The Message of Left Behind

The Message of Left Behind May 8, 2015

I just watched the Left Behind movie with Nicholas Cage. I won’t bother summarizing the film since most people are familiar with its premise and plot. Instead, I’d like to offer some observations about what I think the story is trying to accomplish.

First, I have to note that the characters who are left behind ask perfectly reasonable questions early in the film about natural disasters and how this relates to faith in God.

That is the starting point for what the movie then does. There is no rational answer to why a good God would send/allow a tsunami, and then bury a woman and child who survived it and who thanks God for their survival in a subsequent landslide.

And so the movie adopts the stance that John Hick called “eschatological verification.” But it does so in a manner which lacks all the philosophical rigor of Hick’s own articulation of that approach. It says, in essence, “we sound like we are out of our minds and have no good answers to your questions, but just wait and see, and we will be proven right.” And then it makes a movie to try to shortcut the process, hoping that cinematic realism will give the impression that their view corresponds and will correspond to reality.

In fact, the Rapture’s only apparent function is to prove the premillenial dispensationalists who believe in it right. It serves no other useful function, except to exempt those who believe (and wear kitschy Evangelical jewelry) from a particular period of suffering, in a way that believers have never, ever been exempted from suffering at any point in history. There is no adequate rationale provided for what unfolds after they are gone, either. There will be seven terrible years – but why has God ordained that things should become so bad?

And so the Rapture, as depicted in the movie, is just one more problem, and not a solution. It may “prove dispensationalists right,” but it doesn’t cause their beliefs to make sense any more than they do in the present.

And the movie tells at least one outright lie, claiming that these things – millions of people disappearing leaving their clothing behind, etc. – are found in the Bible. That is simply not true in any way, shape, or form.

The movie also depicts almost everyone who disagrees with this Rapture dogma as fundamentally immoral. People start looting as soon as the disappearances have occurred.

Those raptured include children up to a certain age, who have every bit of what makes us human in them. And yet they are all automatically forgiven, while adults are blamed. It makes no sense – and I say this as someone who used to accept these things.

And so this is the message of Left Behind, although not its intended message: the fundamentalist worldview doesn’t have answers, and believes in a future which makes as little sense as the things it asserts in the present.

Left Behind shows that fundamentalism of the sort that believes in a “Rapture” is an incoherent story. They imagine a terrible future which they simply assume will happen, even though it isn’t even Biblical, much less reasonable. Then they irrationally assume that by depicting it in a movie, it provides the basis for saying now “see, we told you so” that they believe they will say from heaven when the Rapture actually occurs. But they come across throughout the movie as mean-spirited, uncaring, and delusional. And with respect to those attributes, they have made God in their own image.

Turning it into a movie helps make that clear. And it makes me repent once again of ever having believed such things myself.

Did you see Left Behind? If so, what did you think of it?

For a more detailed critique of the book on which the movie is based, see Fred Clark’s great blog series.

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