their beliefs.
    But this next bit is supposed to be seven years, right? Are kids 7 and under considered able to make that sort of decision? These kids might, literally, be left in limbo.
    Now that everyone’s wondered about the pregnant women, how about the pregnant girls — those under the age of 12? Are they automatically exempt from the ‘child’ loophole, or do they get raptured right along with the fetus? And if they are raptured, does that mean they stay pregnant forever?
    And now, a moment of silliness:
    666 F – Oven temperature for roast Beast

  • Hopea

    I have been reading this site (and enjoying it tremendously) for a while now. The series is illuminating and entertaining. I’ve also enjoyed reading the thoughtful and informed comments your readers post.
    I realise this is somewhat OT, but as a non-Christian who has been reading the Bible lately, I’ve been wondering. The dispensationalists obviously think that only those who believe in the right way and young children are going to be saved. If I’m not mistaken, most protestant denominations largely agree with the dispensationalists on this point. Following Luther’s maxim of salvation being only available through grace and grace only through faith, good deeds alone can not earn anybody salvation. Yet, as was noted in an earlier discussion on this board, when Jesus in the gospels addresses this issue he mostly talks about deeds, not faith. Faith seems to be a much bigger deal to Paul, who had never met Jesus in the flesh (and who seems to have been warding of some credibility issues on that account).
    As a non-religious person, the emphasis on faith has always mystified me. If something is convincing or just feels right, there is no need to make a big deal out of believing it. You just do. If the teaching is: You absolutely must believe this, it’s vital for your salvation. That seems to place quite a burden on any person’s faith. If believing is vital, do people not become fearful and fret over the question: Do I really believe? I really do not understand why faith should be so important. Can anybody here explain it to me? Could it be something Paul added to the mix for his own reasons?

  • Scott

    BTW, what happens if one Siamese twin is Christian and the other isn’t, and the rapture comes?

  • Just to Clue you in

    For those who mock at Bible prophecy…
    “Well, to me, the whole “marking” of people so they’re allowed to buy stuff makes at least some sense. It’s totalitarian control over your people, where the marked ones get to do something the unmarked don’t. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if something similar had occured in more than one society in the past”
    Its happening now…
    Check out Revelation 13 again sometime.

  • bulbul

    Apropos of Romania: today (August 21st) marks the 37th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies. Romania was the only Warsaw Pact country that refused to commit troops.

  • bulbul

    Re “German as an official UN language”: Steve and Buck are discussing Carpathia and the languages he speaks. Steve lists “Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian and Spanish.” For whatever reason Buck ponders about this and points out to Steve that these are “The six languages of the United Nations, plus the three languages of his own country.” Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish would be the six UN languages. Romanian is the official language of Romania and Hungarian is widely spoken, while ethnologue lists 45000 speakers of German in Romania. It appears L/J are for once correct, although I would expect Carpathia to speak Romani (i.e. the language of the “Gypsies”).

  • inge

    George Walker Bush = 664
    But since he is original last name is german then it is:
    George Walker Busche = 666
    In German, it would be
    Georg Geher Busch,
    which is 555. Not quite up to Beast-level.

  • jhe

    Scott: in the Siamese twin case it would be the Rupture.
    Man, that looks worse in print than it sounded in my internal monologue. At least I got it out of my system.

  • pharoute

    jhe: Hah! :-)

  • Sophist

    Ok, so we’ve got the conjoined twins sorted. But what if a person has multiple personalities, and only some are Christian (or the “right” kind of christian at any rate)?

  • Martin Wisse

    Maiden might have sung about the anti-christ, doesn’t mean they believed in that shit or “rooted for him”….
    Leave that to the Norwegians.

