What Rapture

rapturecultureEvangelical culture must be an endlessly fascinating area of study for sociologists. So pervasive that many people who aren’t religious buy into aspects of it, this social movement has shaped American thought in often unexpected ways. Take the rapture, for example. Here is a non-biblical concept, invented in the late nineteenth century and so thoroughly disseminated that most people simply accept it as standard Christian belief. It’s not. Amy Johnson Frykholm pieces part of this puzzle together by focusing on the Left Behind series. Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America is one of those books where you find plenty of food for thought as you go along. Not that the novel series itself is profound, but the impact that it has is.

The origins of the rapture go back to a way of thinking called dispensationalist premillennialism. That alone could be why so few people know about it! All this phrase means is that some Christians believe history is divided into distinct periods (dispensations), one of which is the end of the world. Among dispensationalists, there is disagreement on when the rapture will come, and those in the majority believe it will happen before the millennium (not the Y2K millennium, but the millennium of God’s reign on earth before the world ends—the next dispensation). These are the premillennialists. It’s easy to think that since this system is pure mythology it must be simple. It’s not. This is a complex mapping of the future based on an intimate knowledge of obscure verses from the Bible. The Left Behind series, written by Jerry Jenkins under the guidance of the finally departed Timothy LaHaye, brought this idea into mainstream culture. There was even a movie.

Many educated citizens don’t realize that Left Behind has a Harry Potter-like following. Sales of the series are into the millions of units and many of those who read them take them somewhat seriously. Frykholm interviewed such readers to find out what they actually thought about the series and whether it was something they believed in. As might be expected, answers differ considerably on these points. For me one of the real takeaways is that we ignore evangelical culture at our own peril. I learned about the rapture form Chick tracts—I’ve posted about them before—that I read in my childhood. By the time of Left Behind I’d been through enough courses that I knew it was all based on a fictional event. But many don’t realize that. And many of them showed up in the last presidential election.

Jesus’ Broken Dates

Jesus apparently has his calendar out. Again. This time it looks like May 21 is a red-letter day (he has a predilection for red-letters too). Well, at least it’s penciled in, like many other broken dates. An unemployed woman in Colorado Springs has decided to spend her dwindling reserves on bus bench advertisements reading “Save the Date / Return of Christ / May 21, 2011,” according to CNN. She states in the interview that she believes her job until judgment day is to get the world ready. She will find herself standing in the unemployment line on May 23 (the 22nd is a Sunday), more likely than not. Even more disturbing than the mostly harmless neurotic behavior of the unemployed (who am I to cast the first stone?) is the choice of Jerry Jenkins as an expert witness in the story.

Who questions a bus bench?

Jenkins and perennial Paleo-Con Timothy LaHaye wrote the “Left Behind” series that made more than a cottage industry out of repackaging Christian apocalyptic mythology into slick, science-fictionesque novels. They have more than a vested interest in promoting “and they lived horrifically ever after” scenarios. There is good money to be made by trolling the fears of the gullible. Very good money.

Our Colorado Springs prophet took her date from a billboard in Texas, a leading purveyor of rapture-mania. The thing that’s been left out of this – and many other apocalyptic episodes – is a serious consideration of the Bible. As most biblical scholars know, doomsday predictions generally derive from misinterpretations of ancient metaphors. Jesus, at least according to the canonical Gospels, was much more concerned about fair treatment of the poor and disadvantaged than he was about raining down brimstone on Babylon. Instead of spending money to warn the folks of Colorado Springs about yet another end of the world, why not donate the money to a local food bank and try to make the world a little bit better place?