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Skipping Towards Armageddon: The Politics and Propaganda of the Left Behind Novels and the LaHaye Empire [Paperback]

Michael Standaert

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Book Description

May 16 2006
The most effective message yet found by the hijackers of mainstream religion is Tim LaHaye¹s Left Behind series of apocalyptic Christian novels. This wide-ranging study examines the books and the empire behind them. Author Michael Standaert contextualizes the Left Behind phenomenon by probing millennial thinking across cultures, from pre-Christian times to the present, and tracing the evolution of militant evangelism in the US, uncovering the links between fundamentalist religious figures and mainstream right-wing politicians through organizations like the Moral Majority. Skipping Towards Armageddon rips the lid off the Left Behind books¹ ideological underpinnings, showing how LaHaye uses them to advance the foreign and domestic policy goals of the Religious Right, from fomenting Middle East violence to promoting homophobia and xenophobia. The book is a timely cautionary tale, revealing that these best selling books are not simply harmless thrillers written from an evangelical Christian perspective but a potent tool in a fanatical group¹s agenda.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press; 1 edition (May 16 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932360964
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932360967
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 14.1 x 1.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,571,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Having sold over 70 million copies worldwide since their 1995 inception, Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series, currently 15 novels strong, is an account of biblical apocalypse in our time-based on the New Testament book of Revelation-and has been called "the most widely experienced religious teaching ... among adults who are not born again Christians." Standaert argues that, by literally demonizing huge swaths of the population and, no less importantly, the liberal agenda (public health care, for example, is portrayed as a tool of the devil), the series is less fiction than it is militant fundamentalist propaganda, advocating the elimination of non-believers and the establishment of an American-and ultimately a global-theocracy. Standaert has done his homework, exploring the wealthy and well-connected network of like-minded Christians who, taken as a group, exert a vast influence over American society and politics through foundations, universities, radio stations, Web sites, book clubs, publishing houses, political lobbying and activist coalitions. Tracing connections between all the players in overwhelming detail, however, slows the book's momentum, potentially turning off even those sympathetic to Standaert's assessment. Despite this, his book is an important look at the premilennialist movement, illuminating the potential for such a group to evolve into the kind of violent religious factions that the U.S. and others are struggling to stamp out across the globe.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Two years ago, in the mingled rural-urban city where I live, I noticed two bumper stickers on one car. The first read: I Brake For God. The second, and more interesting, said: HLLBBCKWHVHSWRDNT. Aside from the commercial use of a lipogram, what stood out was the pride and confidence behind this Christian announcement. People here take their religion seriously. That same summer I heard the delightful anecdote of a Presbyterian acquaintance whose son had been rejected by a Christian girl because she wanted to go out with someone who shared her beliefs. It made me wonder about the hand that could draw such fine lines in a closely knit community where farm equipment crawls down city streets towards one garage or another. People talk freely about how cell phones can be set to vibrate so they won’t disturb their owner during a church service. On their last day of classes, students calmly tell professors that they don’t need to keep their English textbooks because they have the only book that matters. Some add that the professor will of course be going straight to hell for what they’ve talked about during the semester. Tim LaHaye, as quoted in Skipping Towards Armageddon, says “[t]he literal interpretation of the Bible is the foundation stone of prophetic truth . . . As we have seen, the lack at any moment of the awareness of our Lord’s return often leads to a carnal life.” Those students, like the owner of the bumper stickers, figured all this out ahead of their not-likely-to-be-saved neighbours.
Michael Standaert’s examination of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind novels, as well as the faith-based structure they come out of and support, is important reading for those who wonder how fundamentalism moved from the margins to the centre of the U.S. government, determining that country’s social policies, and equally important, its purpose in the Near East. In disentangling the threads which unite Christian organisations, lobbies, and institutions, and displaying how George W. Bush (among others) benefits from and is influenced by the money and constituents the Tim LaHaye Ministries, his Pre-Trib Research Center, and his Family Life Seminars bring in and control, Standaert has done an impressive job. He reveals “the insular pinball world of prophecy literature interpretations, pulpit jeremiads, and the promises made by premillennialist spokesmen in evangelical radio and television . . . .” He starts and ends with personal stories related to his research, and maintains a personal, at times angry, voice as he interweaves the history of the Rapture and dispensational premillennialism-which stem from literal interpretations of the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelation-with the fate of nonbelievers when the Rapture occurs, the figure of the Antichrist (candidates include John Kennedy and Europe), a history of anti-Semitic texts (the case is made that the Left Behind books are anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and harshly disposed towards any nonbeliever), and much else.
Since the appearance of the first Left Behind book in 1995, the series has sold at least 60 million copies, indicating that many people are buying them for group reading purposes as well as for private pleasure. “LaHaye reportedly received a $42 million advance from Bantam Books for a new series called Babylon Rising,” Standaert says, and this indicates that the financial profits to be made by exploiting belief in the Rapture and the Tribulation (what Pre-Trib is short for) for Christian fundamentalists is clearly more than what can be gained from “the redemption through Jesus Christ preached in the New Testament.” Those profits have to be made fast if skies raining blood can occur before the end of the business day, and as long as there are wars and unrest, especially in the Near East, then LaHaye’s financial outlook is rosy. Standaert quotes a prominent evangelist who spoke at the 1984 Republican convention: “There’ll be no peace until Jesus comes. Any preaching of peace prior to this return is heresy. It’s against the word of God. It’s anti-Christ.” An elderly Catholic woman I know spoke with a conviction borne of fear that the “Devil is walking the land.” When George W. Bush talks about evildoers and an axis of evil, as well as the never-ending war on terror, this is not only rhetoric; it’s text that can be found in many fundamentalist works. As Standaert sees it, Marxist Socialism, German Nazism, and Italian Fascism are “recent examples of ‘catastrophic millennialism.’ What they all contain is a reliance on militant language and portraying everything outside their ideology as ‘evil’ or so directly opposed to their worldview that they must be destroyed.” The free shedding of someone else’s blood in the war against non-believers is just part of the movement towards salvation, and if it helps speed up the arrival of the Rapture, then that’s all to the good.
Standaert’s arguments would have come across more smoothly if his book had been proofread or copy-edited. The number of mistakes is astonishing: names are incorrect, words are dropped out of sentences or extra ones inserted, punctuation and spacing are erratic, book titles are not always capitalised, and on a different level, information is repeated from chapter to chapter, as though Standaert didn’t trust readers to remember anything. The lack of an index is a serious deficiency when reference is made to many groups, individuals, and topics. Hopefully, in future printings Soft Skull will work to remove the errors. Those blotches aside, Skipping Towards Armageddon is a needed gathering together of paper and Internet sources that clearly brings out LaHaye’s “hollow, hateful, and spiritually corrupt attempt at mass-marketing conspiracy and fear . . .” Standaert deserves credit for wading through hate-filled publications and interviews without losing his professionalism. He has produced a book which can be read easily (barring the irritating use of endnotes), and which will appeal to general readers.
Tim LaHaye is eighty this year. He may wish for the Rapture to occur before he dies of mundane causes so that he can be whisked off to his version of heaven, where he will have a vantage point from which to see his enemies and the non-believers (if they’re not interchangeable terms) destroyed by God-as he and Jenkins depict it in their books-with balls of fire, earthquakes, locusts, and so forth. Although it’s possible he would despise every Church Father-LaHaye calls Augustine a “Greek humanist”-he may feel something akin to Tertullian’s anticipated pleasure over what he would see when he assumed his own privileged place in heaven:

“ . . . that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! . . .Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?-as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation… I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity . . . of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord.”

As for the driver with the bumper stickers, secure in the promise she took from the Bible, she didn’t worry about tempting fate as she made a left turn on the red light.
Jeff Bursey (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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In the mid-1990s, around the time the Left Behind novels first made their way onto bookstore shelves, I was living in the small town of Carterville, in southern Illinois. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
30 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of a violent "Christian" media empire June 8 2006
By Preston C. Enright - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this crucial expose of the violence of LaHaye's imperial theology, Standaert reveals how the "Left Behind" series serves US hegemony, including its bloody aggression in Iraq. Not only are people in other lands demonized, but domestic enemies of right-wing fanaticism are caricatured as well. LaHaye's antichrist character, Nicolae Carpathia, takes on virtually every liberal stereotype and becomes a figurehead for all that is evil according to LaHaye (and talk show hosts like Dennis Prager). Anybody outside of the club of war-mongering religious insiders are targeted for elimination. It's interesting how Standaert points out how this process dehumanizes both the non-believers and believers.

To make matters worse, this fall LaHaye will release "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," a hyper-violent, graphically advanced video game, similar to "Grand Theft Auto." Instead of bashing prostitutes' heads and blowing away cops, you kill assorted 'evildoers.' Standaert points out in an article entitled "Grand Theft Armageddon" that this is the latest (and most violent) in a series of video games to advance LaHaye's apocalyptic narrative, reach out to people who haven't been exposed to the book, and raise funds for LaHaye's political activism (he boasts of spending half of his earnings on his political agenda). Incidentally, LaHaye is the co-founder of the "Moral Majority."

