Certain authors carry influence far beyond their fame. Few people have ever heard of Ayn Rand or Noam Chomsky, but each of them have managed to define a whole school of political thought. You can hardly hope to understand the business wing of the GOP or the Kucinch brand of Democrats without reading them.
Likewise, it would be tough to get a grip on the Fundamentalist movement in America without some knowledge of Hal Lindsey. Who is Lindsey? He is an author and preacher who has sold tens of millions of books on his own and inspired the massively popular Left Behind series (which includes a charming series for children). He is the modern spokesman for the End of the World.
Why are right-wing politicians in the US so fiercely supportive of Orthodox Israelis? Why does the Texas GOP Platform have a plank specifically seeking to limit the use of RFID chips? Why are religious conservatives fighting to extricate the US from a ‘One World Government’ that no one else has heard of?
All roads lead back to Lindsey.
The ideas about the end of the world that you hear bubbling up from protestant fundamentalists are not new, but they aren’t exactly old either. The end of the world as we know it, which includes a ‘rapture’ of the faithful, an Antichrist, and a culminating Battle of Armageddon was dreamed up in the mid-19th Century by a writer named John Nelson Darby.
Before that time, and for the most part, after; mainstream religion had little use for passages about The End. They were the preserve of street preachers and lunatics. As far as the church was concerned, one day Jesus would return ‘like a thief in the night’ and some vague set of things would happen. But dwelling on it was just a distraction that would dull the church’s ongoing mission.
You won’t find Lindsey’s or Darby’s visions of the end of the world in the Bible, because they aren’t there. They built them out of disconnected chunks, a verse here, a reconstruction there, in order to fit together a narrative that would be compelling and relevant. And once you embellish it enough it becomes a fine story.
Even now Lindsey’s vision of the end, sometimes called ‘Dispensationalism,’ is rejected by mainstream Protestant and Catholic theologians. Their understanding of the prophetic passages Lindsey massacres are the same as theologians have understood them for centuries – matters that primarily related to the times in which they were written.
But that understanding of scripture doesn’t sell books. And TV shows. And movies. The version of the end that Lindsey and others are peddling is now a force in our politics; warping our relationships with countries all over the world and complicating efforts to resolve actual real-world problems.
With each year that passes another of Lindsey’s or pillars of the end of the world becomes irrelevant. The collapse of the Soviet Union created tremendous problems for these people – go back and read The Late Great Planet Earth…if you dare. But it doesn’t matter much. An ideology that doesn’t lean on events in the real world can’t be shaken by real world contradictions.
What’s particularly upsetting about this wave in Christian thought is the effect it has had on the relationship between the church and the culture. You could hardly devise a better tool to blunt the powerful social impact of Christianity and turn it back on itself. A focus on the imminent end of everything is not a great way to motivate people make the world a better place.
If Jesus is coming any day now do I really need to mow the lawn?
And, the success of our doom industry is spawning copy-cats. Check out the Muslim Hal Lindsey in Pakistan. He is spinning a Pakistan-centered version of the end of the world that looks a heck of a lot like Lindsey’s, just inverted. Precisely what Pakistan needs right now.
There is no sign of any relief from this grim, lazy interpretation of the Bible or its stagnating effects on Christian thought. Each new fuzzy prophesy from our modern Nostradamuses that fails to play out in reality is just forgotten. Meanwhile they influence Congressmen and muck up foreign policy. It isn’t enough to just dismiss this movement as the work of ‘crazies.’ We need to understand where these ideas are coming from and fight their influence on the Party.
And as a final note, no one seriously preparing for The Rapture can afford to turn down this valuable offer. It’s only $14.95 today for an invaluable chance to ‘snatch loved ones from the flames’ for an eternity.
Presumably, at that point these folks won’t be voting anymore, so there’s one more reason we should all be praying for The End.
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