“OK Jessica,” the man with the microphone says, “you said you think you’re a good person who would go to Heaven, so I’m going to ask you some questions to see if you’ll get there, K?”
Jessica grins vacantly back at the man and nervously fidgets with her sunglasses. “OK,” she says.
“OK, have you ever told a lie?” Yes. “What do you call someone who tells lies?” A liar. “Have you ever stolen something?” No. “Should I believe you since you just told me you were a liar?”
“Yes, you can believe me,” she says, the grin still there, but fading fast.
“Jesus said if you ever look with lust, you commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever looked with lust?” the man asks, his cockney British accent delivering the question with speed.
Gulp. “Yes,” Jessica mumbles, her smile vanished as she spends the rest of the YouTube video, “Are you a liar at heart?” nervously nodding while being told she should repent all her evil sins immediately because if the Rapture were to happen that day, she’d be dammed to eternal torment and torture in Hell.
Below the video is a string of comments, most by the video uploader, the webmaster of RaptureAlert.com. His profile proudly proclaims himself to be Michael G. Mickey, 43, a born-again Christian who believes in a literal interpretation of the bible.
“I believe there is sufficient evidence around us to indicate that the world, at least as we presently know it, is near its end and the return of Jesus Christ is at hand, perhaps at the very door,” Mickey writes.
While that may be worth a strong cocktail, it’s certainly nothing new. People have been foretelling the return of Jesus and the coming of Armageddon as described in the Book of Revelation since almost the moment Jesus left in the first place.
But such fundamentalist thinking is far from fringe these days.
But such fundamentalist thinking is far from fringe these days. In December 2006, a year-end poll conducted by the Associated Press and AOL found that 25 percent of Americans said they believe that Jesus would return in 2007. If we’re to believe the poll is an accurate representation of the United States population, that’s a quarter of the country, or 75 million people.
“You people are seriously disturbed,” howled blogger Cenk Uygur on The Huffington Post. “You think a magic man is going to appear out of the sky and grant you eternal bliss. If the man’s name was anything other than Jesus, that belief would get you locked up as a psychotic.”
Well, maybe not locked up anymore, but possibly some strange glances. Perhaps a sounder statistic comes from a 2006 survey for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. They found 79 percent of American Christians believe in the second coming, and 20 percent believe it will happen in their lifetime.
Why the resurgence of belief in the proverbial End Times? Bible verses in several books predict a “regathering” of Jews in their homeland before the final days. The holy land will see the Temple rebuilt and suffer a series of wars before Armageddon. Minus the Temple, any of that sound familiar?
In this climate thrive two authors who have spun an epic yarn — fictional, of course — that gets right into the nitty-gritty of the Rapture and the Tribulation said to follow.
About his return, Jesus himself said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). But for many of the millions of readers of the wildly popular Left Behind novel series, that could be anytime as long as it’s not when they are reading one of the 16 novels, watching the film adaptations or playing the high-caliber shoot-’em-up videogame, Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s thriller-meets-theology saga has charted numbers that no Christian writings have ever before — besides the Bible itself. The first four books simultaneously held the one, two, three and four slots on the New York Times bestseller list in 1998 despite the fact the list does not take Christian retailers into account.
“In my mind, in a way, we are sales people for the Gospel,” said Jenkins in an interview.
And LaHaye is no basement dweller. He was on the original board of directors for the Moral Majority and an organizer for the Council for National Policy, which ABC called “the most powerful conservative organization in America you’ve never heard of.” The guy’s got status.
The stories tell of millions of God-fearing Christians being whisked to heaven, leaving clothes, shoes and jewelry behind with the rest of the population, to face the seven years of Tribulation, the rise of the Antichrist, and the war to end all wars before the return of Jesus Christ. The scenario culminates in a “Glorious Appearing” in which Jesus, astride a great white horse, casts the Antichrist, Lucifer and a great number of non-believers into a lake of fire.
LaHaye has said in interviews that the bestselling numbers reflect a sizable American belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Moderate Christians, many of whom feel very uncomfortable with their fundamentalist brethren, have no bestselling literature to compete.
“They are just liberal socialists, really, and they don’t believe the Bible,” LaHaye said. “What they probably will come up with is a plausible explanation from their liberal standpoint to satisfy their adherents that are reading our series and like it.”
Jenkins and LaHaye aren’t shy about passing off their saga as more than fiction either, posting this on their website: “The pre-millennialist theology found in the Left Behind Series is the prominent view among evangelical Christians, including their leading seminaries.”
The base theology of Rapture theory is called Dispensationalism, an interpretive framework for understanding the Bible in which history is divided into specific periods according to how God is said to have dealt with humanity.
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