"Fundamentally Unsound"

By Michelle Goldberg


Salon Staff
August 2, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Read [the article.]

I am an ordained Christian minister troubled by two key elements in the series.

One: The scenario of chaos following the sudden disappearance of all true Christians is a fabrication not found in the Bible. "One taken, the other left" in Scripture is a prelude to martyrdom rather than an easy escape: "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Two mass resurrections of the faithful are mentioned in the Book of Revelation, but the reading of "the rapture" into one ambiguous verse before the Tribulation begins is wishful thinking on a grand scale.

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Two: The series endorses lying, cheating, stealing, killing, gun-running, computer hacking, evading arrest, misappropriation of government property, sabotage, and conspiring to commit illegal acts. Any action can be justified if one's enemy is identified as the antichrist. This rationale can be extended too easily to bombing abortion clinics, oppressing homosexuals, and expanding the war on terror from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein and anyone else who gets in the way or dares to resist. Such thinking is so far from the life and teachings of Jesus that I believe the spirit of Antichrist is at work in the "Left Behind" series and its writers!

-- Keith E. Clark

Although one must agree with Michelle Goldberg that the "Left Behind" series provides us with disconcerting insight into the psychology of an uncomfortably significant number of influential Americans, it is simply sophomoric to claim, as Goldberg does, that it tells us anything interesting about the "core beliefs" of those persons or gives a "rationale for a whole host of perplexing conservative policies."

I would, for instance, be titillated by a thriller in which the European Union is an economically prosperous, politically progressive, socialist superpower at war with an America warped and twisted by laissez-faire economics. To use my reaction to this fantasy as the primary explanation of my stance on some foreign policy issue, however, would just be insulting. Thus, Goldberg's remark that "No wonder the born-again lobby is obsessed with Israeli self-defense, but opposed to any peace plan," though hopefully made in fun, asks the reader to adopt the denigrating view that religious fundamentalists in the United States are conspiring to bring about as reality the plot of a fictional work. Such a view is as paranoid as the fantasies it warns against.

The underlying sympathies and prejudices of religious conservatives are sufficient to explain both their political platforms and their reading habits. The success of the "Left Behind" series is evidence that the tastes and sympathies of a distressing number of Americans lie in a poisonous backwater. Goldberg's commentary on its success, however, is evidence that she harbors poisonous prejudices against people of differing sympathies. An important point was therefore missed by Goldberg's vengeful pursuit of an acerbic retort to a work that must have offered an afternoon of most unpleasant reading.

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-- Seth Cable

I very much enjoyed Michelle Goldberg's excellent review of the "Left Behind" series. Her insight into evangelicalism's paranoia is chillingly accurate. I am an ex-Christian, one who "accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior," and have both a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in New Testament theology from two very conservative (politically and theologically) mainstream institutions. It is evangelicalism's obscene obsession with the pre-millennial return of "Christ," their unbiblical doctrine of the "rapture," a term not found in either testament, and their nauseating support of the Republican Party and unbridled capitalism that was a large factor in my rejecting "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." If there is a god, and these greedy, childish, capricious, brain-dead people are somehow his redeemed, then quite frankly, he owes me and a lot of other people an apology, and he needs to immediately expunge the Sermon on the Mount from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

-- Lawrence Tonsick

"So the rest of us can ignore Left Behind, or chuckle at its over-the-top Christian kitsch. We should keep in mind, though, that for some of the most powerful people in the world, this stuff isn't melodrama. It's prophecy."

Partly correct. As a PK (preacher's kid) I can tell you "these people" vote in larger numbers than the rest of us. And these prophecies guide them to the exclusion of everything else. We will not have to wait until the Tribulation to see chaos, just the next few election cycles.

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-- Joy Cassell

If the "Left Behind" series has finally made it to legitimate bestseller status, I'll be very surprised: Those books got their start by being bulk-bought by their well-funded publishers and their well-heeled friends, so as to create a phony "bestseller" status. The New York Times notes these fraudulent books by using a small dagger on its bestsellers lists, a practice that I wish other papers would emulate.

Fifty million copies of these books may have been printed and sold, but 50 million people sure as hell aren't reading them. That's why you see huge stacks of them sitting on the remainder tables, cheek-by-jowl with other bulk-sale "bestsellers" penned by right-wingers.