  • The Oracle

    All religions are rackets, protection rackets.
    Someone, who can never prove that the soul or God even exists, convinces people that they are the one and only true messengers representing that which they can’t even prove exists. Then they use a carrot and a stick strategem. They claim that if everyone does as they (ahem, God) tells them to do, then their (unverifiable) souls will go to (unverifiable) heaven. Otherwise, the non-believers in their (ahem, God’s) dictates for humanity will go to (unverifiable) hell. In other words, if you obey them (ahem, God) then these self-proclaimed worldly represents of (unverifiable) God will reward you with largesse…or at least leave you and your family alone…while if you disobey their (ahem, God’s) dictates, then they will…give…you…hell!!!
    This is why I call all religions protection rackets.
    The religious leaders are only trying to “protect” their ego-driven power-hunger and power-madness. (Note: the same holds true for political leaders without a religious template).
    And Jesus Christ, according to the four gospels, didn’t want anything to do with the political and religious reacketeers of his day. He even called them all “thieves.”
    And it just so happens that Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) was a political/religious racketeer. Which is why the Catholi bishops kept his letters in their canon, while discarding and destroying all the other letters being circulated among the early Christian communities. The Catholi bishops were (and still are) just a bunch of religious racketeers.
    And the Protestants are no different. And the Jews are no different. And the Muslims are no different. And the Hindus are no different. In fact, all religions throughout the history of this world tend to end up being nothing more than protection rackets…fixated upon the flesh…and having no clue at all about Spirit. And Spirit is what Jesus came to tell and teach us about.
    So, faith versus works? The religious leaders idea of “faith” is that their loyal and blind followers will have faith in their (unverifiable) claim that they have a clue about God’s will. And the “works” are the way the religious leaders typically keep tabs on their loyal and blind followers to physically see if their con job is working. Which is why all religions have “rituals,” BTW.
    Anyway, I gave up on religion many years ago. I hate to be conned. But I continued my Spiritual Quest on my own terms, at my own pace. Because I have had (unverifiable) Spirit experiences of my own. And I sought out my own answers to try to explain these phenomenae. I have my own theories, therefore, about what is going on in this world. But they are only theories. Unverifiable.
    But, I will say this. In my view, religions actually impede Spiritual Awakening. Why? Because they all use “fear” as one of their tools to try to keep their loyal and blind followers in line. Just like the “Left Behind” Rapturists are using “fear” in their religious promotion. They can’t prove anything that they’ve written. Nothing is verifiable. In my view, they are the false prophets we’ve been warned about. But there is one thing that is verifiable. They are using “fear” as a tool of hate in their power-hunger, their power-madness. Typical. Predictable. All religions use the same tactic. Verily, there is nothing new under the sun. Is there?

  • Mug

    Does the Bush administration have a COG (continuance of government) plan in case of Rapture…?? Shouldn’t they? Some reporter should field that question to Scott at the next press conference.

  • Harv

    Wow – lots to add on this one – let me start with the easiest:
    1) L&J again show there lack of imagination. How simple a strategy would it be for, in the midst of all the chaos, Carpathia to have ALREADY been head of the UN and THEN unveil some grand plan to deal with the disappearance crisis that would make him beloved to all the world? Obviously some of the major problems would be looting, commerce operations, and trade. Now, wouldn’t one way to reign in the chaos to be to make EVERYONE use some sort of centralized aid distribution system – you know, a card or some unique identifier to get needed supplies? Isn’t that far more compelling and logical than what L&J concoct?
    More in next post….

  • Harv

    Next point:
    2) I stopped in a secular bookstore and saw a book about the rapture! The author’s names were in small type so I forgot them, but in large type was the name LAHAYE, who wrote the foreward!
    The book used passages from LB to “jumpstart the discussions” (from Lahaye’s foreward). I thumbed through it and one section really sickened me. In the section the authors wrote that the Rapture is an event Christians the world over look forward to!
    Yeah as a Christian I look forward to my friends and family (not to mention billions of people I never met) who don’t share my beliefs being “left behind” to suffer in the Antichrist’s dominion.
    I am especially glad to know that at least one or two of those will be spared that by dying in awful plane crashes due to disappearing Christian pilots. What a grand thing that while I feast in heaven they will all rot in eternal hellfire.
    I almost bought the book just so no one else would read it….

