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Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days () Top 100 Books of the Millenium (19)

This is the first installment in a 12 book series based on the Bible's Book of Revelation.  It concerns an intrepid band of hardy, but not quite good, souls who are amongst the billions of people left behind after the Rapture.  Rayford Steele is an airline pilot who is busy fantasizing in mid-flight about committing adultery with one of his stewardesses, Hattie Durham, when suddenly a bunch of the passengers disappear.  In what I thought were the best passages in the book, confusion reigns as folks try to figure out where everybody went and unbelieving husbands and wives pat down the piles of clothing their Christian spouses left behind.  Rayford is one of the first to figure out what's happened, his wife was recently born again, and he realizes that if the believers have been taken to Heaven, then the time of tribulations is upon the Earth.  He returns home to find his wife and son have been summoned, but Chloe, his skeptical daughter, remains.  Together, they go to his wife's New Hope Church, where they surprisingly find the pastor, Bruce Barnes, who reveals that he never truly believed that Christ was the Savior.   Over the succeeding pages these three join forces with Buck Williams, a tenacious reporter, to form the Tribulation Force.  Their clandestine mission is to stop the Antichrist, whom they identify as Nicolae Carpathia, a Romanian politician who is sort of half JFK, half Slobodan Milosevic.  The handsome, charismatic, multilingual, Carpathia plans to use the United Nations to disarm the world, establish a single currency and establish his own Global Village.  Most folks don't recognize the insidious nature of his plan--it doesn't help that the true believers are all gone and all of the evil folk are still around--so the Tribulation Force faces a lonely, uphill battle; it is truly "the most dangerous cause a person could ever join."

Now, I personally think that a person's religious beliefs are a matter best left to them and God.  As long as their religion teaches them the importance of virtue and morality, it seems same to assume that their faith will make them better citizens and better people.  But I do have to admit that I think that the teachings of many religions are completely ridiculous, none more so than the apocalyptic millenarian beliefs of some fundamentalist Protestant sects.  It is easy to understand the genesis of these beliefs, Christianity after all was originally the religion of the downtrodden in Rome and it is remained a potent force in the poorest strata of society.  A prophecy which predicts that you can be saved, regardless of your current position in society, simply be believing in Christ, has obvious appeal to those who are not doing all that well in the present world.  It is harder to understand the appeal of this idea to the white middle class Americans who are apparently buying these books by the shelf full.  In the first place it would seem they'd have less need to escape from life.  Secondly, you'd think that the rapid scientific and social progress of the industrialized West of which they are a part, would somewhat obviate the need for a Messiah.  It could be argued, indeed I would argue, that we're doing a pretty good job of becoming God ourselves, without the intercession of a divine figure to help us get to Heaven.  If we can become creators--as advances in medicine, physics, etc., seem to indicate we can--then mightn't it be time to stop looking for miraculous help from the Creator?  He did, after all, banish us from the Garden of Eden the last time we got to close to becoming His equal.

At any rate, there are many levels upon which you can read these books.  The true believers can read them for their predictive value.  Those who are more tepid in their adherence to prophecy can read them as speculative but plausible.  The ambivalent can appreciate a rollicking adventure story--one not unlike the old TV series V, or that current favorite, The X-Files.  Total unbelievers can have fun just mocking these beliefs as they go along for the wild ride.  And the true skeptics and ironists can read the whole thing as a parody--the story takes on something of the tone of the classic men's adventure series Remo Williams (The Destroyer), if you just assume that the authors are in on the joke.  But there's something here for everyone and what the novel lacks in nuance, character development, dialogue, and believability, it more than makes up for in energy, audacity, earnestness and pacing.


Grade: (C+)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Official Site of the Left Behind Series
    -ESSAY: In the "Left Behind" novels things get very bad -- the planet is invaded by "200 million demonic horsemen," for example, and that's before Armageddon and the Last Judgment (Michael Joseph Gross, The Atlantic Monthly)
    -BOOK CLUB (Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Left Behind (Douglas E. Winter, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Left Behind (R.F. Briggs, Under the Covers)
    -REVIEW: "The Left Behind Series" - Book  Review  By Pastor Kevin Beier, Bible Believer's Baptist Church of Custer, South Dakota
    -REVIEWS: - Left Behind : A Novel of the Earth's Last Days

    -LEFT BEHIND:  It's the best selling Christian novel of all time and it's about to become a major motion picture! Hollywood Jesus will keep you informed as the details emerge.

    -Center for Millennial Studies