Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast

Apr 10, 2005 4:45 pm

The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast

I've been writing about the rise of the religious right for quite a while now, most recently in connection with the re-election of George W. Bush. Starting with my essay,"Caught Up in the Rapture," I have argued that the political impact of the religious right is second only to its cultural and economic impact, which is growing significantly:

Christian merchandising is a $4.2 billion industry, which includes a $100 million video game business. The Christian book market is particularly lucrative: Evangelist Rick Warren has sold 15 million copies of his book, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? There are even Christian diet books that sit alongside Atkins and South Beach manuals: The Maker’s Diet helps you to lose weight by eating just like Jesus. From number one best-selling books such as The Da Vinci Code to"Joan of Arcadia" on television and"Bruce Almighty" on the silver screen, God is Hip and Hot. ... A blockbuster film such as"The Passion of the Christ"—which was condemned initially as"anti-Semitic" by some critics—has now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibson’s cross-promotional merchandising efforts—sales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. ... [And the] 12-volume LaHaye-Jenkins work­—from its first installment, Left Behind, to its action-packed finale, Glorious Appearing: The End of Days—now qualifies as the best-selling Christian fiction book series of all time[, having] sold in excess of 60 million copies in the past nine years.
Ultimately, the Left Behind series is not simply a religious narrative. It is a political one. Glenn W. Shuck, author of Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, argues persuasively that"the novels have less to do with escaping and more to do with remaking the modern world" (emphasis added). It is the kind of"remaking" that Friedrich Hayek would have characterized as thoroughly rationalist or" constructivist" in its political implications.

Except that in this instance, the"Left Behind-ers" are praying that God will be the ultimate constructivist, and fix things for good. The fact that so many of them voted for George W. Bush as His messenger is not a comforting thought.

Well, God makes a prime-time appearance on NBC in a major network mini-series that begins this Wednesday, April 13, 2005. As Frank Rich puts it (hat-tip to Arthur Silber):"It's all too fitting that 'Revelations,' which downsizes lay government in favor of the clerical, is hijacking the regular time slot of 'The West Wing'" (the show aired its season finale on April 6th). Fitting indeed. The typically liberal"West Wing" is being replaced by a Left Behind knock-off that will merge an"X-Files" sensibility, an Omen-like horror quotient, and an apocalyptic scenario worthy of the Millennium Group.

In the end, of course, the Apocalypse is not the most disturbing prospect; it's the fact that the Apocalypse has become so marketable in this culture.

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George Raymond Meara - 11/11/2006

As one who believes that all OT and NT prophecy concerning the establishment of the church (True Israel)has been fulfilled,I find great rest for my soul. Not being tossed about with each new end-time statement by modern day "end of the world as we know it" propheteers is comforting.

Kevin Carson - 4/14/2005

I just checked out that interesting old post on the preterists. Preterism was (and is) by far the leading eschatological doctrine in Catholicism, and among the mainline Protestent denominations as well. Hal Lindsey's technicolor theology, the religious equivalent of a Joe Schenckman cartoon, was unheard of before around 1830 or so.

Traditionalist Christianity was virtually unanimous in believing that all the OT prophecies concerning "Israel" were fulfilled in the Church.

Actually, there are conservative evangelicals (mostly Calvinists) around today who have been down on the dispensationalists for years. They (rightly) consider the "Rapturists" to be historical and biblical illiterates, buffoonish marks for the vulgar sideshow of Darby and Scofield.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2005

Didn't we just go through all this with the calendrical millenium? Standard apocalpytic preaching: move the date....

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/10/2005

David, it's quite possible that the very popularization and mass appeal of these types of books and films will have the same effect as any inflationary dynamic: reducing the relative value of the films/books with each successive production.

I also wonder if some of this "End of Days" stuff is extra-religious; as cliched as it sounds, there is something to be said about a post-9/11 cultural effect. People who never dreamed that they'd see NYC engulfed by a cloud of ash or downtown Manhattan reduced to rubble have seriously entertained many doomsday scenarios since. So these apocalyptic films might be tapping into something that goes beyond the strictly religious appeal.

BTW, I actually saw the "Left Behind" movies (starring Kirk Cameron from "Growing Pains"!!) on a religious cable TV channel; they are doing much better on DVD and on TV broadcasts than they ever did in their first theatrical run.

