Friday, October 3, 2014

Left Behind and a Lifetime of Rapture Nightmares

My first rapture nightmare occurred when I was eight years old. It was preceded by watching the 1972 rapture classic A Thief In The Night in Sunday school that morning. In this horrifying film, a woman awakes from sleeping (it might have been a coma) to realize the rapture has occurred and everyone who had tried to warn her about it has suddenly disappeared overnight. She was horrified to learn she would be forced to accept "the mark of the beast" or else she would not be able to buy or sell or exist.

I was supposed to sleep in a tent in the backyard the evening after I watched this, but I ended up sleeping on the floor of my parents' bedroom out of fear the rapture would occur and I would be forgotten. This fear didn't stop once the chill leftover from the movie wore off.  It stayed around. It got worse. I became paranoid about the rapture. When I would come home from school, see my parents' car in the garage, but not be able to find them, I would automatically assume "rapture" instead of assuming they were in the backyard.

This fear soon lead to a desperate search for knowledge. I needed to know more about the rapture. I needed to research everything about it. I read the book of Revelation about 243 times over the next few years. I never understood it once, but I read it over and over. I also began looking for other books on the subject. After reading all of the non-fiction about the rapture I could find at Berean Christian Bookstore, I moved into the fiction section.

Lucky for me, there was a book series all about the rapture! This is how I first experienced Left Behind. The story of an airline pilot, warned by his wife that Jesus was coming, but too consumed with lust for his flight attendant to repent of his awful sin, and his college-educated liberal daughter, who have been left behind. They have to band together and fight off the evils of the new post-second-coming world.

I ate this book series up. I never questioned it. I knew it was fiction, but something about it sucked me in. It could have been the simplistic writing style and my own fear of the upcoming (and guaranteed) apocalypse.

A Thief In The Night was the first rapture movie I saw, but it was far from the last. On top of becoming obsessed with the Left Behind books, I was also subjected to rapture movies at many church gatherings. Every youth group lock in included a rapture movie to terrify us before we slept. Sometimes there would just be a full church movie night where we all got to be horrified together. Some friends, who weren't allowed to watch The Simpsons because of its "evil overtones" would gladly watch some poorly made film staring Gary Busey sounding crazier than ever talking about the rapture.

I tried my best to ignore this part of theology. It wasn't easy. We went to churches that taught very little doctrine, but taught an awful lot of "end times" fear mongering. I was bombarded with the question "what do you want to be doing when Jesus comes back?" Every speaker at church camp would say "I truly believe this generation will see Jesus return and see the rapture." It was often used as the sole motivation for people to commit to Christianity.

Never once was I, an impressionable teenager, informed where the idea of the rapture came from. While I couldn't find it in The Bible, there were biblical quotes used to support it. I heard about Jesus "coming like a thief in the night" and remember clearly hearing about the "two men walking up a hill" and one of them disappearing. Of course, none of this points to a sudden moment where every "true believer" is summoned up into the sky so Jesus can pour out all sorts of wrath. Heck, even the "great tribulation" spoken of in scripture most likely happened in 70 AD when the Romans started killing Christians. That sounds pretty tribulation-ish to me.

I was hurt by dispensational theology. I remember the fear deep in my heart that evening when I was eight years old. I remember the fear that rose up every time a room was unexpectedly empty. I remember fearing that Jesus would come back right after I had accidentally sinned somehow and knowing this mistake would ruin my eternal life. This is no way to live. This wasn't an okay belief to pass onto an eight year old and it's not an okay belief for anyone.

The rapture is sensationalistic spiritual bullshit (I feel like profanity is okay when discussing this horribly hurtful theology). It's never mentioned in The Bible. It's just a dream some guy had in the 1800's (a full 1,800 years since Christ was alive and almost 1,800 years since The Bible's last book had been written). It caught on in America because Americans love to believe anything sensational (watch cable news and imagine how much they want an actual rapture to happen).

It would be fine if the theological idea of the rapture only influenced personal actions. Heck, we should all be better people. Sadly, it also influences how Christians view the earth. They think "Jesus is coming back soon, so pollution isn't that bad. Jesus will fix it." They decide against being good stewards of the earth (which The Bible clearly says to do). They vote based on which candidate will bring forth the rapture quicker. In my childhood, I met far too many people who were far too obsessed with the rapture and nowhere near obsessed enough with doing the actual things Jesus said to do.

This theology doesn't just hurt the eight year old kids hearing about it from terrible Sunday school teachers; it hurts the environment and the world we live in. What good has ever come from the concept of the rapture? What good has ever come from dispensational theology?

This weekend, a whole new generation of children will be frightened by the concept of the rapture (this time with Nicolas Cage) and they'll hold that fear with them until they're old enough to know better. This weekend, parents will force their kids to go see Left Behind because it's a "Christian movie" and their pastors (none of whom should be in ministry if they're doing this) urged them to.

It frightens me to know this is what most people in America think Christians believe. It also saddens me. Instead of seeing Left Behind, buy someone who is hungry some food. Jesus would be psyched to see that. Instead of forcing a child to sit through a horrifying Nic Cage movie, plant a tree with them. Instead of relying on sensationalistic theological ideas, try reading The Bible and doing what Jesus says. Love God and love people. What could go wrong if we do that?