  • Harv

    Last thing – responding to Hopea who wrote:
    If believing is vital, do people not become fearful and fret over the question: Do I really believe? I really do not understand why faith should be so important. Can anybody here explain it to me?
    Absolutely on the button – Christians (and I imagine any believer of any religion) generally DO worry about whether they truly believe. It’s a perfectly normal thought, and I would hold that it is necessary and healthy. Questioning your faith, IMO, is necessary to growing in that faith. Fearful faith never holds up in the long run – it simply isn’t deep enough.
    Why is faith so important? I assume you are asking why it is important to Paul/relgious doctrine (not at a personal level)? I’ll be less cynical than The Oracle – I think for all it’s flaws orgainzed religion DOES bring people together in community, which enhances the individual experiences of its members. The fact that organized religion CAN become co-opted and subvert the truth of the message it conveys doesn’t mean it should be avoided. We learn both individually and communally – I think there is a biblical example for that….
    So why the focus on faith? I think the point Paul was making was that just doing (works) is not as fulfilling without having a legitimate reason (faith). If I do good things to just try to get into heaven (seems that is the prevailing message miscommunicated to non-Christians) then I miss the point. However, if I have faith, I act not from fear but from love – from a desire to do the right things not because of the reward I get but because it is the right thing to do.
    Does that then mean that a person who does good things without faith is evil? I don’t think so – certainly there are times when Jesus acknowledged that a person who DID good without first having faith had still been in accordance with God’s will. But, to have BOTH faith and do good works is the ideal, hence Paul made it a cornerstone of his message.
    Just my take on it – not gospel. To bring it back to LB, that is my problem with the whole theology espoused by L&J – you believe not because of love, but because of fear. You help others not because you are compelled by faith, but only for your own benefit. It’s extremely selfish, and to me that is pretty much directly opposite what Jesus was teaching.

  • Judy

    Re: All religions are rackets, protection rackets.
    “My Trinity, he’s clumsy. Cities break, you know.” I think this is from Robert Anton Wilson but it’s been a while.

  • Strange Forces

    In re: the idea of a COG plan for the government and Christian airline pilots:
    In what kind of good conscience could someone who believes they could be raptured AT ANY TIME take a job where their disappearance would cause the deaths of hundreds? Isn’t that tantamount to murder with foreknowledge? Or does it not count because the people killed are the damned?

  • ajb

    Hopea, as a card-carrying member of the Bob-Jones’ condemned cultic Roman Catholic Church, I have an admittedly biased view of the Faith/Works issue, but with that caveat I’ll give you question a shot.
    First, when you reference Paul “adding [Faith] to the mix”, I assume you referring to the line in Romans that Luther translated as “we are save by faith alone, apart from works of the law”. Luther added the word “alone” to that translation. Paul was making a distinction between the Pharisaic practices of his time which held elevated outward adherence to the liturgical, dietary and discipinary aspects of the Mosaic law above the interior disposition of the heat.
    Second, the dilemma you point out does directly follow from a strict adherence to “faith alone” and results in a real cognitive disonance for the fundigelicals adherents. Note that I wouldn’t necessarily include the mass of Protestants within this sphere, just the literal fundis.
    Here’s the problem: They define “faith” as merely an “intellectual assent” to the proposition that “Jesus is Lord and died for our sins”. They’re told that this assent is all that they need to “be saved”. The way they actually live (their “works”) have no power to gain them salvation. If their “works” can’t gain them heaven, then their “works” can’t forfeit heaven either.
    So, they’re left with a theology that says that as long as you intellectually believe that Jesus is Lord, it ultimately doesn’t matter how you live. (they may place some importance on avoiding sin, but mainly for purposes of making God happy or being a better “role model” to bring in more recruits).
    Nevertheless, they have this nagging feeling that it just can’t be that as long as you have “faith” you can do whatever you want (cheat on your spouse, steal, etc.)
    So many come up with concepts like “said faith”, meaning that the person who professes faith, then really, really sins, probably didn’t have an authentic “faith” in the first place.
    The irony is that, for a scripture-only biblically literal group, this concept of “said faith” is totally abiblical. And it also totally undercuts the “assurance of salvation”, “once-saved-always-saved” bedrocks of their theology.

