Donald Trump is Tim LaHaye’s true heir.
LaHaye is dead. Dystopian fantasy lives on. Only now it is America that’s to be “left behind” as Trump raptures believers and non-believers alike to a hell of our own making.
LaHaye’s fact-free “vision” of an alienated alternative and utterly destructive “reality” lives on in the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of sixteen novels represents everything that is most deranged about religion and is one of the reasons that evangelicals will vote for Trump by the millions. They literally have mentally already left planet earth and earthbound facts. They live in an alternative reality of doom, revenge and apocalypse. They have gone from fact-free to anti-fact. Science, actual statistics, history– these things are the enemy of a hysterical belief in two things: 1) The Bible is true, and 2) Everyone who disagrees is out to get us.
Thus victimology–“the left wing media lie about us Christians (and/or Real Americans)”–is combined with anti-fact theology of the “there must have been dinosaurs on Noah’s ark” variety. Thus the fact-free, in fact fact-fearing mindset was prepared for Trump.
End Times terror is a perfect transition drug to mainlining Trump’s world-fearing hatred.
The Left Behind novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an “End Times” cult of fear-as-entertainment, the ultimate revenge fantasy, or rather egging it on. Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children’s books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting “Christ-centered” home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the “other,” as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism. And in the Left Behind books Muslims are always the bad guys.
Jenkins and LaHaye helped create the Trump version of reality, and the mood to accept it.
They fed on then repackaged and sold the paranoid delusions of people on the fringe of the fringe. The fringe became the mainstream. With Trump, it took over the mood and morals of a political party. Convincing folks that Armageddon is on the way, and all we can do is wait, pray, and protect our families from the chaos that will be the “prelude” to the “Return of Christ,” is perhaps not the best recipe for political, economic, or personal stability, let alone social cohesion. But it is a perfect setting for Trump– an authoritarian anti-American political strongman– to arise.
Trump doesn’t bother evangelical white voters with long-term policy or facts. He tells lies about crime figures being up, in Trumps alternative reality Muslims are scheming to storm our shores and these signs of the End Times are familiar to the Left Behind readers! In fact for those waiting for the so-called rapture they are wished for, even prayed for events! Facts like the fact that crime is actually down and the economy is up and America is stronger than ever are unwelcome challenges to a faith rooted in everything getting woprse! How can Jesus come back if things get better? And what’s it say about those dreaded Secular Godless Humanists, if in a world they control through gay rights, abortion and women’s rights– crime is down and prosperity is up!
Left Behind books and Trump’s vision of the darkness looming may not be the best philosophy on which to build American foreign policy.
The momentum toward what amounts to a whole subculture seceding from the union (in order to await “The End”) is irrevocably pried loose a chunk of the American population from both sanity and their fellow citizens. You saw them bellowing for Hillary Clinton’s jailing, rooting for ISIS’s next monstrosity (the more vile the better) to prove their fantasy candidate right, even winking at a treasonous Trump connection to Russia.
A time-out for disclosure is in order:
I knew Tim LaHaye well for years. Some forty years ago we shared the platform at several fundamentalist events. My late father Francis Schaeffer also knew these men and always described LaHaye as “plain nuts… actually insane.” I worked with his wife Beverly in anti-abortion crusades.
That said . . .
The Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit taking from scraps of “prophecy” left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense. It was written by Hal Lindsey, a “writer” who dropped by my parents’ ministry of L’Abri several times.
Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth interpreted Revelation for a generation of paranoid evangelicals who were terrified of the Soviet Union (Trump’s conversion to Putin-loving could be ripped from their antiChrist-harbinger pages, but never mind!) and communism and were convinced that the existence of the modern State of Israel was the sign that Jesus was on the way in our lifetimes, as Lindsey claimed. According to Lindsey, Revelation was “speaking” about the Soviet Union and imminent nuclear attacks between the Soviet Union and the United States. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the U.S.S.R., Planet Earth groupies claimed Gorbachev was the Antichrist, citing the references in Revelation to the “mark of the beast” as proof because Gorbachev had a birthmark on his forehead!
