L.B.: Global Weekly II

L.B.: Global Weekly II May 21, 2004

A few more quibbles with David Gates' Newsweek cover story on "The Pop Prophets," Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

One of my complaints was already voiced in the comments to the previous post. Andrew Cory noted this odd assertion in Gates' article:

Left Behind gives believers an equivalent of such secular sagas as the Lord of the Rings books: a self-contained, ordered world with a wealth of detail in which a reader can become blissfully immersed, and the assurance that good must win out …

This is actually two odd assertions: 1) that Tolkien's books are "secular," and 2) that therefore believers needed a religious "equivalent." It's not strange that LaHaye would believe such things — he went to Bob Jones University, after all. But the fact that Gates accepts them indicates another example of that cardinal error of reporting on figures like LaHaye. Here Gates allows LaHaye to describe and define the wider context in which he exists, and Gates accepts LaHaye's definition without question. Thus anyone who is not sectarian — and sectarian on precisely LaHaye's terms — is regarded as "secular."

Thus Tolkien, a devout Christian, is a "secular" writer. His great epic, which is infused with and shaped by his own Christian faith while incorporating aspects of the anything-but-"secular" Norse and Arthurian mythologies, is therefore — to LaHaye and to Gates — a "secular" book. It doesn't matter to them that some of its main characters, such as Tolkien's wizard Gandalf, are deities of a sort. When the gods themselves — and the devil too — are described as "secular," it's difficult to know what that word is supposed to mean. (Perhaps it means "well-crafted" or "entertaining.")

Other commenters noted the one section where Gates actually does question LaHaye fairly vigorously, prompting a revealing response:

"I wake up every morning," [LaHaye] says, "and I see this beautiful place, and that drop-dead gorgeous view of the mountains, and I think, 'This is fantastic.' Because God is faithful." How does he reconcile that with Jesus' injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor? "I can accomplish far more from my present lifestyle and the giving that I do to Christian work," he says. "If I just sold everything and gave it to the poor, I can't see where that would advance the gospel as much as I'm doing." But wouldn't it advance the poor? "Well," he says, "you know how much I pay in taxes?"

For LaHaye, the Great Commission trumps the Great Commandment. It's acceptable, he begrudginglly allows, for Christians to heal the sick, comfort the dying, feed the hungry and look after orphans and widows in their distress — but only if such activities are effective means to a different end, the spreading of "the gospel." Here Gates pushes LaHaye just a little bit, actually has the fortitude to make him reply to challenges to his worldview, and thus gives him enough rope to hang himself.

Unfortunately, Gates immediately undercuts this with his next sentence:

To LaHaye, spreading the Good News is far more compassionate than redistributing the wealth.

Not "… than feeding the hungry." Not "… than empowering the poor." Not even "… than sharing the wealth."

"Redistributing" is the word Gates uses, but again it is really LaHaye's word, LaHaye's terms, LaHaye's reality. For folks like LaHaye, any suggestion that the wealthy might want to share their abundance with the needy is a "redistributionist" scheme, i.e. socialism. Suggest that the wealthy landowner ought to round off the corners when plowing his field so that the poor might glean enough to live and you are accused of advocating "redistributing the wealth." You're Joe Stalin.

Gates here also misses a golden opportunity. LaHaye and Jenkins preach that the End is Near. They have also, over the last nine years, reaped an immense, Grisham-like fortune. What are they doing with the money?

LaHaye is 78 years old. If he were anyone else, one would assume he was doing some estate planning. But why do estate planning if the world is about to end?

Jenkins is a "baby boomer." An actuary would suggest he has several decades still ahead of him and a prudent investment counselor would recommend some stable, long-term investments. But if the world is going to end, is it really necessary to tie up your money in a Roth IRA? Does Jenkins invest in 30-year bonds? What about his mortgage? (Is it ethical to sign a 30-year mortgage agreement if you're certain that Jesus is coming back before the house will be paid off?) And what about the children and the grandchildren? Have they started college funds?

I want details here. This is important. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Jesus said. So where is L&J's newfound treasure? Gates doesn't ask. But I could venture a guess.


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