John Galt Was A Rapturist

This Is Not The Rapture You're Looking For

Lego Re-enactment

Let’s take a moment to review what we’ve learned in the last few days.

Not crazy and/or demeaning to Christian doctrine: Believing that a select few worthy disciples of Jesus Christ will spontaneously disappear into Heaven– specifically “the clouds” and “the air,” as Paul called it in his first letter to the Thessalonians. (Not entirely sure where the word Rapture appears in the Bible, even in Greek.) And believing that the rest of us will boil in burning rivers or suffer in other general plagues that a vengeful omnipotent savior chooses to inflict upon us in His rage.

Crazy and/or demeaning to Christian doctrine: Predicting when that might happen based on evidence from scripture.

If you read commentary from many Christian circles surrounding last weekend’s non-Rapture, you’ll find the expression of those exact sentiments, albeit unwittingly. Our own Brandt Merritt writes:

Harold Camping’s prediction proved to be false, which wasn’t much of a surprise to most Christians who believed Jesus when He said no one would know when He plans on returning.

But the coverage that the story garnered certainly portrayed Christianity in a less-than-desirable light. Atheists seized the opportunity to discredit Christians and the Bible in general, when in fact it was a VERY small group of people who simply interpreted the Bible incorrectly.

For the record, Brandt’s exactly right in one respect. I know absolutely no one, Christian or otherwise, who believed the Rapture was coming over the weekend. And I truly despise it when someone ascribes a belief or inclination to me based on the behavior of someone with whom I ostensibly share ideological or moral affinity. Ridicule by association is unfair.

However, those of you who believe in a Second Coming that includes a Rapture and Tribulation or something approximating such glorious mayhem for the suffering godless like me do not get to wiggle off the hooks of your beliefs that easily.

Indeed, after dismissing Camping, Brandt goes on to write this bit of speculation:

As I was looking for different takes on Camping’s prediction, I came across a really interesting look at the rapture on Christianity Today. Matthew Dickerson writes in this piece that it’s his belief those are who saved will be the ones “left behind” at the rapture when Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. Everyone else will disappear from existence.

It’s an idea that I admit I’d never really heard before, but he has good evidence from scripture to support it. [emphasis B.T.] So I suggest you check it out.

And consider this from Matt Pleasant’s elegant and subtle Ledger story (yay, Matt) on the Rapture:

Many have pointed out Scripture that says the rapture’s arrival is unknowable. Those who believe it can be predicted are imposing a modern, scientific world view on a text whose authors didn’t have that in mind, said Peter Althouse, a Southeastern University theology professor.

“It’s not for us to know,” said Althouse, whose field of theology deals with end times. The predictions are “an attempt to wrestle out of the hands of God something that only God knows.”

OK. Fine. So the Rapture is a thing defined by uncertainty, for which too much attempt at literal translation begins to wrestle from God that which is God’s.

Perhaps, in that case, Brandt and Althouse will tell us if they own any of the Left Behind books.

If not, which fringy splinter groups of Christianity bought the more than 65 million copies of Left Behind and its sequels that made its authors deeply rich? If a prediction of the date of the Rapture steals God’s prerogatives, what does a detailed recounting of the mayhem the Rapture will inflict, set in a specific time, do? And why are so many Christians willing to engage in that detailed portrayal? If date prediction is silly and offensive, why is the detailed, almost pornographic, depiction of violence and torture visited upon the unsaved both profitable and evangelical?

Why are you Rapture-believing Christians embarrassed by Harold Camping while proudly displaying Tim LaHaye’s authorship across three feet of your bookshelves?

As a person who dwells somewhere between atheism and awe at creation, who finds the night sky and DNA helix greater evidence of divine power than tossing Nicolae Carpathia into some sulfur hole, I have a few theories.

First of all, I suspect you’re angry at Camping mostly because called your bluff and forced America to wrestle for a weekend with the reality of what you think you believe. He pulled the Rapture out of abstraction and gave it to a broad secular audience. And you couldn’t defend it. You were embarrassed to even talk about it.

