A report on the popular “Left Behind” series of books about the Apocalypse
by Max Weiman
People want spirituality to be more accessible, more real. Ironically, this desire turns people toward books of spiritual fiction. Cathy Booth Thomas of Time magazine reports that the Left Behind series has sold 42 million books, by fictionalizing the biblical “end of times.” It’s popularity notwithstanding, the books have been highly criticized by writers and theologians.
Cathleen Falsani, religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, writes “The Roman Catholic bishops of Illinois are condemning the best selling, Christian-themed Left Behind books as anti-Catholic. They cite story lines they say are offensive—including one that involves an American cardinal who becomes the right-hand man of the Antichrist.”
Apparently, the whole basis for the series, known to theologians as premillenial dispensationalism, is a questionable doctrine even amongst the “fold.” Out of the 1000 forms of Christianity in North America there is little common ground on this issue, even internally the groups disagree.
The writing quality is also questionable, as author Amy Wellborn says, “What presents itself as an exciting, faith-based adventure through the Last Days is nothing more than a fire and brimstone sermon concealed under a flat, deeply illogical fiction.” Although an objective review is hard to find because this type of book is ignored by the mainstream, a few pages is enough to see the writer has a talent for keeping your attention but the literary quality must not be what has brought in the dough. A writer named Carl Olsen noted, “Bad fiction distorts truth by pretending to be more than just fiction.”
Why are people so interested in a novel that is passably written and theologically challenged? For the same reason people from the beginning of recorded time until now have looked for some physical item to connect their spirituality to: we want an idol to bow in front of, beads or a red string to wear, a talisman or good luck charm to hold. We want to make the intangible, tangible.
The Infinite Being is hard to imagine and relate to, yet that is precisely what lifts us up out of our world. God wants us to recognize the transcendental in our reality, and ironically we keep forcing Him to show up in the finite. The paradox is that by clothing Him in our reality, we are actually getting farther from Him. (I wonder how He feels about that.)
We crave to read a pictorial account of the “end of days”, a spiritual event, and illuminate ourselves to the details of this miraculous time period. Unfortunately, what we get is a man-made fiction. You can guarantee that the end really won’t be anything like what’s being portrayed in these books. In fact it is the nature of such a spiritual experience to defy a physical description. That’s probably why the Prophetic Writings of Isaiah and others were so poetic and allegorical. A true intense spiritual experience is indescribable.
What’s more, even if you could somehow describe the end of times and the expected enlightenment that comes with it, would we really expect a group to be singled out and blessed because of blind adherence? Would God reward someone who’s less righteous but joined the right club? Would He punish good people merely because they didn’t join the right club?
The wise and holy of all monotheistic religions deserve to be one with God at the end of days. And reason suggests that those who are not so good will be given a gift of universal God consciousness so as not to be completely left out. Many people believe that anyone not in their group is going to Hell or not getting into Heaven. Not only does this idea fly in the face of religious tolerance, but it also goes against our spiritual intuition, and is just simply illogical.
I had a couple come into my office once for counseling. He was Jewish; she was a fundamentalist Christian. I asked her why she would consider marrying someone who she thought would be burning in everlasting damnation. She merely giggled nervously, looked down and said, “Well I haven’t quite worked that out yet.” She considered him marriage material, respected his values and his character, yet because of her religious beliefs thought he’d be living in torment forever because he didn’t “believe.” You see how the juxtaposition of incongruities caused her to giggle. This position is just not sensible.
If there is an Infinite Being, then it is logical that He will reward all holy and good monotheists in the world that have lived from the beginning of time until the end of days.
And if you really want to know how it will all end, don’t read the book.
Max Weiman is the author of A Map of the Universe: An Introduction to the Study of Kabbalah and the director of Kabbalah Made Easy, Inc. an organization devoted to spreading universal spiritual ideas. Ordained by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem , Max has been teaching for the past 14 years, and for the last seven years has been living in St. Louis , MO with his wife and six children. More of his articles can be found on his website, http://www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com, where you can also subscribe to his free monthly article. His pieces have been published in many newspapers including Pathfinder and Spirit Seeker.