End Times, Conspiracism, & the US Right

The day after Christmas 2005, Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind Prophecy Club” sent out its daily e-mail message with a 2005 “Year in Review” summary The teaser stated: “Are we living in the End Times? Could events of today signify that the Rapture and Tribulation could occur during our generation? Five important Signs from 2005 say yes!”

  • Devastating natural disasters foreshadow the coming of Christ.
  • The Jewish population converges in Israel to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
  • A union between Europe and Iraq could set the stage for the emergence of the Antichrist.
  • Islamic extremists lash out with London bombings and France riots.
  • Putin consolidates power in Russia, as the empire rebuilds.

In the text that follows, we learn that “events in Russia are exactly what we should expect to see if we are nearing the end times….the rule of the Antichrist may not be too far behind…[the] Bible prophesies that the city of Babylon will be rebuilt as headquarters for the antichrist. Babylon lies on the Euphrates River, just 50 miles south of Baghdad.”

We also are told that “…continued tensions may make Israel ripe for a covenant with the Antichrist,” and that the “ancient Sanhedrin, the official legal tribunal in Israel…issued an official call to rebuild the temple [of Solomon in Jerusalem], an act that God’s Word predicts must occur before the return of the Messiah.”

Meanwhile, natural disasters may be “a foreshadowing of the overwhelming chaos that is to transpire during the tribulation, prompting many to repent before it’s too late.”

That last piece of advice is what the Left Behind series is all about. It is future narrative devoted to encouraging current salvation through a particular premillennial reading of the Bible. It’s not enough to be a Christian, you must embrace a narrow and specific version of Christianity. Otherwise, you are not just going to Hell, but you will be persecuted and maybe tortured and murdered as well.

That’s the basic theme of the Left Behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The 13 volumes have sold some 70 million copies, regularly hitting best seller lists. As pop theology, the messages of the series and the Left Behind Prophecy Club are troubling, but as popular political ideology, they are dangerous.

As part of its sales pitch for a subscription service, we are told that “The Left Behind Prophecy Club has the news you need to know” about:

  • Islamic Terrorism
  • Middle East Peace Process
  • The War in Iraq
  • Europe’s Power Struggle
  • Natural Disasters

The way these current events are woven into a discussion of Biblical prophecy creates frames of reference that help move people toward specific political viewpoints, not just concerning U.S. policies in the Middle East, but also about domestic issues.

Central to this process is a particular way of reading the Bible’s book of Revelation that establishes a timetable and sequence of events for the End Times and the Tribulations that are related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

According to polling by Barna research, “nearly nine out of ten evangelicals who believe in the end times (88%) maintain that is it very likely that Jesus will return during the last days, and 77% of born agains who believe in the end times indicated the same.”

Tim LaHaye has spent decades melding his conspiracy theory of history into the End Times beliefs of evangelicals. In his 1980 non-fiction book The Battle for the Mind, LaHaye added a conspiracist theme to the critique of secular humanism put forward by popular theologian Francis A. Schaeffer, a conservative Christian evangelical. LaHaye dedicated the book to Schaeffer.

In a chapter entitled “Is a Humanist Tribulation Necessary?” LaHaye writes that the “seven-year tribulation period will be a time that features the rule of the anti-Christ over the world.” LaHaye explains that this “tribulation is predestined and will surely come to pass.” LaHaye, however, describes another period of tribulations that he calls the “pre-tribulation tribulation.”

LaHaye, explains that the “pre-tribulation tribulation is:

“…the tribulation that will engulf this country if liberal secular humanists are permitted to take control of our government–it is neither predestined nor necessary. But it will deluge the entire land in the next few years, unless Christians are willing to become much more assertive in defense of morality and decency than they have been during the past three decades.”

According to LaHaye, adultery, pornography, and homosexuality “are rampant” and this is evidence of the warning by Schaeffer’s “that humanism always leads to chaos.” In the Left Behind series, LaHaye and Jenkins write about the spread of humanist moral relativism in the forms of the feminist movement, abortion, and homosexuality. The Left Behind series takes the conspiracist themes of LaHaye’s non-fiction books and spreads them through a huge audience.

The apocalyptic frames and conspiracist narratives in the Left Behind series are a form of “fiction explicitly intended to teach,” according to author Gershom Gorenberg, who warns:

“Inspiration is part of the appeal. Subliminally, so is the all-encompassing paradigm the books offer for understanding the world. Here’s how the global economy (which may have cost me my job or halved my retirement savings) works. Here’s what lies behind debate over abortion or foreign policy. Some people serve God, and some serve falsehood. Here’s why a believing Christian can feel left out: Today’s society is controlled by evil. And here’s why cataclysmic war between the forces of good and the axis of evil is inevitable.”

The LaHaye conspiracy theory about secular humanism provides a powerful theological justification for Christians to establish “dominion” over sinful secular society.