Everyone check out “The Apocalypse Will Be Televised” by Gene Lyons at Harper’s Magazine. Lyons reviews the Left Behind series, a wildly popular set of novels that portray, in Tom Clancy style, the Rapture and Armageddon according to dispensationalist beliefs. The antichrist is the head of the U.N. and looks like Robert Redford, the jews must convert or die, that kind of thing. The novels are by prominent fundamentalist Tim LaHaye, who also helped found such notable organizations as the Moral Majority and the Institute for Creation Research (see the Who’s who of prophecy page on LaHaye).
It turns out that creationism is more closely tied to modern fundamentalist prophecy interpretation than I had previously appreciated. I’ll quote the most relevant passages from Lyons’ article.
Describing the conclusion of the battle between Jesus and the Antichrist in the last Left Behind book, Lyons writes,
As in every action/adventure flick for rent at Blockbuster, it’s obligatory that Mr. Big survive until the final showdown. But we all know how this story ends. Our heroes’ need to array themselves against the mighty armies of the Antichrist on the battlefield at Armageddon is never explained; not only is the entire event being televised worldwide like some cosmic Super Bowl but everything’s foreordained to happen precisely as it does happen (as we’re repeatedly assured by the scholarly Dr. Rosenzweig, whose timely conversion has turned him into Tribulation Force’s number one Jew for Jesus). God finished this screenplay a very long time ago, and there aren’t going to be any rewrites. “Lucifer, dragon, serpent, devil, Satan,” the archangel Gabriel commands, “you will now face the One you have opposed from time immemorial.” After which Jesus adds, “For all your lies about having evolved, you are a created being.”
Evolved? It all comes down to that? God is going to straighten Satan out about evolution versus creationism on Judgment Day? Apparently so. There will also be happy political consequences in getting rid of all the skeptics, unbelievers, and adepts of rival faiths. Rayford wonders if, just maybe, with only believers “left in the United States … would there be enough of them to start rebuilding the country as, finally for real, a Christian nation?” Gene Lyons, “The Apocalypse Will Be Televised“
Satan claims he evolved? That’s news to me. I wonder where he fits on the phylogenetic tree – perhaps a highly modified hoofed animal, like whales? Lyons continues:
How seriously the rest of us need to take a primitive revenge fantasy like the Left Behind novels is hard to say. While daydreaming about Armageddon, most readers, I’m guessing, are also signing off on thirty-year mortgage notes and keeping their life insurance up to date. Intellectually, the “rapture racket,” as Barbara R. Rossing calls it in her lucid and passionate book The Rapture Exposed, owes its origins to nineteenth-century turmoil over Darwinism. A professor of the New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Rossing argues persuasively that certain people are attracted to Darby’s “dispensationalist system with its Rapture theology because it is so comprehensive and rational–almost science-like–a feature that made it especially appealing during battles over evolution during the 1920s and 1930s.”Gene Lyons, “The Apocalypse Will Be Televised“
This all makes sense – Biblical literalists are going to be literal with everything in the Bible – but those of us who focus on the scientific arguments about Earth’s prehistory often lose track of the fact that for the young-earth creationists, this is all one package, starting with Genesis 6,000 years ago and extending straight through to World War III in the Holy Land Sometime Real Soon Now.