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But Michelle Goldberg is all too right when she describes the frightening fact that the LaHayes, the creators of these books, founded and run the Council for National Policy, a group that is "broad-minded" enough in its anti-democratic pursuit of absolute power to allow Sun Myung Moon and even atheist Ayn Rand fans like the Wall Street Journal's John Fund as members. The LaHayes were smart enough to realize that in order to get corporate greedheads like Fund to sign on, they had to tone down and marginalize Jesus' words about rich men, ropes and eyes of needles, and turn up the volume on anything anti-Jewish, anti-female and anti-intellectual.

-- Tamara Baker

"Left Behind" is bad science fiction for those increasingly unsettled by a complex world and who have difficulty confronting the precept challenges of an increasingly technological, multicultural society, let alone those in real science fiction.

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The "Left Behind" series is a Linus blanket for the terminally insecure. If that's all it were, there'd be no problem. Yet in a democratic republic the series serves as indoctrination propaganda for isolationism and religious bigotry for millions of voters who want simplistic solutions. When illogical, unrealistic solutions lead to disaster -- well, "God will save us" summarizes the contingency plan.

Revelation ultimately leads to the tortured death of billions. Frighteningly, to the readership of the "Left Behind" series, that's a "good" thing.

-- JJ Brannon

Michelle Goldberg only touches on part of this issue, and that is the contempt that LaHaye shows for other religions, not just Judaism. Early in the series the writers create a "one world" religion run by the pope. The writers have everyone but the "proper" Christians and Jews join this "made up" religion with hardly a second thought. I have been reading the series and found one of the worst things that LaHaye is doing with the series is the contempt shown to any other religious or philosophical belief.

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Also, I've looked upon reading the books as one way to gain appreciation for good writing. I've always described the series as being a candidate for the book-club equivalent of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." To quote Dr. Forrester, the "Left Behind" series is "bad."

-- Scott Lohman

"It's bizarre that more attention hasn't been paid to the series' open hostility to the Jewish religion, if not the Jewish people."

Yes! Michelle Goldberg gets it right. "Left Behind" plays to a lot of Jewish stereotypes. How about the secret meetings of financiers? Isn't it convenient that the characters who dismiss Christian beliefs as superstition are scientists and media types, two groups that anti-Semites believe are dominated by Jews? Reminds me of Dan Quayle's famous diatribe against the "cultural elite," a phrase that carries just as much meaning as "welfare queen."

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"Seeing the self-defeating delusions of erstwhile elites exposed may be the greatest pleasure the 'Left Behind' books offer their readers." I'd go further than that. I think Jenkins and LaHaye are offering Armageddon as entertainment, cheering for the pestilence. They seem to take perverse pleasure writing about "mocking urbanites" dying by the thousands.

-- John Johnston

Thanks to Michelle Goldberg for her eye-opening revelations about the "Left Behind" series. Those of us who can't imagine reading such potboiler nonsense had no idea what an influence it was having on the policymakers of our nation. Goldberg's piece was the most terrifying thing I have read in ages; I only wish it were fiction. Perhaps it's high time someone wrote a series of supernatural thrillers in which obsessive evangelical Christians destroy the world in the name of their Old Testament prophecies while the "unbelievers" are carried to Heaven by a righteous God disgusted by these mindless, soulless zealots.

I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that so many people are paying to read this drivel, or the thought that several of them wield positions of power and are working so hard to make the apocalyptic scenario a reality.

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-- Chris Bolton

Though Ms. Goldberg bends over backward with her disclaimers of respecting Christian apocalyptic thinking in her review of the "Left Behind" series -- "everyone's entitled to his own opinion," etc. -- nearly all of her paragraphs include a disdainful quip for the right-wing conservatives she seems so wary of. In fact, in her opinion, the only reason the series should be reviewed is due to what she sees as the alarming fact that a "great many people in this country" actually believe in the apocalypse the books describe. How absolutely terrifying, Ms. Goldberg.

No one enjoys being pitied for their deep-seated beliefs. I am a huge Salon fan, but what is truly disappointing here is the language used to describe the readership of "Left Behind." Ms. Goldberg's descriptions of hard-core Christianity's main tenets -- that they include a "seemingly wacky ideology" and that they are "paranoid" -- reflect a disrespect and wariness regarding the Christian American, which seems antithetical to Ms. Goldberg's would-be tolerance for, at least, the Jewish religion.