In addition to Standaert's book, Chip Berlet has important books and a website that reveal this ominous growth of an ugly dominator world view.
10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unlikely to convince "true believers," but impressive marshalling of facts June 4 2007
By James V. Holton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very well researched--might even say exhaustively so--work about the incredibly popular Left Behind series. Standaert delivers an impressive analysis of the dispensationalist, fundamentalist mentality that pervades this book and so much of modern popular Christian culture. He does a great job of exposing many of the hidden assumptions of the series such as its pervasive violence, nihilism, intolerance and anti- mentality (anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti"moderate Christian, etc.). Apologists who would argue that such devices are just literary license to tell a story should bear in mind that without the violence, bigotry and hatred espoused by LaHaye and Jenkins in the books, there would be no story to tell.

This book more properly deserves 3.5 stars, but I went with 4 since 3 would seem like damning with faint praise. There are a couple deficiences that when known make the book more readable. First, the organization tends to be a little slipshod. The chapters read more like a group of essays rather than a cohesive monograph; as a result it often seems like Standaert is trodding over the same ground from chapter to chapter. Second, due to this lack of organization his analyses a) often come across as personal attacks on LaHaye rather than objective conclusions, b) don't really speak to those who may have sympathies towards LaHaye et al's brand of Christianity, even fleetingly, but who need to be convinced more compellingly. Such people may be inclined to see Standaert as vindicating LaHaye's paranoia and misplaced literalism (some further explanation of the author's own spiritual inclinations may have helped delineate his points). Those who do not believe in this type of millennialism will find an impressive array of facts to respond to LaHaye's supporters.

Third, there are small typos and misspellings that may drive those so inclined to notice such things crazy--e.g. referring to German chancellor Helmut Kohl as "Kohn."
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DECENT CONTENTS--AWFUL PACKAGING June 27 2007
By Mayor McCheese - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The content of this book was interesting and well sourced if a little bit repetitive and heavy-handed. However, the printed text was riddled with numerous typos--sometimes as many as 2 or 3 per page! I can only assume that this is the fault of the publisher and not the author. Don't read this book if typos drive you crazy!

Author: 4 stars
Publisher: 1 star
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, if flawed April 5 2009
By Teemacs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There's nothing worse than a fanatic, someone who single-mindedly believes in something to such an extent as to exclude the possibility of there being an alternative (and perhaps even legitimate) point of view. Religion and politics are the two most deadly forms of the disease, and when they combine, there is the potential for disaster - think of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, when it had something approaching the political authority to enforce its position as The One True Church. While the current situation in the USA is not so far gone, it continues to move worryingly in that direction, with some people clearly determined to establish America as "a Christian country", i.e., a theocracy. And when that comes, you can bet that it will be every bit as intolerant as any Islamic country. But it can't happen - can it?

In the USA, an almost religious belief in America as the cure to the world's ills (as opposed to a prime cause thereof) and Republican politics have combined to produce a frightful monster of an offspring, which has twisted and perverted the whole political discourse in the USA. It may represent the greatest danger to the planet that we have ever seen, and we probably have not seen the last of it.

Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" books are not merely badly-written religious pulp fiction based on highly dubious theology (anyone who maintains s/he understands Revelation clearly needs his/her head read), but an attempt to promote the narrow ideology of the religious right, with its complete intolerance of, well, everything except itself. They preach the rightness of theocracy by basing the story on the ultimate theocracy, the Second Coming of Jesus to establish a very non-democratic Kingdom on earth. This book documents the attempts of Tim LaHaye and the like to promulgate this ideology of America needing to be a "Christian nation" of this particularly narrow kind. In this, the author allows himself to roam beyond the confines of the publishing phenomenon that is the "Left Behind" series and look at the wider picture and history of the conservative evangelical movement in the USA, how it has become politicized, and how it is seeking to exert ever greater political control. It is a story of very deluded men masquerading as angels of light. During the Spanish Inquisition, the Dominician friars, with tears in their eyes, would plead with heretics to repent, even as they lit the faggots under their feet. You just know that LaHaye and Co. would be just the same.

The book is interesting (and worrying), but it could have used a good editor, one who knows grammar and spelling. It has some real howlers ("the militia movement begins to horde weapons"). It could also have been more even-handed. The author is clearly antagonistic to the evangelicals, which, while understandable, is perhaps not the best attitude to strike. There are many fine Christian people in the USA who have not sold their souls to the lunatic fringe. They will be needed to show genuine Christian values, as opposed to the false ones of LaHaye & Co.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, needs a proofreader Aug. 12 2008
By Zorya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this an interesting and well researched book. However, it had numerous proofreading errors that were very distracting.

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