Sunday, February 13, 2005

# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APOCALYPSE, CONT'D: I just can't put down this book. Since I last posted, I've read another 150 pages of Left Behind. I can't exactly explain what makes me enjoy reading it so much.

A big part of it, I think, reflects my fascination with an American subculture with which I am totally unfamiliar. Yet at the same time, I am quite familiar with the Biblical prophecies on which the novel draws. Although in a much more subdued form, they also have their place in modern Jewish culture.

As a child, I did believe in the imminent coming of the messiah. Although my parents demonstrated no interest in such fantasies, there were both teachers and public figures who were willing to encourage them. So in a strange sort of way, reading Left Behind is a process of self-discovery.

As such, I was not glad to discover the increasingly prominent strain of anti-intellectualism in the novel. More often than not, accusations of anti-intellectualism tend to serve as a partisan battering ram. Nonetheless, anti-intellectualism does exist and the right and should identified for what it is.

In Left Behind, the anti-intellectual current focuses at first on Chloe Steele, Stanford undergraduate and daughter of protagonist Rayford Steele. Whereas Ray immediately recognizes the Rapture for what it is, Chloe resists. After Chloe tells her father that her mother (now in heaven) used to tell her about the Rapture and the end times, Ray asks here:
"But you still don't buy it?"

"I want to, Dad. I really do. But I have to be intellectually honest with myself."

It was all Rayoford could do to stay calm. Had he been this pseudosophisticated at that age? Of course he had. He had run everything through that maddening intellectual grid -- until recently, when the supernatural came crashing through his academic pretense. But like the cabbie said, you'd have to be blind not to see the light now, no matter how educated you thought you were. (Page 237)
The novel's portrayal of Chloe is not without sympathy, but it hammers home the same message again and again: Do not be deceived by your commitment to reason. Let faith take over. (Obi-wan Kenobi would be proud.)

The section of the book I've just finished also contains what seems to be the theological core of the novel's premise. Searching for answers, Ray Steele visits the church that his wife attended before she was taken by Christ. Steele discovers that the pastor and almost the entire congregration were saved as well, but the pastor wisely prepared a video tape with instructions for those Left Behind. At the conclusion of the tape, Pastor Billings tells his viewers that:
"If you accept God's message of salvation, his Holy Spirit will come in unto you and make you spiritually born anew. You don't need to understand all this theologically. You can become a child of God by praying to him right now as I lead you--" (Page 215)
Within the context of the novel, this message makes perfect sense since of the Bible's literal truth surrounds the characters. Yet if one approaches the novel as an inspirational work for those of us living in the real world, its message becomes problematic.

Both Pastor Billings and those other characters who have knowledge of the Rapture and what is to follow derive their information from sophisticated decodings of numerous passages in the Bible. For example, during his lecture on the video tape, Billings recites in their entirely the six verses from 1 Corinthians 15 that serve as the Biblical foundation of the book's premise.

During his lecture, the pastor feels compelled to explain the meaning of the verses in considerable detail. This is necessary precisely because the meaning of the verses is so obscure. If you read them without already knowing what they mean, you would probably never be able to figure out that they are referring to the Rapture or anything like it.

Which isn't to say that the pastor's interpretation of the verses is necessarily wrong. Yet his interpretation clearly entails significant intellectual labor. Moreover, the labor required is not simply his own, but also those of numerous experts and scholars to whom the book occasionally refers.

This hidden intellectualism is especially problematic when considered side-by-side with the overt anti-intellectualism prevalent throughout the novel. In practice, it constitutes a double standard. The secular intellectualism of characters such as Chloe is denigrated. The sacred intellectualism of unnamed experts is glorified.

It is also beyond reach. Converts such as Ray Steele are not allowed to challenge it. They are told to simply embrace their faith in a simple, child-like manner. In the context of the novel, this makes sense. If one could watch Biblical prophecies being fulfilled on CNN, then trusting one's pastor makes a certain amount of sense.

But I am curious to know: Will there be disagreements in the final pages of the novel about what action the Bible prescribes for those who are Left Behind? Or is the meaning presumed to be so apparent that the only relevant question is whether the characters choose will faith over skepticism?

Although novels are not supposed to be handbooks for day-to-day living, this one clearly has a message for those who want to devote more of their life to religion. And it is message I am becoming somewhat uncomfortable with.

UPDATE: Click here for the next post in this series.
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My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!

At: http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman/

eschatology,End Times,second coming,rapture,secret rapture,Second Resurrection,Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead,
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