After everything predicted in the book came to nothing, Lindsey rewrote and “updated” his “interpretations” in many sequels, in what must have been some sort of record for practicing George Orwell’s idea of “doublethink” via editorial revision of ever-changing “facts.” Trying to follow the prophecy party line eventually got confusing, even for the Lindsey followers, and Lindsey faded into well-deserved obscurity.
According to Jenkins and LaHaye, who took over the Hal Lindsey franchise of apocalypse-for-fun-and-profit and expanded it into a vast industry, the “chosen” will soon be airlifted to safety. The focus on the “signs” leading up to this hoped-for aeronautical excursion is understandably no longer the defunct U.S.S.R. but the ripped-from-the-headlines gift that keeps on giving: the Middle East.
The key to understanding the popularity of a host of End Times “ministries” from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre rapture-eccentric pages of Christianity Today magazine isn’t some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community.
The words left behind are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their “intellectuals” touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have been left behind by modernity. They won’t change their literalistic anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against “the world.” This has led to a profound fear of the “other.”
Now Trump is running against the feared other. The GOP is the party for all who fear and hate.
Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the “elite.” The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know “we” were right and “they” were wrong. They’ll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, “I accept Jesus as my personal savior” and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass Democrat-voting, overeducated fags who have been mocking us!
Problem! Jesus didn’t come back!
Enter Trump. So revenge on everyone-not-like-us has been frustratingly delayed! Blacks and browns, Asains and Hispanics, women and gays are getting upity! A b;ack Muslim has been in the White House for 8 years and still Jesus didn’t save us!
So Trump will, maybe not rapture us, but GET EVEN!
Nietzsche talked about “everyday being oneself” and not belonging to “the herd,” but we want to belong. We have to belong! We want to find the purpose, be it Jesus, or the study of the biological/ evolutionary origins of religion, or blogging on left-wing sites and reading all those responses from people just like us. We can’t change that desire to belong to the winning side. But some evangelical/ fundamentalists not only wish to be proved right; they also want revenge.
The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high. They want revenge on all people not like them—forever. In fact they have been prepared for our own terrorist: Trump. He will torture! He will kill! He will bomb! He will deny facts!
LaHaye’s death has already been met with wave upon wave of opinion pieces pointing to his body as evidence of—no really, it’s definitely going to happen this time—the death of the Christian Right, or the decline of the aging white male conservative. … Those characterizations might be partly true but they fail to capture some of the more lasting features of this America, an America whose several discreditings and multiform rage has left all watching scrambling to find an account of things that would make sense of institutional racism, gunplay, Islamophobia, Bernie Bros, email scandals, and whatever is coming next. But that notion, the firm belief that an unseen yet deeply felt cataclysm—or, in Trump’s phrasing, “there’s something going on”—is precisely what has become standard political fare in recent decades, building on earlier iterations of the apocalyptic and the conspiratorial to become the mundane….
…This way of seeing things—…conspiracy, and furious thou-shalt-not all blended—is what shaped LaHaye’s decades-long endorsement of institutional detachment, his insistence on claiming and absorbing the lives of others into a singular narrative. Unlike those figures whose influence came primarily through their public address, LaHaye tilled the ground, made roads out of the schools, out of the New Deal, and quite frankly out of the commons, no matter how often he lobbied or shook hands with the powerful….
It cannot be enough, LaHaye insisted directly and obliquely, that Americans might benefit by rethinking what our expectations are for political representation, for the role of protest in mass participation, or for entitlement and desert. There must be something going on besides the unexciting grind of proceduralism and incremental change, besides the hard work of learning how to listen and talk to each other freshly. Surely our lives must be more thrilling than that, right?
Jenkins and LaHaye cashed in on years of evangelical/fundamentalists’ imagined victimhood.
I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that. Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real—and very marketable. Whether they were winning politically or not, they nurtured a mythology of persecution by the “other.” Evangelical/fundamentalists believed that even though they were winning, somehow they had actually lost.
