W. Scott Poole on Left Behind, Satan and the culture wars

W. Scott Poole on Left Behind, Satan and the culture wars February 11, 2012

This is from W. Scott Poole’s 2009 book Satan in America: The Devil We Know:

Left Behind also sought to make an evangelical case for some of the contemporary cultural and political struggles of the 1990s. Its emergence as a publishing phenomenon coincided with a public movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. … Conservatives, many of them affiliated with the Christian Right, warned darkly of the “homosexual agenda” and began the so-called pro-marriage movement that would eventually result in calls for constitutional amendments at the state and federal level that sought to “preserve traditional understandings of marriage.”

[Tim] LaHaye had long been an opponent of civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans and was associated with some of the most extreme elements in the antigay movement. His 1980 book What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality combined scriptural references to homosexuality with the writings of Paul Cameron, a researcher expelled from the American Psychological Association for a variety of absurd claims, including that homosexuals were responsible for half of all sex-related murders and that Thomas Jefferson had favored castration for gay men and facial mutilation for lesbian women.

LaHaye definitely links homosexuality with the devil in Left Behind. In the series homosexuality becomes the literal conduit through which Satan enters the world of the last days. In a prequel novel entitled The Rising, the birth of the Antichrist is described as being brought about by a conspiracy of “international bankers” who accept sperm donations from two gay men. The Antichrist has two daddies, claims LaHaye, a point the authors seems to use to represent a kind of satanic inversion of the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth. … The Christian horror genre created by LaHaye drew on fears about changing cultural mores and the slow but steady gains for human rights in American politics. Satan, once again, was constructed as the ultimate origin of any effort toward progressive political change.

… Left Behind seeks to inspire readers to become fully engaged in contemporary struggles, indeed to become soldiers in the culture war. Given this charge, violence becomes redemptive rather than an aspect of evil. The books feature a symmetrical amorality in which both the forces of the Antichrist and the “Trib Force” (evangelical believers who are “saved” after the Rapture) make use of deadly violence in their struggle against one another. In fact, “Trib Force” resembles nothing so much as a Christian fundamentalist al-Qaida, a secret, underground network willing to make use of cyber-terrorism, assassination, and targeted bombing to challenge a satanic modernity. As one member of the group says, “Woe to those who believe God is only love. We are engaged in a worldwide battle with Satan himself for the souls of men and women.” Jesus Christ himself gives his blessing to these ideas when he returns in Glorious Appearing, book number 12 in the series. His “Second Coming” marks the death of tens of thousands, “their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.”

The Left Behind series allowed the image of Satan in American culture to grow freely, and often exotically, from the soil of the American culture wars of the 1980s, which only gained strength in the last decade of the century. Often initiated by the Christian Right, the culture clashes brought a vigorous response from critics on both the secular and religious left, and for many evangelicals, they represented the struggles against the forces of darkness at the twilight of the world depicted in the fictional narratives of Tim LaHaye and Frank Peretti.

The anger generated by the American culture wars owed much to the idea that disagreement over social and cultural issues had, at back of them, a struggle with evil. Tim LaHaye has said that a “religious war” is being waged in America. “We,” he explained to one evangelical audience, “need to aggressively oppose secular humanism; these people are as religiously motivated as we are and they are filled with the Devil.” In LaHaye’s understanding, there are only two stark options in America’s ideological divide. The secular left, inspired by Satan himself, and the Christian Right, which seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, stop the expansion of gay and lesbian rights, introduce prayer into public schools, and remove the teaching of evolutionary science.

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  • Kiba

    Yeah, I know I shouldn’t expect things like logic, an understanding of science (of any kind), compassion, etc., from these books but the stupid is just mind boggling. 

  • Kiba

    You know, I’ve never understood the whole “they’re family” thing when it comes to  how I’m supposed to feel towards someone. Personally I can’t stand 99% of my family because they are very much the type where the concept of family only comes into play when they need something. When it’s their turn to be there for you…we’ll you’re on your own. Factor in all the abuse I suffered at their hands growing up and they can all go get bent, family or not.