Would any journalist today decry Islam or Judaism as a "wacky" religion without quickly backpedaling to praise its merits? Would the Jews be labeled as "paranoid" because they skedaddled out of Egypt? Unlikely. However, in America's intellectual circle, American Christians are viewed as handicapped children, too stupid to know what is good for them.

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It is just this sentiment, echoed so exquisitely in Ms. Goldberg's writing, which helps to lead to a series such as "Left Behind," in which revenge seems to be sought especially upon liberal elite journalists.

Ms. Goldberg would have done better by doling out the same courtesy to the Christian religion as she does to the Jewish one. Belittling apocalyptic theory by calling it a "fantasy" at the same time that she covers her own ass by saying, why, of course, everyone (those poor, ignorant, uneducated things) is entitled to such, does not an admirable writer make.

-- Maggie Shnayerson

As a recently deconverted fundamentalist living in the Christian-militia-building deep South, I am deeply worried about our president's belief in this type of bloodthirsty prophecy. I spent the first 30 years of my life expecting to be tortured for my belief in Jesus Christ during the "Tribulation," but have come to see that it's really the followers of Christ who intend to bully, subjugate and otherwise force unbelievers into line with the "promises of God."

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There is no doubt in my mind that the ignorant, superstitious "righteous" will -- if they are able -- bring about Armageddon without the necessity of any supernatural intervention. They have exactly the same mindset as Muslim fundamentalists who are eager to send Christian infidels to hell while they receive the ultimate reward of eternal bliss. Anyone and everyone in this nation who would rather see the next generation survive than this generation lit by the dancing flames of hellfire, must loudly and urgently add their voices to the chorus of dissent.

-- Cynthia Millaudon

I'm one of those few people who both frequent Salon.com and have read every book in the "Left Behind" series, so I feel qualified to comment on her article. I think that Michelle Goldberg is taking things a little to far with her analysis ... the average "Left Behind" reader is not reading these books because they hate "Jews and liberals" and want to see them punished (if only in a fictional story), but because they tell a interesting story backed up with religious doctrine. End-times novels have always been popular, so it isn't surprising that a Christian-themed series would be a bestseller.

I find it strange that the mainstream media are always so shocked when something with a religious theme becomes popular, from Christian books and music to church itself. Remember when Creed's first album came out?

Ms. Goldberg can laugh at the books if she wants, but she shouldn't label the "Left Behind" readers as anti-Semites and religious wackos.

-- Lauren Palm

As a Christian and a regular reader of most-excellent Internet magazine Salon (imagine that!), I feel compelled to comment on the "Fundamentally Unsound" article. First, let me define "Christian" as one who believes that Jesus was and is God incarnate and has accepted His gift of forgiveness and salvation and tries to follow what He has revealed to us through scripture (the Bible). That being said, not all Christians are on the "Left Behind" bandwagon.

The troubling thing from a Christian perspective of the "Left Behind" series is the way they tell the readers "this is the way that they (the end-times) are going to unfold." LaHaye and Jenkins have convinced uncounted numbers of Christians of a fiction masquerading as reality. The true reality is that written in the Bible, and it does not necessarily comport to the fiction created by LaHaye and Jenkins. To name but one example, there is no biblical evidence of a Rapture occurring before this world starts unraveling. The Rapture occurs when Christ finally comes again, and not before. I fear that once tribulation starts, faith will fail for many due to their continued presence on this earth, an earth that is about to undergo catastrophes as never before seen. Jesus promises us that He will "wipe away every tear" and that there "will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying." Those like LaHaye and Jenkins that try to avoid those tears have a rude surprise awaiting them.

The one good thing that "Left Behind" and its tediously long series of books has done is focus attention on the subject. I hope and pray that people will go to the source material, though, and see for themselves the Truth in the Bible. We are closer to the end than yesterday, that much is certain. How close? No one can tell. That day will come "as a thief in the night." Anyone who says different is trying to sell you something (like a book!).

The apostle John, in Revelation, warns, "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book" (22:18). Something for LaHaye and Jenkins to consider.

-- Luis Garcia-Rivera


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