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BOOKS-U.S.: Best-selling Evangelical Series Gives Reading of Bush

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 2002 (IPS) - If you have been curious about why the George W Bush administration, one of whose most important constituencies is the Christian Right, seems to hate the United Nations, despise peacekeeping, love Ariel Sharon, and want desperately to bomb Baghdad to “kingdom come”, you might choose as your holiday reading the book that has been number one on the New York Times best-seller list since its release in early July.

‘The Remnant: On the Brink of Armageddon,’ is the tenth volume in a 14-book series that will mercifully end in 2006.

Books 7, 8, and 9 have also topped the charts, and number 9, ‘The Desecration’, was the best-selling book of 2001. All of which has earned the authors, veteran Christian Right heavyweight Tim LaHaye and former sportswriter Jerry B Jenkins, millions and millions of dollars in royalties and spin-offs. (See www.leftbehind.com.)

On second thought, do not read ‘The Remnant’, because, as a literary work, thriller or theological treatise, it is dreadful, and I do not mean that in any religious sense.

Instead, read the first book, ‘Left Behind’, from which the series takes its name. Compared to the sequels, ‘Left Behind’, first published in 1995, reads almost like Tom Clancy, and its ideological and political themes are much clearer and more interesting than ‘The Remnant’.

The entire series covers the seven-year period, prophesied in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations, between The Rapture – when all believers are transported to Heaven – and The Glorious Coming, when Christ returns at the Battle of Armageddon, ushering in his thousand-year reign.

Fundamentalists call the intervening period, The Tribulation. It is to be ruled over by The Anti-Christ, who poses as a peacemaker but oppresses the righteous. During his reign, God punishes the world in a series of cosmic disasters, from pestilence to earthquakes.

‘Left Behind’ refers to those who are literally “left behind” after the Rapture, a moment, according to the series, when the saved – be they on planes, in cars, offices, classrooms, homes, or in their mothers’ wombs – will simply disappear, leaving only their clothes and other personal effects folded neatly behind them.

In fact, the opening pages of the book put us on a commercial airliner piloted by Rayford Steele at precisely that moment.

One hundred of his passengers – but not Cameron “Buck” Williams, the senior correspondent for the ‘Global Weekly’ – vanish into thin air, leaving consternation and panic behind them. (One hundred of the 300 or so on board because, according to LaHaye, about one third of Americans are “born again”).

Not surprisingly, this event changes the lives of these two characters.

For Rayford, and his daughter, Chloe, the issue is personal. His wife – from whom he had grown increasingly estranged due to her evangelism – and two younger sons have also disappeared.

After consulting her Bible and watching a video by her church’s now-vanished pastor, Rayford figures out that he and Chloe had better get religion pronto.

Buck, meanwhile, is assigned by his editor to cover the disappearances and their possible causes. But he is diverted by the spectacular rise of an obscure Romanian politician, one Nicolae Carpathia, who has just assumed his country’s presidency.

Backed by two global financiers and an Israeli, Nobel Prize-winning scientist who knows Buck, the charismatic Carpathia arrives at U.N. headquarters in New York, where his simple recitation of the name of each member-state in alphabetical order creates such a sensation that he is given control over the world body.

With the help of Rayford and Chloe, with whom he falls in love, Buck soon figures out the score.

Carpathia, of course, is the Anti-Christ who will, after the first volume, name himself ‘Potentate of the Global Community’ (GC), move GC headquarters to New Babylon (old Baghdad), and send his storm troopers – called “Peacekeepers” – to the ends of the world to guillotine and otherwise repress the righteous and those who refused to accept his “mark”. You get the picture.

Over the next nine volumes, Rayford, Buck, and Chaim Rosenzweig, the Israeli who turns against Carpathia, become key players in the “Tribulation Force”, an army of recently born-again and techno-savvy souls led spiritually by Tsion Ben-Judah, a “rabbinical scholar and Israeli statesman (who) revealed (his) belief in Jesus as the Messiah on international TV”. They frustrate, sometimes with celestial help, the evil plots of Carpathia and his GC Peacekeepers as best they can.

Their ranks are somewhat – but not very – multinational, ranging from Hannah Palemoon, a Native-American nurse, to Chang Wong, a 17-year-old double agent and computer whiz who, from an office next to Carpathia’s in GC headquarters, is constantly on the phone getting Trib Force members out of trouble and covering their tracks.

Carpathia and his intelligence chief, Suhail Akbar, in the next room, are clueless.

Most of the heroes, of course, are Americans, especially the men. The women, like Chloe, tend to follow orders, when they are not taking care of the children, and they almost always have to be rescued.

A couple of Arabs belong to the Trib Force, but Latin Americans are very few (LaHaye had to resign as co-chairman of Jack Kemp’s presidential campaign in 1988 after calling Catholicism a “false religion”) and Africans almost non-existent.

Europeans tend to be on the wrong side. Carpathia himself reflects all of the worst U.S. stereotypes of European elites: smooth, sophisticated, cynical, cruel, vain, duplicitous and “committed to global disarmament”. “Let me warn you personally to beware of such a leader of humanity who may emerge from Europe,” warns the videotaped message from the raptured pastor early in Volume I.

GC troops, while murderous, are depicted as faceless and mostly incompetent. In ‘The Remnant’, the only GC troops with names are “Plato” and “Socrates,” which is likely a comment on the Enlightenment. Their female commander, Elena, is sadistic, which says something about the authors’ views on non-submissive women.

The treatment of Jews is ambivalent at best. While the series stresses their steadfast opposition to the Anti-Christ, it also repeats the notion that their refusal to accept Christ as the Messiah has been responsible for their many hardships.

And the open embrace by the two Israeli heroes, Rosenzweig and Ben-Judah, of Christ as Messiah marks the fulfilment of a Christian anti-Semitic fantasy that dates back to St. Paul.

But does ‘Left Behind’ really reflect the ideas or ideals of the Bush administration?

Well, George W himself is “born again” and has hinted in various statements that he subscribes to a literal reading of the Book of Revelations. He speaks frequently with Billy Graham, the United States’ most prominent televangelist and counsellor to five presidents, whose memoirs were written with the help of Jerry Jenkins.

LaHaye, who recently reminded the ‘Washington Post’ that he “opposed the United Nations for 50 years”, recently told a National Press Club audience that the sensational commercial success of the ‘Left Behind’ series, is because of God.

“God has chosen this tool (to use) in a very sophisticated secular society,” he said, asking his admiring audience of fans to “pray for the President”.

 
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