And you should be.

You think my family and I stand a good chance of enduring the torture and misery unleashed–or allowed to happen–by a vengeful God bent on teaching us some sort of lesson because we don’t share your doctrine. You’ve bought books and watched movies fantasizing about how specifically it will happen, through which you can imagine the flesh melting from my children’s bones. If I believed anything that bizarre and hideous about my neighbors–if I considered Left Behind an important work–I’d be embarrassed to talk about it publicly, too.

You’re absolutely entitled to buy those books and hold those beliefs. But you’re not entitled to respectful treatment of them. You can think I’m damned to locusts all you want, but don’t whine when you get mocked and/or despised. As I’ve said before, beliefs have consequences.

More broadly, though, why does the idea of Rapture seem so appealing to so many Christians? Here I think it’s a little unfair to single out Christians. Rather, I would argue that the Rapture, as a deeply human fantasy, holds a sort a universal appeal.

Ayn Rand wrote about the Rapture in Atlas Shrugged. She didn’t call it that, but what else is Galt’s Gulch but a kind of heaven for the saved–err Galtian supergeniuses. Where else can all the difficulties of living as humans melt away with the help of magical perpetual motion machines and super-reflecting/refracting rotating camouflage mirrors? And where else can you look on with great satisfaction as the moochers and looters suffer from the Tribulation, errr, tyranny of bureaucrats and unions?

I’ve been working over in my mind how it is that people who worship the Left Behind books and those who worship the famously atheistic Ayn Rand have come to form a happy alliance in the core of the “conservative movement”. They will tell you, if you ask them, that they have nothing in common. And yet they share the most important thing–a firm belief that they are part of the elect, the worthy. They’ll be saved, because that’s just how they roll. And painful, tortured judgement is coming for the rest of us.

This instinct bleeds down into life as we live it. For instance, the various parents flocking to McKeel Academy’s county average writing scores are Rapturing themselves into some heaven of status they can brag to their friends about. Every gated community, at a time of historically low crime, is its own little Rapture cul-de-sac.

Indeed, I would argue that the Rapture is the most human and earthly of divine beliefs. It has nothing to do with God. It translates roughly into this: Other people suck. I’m great. I should be rewarded. I should have power. They should be punished–and then ruefully pitied. Please, God and/or Ayn Rand and/or McKeel Academy, make that happen. Please, Allah, give me my virgins.

Newsflash to Rapturists in all their forms: The rest of us often think other people suck, too. We might even imagine ourselves possessing some magic wand that would rid us of many of them, at least for a second. Then we get over it. We realize that Creation, with its humans and messiness, reflects a more powerful and mysterious and worship-worthy God than the Kim Jong Il in robes that you imagine is waiting to torture us all into loving Him.

Creative Commons License image credit: Alan

14 thoughts on “John Galt Was A Rapturist

  1. I have read Tribulation Force in its entirety and excerpts of others.

    Have you? Are they not detailed imaginings of the Rapture and Second Coming, etc.

  2. I think I smell a counter point article coming on . . . :)

    For the record: I have never read nor do I own any of the Left Behind books. I did see the movie, but that was part of a youth group gathering about 12 years ago. I’ll get back to you on the other points, probably tomorrow morning.

    • Not really a counter point… but I was wondering if he read them more recently than I have and maybe had a fresher perspective. Like I mentioned below, it’s been several years since I read the books.

      Plus, I didn’t want to immediately go on the defensive, so I thought it would be more responsible to gather a little information first. I don’t like comment drama and I know from reading other comment threads Billy can easily be sucked into it. ;)

    • Cool, I look forward to it. It condescending for me to say I’m glad you’re not into the LB books, but I’ll say it anyway and apologize. It gives you a lot of credibility to discuss this. And I look forward to it.