Max Swing - 4/10/2005

Oh, perhaps in the US, but in Europe the end of world myth just started with a BBC Production (equally named "End of Days" featuring 5 different apocalypse scenarios (particle accelerator, earthquake, meteor impact (with stupid splinter-meteors by nuclear blast), Tsunami flood onto New York and finally a killer virus alike SARS). The onslaught of apocalyptic movies seems just to get momentum in Europe, because there are more than five movies coming up the next month, that display the horrible nature-vs-evil-science-men-battle.

Max Swing - 4/10/2005

Mine started with a fantasy-fiction book (Sword of Truth) and George Orwell, and I am sorry that it started so late, because it would have brought my marxist-era to an faster end ;)

David Timothy Beito - 4/10/2005

Despite all the interest in the Left Behind books, and the new mini series< I think there is some reason to believe that "end is just around the corner" mania is starting to play out. The Left Behind movie, after all, was a box office failure though it did well on video.

Even some fundamentalists are starting to wonder as indicated by the growing influence of the preterists:

Steven Horwitz - 4/10/2005

One day I'll explain it, but my path to libertarianism began with the Hal Lindsey "Late Great Planet Earth" stuff, which was among the earliest of the Revelation-based literature.

Max Swing - 4/10/2005

Being an atheist is a problem of getting elected in contemporary America and probably through-out the short history. But even if you are an atheist andd want to be elected, you have to at least play along with religious festivals (like mournings and so on...).

The latest example I can think of is, Mr. Schröder in Germany, who is Bundeskanzler of Germany and head of the socialist party (SPD). Albeit Mr. Schröder has no particular belief (perhaps out of party guidelines), still is forced to participate in major catholic or protestant chruch services.

Max Swing - 4/10/2005

Yes, indeed, you are right on the influence and the actual intersection of their movies and their "propaganda". It is different with us movie-fans, who like to watch an apocalyptic movie but then return to normal reality and now that such things are only fear-mongering in the long run ;)

I'd also like to point you on the 2 seasonal series: "Jeremiah" that deals with the problems in a post-apocalyptic America. (It is from the same screenwriter, who wrote Babylon 5 ;) )

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/10/2005

BTW, here's an interesting site:

Theocracy Watch

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/10/2005

It's interesting that you should raise this issue; ironically, the show that "Revelations" replaces for the duration of the 2005 TV season is "The West Wing," and in recent episodes of that show, the issue of agnosticism and/or atheism and political elections has been dramatized to great effect.

I think you're right, Sheldon. I don't see how any person who declared atheism could possibly be elected to high national office. Not in this climate.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/10/2005

Max, you're absolutely right. Apocalyptic scenarios have been a part of the human consciousness for eons. And, if I may say so, even I am utterly fascinated by films and books dealing with these themes. I'm sure I'll watch "Revelations" (well, I'll have to tape it, because I'll probably be watching the results show of "American Idol" :) ), not just because I'm seeking to criticize it; I have enjoyed portraits of the "End of Days" for as long as I've been a film fan, whether we're talking about horror-genre films like "The Omen" and "Rosemary's Baby," or sci-fi post-apocalyptic nuclear dramas. There is something about the eternal battle of good and evil, and of life and death, that I have always found artistically interesting and thought-provoking.

But I think there is some sociological value in taking a look at the current, very specific kinds of apocalyptic visions being promoted today by the religious right, and the impact these visions and other religious doctrines have had on some of the elected officials in the U.S. who think they are doing God's work.

Therein lies the influence and power of certain ideas in shaping public policy and history itself.

Sheldon Richman - 4/10/2005

It's been asked by others: could someone get elected to any high office after declaring he is an atheist? I don't think so. So much for the Christian Right charge that the political culture is hostile to religion.

Max Swing - 4/10/2005

Do not confuse this with the movie by Coppula (typo?) but the idea that Apocalyptic movies by the christian right would be something new. There have always been either series or movies or books that have taken up those themes (albeit not so obviously). Babylon 5 is one or the Matrix Triology (representing the death of Jesus). And last but not least, the German fiction author Hohlbein, who made such tragic stories with christian altruist and peace ethics like "Märchenmond". Most of his books have to do with apocalyptic scenarios founded on christian mythology and to be fair, it is always a good story to tell (although a morally difficult one).