My first experience with Tim LaHaye was as a horny preteen. On one sweltering Ohio afternoon, while visiting my Aunt Deb, and while also moving my bowels, I happened upon a paperback in their bathroom bookstack called The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love. Its cover featured a lazy couple necking, after a picnic, under a tree, amid a meadow filled with daisies. It was the type of image I was used to seeing on Massengil commercials. Seeing as douche commercials also made me a bit randy (the mere implication of female genitalia stunned me stupid at the time), I immediately employed the bibliomancy that, at that tender age, usually led me to the ìgood parts’ of books by authors like Eric Van Lustbader, Jean Auel and Dick Francis.
I was not disappointed. In the book, LaHaye and his lovely wife Bev offer a step by step guide for Christian married couples on how to achieve simultaneous orgasm. In retrospect, the flowchart seems a bit – aw hell, in retrospect it’s a teethgritting recipe for sexual frustration and missionary position uberboredom. Yet the pen and ink schematics of the female body’s tenderest pinky regions, and frank-for-evangelicals and mostly accurate suggestions on how they might be stimulated, did the trick. That afternoon, and several others after, I mastered the act of onanism, acheiveing several, er, lonely and asynchronous climaxes.
My breathless gratitude to LaHaye and wife is one of the reasons I didn’t dismiss the Left Behind series out of hand. Another is that I was raised a devout Southern Baptist, and as a wandering mystic in my late teens, once considered a ministry in the Foursquare Pentecostal denomination. I never had much use for abstinence, but I understood LaHaye’s motivations with the marriage book, and further, I was duty bound by dogma to agree with the widely-held eschatalogical timeline that he espoused, and would eventually fictionalize.
The timeline, courtesy of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, John of Patmos, and St. Paul, goes a little something like this:
Sometime very, very soon about 500 million Christians will vanish from the earth. Poof. Just like that. They will rise, physically, into the air to meet Jesus, physically, in the stratosphere. Taken to heaven, they will wait for seven years. Soon after, a dashing fellow – tradition holds he must be a Jewish male, because he must be the photo-negative of Jesus, (though I’m not sure an inverse of Jesus would be Jewish, logicallyÖgnostic, Muslim, or Christian perhaps?) – will appear on the world geopolitical scene, and in three short years bring peace on earth, unite the nations into a ìone world government,’ unite the religions into a ìone world religion,’ and declare himself the world’s emperor. At the three and a half year mark, this guy will be killed in an assassination attempt, where he is shot in the head. Aping the Resurrection, he will rise again, but this he’ll be possessed by the Devil, and will begin a general mischief-making campaign that includes stamping everyone’s head with his ìnumber,’ 666, killing newly-converted Christians willy-nilly, slaughtering all but 144,000 Jews, committing a sacrilege so horrible in the Holy of Holies of a Jewish temple rebuilt on the Haram al-Sharif, that the prophet Daniel refused to describe it, and generally standing idle while the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse kill most of mankind with war, plague, famine and natural disaster. In year seven a stalwart group, comprised mostly of recently converted Jews, assemble an army and march on the Anti-Christ’s lair, which is, of course, in Jerusalem. In the valley of Megiddo, the final battle between good and evil plays out – in the end, it appears the bad guys will win, but at the penultimate moment Jesus and the folks who disappeared return, land on the Mount of Olives with enough torque to split the thing in two, and put the spank down. Following, Jesus sets up court in Jerusalem for a thousand years, during which time the dead physically rise from their graves, good and evil alike, and are judged, with the bad guys sent to Hell, where Satan lies ìchained.’ During this thousand years, things go along pretty well; however, Satan is for some reason loosed at the end, and gets back up to his old tricks. Jesus, who’s finally had it, wallops Satan one last time, destroys him for good, and then Earth and Heaven are finally recreated anew.
This is the climax and denoument of the Christian narrative, and it is the primary article of faith for almost a half billion worldwide. People you know, and respect, and some of whom make unquestioned decisions about the policies that govern you and the world, believe this as sincerely as they believe the sun will rise tomorrow – it is a granted, a given, preordained, coming at us as we speak.
For our Muslim readers, this scenario should not surprise – in fact, it’s very like the Quran’s version of the end of things, except there, my humble lay reading is that Jesus gets to be the Mahdi’s lieutenant, the Anti-Christ is some asshole named D’jahl, and God Himself does most of the heavy lifting.
