Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On the Eschatology of "Left Behind"

On a typical night at work while doing my sweeping rounds about two years ago, I noticed a little book sitting next to a garbage can. It was titled "BIBLE PROPHECY HANDBOOK" by Carol Smith, one of those books you'd find in a "Choice Books" display at a bargain store. Since it seemed that nobody was looking for it, I decided to keep the book. It was a book that covered four different eschatological views in Christianity. While I don't believe any of it, of course, I can certainly appreciate that the book simply lays out the different views in good detail for the reader to objectively study.

"JohnNelsonDarby" by Contemporary photograph - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
This guy invented the Rapture. I kid you not!

I mention this because after my movie review of "Left Behind", I realized there was so much material to explore, starting with the eschatology that's behind the movie, known as Dispensational Premillenialism. While the book is excellent at laying out the basic details of Dispensationalism, it did not say anything about the very human origins about it. Dispensationalism was created by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, and later popularized by Cyrus Scofield's Reference Bible. Today it's wildly popular amongst rural Christianity, Fundamentalists and the Baptists. What's interesting about Darby's creation is that in developing this eschatology, he is the one who invented the concept of the "Rapture". However, try telling this to Dispensationalists and they'll fiercely deny it.

The basic details of Dispensationalist eschatology are these: Believers will be "taken up to heaven"(aka raptured) to be with Christ, signalling the start of a seven-year "Tribulation" in which the Antichrist will appear and reign over this period of persecution and misery until Christ returns. This, just before the Antichrist appearing, is precisely what is depicted in "Left Behind".

Somebody call Daryl Dixon

But here's the part about Dispensationalism that didn't make the cut in both film iterations of "Left Behind": As part of the Rapture, dead believers will be resurrected.

A zombie attack in the Bible. Again. Why wasn't this depicted in the film? Because in this day and age, we know that zombies are nothing more than pure fiction, like "The Walking Dead". To depict zombies, despite it being canonical to Dispensationalism, would expose it as the twisted fiction that it is.

But let's be kind and suppose for a moment that they would not be zombies but fully restored to life. Doesn't that mean that despite their belief, they've come back just to suffer the misery of Tribulation? That's a decidedly evil move by the Biblical God, and it's not the only one.

Welcome to God's Slaughterhouse of the Babes

In one scene of "Left Behind", Chloe goes to the hospital in her dire search to find her little brother, who has been raptured. She wanders into the maternity ward to discover that all the newborn babies have been taken away, too. Even worse, according to Dispensationalism and many Bible churches that believe in an "age of accountability"(which answers my earlier question about belief and babies), babies will be ripped from their mothers' wombs. Cribs emptied. Kindergartens shuttered. Would-be parents' lives are shattered in an instant. God becomes the biggest abortionist and child abductor in history. And apparently, any children conceived and born after the Rapture will suffer the same as their parents.

What about those Not Left Behind?

Everywhere in Dispensationalism, the focus is on those not taken in the Rapture and their subsequent misery from it. The film is no exception.

Yet, isn't it worth a look to ask "What would Irene Steele think of the fact that she just got ripped from her daughter and husband, and now they're caught in a meat grinder while the all-powerful, all-knowing and all-"loving" God does nothing? How about little Raymie Steele getting taken as he's hugging his big sister?"  Wouldn't they rather be there for them at the very least, to help lessen their suffering? What would they think, let's imagine, if Rayford and Chloe couldn't bring themselves to truly believe during the Tribulation? It's fully possible that they could believe that God exists, but they cannot love Him(this would be misotheism, as atheism at that point would be proven false). Would Irene and Raymie write them off and enjoy the rest of eternity in heaven?

Or would they raise hell(no pun intended) to make God get off his Almighty ass and stop the suffering?

Dispensational Politics: Poisoning the Well of Reasonable Policies

Dispensationalism is really popular in right-wing America. And it has effectively poisoned our foreign policies. Dispensationalism also has "plans" for Israel, and politicians who subscribe to it are staunch Zionists. They have effectively forced the United States government into supporting Israel no matter how brutal they treat their neighbors, the Palestinians.  Why? Because they believe that in ensuring Israel wins, no matter what, it will hasten the coming of Darby's end-times prophecies. So they lust after controlling the Middle East solely for a religious belief, not reasoned politics.

Disposing of Dispensationalism

So how do rational folks fight this toxic ideology? For politicians, force them to admit their support for Israel is not based in reason but religious fever. Let them expose how toxic they are towards rational politics. For folks in general, point out that their "right" way of interpreting the Bible didn't even exist until mid-19th century. Let them know that their beliefs have zero basis in reality and that it's all a delirious form of wish thinking that will lead to nothing more than... a Great Disappointment.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Religious Movie Review: "Left Behind"

(Spoiler Warning: In this review I will be spoiling quite a lot of the movie. If you plan to see it without spoilers, stop reading after the first paragraph. Otherwise, enjoy the review.)

Up until this past Saturday, I have only watched two religious movies this year: "God's Not Dead" and "Noah". While GND still holds the crown in unabashed vilification and offensiveness towards atheists, "Noah" actually stepped up and delivered a film that's a treat for cultural Christians and nonbelievers alike(thanks to "card-carrying" atheist director Darren Aronofsky).

On Saturday afternoon, after reading the first review of the rebooted religious apocalyptic film "Left Behind"("Score one for Satan", says the Toronto Star) I knew I had to see this film, if only to see just how bad it truly was. And as I found out, the Toronto Star only exposed the tip of the iceberg in describing how awful it is... for Christians.
Even Nic Cage knows how bad it is.