  • Anonymous

    So’s the density of gun shops in NYC. What’s your point?

  • P J Evans

     Clearly not much to you.
    There’s a million people in the San Fernando valley. I’m surprised there were so few gun shops, actually.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     “Before you can use the phrase ‘an armed society is a polite society’, you must present proof that you lived in Somalia for at least two years.” – great comment on some long-ago Gun Thread.

  • The comment regarding a sizable fraction of RTC-type people in the officer corps of the US military is concerning, given that commenters on my blog have pointed out how Edge of Apocalypse could be a LaHaye-ian endorsement of contempt within the military for civilian leadership, especially when that civilian leadership is Democratic and not Republican*.

    I’d like to think that these endorsements of Left-Behind-style apocalyptic thinking are not finding fertile ground among the people with the available personnel and weaponry to start a coup d’etat in the name of “Preserving America for God”.

    —-

    * I recall at least one self-claimed military officer expressing contempt for Bill Clinton because Clinton allegedly never saluted the officer standing guard outside AFOne as he exited.

    Given that Eisenhower himself is reported to have discouraged the practice of saluting the President (especially when acting in his civilian role), one would think that members of the US armed forces would find better reasons to find fault with their leaders than that.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     

    So either the gun-nut types are preparing for an inevitable loss, or they’re superfluous.

    Reading too many right-wing blogs has left me with a queasy suspicion that most of them don’t care.  As long as they get to murder a hippie before the end, they can die content.

  • Lori

     
    I’d like to think that these endorsements of Left-Behind-style apocalyptic thinking are not finding fertile ground among the people with the available personnel and weaponry to start a coup d’etat in the name of “Preserving America for God”.  

    Sadly they are finding fertile ground and have been for a while. Are you familiar with the lovely retired Army Gen William “Jerry” Boykin? He should have faced far worse punishment than retirement because he was not only a disgrace to the uniform, he openly violated the UCMJ. He’s the highest profile nutter we’ve had in recent years, but there are plenty of his Dominionist buddies in the military and that is not an accident. They’ve been recruiting heavily among military officers for years because it’s part of their plan. That would sound like a conspiracy theory if it didn’t come straight from them. 

    The thing is, while there are far too many of these religious whackadoos wearing the uniform, they don’t have the kind of power they would need to take over and I feel pretty sure they’re not going to get it. I think the utter failure of the Right’s Iraq policy was a bit of a set back for them and the fact that some journalists have actually done their job and reported on them instead of the faux-scandal of the day also hasn’t helped. Like most nasty things, Dominionists don’t thrive in sunlight.

  • FangsFirst

     

    Reading too many right-wing blogs has left me with a queasy suspicion
    that most of them don’t care.  As long as they get to murder a hippie
    before the end, they can die content.

    True enough. Unfortunately the truism I see RE: military involvement in coups (either with or against them) indeed does not seem to have an effect on that mentality.

    Though, for a lighter approach, there is the hilarity of this book. I used to crack it open to a random page when I worked at Borders, and read the inevitable laundry list of survival items (no, really–any page!) and leave us all in stitches.

    Discovering “James Wesley, Rawles” was not a typo was also pretty funny:

    I use the comma to make a distinction between my Christian name, and my
    family name. My Christian name (James Wesley) is my property. My family
    name (Rawles) is the common property of all those that share the Rawles
    bloodline, and our wives.

    …Well, maybe it’s only funny as black humour, I guess. The “and our wives,” only made me laugh because, oh, of course their wives are their property and hold no human value! I mean, duh! And, good lord–does that mean no one else can be named “James Wesley”? What if you’re named after a relative? Do you have to develop a complicated system of punctuation to annotate prior “owners” of this “property”?
    Maybe…
    James’¹/”‘ Wesley~=+ ,.;: Rawles®©™

  • Baeraad

    To make an entirely symbolic objection to the reigning sentiment in this thread that no one will thank me for:

    Guns are bad. Guns are evil. They are evil for the simplest possible reason – they are tools for killing people. Killing people is evil.  Therefore tools for killing people are evil.