The problem is that this reading, while quite literal and based solidly in Christian scripture, is very new. It is but one of several long-competing end narratives employed to explain the Apocalypse, but, thanks to an odd cross-pollination of American exceptionalism, Cold War paranoia, and old-fashioned conspiracy mongering, the interpretation of Holy Writ has gobbled up the writ itself. There is not enough space, nor patience, I expect, at CM for me to go into the competing Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant interpretations, though they do exist, and some are quite reasonable, critically sound and scripturally inoffensive. Accordingly, we shall confine ourselves to the interpretation descibed above, known in the trade as ìpremillenial dispensationalism.’
Rising from the post Great War ruins of the previously primary interpretation, held by many mainline and congregationalist churches, which held the Church itself was to perfect the world through charity, conversion and good will, thus preparing it for Christ’s return (the more radical saw Christians themselves comprising the ìBody of Christ,’ and assumed they’d do all the things, metaphorically, required by prophecy), premin-disps coat-tailed the fundamentalist upswell siezing America in the 1920′s. That literalist, text-worshipping stance, and my suspicion of its errors, are chronicled elsewhere on CM.
Because of the fundamentalist belief that the Bible’s prophecies speak both to the time they were written, and all times, the fundamentalist camp has had a field day auditioning the players of our day for roles in the world’s end. Certainly, following WWII, with the world’s new focus on the Holocaust, nuclear annihalation, International Communism, the approaching millenium, the rise of religious alternatives, the expanding federal government, creeping secular humanism, the evolving interntional trade and tariff order, and the ascendant EU, no psuedoprophet worried for fodder.
One of the best selling books of the 1970′s was The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. For the first time, an major Christian author laid out the premin-disp view and named names. Lindsey’s tract draws, for inspiration, on the conspiratorial ramblings of the John Birch folks, who have a history of giving creedence to the Protocols, or weak imitations, and holding dark suspicions about Freemasonry, as well as (you knew they’d make an appearance, didn’t you?) the Illuminati.
Lindsey’s work is so influential in many evangelical circles that its effects cannot be underestimated. Never mind his suppositions were about as accurate as his Population Bomb Bestseller-mate Paul Ehrlich’s. Lindsey showed it was possible, and lucrative, to win converts and attention through the constantly evolving game of spot the Anti-Christ. Though the end of the Cold War threw cold water on much of the interpretation, Gulf I popped up to fill the space. Since then, Lindsey has been on an anti-brown folk tirade. Lindsey’s work has been rewarded with lifetime tenure on TBN (he hosts ìThis Week in Bible Prophecy,’ which appears to be written by the Mossad, and if anyone other than fundamentalists watched it, might get him indicted in Canada, or somewhere where they do that sort of thing, for anti-Muslim hate speech).
As Faulkner told us, ìFiction is truer than fact.’ In the 1990′s, my old masturbatory inspiration, Tim LaHaye, (who by this time had assumed, in his discourse community, the eminence gris of a wintered warrior) and a ghost-’writer’ named Terry Jenkins began dramatizing the prophetic timeline. The public response was overwhelming, and is yet another example of the dumbing-about-the-real-world-effect of the blue-states’ echo chamber. The damn things have sold 60 mill-fucking-ion copies worldwide – this, in a publishing world where moving 100,000 units of a literary novel entitles you to the Pulitzer, a lifetime of supermodel trim and as much toot as you can snort. The books have also been made into a low budget movie starring Kirk Cameron, which was distributed along the same channels used, later, to champion The Passion. I predict they will eventually be remade, with better CGI and a script.
The books, and booksellers both sacred and profane, make great hay out of the books’ singular claim – that they’re a true story waiting to happen. In addition, they’re written on a third grade level, with stilted characterizations that make for reading by osmosis. For example. Marquez it ain’t.
In the same way Libra and JFK made the Kennedy assassination into an indisputable global conspiracy, and The DaVinci Code has legitimized western sex magick for the masses, and True Lies and Delta Force had us hunting for A-rabs while McVeigh hightailed it out of OKC, Jenkins and LaHaye have made the nightmare scenario of global Holocaust, massive human suffering, genocide, world war, ethnic strife and economic slavery a necessary precursor for heaven on earth.
The folks at NBC are dumb, but they’re not stupid. Revelations, the mini-series, is an admittedly corny part of this growing genre of American quasi-fiction, which speaks to our best fears and our worst hopes; soon – and all involved will take profits and souls to the last moment – this irresponsible mythmaking may culminate in a merger of hard political choices, narrative national destiny, and the fate of civil discourse.
It has happened before. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It was built in the heads of Romans. And while it pains me to compare Virgil to Tim LaHaye, it bears considering where our fictions might drive the American mind.