"Left Behind" as the antidote to "God's Not Dead"

A month ago, Willie Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" and "God's Not Dead" fame announced he had signed on as Executive Producer of the film and released a video where he said that "['Left Behind' is] a warning to those, if it happened today, would be left behind, and I believe people are going to make that life-changing decision to follow Christ on the way home from the theater on Oct. 3."

In other words, he believes the film will convert atheists and other non-Christians. That's a pretty bold claim, considering that the makers of nearly every other Christian film thought the exact same thing and yet the number of nonbelievers continue to rise. This film is unsurprisingly no exception, but with one peculiarity: This film achieves the opposite effect of what the faithful audience expects. At least in the theatre I went to, the crowd was dead silent all through the film and walked out looking somber and angry, unlike the big triumphant reactions I witnessed when watching GND. It is, in fact, an antidote to GND. How? Let's take a look.

Nonbelievers are portrayed without caricature

In GND, nonbelievers are portrayed as one-dimensional, unempathetic evil people while believers are supposed paragons of virtue and righteousness. Both portrayals were incredibly unrealistic. In "Left Behind", however, we don't see nonbelievers coldly dumping girlfriends and and viciously threatening students' futures.

Instead we see a surprisingly honest conversation between two main characters(Chloe Steele and Cameron "Buck" Williams) about belief, disasters and "divine intentionality" in the beginning of the film. The conversation establishes them as skeptics, but it also establishes them as actually decent human beings.

After the Rapture, we see Buck comforting a druggie heiress, and playing negotiator when an unstable mom(played by Jordin Sparks) grabs a handgun and starts threatening people(How she managed to smuggle it, nobody knows).

Even the lone Muslim character is portrayed as a kindly guy, despite being treated with suspicion and menaced by an angry Little Person. I actually smiled when he offered to hold the elderly lady's hand during the landing sequence.

God is not good all the time, and all the time God is Not Good

Original "Left Behind" fans will be very disappointed to find that Nicolai Carpathia is nowhere to be found here. There is a villain in this film however, but it's not who you think it is, and despite the poor execution of the movie's religious propaganda message, He comes off as more evil than anybody else in the film.

It shows immediately as the Rapture occurs. In a blink of an eye, Chloe's little brother is taken while hugging her, leaving her to go crazy trying to find him. Through Chloe we see disaster, death, and misery everywhere directly caused by God taking not only adult believers, but children and newborn babies as well, leaving parents in horrific agony(which raises the questions: If genuine belief were the criteria for being raptured, then why do newborns who have zero beliefs get taken? And what about babies born post-Rapture? Are they going to suffer the tribulation merely because they were born too late?).

Misery, in fact, is the obsessive theme of the movie. Even though the main characters plod towards their "come to Jesus" moments, they are justified in placing the blame for the world's misery on omnipotent, omnisicient and supposedly omnibenevolent God. Not even the Biblical Devil could pull off something so cruel.

"A Thief In The Night" Reborn

It is this overindulgence of watching humanity's agony that is this movie's undoing as a method of converting rational adults. As I mentioned before, the theatre audience left very somber and angry. I even overheard someone saying "If they make a sequel, it'll be stupider than this". But then a revelation hit me as I recognized the first song playing in the closing credits: This isn't a movie for adults. This is a modern take of "A Thief In The Night". I've never had the displeasure of watching that film, but I did hear "The Thinking Atheist"'s Seth Andrews talk about it in detail in chapter 6 of his audiobook "Deconverted". "A Thief In The Night" is a Post-Rapture film meant to literally scare the hell out of kids into "accepting Jesus into their hearts". It was actually psychological child abuse cloaked in religion. And "Left Behind" is the same exact thing, down to even brazenly using the same closing song. Grown adults could laugh it off, but show this sort of misery porn to young, impressionable and easily frightened groups of children... It's sickening. Thankfully, this movie is a total turkey at the box office so far and other reviews(even from Christian sites!) have panned it so hard, it's possible we might be spared from something much, much worse... a sequel!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Official Atheist Response to Carrie Underwood's New Song

Earlier today, I noticed a specific story popping up on my Facebook feed. The article is titled "Carrie Underwood's Brand New Song Is Making Atheists MAD AS HELL!". I was intrigued because I've heard Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take The Wheel" song and found nothing even remotely offensive to me. Then I heard her newest song "Something In The Water" via the article, and again I found her song totally inoffensive. I'm certainly not mad or angry. Maybe I'm in a minority amongst non-believers?

So I did a little digging around to see what fellow heathens think, since the article(nor any of the other right-wing and Christian news sites that picked it up) didn't actually point to a single instance of atheist outrage. Ed Brayton of Freethought Blogs chimed on Facebook: "I so love being told what I'm outraged about. I can't imagine how I could possibly get outraged about a song I've never heard and almost certainly never will. That would require giving a shit in the first place what Carrie Underwood -- or anyone else, for that matter -- sings about."

A little dismissive, admittedly, but clearly not offended or angry over it. Unfortunately, I could not find any other article in the "atheo-sphere" that remotely resembles outrage. What I did find in the comments to Ed's post and in the articles by atheists, is mostly a reaction of "meh" and similar bewilderment over how Underwood's song could somehow be offensive to them.

So, while I cannot in all honesty claim that the following is a unanimous response from the atheist community, nor can I attempt to claim myself as a representative of it, I can say the following seems to be a loosely general consensus on Miss Underwood's song:
Really, we just don't.
Seriously, this rates even less than the internet hoax spun a couple years ago that Koran-burning preacher Terry Jones wanted to burn copies of "The God Delusion". Nobody gives a hot shit. The only thing that could remotely be construed as offensive here is Miss Underwood's publicist those douchebag conservative bloggers manufacturing such a cheap click-bait campaign to drum up interest in the song. I would expect such cheapness from the political arena, but not in the music industry.