The Rapture Racket




T

he
rapture is a racket,” writes Barbara R. Rossing in the first
sentence of her recently published book


The
Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

(Westview Press, 2004). Rossing, a New Testament scholar and an
associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago,
maintains that the Rapture is a fraud of monumental proportions,
as well as a disturbing way to instill fear in people. 


“Whether
prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United
States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world,”
Rossing writes. “In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims
escape. In place of Jesus’s blessing of peacemaking, the Rapture
voyeur- istically glorifies violence and war…. This theology is
not biblical. We are not Raptured off the earth, nor is God. ” 


What
if the “Book of Revelations” doesn’t spell doom and
gloom? What if it doesn’t mandate the death, destruction, and
annihilation of all but true believers? What will Rapture-mongers
do? 


Reverend
Tim LaHaye and his co-author Jerry Jenkins are as responsible as
anyone for taking the Rapture mainstream. Their Left Behind series
of apocalyptic novels has sold nearly 60 million copies and for
several years has been a regular staple of fiction bestseller lists
across the country. The final book in the 12-volume series,

Glorious
Appearing

, was released last spring and quickly found its way
onto the bestseller lists. 


LaHaye—a
longtime religious right political leader, who co- founded the Moral
Majority in 1979—does the novels’ imagining, while Jenkins,
the author of more than 100 books, including

Out of the Blue

with former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser and

Just
As I Am

,  Rev. Billy Graham’s memoir, does the writing. 


The
phrase left behind derives from “the Christian fundamentalist
belief in the Rapture [also known as the End of Days] that is, at
the sound of a trumpet, Jesus will soon appear in the clouds to
take believers up to meet him, thus escaping the horrible calamities
foretold in the Book of Revelations,” writes Guy Manchester
in

Freedom Writer

. Manchester, the author of

Acts of the
Apostles

, a novel about theocracy in the U.S., maintains that
Rapturists believe that those who aren’t lifted up will be
left behind to suffer the consequences of “the Great Tribulation,”
a seven- year period, the last three and a half years of which will
contain great suffering and devastation. Jews, among others, will
be left behind to suffer, but before it’s over “144,000
of them will accept Jesus as their savior. The rest will perish.” 


For
millions of true believers the Rapture is a glorious prospect. Some
fundamentalist Christians see the war in Iraq and the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Rapture and as
a way to speed up the end of times. The Rapture scenario is what
many believe drives evangelical Christians to demonstrate their
unwavering support for Israel. Rossing writes, “… the new
movement of ‘Christian Zionism’ is a militant all-or-nothing
kind of Zionism that scripts Israel as a player in the dispensationalist
Christian end- times drama in a way that baffles even Israelis.” 


“They
[the Left Behind books] are instilling this terrible fear in children
that people are going to be left behind. It is not biblical. There
is no Rapture in the Bible,” Ros- sing told Rutherford Institute’s
John Whitehead.  


“9/11
was a wake up call to America,” LaHaye told Morley Safer in
his “60 Minutes II” interview. “Suddenly, our false
sense of security was shaken. Now we realize we’re vulnerable.
And that fear can lead many people to Christ.” 


“I
see many signs of the Lord’s return. This could be the generation
that’s going to hear Jesus shout from the heaven and we’ll
respond to be with him. And you don’t want your loved ones
to be left behind,” he pointed out. 


In
her interview with Whitehead, Rossing turns the tables on the Rapture
faithful who see death, annihilation, and years of terror: “I
was on ‘60 Minutes’ [II] with Tim LaHaye. He said that
liberals have created this loving, wimpy Jesus and that we need
the judgmental, warrior Jesus. The big question now is what is the
true image of Jesus? A loving Jesus is not wimpy. A loving Jesus
is precisely who Jesus is and that is how he is portrayed in the
Gospels.” 


Rather
than scare the living daylights out of folks, the “Book of
Revelation” actually aims “to comfort and inspire Christians
to a vision of hope,” Rossing stated. “In the early Roman
Empire, when it looked like violence was getting out of hand—much
like things today—it was a message to people that the empire
would not last much longer and that the emperor was not the one
in charge of the world. Jesus is in our midst, but He is not the
avenging warrior Jesus. Jesus is the lamb who is leading us to a
different way of life—one espousing love.” 


The
Left Behind series has helped launch an extraordinarily profitable
cottage industry where there’s no shortage of new products
and spin-offs:

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

—the
second Left Behind movie starring Kirk Cameron —is now available
on DVD; the Left Behind Prophecy Club is a fee-based website and
newsletter designed “to help people understand how current
events may actually relate to end times prophecy”; “In
a world where madmen rule, the voice of God will not be silenced,”
reads the promotional blurb for Jerry Jenkins’s latest novel
titled

Silenced

(book two in the SOON trilogy). 


For
those looking for Rapture scorecards, webmaster Todd Strandberg
has created the Rapture Index, which he playfully calls a “Dow
Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity.” The Rapture
Index tracks a number of indicators aimed at gauging how bad things
are on earth. Included in the mixed bag of categories are: 


  • False Christs 

  • Satanism 

  • The Mark of
    the Beast 

  • The Anti-Christ 

  • Stats on unemployment,
    inflation, interest rates, and oil prices 

  • Drug use, liberalism,
    and civil rights 


Two
weeks after 9/11, “the index hit an all-time high of 182…as
the bandwidth nearly melted under the weight of 8 million visitors,”

Time

magazine reported. As of late December, the Index
stood at 153, down four points from the year’s high. The Index’s
record low number was 93 and was registered December 12, 1993, the
end of Bill Clinton’s first year as president. 


Comparing
the theme of the Left Behind series to ethnic cleansing,

New
York Times

columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote: “If
a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of

Glorious Appearing

and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre
of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit.” Kristoff
added, “It’s disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated
as the height of piety.”



 





Bill Berkowitz
is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.