    Sometimes guns are a necessary evil. The police and military needs to have them, because the police and military are explicitly meant to combat violence with violence. However, civilians lugging tools for killing people around because it’s “fun” is an entirely unnecessary evil.

    Is civilians carrying guns the biggest problem in the US? Not really. Should the Democratic party make it a priority issue, in the light of all the more pressing ones? I doubt it. Nonetheless: guns are bad. Anyone who wants to own one should seriously examine themselves. They should definitely not trip over their own feet in their eagerness to assure everyone that they love guns, they really do, they are most certainly *not* like those boring, un-fun, un-cool anti-gun types (hello!).

    I do not say this because I think that all gun owners are maniacs who are looking for a reason to shoot someone. I do not say this because I think that all gun owners are careless and irresponsible. I say this because guns are bad. They are inherently bad. If locked in a safe and dropped to the bottom of the north sea, they would still be bad, because their sole single purpose is to be used for something bad.

    And if me saying this makes you feel angry, annoyed or offended, let me just say: so shoot me!

  • Hidden_urchin, you might enjoy this:

    Diamanda Hagan reviews Left Behind.

    Diamanda Hagan is the persona of a very sarcastic and foul-mouthed atheist lesbian Irish woman who reviews horrible movies and bad episodes of TV shows while wearing makeup which resembles that worn by Heath Ledger playing the Joker. And oh, does she tear Left Behind apart–not for the religion (she acknowledges that there are good religious movies, and mentions a couple)–but because the story and the characters are awful.

    After a shot of Jerusalem that is captioned “Jerusalem, 6:00 p.m.”:

    Diamanda Hagan: 
    Yes, whenever I hear that generic Middle Eastern music and I see the massive gigantic golden tit that is the Dome of the Rock I think to myself, “Hmm, perhaps we’re in Strasburg!

    ***

    In the background in this scene, far behind Kirk Cameron and the actor playing a scientist, a man is leading a camel. It’s pretty obvious that neither the actors nor the cinematographer noticed this.

    Cam-Cam (to a scientist who has just discovered a way to grow grain in the desert): It looks like Iowa.

    Diamanda Hagan: Do you get many camels in Iowa?

    ***

    She’s also reviewed the following films, which she says make Left Behind look like a decent movie:

    Apocalypse
    Apocalypse 2: Revelation
    Apocalypse 3: Tribulation
    Apocalypse 4: Judgment

  • Of course it doesn’t work like that, Kiba. Unfortunately, Tim LaHaye and his ghostwriter live by the motto: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” 

    (This motto does work for Adam and Jamie on Mythbusters. But that’s because Adam and Jamie have brains.)

  • Beleester

    It’s surprisingly difficult to do a good fight scene in literature. If Michael Bay wants the hero to kill the bad guys in a giant explosion, he just has to set up some pyrotechnics and point a camera at it, and let physics take its course. If I want to do the same thing, I have to write out a long description of how awesome the explosion is, and that can easily kill your pacing. Since L&J can kill their pacing with a simple phone call, I’m not surprised that they can’t write a good fight scene.

  • Lori

     
    Guns are bad. Guns are evil. They are evil for the simplest possible reason – they are tools for killing people. Killing people is evil.  Therefore tools for killing people are evil. 

     

    You went past simply and straight to simplistic. 

     
    And if me saying this makes you feel angry, annoyed or offended, let me just say: so shoot me! 

    Oh for the love of FSM. [eyeroll}

  •  

    …Well, maybe it’s only funny as black humour, I guess. The “and our
    wives,” only made me laugh because, oh, of course their wives are their
    property and hold no human value!

    “Save my friends! And Zoidberg!”

