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Believe It or Not, Prophecy Affects You
on October 8, 2007
Many of my neighbors, since I live here in the Bible Belt, are convinced that soon, within the next few years and certainly within their lifetimes, they will vanish from the Earth. They won't die, but they will disappear into the skies because they have a particular relationship with Jesus that will allow this to happen, and those of us who do not have such a relationship will be left behind to fend for ourselves. For me, and certainly for most of the world, this is just not the sort of thing that happens, but such beliefs are not uncommon here. In fact, 60% of Americans believe that prophecies including The Rapture are going to come true, and 20% think it will happen in their lifetimes, according to statistics provided in _Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World_ (Harper Perennial) by Nicholas Guyatt. Guyatt is a historian educated in Cambridge, England, and his previous books have to do with American history rather than the current events described in this one. He now lives and teaches in Vancouver, and although he brings an outsider's inspection to this particular manifestation of Born-Again America, and although he manages a humorous tour of apocalyptic history and current events, he is never patronizing with his subject or with the many as-yet-to-be-Raptured experts he has interviewed. That does not keep him from being amused, or conveying his amusement in this entertaining and breezy book, but he has made serious enquiries and takes the answers he has found seriously; given that so many Americans take these prophecies seriously, it is clear that even those of us unswayed by prophecy ought to take the phenomenon of such beliefs seriously, especially as it affects current politics and culture.
Using the Bible to predict the future is nothing new. St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Newton all thought about doing so. Prophesied dates have come and gone, but Apocalyptic preachers tend not to give firm dates nowadays, since every time they have done so they have been proven wrong when the date came. Guyatt shows how in the 1970s prophets concentrated on Communism, and had to give that up, and then upon the enmity between Egypt and Israel, and had to give that up, and are turning to Islam, which had not previously been emphasized. The extremely popular _Left Behind_ series, authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, deals with how the unraptured will handle the Antichrist who has gotten himself appointed head of that conservative bogeyman, the United Nations. There are spinoffs, like the Left Behind video game Guyatt tries out, massacring some unbelievers and converting others. If the Apocalypse is anything like the game, there will be advantages to converting: "When you convert men, they transform into identical preppy kids wearing V-necks. Women suddenly sport an orange jumper, like Velma from Scooby-Doo." Other authors have come to this table, like Mel Odom, author of _Apocalypse Dawn_ (which can be described as "Tom Clancy with prayer"). Odom has written novels about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and wisely says that the Apocalypse is just another fitting platform for writing about good and evil.
The authors of these works would insist that they are fiction, imagining what would happen if the Rapture, which they cannot conceive as anything but a fact of the future, did indeed happen in our times. They would also insist that their books are based on what the Bible really says, and that the books have the job of getting the message out and converting as many people as possible. There is, however, a distressing smear of fiction to reality and back. Joel Rosenberg used to be an aide to Benjamin Netanyahu and left Judaism for evangelical Christianity. His novel _The Last Jihad_ predicted events of 9/11 a year beforehand, with the result that his books are studied in the White House and he has been interviewed on Fox and CNN, where the explanatory phrase under his talking head said "Middle East Expert" rather than "Rapture Enthusiast". The problem with this sort of expertise is that it can lead to eagerness to have the End Times happen (if you think it means you get teleported to heaven, who wouldn't want it soon?) and perhaps, say, an eagerness for the US to attack Iran with nuclear weapons if it would fulfill prophecy to bring on the Apocalypse. There are leaders who indeed base policy on the Apocalypse; former Speaker of the House Tom Delay, asked about the Second Coming, says "obviously, it's what I live for, I hope it comes tomorrow... we have to be connected to Israel to enjoy the Second Coming," so policy is being made based on prophecy. If there are parts of Guyatt's even-handed and jaunty book that seem strange enough to make you smile, there are probably other parts that will make you queasy about how the believers might affect your world, even if they never do leave you behind.