Saturday, February 12, 2005

# Posted 12:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE-BLOGGING THE APOCALYPSE: As part of my growing interest in evangelical Christianity, I've decided to read Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Is reading a novel the best way to educate myself about a serious subject like this? No, probably not. But I spend all day reading academic prose, so if I'm going to spend my spare time on something it has to be entertaining.

I've been looking for a novel to read for quite some time now, so when Time Magazine decided to list LaHaye as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America, I thought it might be fun to read some of his books. After all, if LaHaye and Jenkins have sold 42 millions books, it's pretty safe to assume they are fun to read.

And they are. I read a hundred pages last night and another fifty after breakfast this morning. LaHaye and Jenkins write in a simple, straightforward, user-friendly kind of way. There are no artistic or intellectual pretensions here. The purpose of this book is to tell a story.

The story begins 30,000 feet over the Atlantic, on flight from Chicago to London. Suddenly, dozens of passengers disappear. Literally. An old woman wakes up to discover her husband's clothes just lying on his seat. His shoes are on the floor with his socks still inside.

Quickly, it becomes apparent that this is a global crisis. Millions and millions of people have disappeared across the globe. Including every last child. The result is chaos. When drivers suddenly disappear from cars, engineers from trains and pilots from their planes, massive accidents result.

The protagonists of the book are the 747 pilot Ray Steele and ace reporter Cameron "Buck" Williams. In the manner of a 1950s comic book, it seems that everyone in the United States has un-ethnic names. Thus, the list of characters includes Hattie Durham, Marge Potter, Christopher Smith and Steve Plank.

Williams' role is that of the well-informed, well-educated, rational individual trying to come to grips with the apparent fulfillment of Biblical prophecies on a global scale. At least for the moment, Steele's role is something of a mystery. Why should we care about this pilot? What is his relevance to the unfolding events? He is also a non-believer struggling with spiritual events, but what makes him different from billions of others caught in the same situation?

The mystery of these implicit questions heightens the novel's suspense. In fact, just about everything heightens this novel's suspense. This morning, I looked up from the book and there was something about New York on television. For a moment, I was actually surprised that New York was still there.

Naturally, my interest in this novel is also political. Foremost in my mind are pervasive stereotypes of evangelical Christians as intolerant, close-minded and provincial. Already after 150 pages, I can say this book isn't strictly provincial. Although focused on a small number of individuals, it studies them against a trans-continental back drop of transformative events with global implications.

Yet within this globalism there are hints of chauvinism. For example, we learn on page 48 that
At a Christian high school soccer game at a missionary headquarters in Indonesia, most of the spectators and all but one of the players disappeared in the middle of play, leaving their shoes and uniforms on the ground. The CNN reporter announced that, in his remorse, the surviving player took his own life.
So out of 240,000,000 million Indonesians, the only ones saved are those who embraced Christianity. Of course, if the authors are committed to their interpretation of the Bible, it is hard to avoid such conclusions. Nonetheless, such details may strike non-Christian readers as remarkably intolerant and even provincial. Yes, the events in question take place in Indonesia. But the only apparent purpose of Indonesia is to provide converts for a foreign faith.

A fundamental question here is whether a book like Left Behind can reach to those who don't share the faith of its authors. For example, will the address whether Catholics can be saved, or whether they must automatically be left behind? If Catholics can be saved, why not Muslims or Hindus?

By initiating such a work of fiction, the authors confront a precipice. Either they can make a broad audience feel good by suggesting that anyone can be saved if he or she is basically a good person. Or they can inspire those who share their faith by suggesting that it is essential to salvation.

Choose the former, and the value of faith becomes questionable. After all, why believe if non-believers can also be saved? Conversely, is it possible to assuage the guilt of those believers who don't want their friendly Buddisht or agnostic neighbors to be condemned to eternal suffering in the event of an onrushing apocalypse?

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

Your jaw will drop!
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