  • I have often thought, and sometimes suggested, that leftist/progressive ideology and gun ownership/training are not as contradictory as they might seem on the surface, and as a gun owner, gunsmith, and at least marginally competent marksman myself, I encourage anyone who is the least bit curious to get marksmanship and gun safety training, at the absolute least, and consider owning (and safely storing and maintaining, of course) at least one gun you’re comfortable with.

    I myself found, along that path, that guns haven’t made me the least bit more violent and in fact have made me far less so, just from awareness of the responsibility of being a gun owner.  And I suspect that might be many other people’s experience as well.  Dispel enough of the right-wing myths and prejudices about liberal/progressive gun-phobia, and you may very well find that most of the right wing loses much of its enthusiasm for battle.

  • I’ve been amazed sometimes by how persistent that myth is on the right wing. Which is strange to me considering that most of my friends are somewhere between progressive and socialist, and so far none of them have been the kind of gun-phobes the right wing insists we all are.  Some of them meet me for range time and occasional instruction.  ;)

  • Unfortunately, I think their point was summed up by a T-shirt I’ve seen in a few places recently, which was a modified version of the traditional “Coexist” design — with all but the cross struck out and the cross 2x the size of the rest.

    These people are not interested in coexisting.  At all.  Any appearance of the contrary is camouflage intended to establish a veneer of civility .. to buy time.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    You are wrong. Inanimate objects are neither good nor evil; they are just objects. People may do evil things with objects, but unless you subscribe to some theory of magical contagion, that does not make the objects inherently evil.

    That you are failing Common Sense 101 does not make me angry, annoyed or offended or give me the urge to shoot you; it just makes me think you are an idiot.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    It’s surprisingly difficult to do a good fight scene in literature.

    I quite agree. Jim Butcher and Louis L’Amour are two authors I can think of who do (or did) write good fight scenes, but there are many, many more authors who can’t write good fight scenes. The smart ones know they can’t and carefully avoid the actual fight scene: Rafael Sabatini comes to mind. For all his swashbuckling action, if you pay close attention, he always skips/summarises the actual fights.

  • FangsFirst

     There is also the point that guns are, like almost all tools (I can’t think of an exception, but, hey, let’s just be safe…), not exclusively for one purpose–especially as narrow as “killing people.”

    I suppose if one equates all life to “people,” then this might be the case–the purpose is doubtless to kill/maim/wound but that also applies to animals, like those used as food for those of us who maintain carnivorous or omnivorous diets.

  • Tricksterson

    Heinlein should have said, an equally armed society but I suspect he took that as given.

  • Lori

     

    Discovering “James Wesley, Rawles” was not a typo was also pretty funny:
    I use the comma to make a distinction between my Christian name, and my family name. My Christian name (James Wesley) is my property. My family name (Rawles) is the common property of all those that share the Rawles bloodline, and our wives.

    …Well, maybe it’s only funny as black humour, I guess. The “and our wives,” only made me laugh because, oh, of course their wives are their property and hold no human value! I mean, duh! And, good lord–does that mean no one else can be named “James Wesley”?  

      
    I was thinking about this a bit while doing mindless chores this evening and I think that what Rawles actually meant may be worse than your joke about what he meant. He was not directly saying that the wives were property, just like the name is. He was saying that the name Rawles belongs to those who are Rawles’ by blood and to the wives of those men. 

    There are two obvious problems with this—he is implicitly saying that only males share the Rawles bloodline and he is explicitly saying that Rawles’ wives do not retain their maiden names once they marry Rawles men. 

    That second one is no doubt factually true, because I find it hard to imagine that a woman who wanted to retain her maiden name would have the slightest interest in marrying James Wesley, Rawles. That doesn’t make James Wesley, Rawles’ sexism any less assholish. 

    The first one is the one that really chaps me off though. My best guess is that James Wesley, Rawles dismisses his female blood relations because they will of course change their names when they get married and take “ownership” of whatever name “belongs to” their man. Because they will not keep the Rawles name permanently it doesn’t really belong to them and apparently the real bloodline is tied to keeping the name. This can’t change because the females clearly can’t keep the Rawles name because they have to take their husbands’ names. 