  • Hopea

    Thank you for your comments.
    I’m not quite as cynical as you seem to be. I think that bishops and other religious leaders are generally believers. There may well be the occasional timeserver among them but I guess they would be rare. Of course humans have a nearly unlimited capacity to believe what is advantageous for them personally, so many can certainly be both power-hungry and believers.
    My question was intended to be more theological than sociological. If I’m not mistaken, faith is less central in Judaism. Where did the Christian emphasis on faith come from? When trying to understand any thought system I have always found it advantageous to adopt a position of sympathy. If you read, say, Husserl and immediately conclude that it seems to be crap, you’re going to miss a lot of interesting stuff.
    My point about faith was actually a slightly different one. I meant that the importance of faith for redemption can actually be a force that weakens faith. If the teaching were to say: don’t worry whether you believe or not, it’s enough to be a decent human being. Faith could be given freely. The worry and fear, the compulsion aspect would vanish. But then you would lose the deepening of faith that you alluded to, no?
    About the deeds without faith part. Wouldn’t a complete atheist who does good deeds without any hope of reward, then rank highest on your scale of merit? His/her morals certainly couldn’t be considered mercenary.
    Thank you for a Catholic perspective. I’m aware that catholic theology gives deeds a larger role in redemption. But what is the significance of faith for Catholics? I don’t think Catholics are exempt from the fear of not really believing, because only deeds are not sufficient, even in Catholicism. Or have I misunderstood that part?

  • Ray

    “If I’m not mistaken, faith is less central in Judaism. Where did the Christian emphasis on faith come from?”
    AIUI, this is because Judaism answers the “faith or works?” question with “blood”. The Jews are God’s chosen people, and they are defined by their lineage. Christians seek to convert people, and faith is central to the idea of conversion.

  • ajb

    You are correct that, theologically, faith (vis a vis works)plays an absolutely essential role in Catholicism.
    Generally speaking, Catholic theology takes very much a “both-and” approach as opposed to an “either-or” approach. So we place great emphasis on the warning in James’ epistle that “faith without works is dead”. The two concepts of faith and works are often synthesized in the expression “faith working through love (or charity)”.
    Actually, the Catholic Church is open to the ability of a non-Christian (even an atheist or agnostic) to attain salvation, assuming that they haven’t been presented with the truth about Jesus Christ.
    Only a fully-informed, freely-given and knowing rejection of Jesus Christ warrants damnation in Catholic theology.
    So the proverbial native on a remote island who never hears the Gospel but lives a good life, in Catholic theology, can certainly go to heaven. We would say that the good life he lead (and indeed all goodness on Earth)was a result of God’s grace (even if he didn’t know it). The fundigelical would say that poor native is condemned to eternal hellfire.
    Obviously this is all abit too involved to exhaust in a combox, but you might want to look at Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Dominus Iesus:
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html, which goes into the issue of salvation for Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian believes, and non-believers.

  • Aaron F.

    “I’d like to mention that Some People (not to name names or anything) believe the document mentioned above is really called the Hebrew Bible, and some (okay, me) rather dislike hearing it used as shorthand for unrelenting and probably disproportionate punishment.”
    “It’s a little as if all you knew of the New Testament was through seeing Mel Gibson’s (reputedly) gory movie, and you started saying things like ‘Wow, that Tarantino, he was really New Testament, wasn’t he? Did you ever see Reservoir Dogs?’.”
    You know what? If I get ticked off enough, I’m going to start doing that. And given the wild imagery of Revelations, maybe we could start using “New-Testament” as a synonym for “psychedelic” too!

  • patter

    “How ruthless?”
    “People took dirt naps.”
    “Ooh, Steve, you talk just like a mobster.”
    Shouldn’t this be nominated for some kind of Bulwer-Lytton Award for worst dialogue?

  • Devon

    There are at least two different faiths that are conflated when talking about faith vs works. First, there’s the faith in God, in general. If you have faith in God, then you should be naturally inclinded to do good works. Second, there’s faith in Jesus. Not just in him, but in the fact that he died for our sins. Jesus dying for our sins is a gift from God. If you don’t have faith in that, then you reject the gift and will have to answer personally for all your sins. This faith has nothing to do with works and is the one Christians says is so damn important. It’s part of the current covenant and whatever the rules were before Jesus died were replaced with the new rules, namely, accept the gift or go to hell.

