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on January 10, 2008
First, the good:

This book was very well-written. It makes for good, easy reading. It is engaging and interesting. Reads like a good article in Harper's Magazine. Guyatt also does a nice job laying out all the disturbing and inane beliefs of these people. He also exposes what a giant cash cow the end-times industry is -- how much money these hucksters make writing and speaking about the apocalypse. He also profiles key players in ths apocalypse industry, such as John Hagee, Hal Lindsay (by the way, I went to high school with his daughter and she did more blow and had more sex than Paris Hilton), Jack Kinsella, Joel Rosenberg, etc. The "climax" of the book is his short interview with Tim Layahe. Excerpts from this interview are quite, well, disturbing: LaHaye rags on Jews, he calls other prophecy peddlers' beliefs "nuts" (!), predicts that the Rapture will happen right now (oops), spews homophobia, etc. In short, Guyatt does an admirable job taking us from one leading Christian fascist to another, offering engaging portraits of these modern Elmer Gantrys. The chapter on the history of prophecy/apocalyptic thinking is also excellent.

Now, the not so good: The sub-title of this book is "Why Millions of Americans are looking Forward to the End of the World." This is a very provocative question -- and it is the sole reason that I bought the book. I knew all about End Times bullsh*t -- I've read works by Lindsay, LaHaye, etc. What I want to know is WHY average Americans believe this stuff, and I was very excited to read Guyatt's thoughts and theories on this question. Sadly, he never gets to that. Not at all. Nowhere does he attempt to offer an account of WHY millions of Americans eat this crap up. His failure to do so was a major disappointment for me. What this book is, then, is basically a description of End Times peddlers. What it is most definitely NOT, is an account or explanation of WHY Americans are into it.

In short, a very engaging read -- and one I highly recommend to people wanting to learn more about the End Times Industry. But for those seeking a sociological or psychological explanation of the widespread American obsession with the End Times, you'll need to look elsewhere.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon January 13, 2008
Since the time the New Testament canons were written, some of the authors and/or editors of these texts were convinced the world was coming to an end in their generation. The fact that 1900+ years have gone by and we're still here does not appear to weaken the opportunity for con men and true believers seasoned with a dash of capitalistic fervor to make a lot of money and gain an enormous amount of power shilling the end of world. Guyatt travels to the sources of this hucksterism showing how these religious leaders convince a particular group of people into believing the natural laws of the universe will be suddenly disrupted by a very angry God as described by the unknown author of an ancient text that Thomas Jefferson believed was written by an insane person.

Nicholas Guyatt opens us up to the world of the evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity at its craziest in an approach perfect for the topic, he minimizes his own perspective and focuses on providing them with a forum to answer questions a sane, educated person divorced from the cult of rapture believers would ask. Guyatt's non-threatening approach to his interview subjects has most of them opening up so that we get an unvarnished look into their world, even learning how much the leaders and their adherents look forward to the world suffering through a tribulation in order that they can be proved right in their beliefs, which provides justification for this sub-title, "Why Millions of Americans are Looking Forward to the End of the World".

Guyatt digs in deep enough to show the various factions within the Christian evangelical and fundamentalist community regarding the non-liberal Christian version of the end times, from reconstructionists like Gary DeMar who wants to mutate American government rule to Old Testament teachings where we can only wear one fabric, stone gays, and we are ordered to personally execute unruly children and heretical neighbors, to John Hagee, who has an unnerving amount of influence on our government's policies regarding Israel and his impassioned desire to see World War III waged between Russia and Iran against Israel and America all the while whistling to the bank.

Guyatt also does a great job of reporting on who these religious leaders claim "could be" and sometimes even going so far as claiming with certainty "are" the Antichrist, something most of them are now less adverse to promoting since they've realized this market opportunity presents long-term financial opportunities that are at risk if proven wrong, with the exception of Hal Lindsey whose adherents don't seem to mind his predictions continuing to fall flat for 40+ years now and Tim LaHaye as described below.

