Raptured, Part II: Commercialized Apocalypse

Last week, we explored the origins of the Christian concept of a "rapture". Here in Part II, we'll talk about the popularity and profitability of the end times.

According to a 2002 Time/CNN poll, 36% of Americans believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally. 59% believe the events in the Book of Revelation are going to come true. And close to a quarter think the Bible predicted the WTC attack.

Ever since 9/11, apocalyptic visions have seen a major boost, as a Time article from June 2002 confirms: "[The terrorist attacks] not only deepened the interest among Christians fluent in the language of Armageddon and Apocalypse. It broadened it as well, to an audience that had never paid much attention to the predictions of the doomsday prophet Nostradamus, or been worried about an epic battle that marks the end of time, or for that matter, read the Book of Revelation."

In the weeks after the attacks, U.S sales of Nostradamus books, the Bible, and books about Islam skyrocketed. But the most amazing phenomenon in the book market has been the Left Behind series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Rev. Tim LaHaye, the well-known Christian reconstructionist and co-founder (with Jerry Falwell) of Moral Majority.

In the first of the 12 Left Behind books (we hesitate to call them novels), Rayford Steele, a commercial airline pilot, not only loses his wife and young son to the rapture, but a third of the passengers on his plane... all snatched away in the blink of an eye, leaving only their clothes behind. The rest of the series deals with the abandoned heathens-turned-believers who--holding tiresome, unctuous monologues about their newfound belief--try to survive the following, horrendous seven-year-reign of the Antichrist and the plagues of the Seven Seals.

With little literary finesse but true to Darbyist doctrine, LaHaye and Jenkins take biblical inerrancy to the extreme. Word for word taken out of the Book of Revelation, bodies of water turn into blood, one-hundred-pound hailstones rain down on non-believers, and--true to the bizarre text of Rev. 9:7-10--a horde of attacking locusts look like tiny horses with human faces, long hair, and golden crowns on their little heads. Kinda cute, if they weren't so hungry. Stephen King, if he were dead, would spin in his grave.

The Left Behind series is the best-selling Christian fiction series of all times, only topped by 'The Book' itself. All in all, it sold 62 million books, 1 million internationally, and more than 10 million copies of the kids series, plus movie rights, audio tapes, etc. The last volume in the series, Glorious Appearing, alone sold 2 million copies even before its publication date in March of last year. It describes the second coming of a bloodthirsty, "avenging Jesus who slaughters non-believers by the millions," as a 2004 CBS report put it.

The authors have no problem with this image; LaHaye insists that "liberalism has so twisted the real meaning of Scripture that we've manufactured a loving, wimpy Jesus that he wouldn't even do anything in judgment." In LaHaye's and Jenkins' literal version of the final judgment, non-believers' eyes melt in their heads, their tongues disintegrate, and the flesh drops off their bones. Christians beware--these days, you may want to think twice about quoting the saying "WWJD--What would Jesus do?"

Tim LaHaye, definitely the spunkier of the two Left Behind authors, hasn't stopped there. According to the website www.raptureready.com, which we will discuss in a moment, "[the] Evangelical Studies Bulletin, the newsletter of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, picked LaHaye as the most influential evangelical leader in the United States." He founded the Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy that is dedicated to interpreting biblical predictions of the end times for enraptured (pun intended) Christian students, as well as the Pre-Trib Research Center (PTRC), which publishes The Pre-Trib Perspectives, a monthly journal "intended to keep the reader on the cutting edge of prophetic events as they unfold." RaptureReady.com hails the PTRC as a "'think tank' committed to the study, proclamation, teaching and defending of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture... and related end-time prophecy."

Interestingly, the arrival of the end times and the messiah's second coming were never meant to take that long. Early Christians believed that Jesus would come back during their lifetime--an assumption that was shared by the various Bible authors and, supposedly, Jesus himself:

"Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near." (John the Baptist to Jews in Matthew 3:2)

"Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him." (Rev. 1:7, referring to Jesus' crucifiers)

"For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled... for the powers of heaven shall be shaken... This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled." (Jesus to his disciples in Luke 21:22-32 and, similarly worded, in Matthew 24:30-34 and Mark 1:24-30)

"Verily I say unto you, There are some of those standing here, who in no wise shall taste of death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 16:28 and similarly in Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27)

While staunch believers quietly kept postponing the deadline throughout the centuries, others, like John Anderson, radio show host of "Voice of Reason," claim the second coming has already happened and no one noticed. Oops.

Either way, it's better to be safe than sorry, says RaptureReady.com, probably the most comprehensive source on the Internet for rapturee hopefuls and thrill-seeking non-believers. The main attraction on the site is undeniably the Rapture Index, a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" or a "prophetic speedometer."

The index, which has been around for over a decade, consists of 45 "[types] of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture," such as the appearance of false Christs, the Antichrist and the mark of the beast, but also more secular events like unemployment, anti-Semitism, the economy, drug abuse, earthquakes, arms proliferation, food supply, interest rates, nuclear nations, and many more. Every week, the current level of 'activity' for each item is rated from 1 to 5. The ratings are added up and voila--there's our RI.

But how do you evaluate the rapture potential of a given week? RaptureReady.com helps its readers out: A Rapture Index of 85 and below spells "slow prophetic activity," 85 to 110 "moderate prophetic activity," 110 to 145 "heavy prophetic activity," and above 145 means "fasten your seat belts." At the time of this writing, the RI was 145 (which doesn't include the terror attacks in London yet), just on the threshold to a red alert in the Rapture Ready Advisory System. (In contrast, the week of September 24, 2001, saw an RI of 182, with top ratings in more than half of the 45 categories.)

The strongest items on the list with a rating of 5 were debt and trade ("The U.S. federal and trade deficit hit new highs"), apostasy, Gog (Russia), ecumenism ("The death of Pope John Paul will likely prove to be a net benefit to the movement calling for the integration of world religions"), nuclear nations, arms proliferation ("Iran, China and Pakistan continue to build up their military"), earthquakes, and climate. Oil supply/price also received a 5. The reason: "The price of oil is up on strong demand."

Beam us up, Scotty.

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Posted 07-12-2005 2:27 PM by Doug Casey
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