  • Hopea

    Thanks for the link, I’ll read it.
    I’m sure this is not sound theology, but my instinct would be to say, okay I’ll take the gift if it was indeed given. But what is the ethical or theological value of me somehow acquiring an emotional (?) certainty that it was indeed given. That is, sort of the crux of my question.
    I’m not asking whether you think it’s necessary for salvation, you obviously do. But why it should be so.

  • Devon

    Well, first, I don’t believe any of what I wrote. I was writing from their perspective, not my own.
    Continuing in that manner:
    God gave us free will, so we can choose to reject salvation. To accept the gift of salvation, you must also accept God, that Jesus was fully God and Man (because only God could truly bear the brunt for all humanity), and a handfull of other things. God will know when the time comes if you truly believe. If you don’t believe these things, if you don’t have faith, then you have rejected the gift. Having faith = accepting the gift. I don’t know why it should be so. Ask God at judgement time.

  • james

    On faith in Christian religions:
    I have a double book of Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto Death; these are good introductions to an intellectuals struggle with faith and doubt in a religious context.

  • Mark

    Second, there’s faith in Jesus. Not just in him, but in the fact that he died for our sins. Jesus dying for our sins is a gift from God. If you don’t have faith in that, then you reject the gift and will have to answer personally for all your sins. … To accept the gift of salvation, you must also accept God, that Jesus was fully God and Man (because only God could truly bear the brunt for all humanity), and a handfull of other things.
    Where is this in the Bible?

  • mds

    and those children will be condemned to everlasting hellfire?
    Nope. For the same reason that all the pre-teens were caught up in the Rapture, in less than seven years of Tribulation, no child would reach the age of self-determination. They get a free pass.
    In all fairness to the fundies, post-rapture conversions are allowed (and figure in LB) – not everyone there or born after the rapture goes to Hell, according to their beliefs.
    In further fairness to the fundies, this is not true of all of them. Some premillenial dispensationalists (including some to whom I am related) believe that after the Rapture, it’s too late for everyone, and the next seven years are just pointless sadism before Armageddon (Okay, they obviously don’t call it pointless sadism.). Note that this group have backed themselves into this corner by their acceptance of the “One-and-a-halfth” Coming, since the New Testament makes the Second Coming sound pretty definitive. That’s the problem with embracing as Scriptural something that Darby made up less than two centuries ago.

  • pharoute

    “If you don’t believe these things, if you don’t have faith, then you have rejected the gift. Having faith = accepting the gift”
    Yeah! My nearly number one pet peeve of Fundementalist Christianity: God’s Gift or even better “FREE Gift.” Every explaination I’ve heard there’s always a condition with the “free” gift which I like pointing out makes the gift not a gift. A gift is “Here, this is yours; do with it as you will.” There are no conditions with a gift. A gift that has strings attached is either a bribe or a payment. Thanks to the warping of the Christmas message (something that alas is not the Funde’ies fault) a gift must have strings attached. A gift can either be accepted or rejected without conditions.
    “How much for the gourd?”
    “Nothing you can have it”
    “What’s wrong with it?!”

  • Ginger Yellow

    “If I do good things to just try to get into heaven (seems that is the prevailing message miscommunicated to non-Christians) then I miss the point. However, if I have faith, I act not from fear but from love – from a desire to do the right things not because of the reward I get but because it is the right thing to do.”
    But if you don’t have faith, the only reason to do good deeds is because it is the right thing to do. There’s no reason to do it out of fear of hell or selfish desire for heavenly reward. Hence to inculcate good motives in people it would be best to preach non-faith. Furthermore a truly good God would hide his existence, and certainly that of heaven and hell, and let people choose right for the right reasons. Or so a strong argument goes.