Guyatt's excellent reportage on Tim LaHaye is spot-on though LaHaye does not provide much access to Guyatt, one of the few that doesn't. LaHaye continues to enjoy enormous popularity even though he made claims with absolute certainty a couple of decades ago that the rapture would occur within the generation of World War I veterans, which forced him to revise his prediction that the rapture would now occur prior to the death of the last World War I veteran - a gentleman who died a just a couple of weeks prior to my review, and yet, I'm still here. Guyatt does a great job explaining why getting predictions so wrong doesn't stop the cash register from ringing for religious leaders like LaHaye or Lindsey.

Studying apocalyptic leaders and their strong influence on American populist culture begs the question, are these leaders and their followers delusional, virulently ignorant, or completely sane reasonably intelligent people who fell down the slippery slope of committing to the easily discredited premise of biblical inerrancy and thereby forcing them down a logical path based on the gross error of this principle assumption? Guyatt does a great job of answering this question not in claims he makes about these Americans, but instead by asking probing questions to his subjects who felt at ease with the author. I think describing the outcome of this question would be a principle spoiler so I leave it to the reader to discover the answer.

Like Jesus Camp, the DVD where the main protagonist believes she was fairly portrayed while most rational people cringe at the child abuse on display, the interview subjects in this book will also most likely believe they're fairly portrayed given Guyatt's minimal editorializing while providing them with maximum exposure to fairly present their beliefs to Guyatt's readers, though mercifully for us, without the rhetorical flourishes that help them propagandize their content to their followers.

Having grown up in this movement in the 1960s through 1970s without succumbing to their incredibly intense attempts to indoctrinate me, it is my perspective that Guyatt does a perfect job of reporting on this movement, their motivations, their desires for the future of our planet, and their propensity for belief in dogma that is easily discredited. A truly great book that nails its subject matter while remaining a highly enjoyable read.
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on May 8, 2008
A pretty good report on the phenomena of Apocalyptic Christianity in America. The tone was more respectful than the goofy title and cover led me to believe it would be (which is a good thing). At the same time this is no somber report. The book is breezy and conversational. More an overview than an in depth study.

The history of End Times belief is followed from its origins in England and we are shown how those beliefs moved to the New World even as they faded from Europe. I agree with the other review that pointed out that this history was pretty light, but that wasn't my primary interest in the book, so I didn't mind it.

By far the most interesting parts of the book for me were the interviews with the End Times superstars and also-rans. Tim LaHaye and Joel Rosenberg are interesting guys. While I don't doubt they sincerely believe their End Times eschatology, you can't help but feel that they aren't glorying in their celebrity a bit. Guyatt lets them skewer themselves with their own words. It never felt like he was holding these people up for ridicule, though he didn't gloss over some of the negative image they project on their own.

The real revelation (pardon the pun) for me were some of the guys 'in the trenches'. The host of a cable access show: Final Hour, the guy who felt a calling to sell his home and travel the country in an RV and Mel Odom, a Christian contract writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch novels who was hired to write a Tom Clancy-esque spin-off series to the Left Behind books. These are regular work-a-day guys doing what they believe in but wrestling with some of the stickier questions of End Times belief.

The author gets them to grapple with their seemingly contradictory views that things must get worse in order to trigger The Rapture and at the same time that Christians should exercise their influence in politics in order to make America a more Christian nation.

I wish Amazon allowed for half stars, because this is a three and a half star book. But I'll award it the extra half for capturing my attention with the light-hearted (but not lightweight) writing style.

Over all I would say Have A Nice Doomsday is a good introduction to End Times belief for anyone who's seen those Left Behind books and are wondering what that whole Rapture thing is about.
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on March 17, 2010
If you live in America chances are that you are aware that you live in a space age nation that harbors many citizens with Stone Age beliefs. Nowhere is this more noisily apparent than in the politically active religious right who in their list of factually incorrect beliefs such as a 6,000 year old earth and superstitions of answered prayers you will also find another total lapse of critical thought - that prophecies contained in the Bible are actually relevant and true.