    This is both circular and incredibly assholish. James Wesley, Rawles should choke on an MRE or a deer bone or whatever survivalist vittles he eats. 

  • Lori

     
    Heinlein should have said, an equally armed society but I suspect he took that as given.  

    It still wouldn’t work, because equally armed does not mean equally skilled or equally willing. 

  • FangsFirst

     

    I was thinking about this a bit while doing mindless chores this evening
    and I think that what Rawles actually meant may be worse than your joke
    about what he meant.

    So very relieving to find I’m not the only one who does such things.
    Not chores, I mean. I don’t do those.

  • The thing is, guns are like the dangerous tools you lock up and put away when you don’t need them. The equivalent of saying you should use a chainsaw to cut a pot roast is in insisting it is perfectly fine to allow gun owners to carry their weapons everywhere they go.

  • Anonymous

     I want a gun for exactly one reason: so that if the theocrats take over, I can defend myself from them. 

    Also, don’t forget that a lot of gun owners are rural hunters, who use those rifles to get some tasty venison.  Hunting down your own meat is cheaper than buying it at the supermarket, so in many low-income households, guns become a necessary tool for survival.

    A gun is a tool.  I can use it to shoot a deer for food to sustain my family, to frighten off an intruder, or to murder somebody in cold blood.  Similarly, a hammer can be used to build a shelter, it can be used to erect a sign, or it can be used to bludgeon a person to death.  A knife can be used to whittle, to cut up a steak, or to attack a person.

    Tools are not the problem.  People who use tools to commit wanton acts of violence are the problem.

  • Anonymous

     OMG, Diamanda! <3  Just got into her reviews myself, and I can't get enough of her biting wit. :)

  • Base Delta Zero

    I certainly know lefty gun owners. AFAICT the professional Right thinks they don’t exist, but they do. There are even life long Democrats who are or have been in the military. Still, I think overalll folks on the Right actually are more likely to own guns than those on the Left.

    The ‘left wing’ also knows how to fight wars, whereas the Conservative trend as of late seems to be ‘assume we’ll win based purely on patriotism and chutzpah’.

    What… 0_o…but it doesn’t work like that….

    Sure it does.  You just have to combine the alleles of both parents, as you would normally, and create a synthetic zygote.  Now, how you do that is another matter…

    You’ve seen those bumper stickers that say “Coexist” in the symbols of different religions?  Putting them in the symbols of different firearms companies sounds to me like one of those “piss of the liberals” routines.

    I figured it was a joke on how… intense disputes over the merits of various firearms/manufacturers can get.

    If that does happen, well then, hope the military will support the lawful, federal government. They’ll be our last recourse and our last defense, just like the last time, if things take a turn for the worst.

    Thing is, last time, they really didn’t support the ‘lawful, federal government’.  At least not uniformly.  Many of the southern states took their military detachments with them, and much of the officer cadre defected as well.  Neither side really had a complete army at the beginning of the war…
    A second civil war would likely go the same way – that’s what makes it a civil war, as a opposed to a military coup…

    They have most of the civilian firearms, but those will be of limited use against the combined arms of the military. I mean, I hear a lot of gun people fantasizing about using their rifle with lots of scary-looking bolt-on modifications or shotguns in a new civil war, but they never have an answer for me when I ask what they will do when a platoon of Marines throws grenades through their window, pounds their house with a mortar from behind a hill, or has a F-16 drop a bomb on it.

    ‘Not be there’ is a correct response.  Trying to take an armored company or any of the other terrible things that an organized military can throw at you with your AR-15 (with reflex sight, ACOG, flip out bayonet, laser rangefinder, flashlight, and tactical cupholder) is a terrible, terrible, idea.  A competent partisan will realize this, and not get into a fight with the military.  They blend into the population, and strike from the shadows.  Now, acquiring a MASSIVE ARSENAL isn’t the best method of doing this, but…
    Also, a lot of them are convinced the world is going to completely collapse, and turn into Fallout, and either want protection from raiders, or (distressingly more common, actually…) want to be the raiders.