  • Doctor Science

    Ray wrote:
    Judaism answers the “faith or works?” question with “blood”. The Jews are God’s chosen people, and they are defined by their lineage. Christians seek to convert people, and faith is central to the idea of conversion.
    I was startled by your reply, Ray, because when you said “blood” I at first thought you were talking about the sacrifices in the vanished Temple. I think taking “blood” to be Jewish blood in one’s veins is also incorrect. The only sense in which “blood” applies is circumcision, which is the seal of the Covenant, signed in blood.
    Speaking as someone who was raised Catholic/Lutheran and is currently a practicing Jew, there is no direct Jewish equivalent of grace. Christian grace tends to be rather one-sided (God does all the heavy lifting), whereas for Jews the Covenant tends more to be A Contract with God. “Israel” means “wrestles with God”, and though Christians seem to mostly interpret that wrestling as “wrestling with the problems of life and one’s sinful nature”, Jews tend to talk about a more unsubmissive struggle — like Job’s.
    I always knew that, compared to Christians, Jews spend very little time worrying about Hell or damnation. I was surprised, then, to find that Jewish High Holidays services are all about Redemption. The formula goes, “Three things — t’shuvah (repentence, or turning back toward G-d), t’fillah (sincere prayer), tzedakah (charity or care for others) — avert the stern decree”. These are not exactly “works” in the Christian sense, because the thought does count for a great deal, but for me personally one of the satisfactions of Judaism is the stress on “works” as opposed to the slippery anxieties of “grace”.
    My general observation is that some people find “justification by grace” makes them anxious (are my feelings really the right ones?), while other people find “justification by works” problematic (am I really doing enough?) — and which side they come down on has more to do with personality than with denomination. For any particular Christian denomination to do well over the long term, I think it has to have places for people who need “works” and for those who need “grace”, because you *will* get people with different personalities.

  • Beth

    Thanks Dr. Science. There’s no single answer to what Jews believe about “grace” any more than there’s a single answer to what Christians believe. Still, I don’t know of any Jewish sect or denomination that believes in salvation through lineage alone. Some put great stock in lineage and believe “once a Jew, always a Jew”, but even for them the opposite is not also true. A gentile who sincerely wants to join “the tribe” and commits to studiy and practice can be a Jew regardless of “blood”.
    Someone earlier a tendency use “Old Testament” as a synonym for cruelty and vengence. I think this underlies a wider tendency to define Judaism by only its strictest, most tribal aspects. Though a few schools and denominations do emphasize those aspects, there is a long, liberal tradition within Judaism as well, which should be familiar to anyone who’s read the Gospels. Jesus was a radical, but he was a radical Jew. The split between His followers and Judaism, was not due to His teachings about the Law or God, but due to their belief that He was the Messiah, which the Jews of the time saw as heresy. Dr. Science’s list of the traditional Jewish requirements for redemption is really no different from Jesus’ (Love the Lord your God and you neighbor as yourself). Remember too, that when Jesus described the separation of the sheep from the goats, the distinction was based not on the individuals’ religious beliefs but on how they behaved toward the least of their brothers. This idea can be found throughout Judaism, which sees a place in God’s kingdom for the righteous of all nations,. (Strangely, it seems much less popular among Christians.)
    To get back to the original issue, Judaism has no definitive answer to the question of faith vs. works because it doesn’t really make that distinction in the first place. In traditional Judaism, faith is expressed in devotion to the Law, the commandments. When Jewish children, at the age of 13, consecrate themselves to the religion and become full-fledged member of the congregation, they are Bar or Bat Mitzvah (a son or daughter of the commandments). But mitzvah has a dual meaning. It can mean “a law”, but it can also mean “a good deed”. Keeping kosher and praying at the prescribed times are mitzvot, but feeding the hungry and relieving suffering are mitzvot as well. One Jewish text — I don’t remember the source — compares prayer and good deeds to the roots and branches of a tree. If you give all your attention to prayer and neglect good deeds, you’re like a tree with strong roots but weak branches, scrawny and poor. If you give all your attention to good deeds and neglect prayer and devotion, you’re like a great tree with with weak roots, vulnerable to every passing storm. Asking whether faith alone or works alone are enough for a human being is like asking whether roots alone or branches alone are enough for a tree.

  • zaitzeff

    well, it’s obvious that the antichrist is about to come upon the world. In Seattle, every year, in public with the kids present, there are people who go nude at the “Fremont Solstice parade.” This is surely a sign of the antichrist or the reign of some evil-doer or something!