Most of that sense of lost battles is related to the so-called culture wars issues in which evangelical/fundamentalists did not fare so well, from the legalization of abortion to gay rights. But rather than admitting that they were often losing the arguments, or had come across as so mean (or plain dumb) that few outsiders wanted to be like them, they blamed everyone else, from the courts to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the New York Times, and the “left-wing media.” Just about any scapegoat would do to deny or disguise the simple fact that fewer Americans wanted to follow the evangelical/fundamentalist Church Ladies into their gloomy cave (and/or the never-never land of the Rapture) and park their brains there.
I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus. I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren’t getting a fair shake from the “cultural elites.” We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the “media elite,” which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.
I said the sort of stuff Trump’s followers (and a few Bernie-or-Bust people too!) parrot today. The fault is never with one’s facts, it’s that everyone else is “rigging” the system!
I dropped out of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture soon after that Today appearance (years later I was back on Today in my secular writer incarnation, being interviewed about a book of mine on the military/civilian divide, but I decided not to mention that I’d been on the show about thirty years before in what seemed like either another lifetime or an out-of-body experience. I’m still trying to work out what I do believe after this fraught journey as I write about in my latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace.
Others carried on where I left off, pushing the victimhood mythology to the next generation of evangelical/fundamentalists, and they have cultivated a following among the terminally aggrieved based on ceaselessly warning them about “the world.” For instance “An Evangelical Manifesto,” a document put together by yet another self-appointed evangelical/fundamentalist “leadership group” (in 2008), was widely circulated in evangelical/fundamentalists circles. It put forward the idea of the evangelical/fundamentalist battle with the dangerous forces of secularism, claiming that “Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are. . . . If this hardens into something like the European animosity toward religion in public life the result would be disastrous for the American republic. . . . [The] striking intolerance shown by the new atheists is a warning sign.”
I knew the founders of the dominionist movement—people like the late Reverend Rousas John Rushdoony, the father of “Christian Reconstructionism” and the modern evangelical/fundamentalist home school movement. Rushdoony (whom I met and talked with several times) believed that interracial marriage, which he referred to as “unequal yoking,” should be made illegal. He also opposed “enforced integration,” referred to Southern slavery as “benevolent,” and said that “some people are by nature slaves.” Rushdoony was also a Holocaust denier. And yet his home school materials are a mainstay of the right-wing evangelical home school movement to this day. In Rushdoony’s 1973 book, The Institutes of Biblical Law, he says that fundamentalist Christians must “take control of governments and impose strict biblical law” on America and then the world. That would mean the death penalty for “practicing homosexuals.”
Many evangelical leaders deny holding Reconstructionist beliefs, but Beverly and Tim LaHaye (of far right Concerned Women for America), Donald Wildmon (of the American Family Association), and the late James Kennedy (of Coral Ridge Ministries and a friend of mine before I left the movement) served alongside Rushdoony on the secretive Coalition for Revival, a group formed in 1981 to “reclaim America for Christ.” I went to some of the early meetings.
Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, is a gay-hating, woman-loathing Reconstructions with the enthusiasm of a convert.
The expanding Left Behind entertainment empire is now the Mike Pence franchise. Pence too feeds the dangerous delusions of Christian Zionists, who are convinced that the world is heading to a final Battle of Armageddon and who see this as a good thing! Christian Zionists, led by many “respectable” mega-pastors—including Reverend John Hagee—believe that war in the Middle East is God’s will. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee maintains that Russia and the Arabs will invade Israel and then will be destroyed by God. This will cause the Antichrist—the head of the European Union—to stir up a confrontation over Israel between China and the West.
With Trump and Pence the lunatics are now actually running the asylum. Literally. And fact has become fiction. Nothing in the Left Behind books is as far-fetched as Trump’s apocalypse. And the Republicans…? Reagan’s shining city set on a hill has been replaced by a bunker.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
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