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July 25, 2007

Is The End near?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/is_the_end_near/

I don’t know, but it seems I could create an argument one way or the other, write a book about it, and make some OK cash. That’s because apocalyptic literature—fiction and non—are a popular genre for publishers. We are obsessed with the coming apocalypse.

But Jeff Sharlet, the magazine religion writer and editor of The Revealer, says in book review for the New Statesman that “we” refers not to the small portion of humans (in fact, a small portion of Christians) who have a literal reading of the last book of the Bible and the Armageddon it reveals, “but those of us who find apocalyptic believers - especially American apocalyptic believers - to be a source of sufficient anxiety that publishers churn out explanatory volumes such as Nicholas Guyatt’s Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking Forward to the End of the World.”

Guyatt’s breezy investigation is only the latest response to the success of books that skip the “why” and go directly to The End, most famously the fundamentalist Left Behind novels that have sold more than 60 million copies around the world. The secular apocalypse business isn’t as lucrative, but bestsellers such as Kevin Phillips’s American Theocracy and Chris Hedges’s American Fascists, and a spate of lesser accounts of apocalypse-minded Christians, have found a sizeable niche for themselves as well. These range from the deliberately comical - Alex Heard’s Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America - to the densely theoretical - Catherine Keller’s Apocalypse Now and Then: a Feminist Guide to the End of the World, a genuine tussle with the questions concerning apocalypse believers that rivals the original Revelation in its feverish imagination.Such books are designed to frighten or to reassure ...

Christians have been trying for centuries to pinpoint when the end will come. But, as I noted last month, even the great Sir Isaac Newton couldn’t calculate such a date. Fortunately, Sharlet says, most people who read apocalyptic literature don’t agree with apocalyptic theology. But that is only most people.

In five years of travels in fundamentalist America, I’ve met hundreds of Christian conservative Left Behind fans. Almost all drew careful distinctions between the mysteries of scripture and the black and whites of LaHaye’s imagination. No more than a handful took his books literally and even fewer took any steps to adjust for the coming rapture.

Unfortunately, that handful includes some of the most powerful fundamentalists in the US. Guyatt’s strongest chapters deal with Hagee, who “looks like a tubby Donald Rumsfeld” and “sounds a lot like a macaw”. That’s funny, but Hagee isn’t: US politicians court his approval and the huge amounts of money that his Christians United for Israel can channel their way. In return, they parrot his prophecies, cleansed of the references that would reveal them as such - Hagee’s conviction that the US may have to attack Iran as part of a scheme foretold in the Book of Ezekiel is sanitised as ostensibly sober-minded policy advice based on the needs of the nation rather than the scripture.

Fundamentalists who have a literal understanding of the book Jonathan Kirsch says “has significantly altered the course of history” certainly can speed up the process of Armageddon. Some would say a preemptive nuclear attack would be a good start, others that letting Iran get too far with its nuclear program would begin the end.

But if man brings about the end of the world, will he like the result?

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