Bearing fruit

Bearing fruit November 4, 2010

I think Frank Schaeffer oversimplifies and overstates his case here, but he's also right in identifying a major contributing factor to the American tea party movement and its influence on the recent election.

To understand this movement and this election, Schaeffer says, you have to understand "the End Times folks." Specifically, he argues, you have to understand the phenomenally popular Left Behind series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins:

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 are waiting for Jesus to do to the world what the tea party just did to America.

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!

I don't think we should ever try to explain an entire election due to a single cause. Pundits performing post-election "analysis" would do well to learn from the business pages of the newspaper, where this same sort of task is a daily chore. The best market-beat reporters scrupulously avoid the language of cause-and-effect.

"Markets fell/rose today," they say, "after X, Y and Z," reporting the post hoc but not the propter hoc. They're aware that each day's trading consists of millions of transactions conducted for millions of different reasons and that oversimplifying all of that by attributing the final effect to a single cause would be inaccurate.

But Schaeffer's case that the 2010 elections, and particularly the rise of the tea party movement, can be traced back at least in part to the ideology and ethics of the Left Behind series make a lot of sense.

The tea party is the early-21st century incarnation of the same far-right backlash that spawned the John Birch Society. Tim LaHaye's ideology and theology are a direct product of that same John Birch Society.

Fifteen years ago, the Birchers were unwelcome in the Republican Party. Sure, some of them were still around, on the fringes and in the closet, but the explicit Us vs. Them paranoia and the contempt for reality-based government had been shouted down due to a combination of principle (by Republicans who were not unhinged, tribalist nutjobs condemning the Birchers for being unhinged, tribalist nutjobs) and pragmatism (Republicans who realized that unhinged, tribalistic nutjobbery was not a winning electoral strategy).

But today the Birchers are back. They've acquired a new brand name — "tea party" — but they're just as tribalistic and nutty as ever.

So what changed? Many things — wage-stagnation, an expanding participation in the rights previously viewed as straight-white-male-gentile privilege, etc. — but one notable development over those 15 years was the sale of more than 65 million books by Tim LaHaye. Those 65 million books promoted and propagandized for LaHaye's John Birch Society ideology and for the warped ethics that makes that ideology attractive.

It seems likely that a political movement that corresponds so precisely to the agenda of such a phenomenally popular propaganda campaign is at least partly related to or a result of that propaganda campaign. It seems unlikely that so many millions of people could spend 15 years imbibing this poison without effect, and then suddenly, due entirely to unrelated causes, begin exhibiting precisely the toxic symptoms associated with that same poison.

The tea party, in other words, is Tim LaHaye's army. It's his Tribulation Force — except in this case it's out to force tribulation on everyone else.

That tribulation is what most concerns Schaeffer in his HuffPo column. He's worried about the harm that these rapture-drunk neo-Bircherites of the tea party are doing to America. I am too, but I'm more concerned with the harm that they're doing to themselves.

Likewise, I share Schaeffer's concern with the damage and destruction to America being wrought by Tim LaHaye's vile propaganda masquerading as theology, but I'm more worried about the harm his books are doing to the church and, even more than that, the pain and misery that his books are causing to his readers and followers.

When I speak of their pain and misery, I'm not just making a joke about the unpleasant experience of reading these awful, slipshod books — although such a joke would certainly be appropriate because, good Lord, these books are just horrible. But I mean a pain, misery and harm that goes beyond that unpleasantness. I'm talking about real pain, real misery, real harm being done to the people who swallow this poison.

LaHaye's readers — those who finish his books and embrace their message — are diminished. They become cramped and stunted versions of the people God meant for them to be. Their capacity for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is reduced. Their potential for truth, beauty and goodness is hobbled.

It makes them unhappy. It un-happies them. That's bad.

Fill a congregation or a Congress with such un-happied people and they will have the power to un-happy others as well on a much larger scale.

Also bad.

So yes, like Frank Schaeffer, I'm opposed to the neo-Birchers and the tea partiers and the "End Times folks" and I'm determined to prevent their miserable agenda from being realized. But I don't only want to oppose them.

I also want to re-happy them. I want to help them escape the un-happying prison of Tim LaHaye's cruel ideology and sociopathic antiethics and to become again people capable of happiness.

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