One reason the Republicans won on Tuesday is because many of their supporters have already given up on this world and are waiting for the next. I know, I used to be one of them.
Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of sixteen novels (so far) represents everything that is most deranged about religion. It also is a reason and symptom of the hysteria that grips so many "conservatives" in the Republican Party. Frankly: to borrow from Jon Stewart they do believe that these are the "End Times" not just "hard times."
My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother Edith was also a spiritual leader, not the mere power behind her man, which she was. Mom was a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives and ruined quite a few too.
For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement. In the 1970s and early 80s when I was in my twenties I evolved into an ambitious, "successful" religious leader/instigator in my own right.
I changed my mind for reasons I describe in my book Patience With God (just published in paperback). I no longer ride around with the likes of Mike Huckabee (who named my Dad's fundamentalist books his favorites) "saving" America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days.
I still see a religious connection in public policy though that I think a lot of commentators miss -- for instance, that lots of the energy behind this mid-term election came from the ghosts of the Religious Right.
The Left Behind novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an "End Times" cult, or rather egging it on. Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children's books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting "Christ-centered" home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the "other," as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism, the murder of doctors who do abortions, and possibly even a killing in the Holocaust Museum.
And now that the "death panel" republicans who also claimed Obama is the Antichrist are in power, maybe its time to take a look at the religious insanity that beats at the heart of their movement.
No, I am not blaming Jenkins and LaHaye's product line for murder or racism or any other evil intent or result. What I am saying is that unless you take the time to understand the End Times folks you will never "get" the mid-term election result.
Feeding the paranoid delusions of people on the fringe of the fringe contributes to a dangerous climate that may provoke violence in a few individuals. It's also one of the big reasons that the nutty fringe is now the "center." If you believe the Bible is literal and true and that this is the "End" then the crazies look sane and the sane look crazy. Welcome to the new congress.
And convincing folks that Armageddon is on the way, and all we can do is wait, pray, and protect our families from the chaos (or from the first black president) that will be the "prelude" to the "Return of Christ," is perhaps not the best recipe for political, economic, or personal stability, let alone social cohesion. Glenn Beck cashes in on this when he sells gold on TV and survivalist gear.
But this End Times cult may also not be the best philosophy on which to build American foreign policy! The momentum toward what amounts to a whole subculture seceding from the union (in order to await "The End") is irrevocably prying loose a chunk of the American population from both sanity and their fellow citizens.
Enter the "new" Tea Party candidates.
The evangelical/fundamentalists/Republican Far Right -- and hence, from the early 1980s until the election of President Obama in 2008 and now in the mid-term lashing out, the Religious Right as it informed U.S. policy through the then dominant Republican Party -- are in the grip of an apocalyptic Rapture cult centered on revenge and vindication. This End Times death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. .
As I explain in my book Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion Revelation was the last book to be included in the New Testament. It was included as canonical only relatively late in the process after a heated dispute. The historic Churches East and West remain so suspicious of Revelation that to this day it has never been included as part of the cyclical public readings of scripture in Orthodox services. The book of Revelation is read in Roman and Anglican Churches only during Advent. But both Rome and the East were highly suspicious of the book. The West included the book in the lectionary late and sparingly. In other words, the book of the Bible that the historical Church found most problematic is the one that American Evangelicals latched on to like flies on you know what.
Given that Revelation is now being hyped as the literal -- even desired -- roadmap to Armageddon and an American End Times "future" controlled by Republican crazies who don't even believe we have a future(!), it's worth pausing to note that it's nothing more than a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.
The Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit taking from scraps of "prophecy" left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense. It was written by Hal Lindsey, a "writer" who dropped by my parents' ministry several times in the 1970s.
Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth interpreted Revelation for a generation of paranoid evangelicals who were terrified of the Soviet Union and communism and were convinced that the existence of the modern State of Israel was the sign that Jesus was on the way in our lifetimes, as Lindsey claimed. According to Lindsey, Revelation was "speaking" about the Soviet Union and imminent nuclear attacks between the Soviet Union and the United States. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the U.S.S.R., Planet Earth groupies claimed Gorbachev was the Antichrist, citing the references in Revelation to the "mark of the beast" as proof because Gorbachev had a birthmark on his forehead!
After everything predicted in the book came to nothing, Lindsey rewrote and "updated" his "interpretations" in many sequels, in what must have been some sort of record for practicing George Orwell's idea of "doublethink" via editorial revision of ever-changing "facts." Trying to follow the prophecy party line eventually got confusing, even for the Lindsey followers, and Lindsey faded into well-deserved obscurity.
This would be amusing, if not for the lives touched by this crazy nonsense. For instance, a good friend of mine was dragged -- at age five -- to Alaska, where his parents huddled in an "End Times" commune, a place chosen to be out of the way of major cities so that when the bombs fell, his family (and some fellow "pilgrims") could await the Lord's return in safety.
My friend's life was almost destroyed by suffering through years of a cruel and bizarre lifestyle in which his family was reduced to eating their goats and bear meat hunted (with the many guns kept by the members of this particular cult) on the "mission's" garbage dump. Of course, school was not a big concern since Jesus was on the way! Discipline was harsh so that everyone could be found "pure of heart" at the Lord's imminent return. After five or six years of this, my friend's miserably duped parents dragged themselves back to a neighborhood near ours where it happened that my wife Genie and I got to know their utterly dislocated and severely damaged children, one of whom grew to become a close friend of ours.
Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the "elite." The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They are waiting for Jesus to do to the world what the Tea Party just did to America.
They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass Democrat-voting, overeducated fags who have been mocking us!
Knowingly or unknowingly, Jenkins and LaHaye cashed in on years of evangelical/fundamentalists' imagined victimhood. I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that. Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real -- and very marketable.
Now they have "won" the election, you'll see they will still cry "victim" against the "liberal elite" even when they are in charge again.
Whether they are winning politically or not, the mostly white underclass of religious fundamentalists nurture a mythology of persecution by the "other." Evangelical/fundamentalists believe that even though they are winning, somehow they lost. It's why Sarah Palin won't give interviews to the big bad "Them" in the media.
I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus. I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren't getting a fair shake from the "cultural elites." We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the "media elite," which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.
I dropped out of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture soon after that Today appearance (years later I was back on Today in my secular writer incarnation, being interviewed about a book of mine on the military/civilian divide, but I decided not to mention that I'd been on the show about thirty years before in what seemed like either another lifetime or an out-of-body experience.)
Others carried on where I left off. The whole Republican mid term election victory was predicated on cashing in on years of Evangelical effort to sell the Right an image of being righteous outsiders.
A host of evangelical/fundamentalist Cassandras tour college campuses reinforcing their followers' perennial chip-on-the-shoulder attitude by telling fearful evangelical/fundamentalist students to hold fast against the secular onslaught. They tell their student listeners (and those students' even more worried parents) to not let "those people" -- professors, members of the Democratic Party, moderates, progressives, and such ordinary American men and women as Jews, gays, and members of the educated "elite" -- strip them of their faith. Hundreds of books by many evangelical/fundamentalist authors could be consolidated into one called How to Get Through College with Your Fundamentalist Faith Intact So You Won't Wind Up Becoming One of Them.
What just happened in this election is that the culturally left-behind hit back.
They won but will still claim they are victims of the "liberal elite." Actually they are victims of bad theology that has tutored them for generations to accept myth for fact.
It's no wonder that these folks believe lies more easily than truth. Sure the bad economy played a part in the mid-term results, but so did bad theology that has made a virtue out of being misinformed.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion now in paperback
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