    This really kinda says it all–whatever side the military is on is probably going to win, with the resources and training and all.
    So either the gun-nut types are preparing for an inevitable loss, or they’re superfluous.

    Any dispute severe enough to split the nation is likely to split the military too.  And while one guy with some guns isn’t a substantial force, recruits who already know how to use, shoot, and maintain guns make the training process much easier (and has better results)…Plus, if you’re short on guns, as you will be in the initial stages of a civil war, those civilian weapons you’ve got laying around could be useful…

    When Britain had it’s last truly socialist Prime Minister (Harold Wilson ~ Tony Blair DEFINITELY doesn’t count) a group of wealthy, over-privileged layabouts approached a high-ranking army officer. They told him that Britain was going to hell in a handcart, to borrow one of my favourite Americanisms, and that a military coup was needed to Save The  Nation. The officer politely agreed with everything they said and reported the whole pack of them to the Home Office (responsible for domestic security) because he had sworn an oath to the Queen, i.e. Britain, i.e. the elected British government. I’m sure your armed forces make a similar promise to the American constitution, not just any rightwing nutter who cares to bandy their name about.

    There’s actually a somewhat famous case of pretty much the same thing happening in America… prior to WWII, a group of business men, including, interestingly enough, Prescott Bush, asked a Marine Corp general to help them with their attempt to install a fascist government…
    It ended up much the same way.

    Also, to put this delicately, while officers might trend to the right, given that the military is basically the only hope of getting off the bottom rung for certain demographics, there’s an awful lot of people in the military, especially at the “actually carrying around a gun on a day-to-day basis” levels, who would not exactly be welcome in the kind of state that those who imagine a right-wing coup want to create.

    And an officer without a command is just one guy with a pistol.

    Before you can use the phrase ‘an armed society is a polite society’, you must present proof that you lived in Somalia for at least two years.” – great comment on some long-ago Gun Thread.

    Actually, Somalia (and many countries like it) has a relatively low rate of gun ownership per capita.  (The US is ~10 times higher)  You see a lot of guns, yes, but they’re all in the hands of the militias and bandits.  The common citizenry doesn’t have them.
    That said, an ‘armed society’ doesn’t have a definitive impact on the nature of a country, or the prevention of such a failed state.  The top-ten gun owning nations range from places like Iraq and Yemen to Switzerland, Sweden, and, of course, the United States.  I suspect those less-inviting locales will exhibit a heavy distribution of their guns towards militants… though that may have a lot to do with the *presence* of militants…

    There are two obvious problems with this—he is implicitly saying that only males share the Rawles bloodline and he is explicitly saying that Rawles’ wives do not retain their maiden names once they marry Rawles men.

    Technically, it would only mean they can use that name, not neccessarily that they have to.  In the same way a company can own more than one trademark for itself.  (The whole point of that disclaimer is the weird Libertarian flip side of the ‘corporations are people’ idea – people are also corporations.

    The equivalent of saying you should use a chainsaw to cut a pot roast is in insisting it is perfectly fine to allow gun owners to carry their weapons everywhere they go.

    There’s no law against carrying a chainsaw in public, or using it to cut a pot roast.  It may be a terribly bad idea, but it’s not illegal, and you don’t need a special liscense to own one.  At least not that I know of.

    Note that I’m not saying guns shouldn’t be restricted, just that the analogy is imperfect.

  • P J Evans

     I’ve seen a lot of genealogy books where the male lines are the only ones that get followed; females get birth/death/marriage dates and husband’s name(s), but no children listed, unless the compiler is feeling generous. Because of course the females become part of their husbands’ families and have no share in their fathers’ families after marriage. (Like hell they don’t.)

  • Lori

    your AR-15 (with reflex sight, ACOG, flip out bayonet, laser rangefinder, flashlight, and tactical cupholder) 

    What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.