Press them on the issue and you'll get a litany of obfuscations and evasions that come ready made in the structure of "prophecy." Never mind valid historical criticism that shows prophecy to be the longings of the writers of what they hoped would happen, in the minds of the apocalyptic evangelical Christians who are forced into the whackaloon position of scriptural inerrancy, these passages *must* have a connection to real events.

Nicholas Guyatt goes into this strange realm of irrationality to interview and research the big shots. Among these firebrands of fallacious thinking are John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and Jerry Jenkins. We find out about Hagee's megachurch preaching and LaHaye and Jenkins' multimillion copy selling "Left Behind" as well as much of the history and complexity surrounding these beliefs and the individuals who hold them.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding that Guyatt brings to light comes toward the end of the book when political strategist turned novelist Joel Rosenberg reveals his schmoozing with the then top level Bush administration advisors.

While the book is certainly very good, I can't write the review without mentioning one strong criticism: the book needed more logical deconstruction of these beliefs. I do acknowledge that the author's goal here wasn't focused on debunking apocalyptic prophecy, but more valid criticism in this vein would have been very welcome. Just to give one example, these prophecy people often make statements--which are quoted by Guyatt--stating to the effect that we should pay attention to "holy scripture" as a guide to the future. Which scripture? The Bible? The Koran? The Upanishads? The Book of Mormon? They haven't validated their premise upon which they base their entire argument. And they can't without resorting to tautologies. While Guyatt does offer a wonderful section detailing the failed prophetic movements of the past and shaky reasoning behind these of the present, these are more indirect refutations and not a direct engagement.

That aside, the book is a worthwhile read for anyone looking for more information on this fascinating if troubling cultural development. Guyatt strikes a good balance between reporting the facts and history of the movement while offering anecdotes that personalize these individuals.
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on February 29, 2008
I have mixed emotions about the book I just finished; on one hand Guyatt writes very well and very clearly but on the other hand I found the subject matter difficult to fully understand. Personally I am hugely anti-religion so the entire premise of this book is concerning: "...why millions of Americans are looking forward to the end of the world". I wish it were of no consequence sitting as I am on the other side of the world from these events and personalities but these ridiclous prophecy ideas are having a monstrous impact on America's relations with the world that wants nothing to do with John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, David Chagall and unfortunately, many others. I say that Guyatt's book should only be of passing interet to someone so far removed from this religious caldron but because America sits astride the largest piece of temperate land on the planet, the remainder of the world must at least pay lip service to this religious cesspool.

Reading Guyatt's book leaves the reader knowing that he treaded extremely carefully through the minefield of so many strange ideas and so many strange people. These prophecy hobbiests never said anything, or at least it was never reported by Guyatt, about the possibility that 9/11 was not a terrorist attack from outside the US but a government sanctioned terrorist attack within the US. That fact would certainly be confronting to these prophecy fanatics because, although the End Times would certainly still be upon the world, the engine driving these times would be more confronting to these Christian fundamentalists.

Guyatt writes in one of his final chapters, "Armageddon Comes Later" that Tim Lahaye believes (good conservative that he is) that "... he has found a way to pull back from the brink" or how to have your cake and eat it too. By believing (this thought train seems to be extremely common among Prophecy hobbiests) that tweaking the social fabric by punishing Gays, outlawing same-sex marrige, and outlawing abortions (the contemporary incindiary fuses) then the Final Days can be posponed until these social bette noirs of religious conservatives can be elliminated from the Final Days altogether (even though everybody except the Raptured will die, you can make these End Days a little cleaner). Good religious fundamentalists do not want these last days muddied by these social imperfections.

This discussion probably hits upon my withdrawal from giving this extremely good book my full backing; I was hoping that Guyatt would venture further into the realm of the impact of this weidness on American and therefore world politics. That Guyatt completed such an excellent text probably indicates that this reader was looking for something that was not possible within the context of a single text.
"Have A Nice Doomsday" is an excellent read and I reccomemd it too any person with interest in the current political undercurrents in the US.
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on July 15, 2015
Too much like a bad school text, instead of a book on the madness of crowds and their thought processes, or imprinting.
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