Saturday, February 05, 2005

Last Days Madness

The madness over this is mind-boggling! Popularized by Hal Lindsey's 1970's book "The Late Great Planet Earth" and the recent "Left Behind" best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye, the premise of this belief is that the Bible predicts the end of the world and the return of Christ amidst a tribulation period of worldwide suffering and plagues. Some versions like Lindsay's and LaHaye's say true believers in Jesus will be raptured (taken from the earth to heaven) before this 7-year tribulation period and escape its horrors (not all evangelicals believe this version). The problem I have is the last days mentality is at best a silly interpretation full of half-truths, and at worst a gross misreading of the Bible that promotes myths and outright lies.

There isn't enough space in this short blurb to make the case for this (see link on title for a book that carefully dissects the flaws of end-times theology). Suffice it to say that Jesus described a time of tribulation and then declared "I tell you the truth, this generation shall not pass away until all these things come to pass." Here the literalists refuse to take Jesus' words literally. The generation alive who heard Christ's words would not die out before these "end-times" events took place. That fits perfectly with the incredibly terrible times in the Roman Empire from around 64 to 70 AD when Roman legions took seige of Jerusalem, Christians were persecuted under Nero, earthquakes occured, comets were sighted, civil wars were fought, and the Jewish capital, temple, and way of religous life (e.g. sacrifical system) were utlimately destroyed. The historian Josephus describes this period in detail.

But if the overwhelming majority of end-time catostraphic events have already occured, where is the drama in that? The answer is there is none. Nor should there be in my opinion. The modern version of end-times theology with the Left-Behind-style rapture was developed in the 19th century by an Irish priest named John Nelson Darby. It was never taught by the early church.

Some claim the fruit of end-times books is people thinking seriously about their standing with God, even if the story line may not be based soundly on scripture. But it equally results in people not taking scripture or its proponents seriously. Nicholas Kristoff, a columnist for the NY Times, interpreted the "Glorious Appearing" book by LaHaye as a study in intolerance and a re-portrayal of Jesus presiding over a militant christianity. Playboy magazine, speaking on U.S. middle east policy, mocked believers as succumbing to an extraordinary delusion in believing in the rapture-style last days scenario and interpreting today's events in light of it.

The bottom line is integrity. The traditional modern fundamentailist or evangelical church view on the end-times has no scriptural or historical integrity.

Black-and-White Thinking

Who would have thought that Bono (U2) and Jesse Helms would be contributors to the same book (The Awake Project, Uniting Against the African AIDS Crisis) and that they would be arguing the same case. There is a way of thought---black-and-white thinking---that puts people in a neat little box. One is either on the right side or not, in this type of mind. Liberals think conervatives are greedy, non-caring capitalists who love to rape the earth, and conservatives think liberals are immoral, paternalistic socialists who love to control the masses. In my experience, many on each side swallow the stereotypes and usually seriously misunderstand each other. Why? They can't get out of the rut of black-and-white thinking.

From what I can tell, Bono is a Bible-honoring believer in Christ. Unfortunately he doesn't fit the evangelical mold (with their speak-dress-sing-look-behave-like-us mentality) so is normally dismissed as a spiritual voice. Jesse Helms said he was ashamed he had not done more for the world's AIDS pandemic and then argued for more funds for projects. I was surpised to read that. I had put him in a box. I needed to relearn that life is often not black or white, but shades of gray.

When people criticize President Bush, for example, because of his supposed unjust policies, they usually overlook important facts. For example, he was the first president to commit $50 billion to combat AIDS internationally (and was a contributor to that book along with Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela), had the most ethnically diverse cabinet in history his first term, and implemeted a foreign policy that has freed millions of women and men from some of the most repressive totalitarian regimes the world has seen. On the last achievment, one may disagree with the means, but they shouldn't allow black-or-whtie thinking from clouding the obviously just results.

There is a place for calling a spade a spade. There are fundamental and structural evils in the world and just and good princples. But people are complex. It shouldn't take an AIDS crisis to see where we all have common ground.