Sunday, March 20, 2005

via Buck Hill: Two Profiles the King of The Rapture, Tim LaHaye

from Rolling Stone: Reverend Doomsday: According to Tim LaHaye, the Apocalypse is now
By Robert Dreyfuss

It might seem unlikely that the commander in chief would take his marching orders directly from on high -- unless you understand the views of the Rev. Timothy LaHaye, one of the most influential leaders of the Christian right, and a man who played a quiet but pivotal role in putting George W. Bush in the White House. If you know LaHaye at all, it's for his series of best-selling apocalyptic novels. You've seen the Left Behind novels everywhere: aboard airplanes, at the beach, in massive displays at Wal-Mart. In the nine years since the publication of the first novel, the series has sold 60 million copies. Next to the authors of the Bible itself, who didn't get royalties, LaHaye is Christianity's biggest publishing success ever. (more)

from Harpers: The Apocalypse Will Be Televised By Gene Lyons

But when a Man’s Fancy gets astride on his Reason, when Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses, and common Understanding, as well as common Sense, is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself, and when that is once compass’d, the Difficulty is not so great in bringing over others; a strong Delusion always operating from without, as vigorously as from within.

—Jonathan Swift,
A Tale of a Tub

After living in the Bible Belt for more than thirty years, I’ve learned several things about our fundamentalist Christian brethren: First, theirs is an embattled faith, which requires an ever evolving list of enemies to keep its focus. It includes Satan worshipers one year, “secular humanists” the next. Panic over backward masking on phonograph records yields to fears that supermarket bar codes harbor the Mark of the Beast. Some years back, Procter & Gamble was forced to deny widespread rumors that a moon-and-stars logo on boxes of soapsuds symbolized corporate diabolism. More recently, purging school libraries of Harry Potter’s witchcraft has emerged as a cause. As if the real world weren’t scary enough, chimerical threats must be found. It often appears that no form of occultism is too arcane or preposterous to provoke alarm.(more)

As a long time SF fan and a recovering born again (I escaped over 40 years ago at age 13), I find LaHaye's work particularly frightening. I well remember the intense psychological anguish brought on by the tales of the horror of the apocalypse. During "Revival Meetings" the fear in the air was almost physical. This almost unbelievably intense communal pressure was then granted instant relief by the offering of an opportunity for the group acceptance of "Christ into our hearts". Classic brainwashing at its best.

This effect is the reverse of the feeling of wonder that comes from reading a really good SF or fantasy tale for the first time. Our participation in this willful suspension of disbelief results in an endorphin buzz engendered by the expansion of horizon and imagination. It is participatory, not manipulatory. It is one of release, not capture.

Tim LaHaye's cleverness lies in adapting this experience to the promotion of end times mythology. The horror of the apocalypse so earnestly desired by his readers is given a softer edge thanks to those same readers' identification with the hero figures in action. See, she thinks that will be me, smiting the Lord's enemies. We will prevail.

It is all accomplished by a set of characters who would give a bad name to any grade of cardboard and would certainly be an insult to the concept of stereotyping. Motivations need not be questioned. Suspense need not be built. And as to the plotting, well, that's already been done for us in Revelations and elsewhere anyhow.

Sadly, LeHaye's writing does not even rise to the level of third rate hackdom. But it doesn't have to. All his readers are searching for is confirmation of known truths in any case.

The Final Volume of the Left Behind series will arrive in June. I wonder if they're trying to tell us something.

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