  3. I’ve read all but the last in the series and they are “detailed imaginings of the Rapture and Second Coming,” but to my memory, they do not depict hell or melting flesh. I asked because I don’t think it is fair to describe them as a “detailed, almost pornographic, depiction of violence and torture visited upon the unsaved.”

    It’s been several years since I read them, so my memory could be wrong. I don’t generally prefer depictions of violence in my leisure reading so don’t think I would have bought and read all of them if that is what they were.

    • “The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. 
      “As Rayford watched, the soldiers stood briefly as skeletons in now-baggy uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave.”Seconds later the same plague afflicted the horses, their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, before they too rattled to the pavement.”—————This is from “Glorious Appearing.” But I’ll drop the use of “pornographic” for the sake of future discussion here. It’s unproveable, and perhaps it’s unnecessarily inflammatory. Let’s just call it graphic.

  4. let me start off by saying I haven’t read the first one of the LB books, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. My question is this- isn’t it possible that the folks who put those books on display do it in the same spirit as the adults that proudly display all 50 Harry Potter books, or all 50000000 Danielle Steel novels? Maybe they just find it to be entertaining fiction.

    My second point is on the nature of faith. Obviously we are debating it in the religious sense here, but it applies in other ways. Faith isn’t logical, it’s just that simple. A baby learns faith when the stop freaking out when mom leaves the room. Their is no proof or guarantee that it will happen, but that assumption gets them to sleep. I also have faith every time I climb into a tin cylinder with wings that travel 500 mph at 35,000 feet that we will slowly and safely glide back to the ground – again, no guarantees. 

    People who use fear to motivate are rarely effective persuaders in management or religion, so I agree that this guy and people like him should sit down and shut up. I don’t, however, think their faith should be the crux of your argument. I would stick with clinical psychosis. 

    Just my 2 cents, I’ve been a church boy my entire life and i have never once envisioned my neighbors skin melting or told someone (outside of sarcasm) that they were going to hell for their actions. As always I enjoyed the article, keep up the good work. 

    • Thanks, Matt.

      I would agree with you entirely if the LB numbers weren’t so staggering — and so tied to Christian consumers. Much like Mel Gibson’s “Passion,” they are marketed to and patronized mostly by politically and religiously conservative Christians. Or so every piece of evidence I see indicates.

      And crucially this isn’t an imaginary world, really. I’ll wager that zero percent of Potterists will claim to believe in Hogwarts or that the final battle of Harry and Voldemort is going to happen. I think a very large percentage of LB readers will claim to believe that something like LaHaye’s vision in going to happen.

      And I think the relative insularity of that community allows it to thrive almost in obscurity. But when Camping brought it out into the wider world, it became very embarrassing.

      And that’s interesting to me, as a social phenomenon.

      • Let’s say ignorance is bliss on the question of Potterists believing that Hogwarts is real. I  sure hope you’re right on that. 

  5. In regards to this comment, “More broadly, though, why does the idea of Rapture seem so appealing to
    so many Christians? Here I think it’s a little unfair to single out
    Christians. Rather, I would argue that the Rapture, as a deeply human
    fantasy, holds a sort a universal appeal.”

    I was reading another article right after yours, and it discussed business techniques that seem to fit closely to the selling of Christianity:

    Framing his service to let clients convince themselves

    Have you ever had a server crash? Had a laptop stolen? Hard drive
    failure? Lost data? THESE are the kinds of questions that get results,
    Daniel learned. Small business owners don’t care about backup — they
    care about not losing important data.

    Rather than telling them why backup is important, Daniel let them
    convince themselves by leading them to picture worst-case scenarios and
    problems they’d had in the past. How did a loss of data affect their
    business? Did they waste days of employee time redoing lost work, or
    lose something they could never get back again?

    Now clients were open to hearing more. Daniel carefully prepared
    scripts that all but sold his service for him. He figured out which
    issues would be the biggest pain points for a business owner, and then
    used the appropriate script to get that across to them in language they
    would respond to.

    I can see the Rapture stories reeling people in, and when they see the worst-case scenario, they want to know more. The bible sells.

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