Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

That would be the apocalypse. For those of you who haven't had a chance to read Michelle Goldberg's Salon article on the Left Behind books and the belief system behind them, please click the link.

Unfortunately, we are not talking about a harmless fringe group. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series, is powerfully influential. As Goldberg writes:

After all, Tim LaHaye isn't merely a fringe figure like Hal Lindsey, the former king of the genre, whose 1970 Christian end-times book "The Late Great Planet Earth" was the bestseller of that decade. The former co-chairman of Jack Kemp's presidential campaign, LaHaye was a member of the original board of directors of the Moral Majority and an organizer of the Council for National Policy, which has called "the most powerful conservative organization in America you've never heard of" and whose membership has included John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson and Oliver North. George W. Bush is still refusing to release a tape of a speech he gave to the group in 1999. . . .The Left Behind series provides a narrative and a theological rationale for a whole host of perplexing conservative policies, from the White House's craven decision to cut off aid to the United Nations Family Planning Fund to America's surreally casual mobilization for an invasion of Baghdad -- a city that is, in the Left Behind books, Satan's headquarters.

Political attitudes and actions that make no practical or moral sense to secularists become comprehensible when viewed through Christian pop culture's eschatological looking glass. At a time when America is flagrantly flouting international law, spurning the U.N. and tacitly supporting the land grabs of Israeli maximalists, surely it's significant that the most popular fiction in the country creates a gripping narrative that pits American Christians against a conspiracy of Satan-worshipping, abortion-promoting, gun-controlling globalists -- all of it revolving around the sovereignty of Israel.

To those of us who exist in reality, these people appear essentially psychotic. The Book of Revelation, which provides the template for their delusions, is probably the record of mushroom trip. Even if you decide to believe that it somehow literally predicts the future, it's a long way from the weird visions on the page to any particular, comprehensible narrative of coming events. Furthermore, you just have to decide, on no particular grounds, that the apocalypse is going to happen sometime soon, and then map the book onto the world of today. When the book was written, of course, there was no such thing as a Muslim, or a Pope, just for starters.

But there you are. This nuttiness happens to be the core belief of tens of millions of Americans including the core constituency of the current president of the United States -- who just might believe it himself. In any event he is very careful not to publicly deny it, and to sprinkle his speeches with code words indicating that he does, in fact, believe. In my view, it is credible to argue that this is the most urgent problem we face -- the nation, and the world, have urgent problems that require concerted action, and here we have a substantial segment of the population that is running from all responsibility into the comforting arms of a delusion.

And they are not just huddling in their dreamworld by themselves. They are politically active, politically powerful, and imposing their visions on the governance of the world's most powerful nation. The result is that we do indeed risk, not their imagined Armageddon, but real disasters: widening war, climatic catastrophe, resource depletion, economic collapse. Nobody is going to get raptured up out these disasters, and Jesus isn't going to descend from the heavens to save anybody. We're all going to face hunger, and pain, and good old fashioned death. And that includes you, Mr. LaHaye.

There is no excuse for tolerating this nonsense, or treating it respectfully. This belief system must be clearly labeled for what it is, by every responsible politician, commentator, and anyone else with a public platform. It is nothing but the ravings of lunatics. It has no place in respectable society.

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