A Critical Analysis of the “Left Behind” Series (6): Concluding Thoughts

Sure it would be better if I had you here to hold me
Be better baby, but believe me it’s the next best thing
I’m sure there’s many times you’ve wanted me to hear your secrets
Don’t be afraid to say the words that move me anytime you want to tell them to me.

~ Billy Joel, ‘Sometimes a Fantasy’ (1980)

LB 2014

The more enigmatic and mysterious a particular portion of Scripture comes across, the more likely it is to receive fan fiction treatment in the interests of fleshing out tantalizing details not disclosed in canonical scripture. This explains the great popularity and success of Christian novels that deal with the “end-times” as described by the major prophetic books of the Bible, such as Daniel and Revelation. The Left Behind series is the brainchild of two religious believers seeking to present a judgmental and small-minded doctrine which they view as theologically accurate in compelling and contemporary terms which will not only titillate believing readers, but also draw in potential converts who would not normally pick up a Bible or a Bible commentary. “The secularization of the sacred apocalyptic myths,” writes religious studies professor Conrad Ostwalt “has been completed in Left Behind [1].”

The function of these novels about the Christian end of the world is to psychologically fill in glaring and troubling gaps in the minds of believers. According to the beliefs which are hammered home to fundamentalists in church every week, the Second Coming ought to be happening at any time now. In fact, as we saw in Part 4, it should have happened long before now. Needless to say, it has not happened. So what is the next step? With the help of the Left Behind books (and a host of other Christian novels dealing with the biblical end-times), Christian believers are able to visualize in their mind’s eye the fruition of their longed-for apocalypse. The imagination serves to soften and soothe the wound of disappointed expectation. In the words of the Billy Joel song, “It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing. But sometimes a fantasy is all you need.”

The Left Behind series is a testament to the fact that there can be a fine line between literature and propaganda, especially when the medium of fiction is being used by an author as a means-to-an-end, that is, as a vehicle for preaching his or her set of beliefs and ideals [2]. As Edmund Cohen remarks, “The Left Behind books are consumed by grownups who receive them as deadly serious instruction about soon-to-come cataclysmic events. The mainstream media miss that essential difference, and treat the Left Behind books as cheerful Sunday school curiosities. They are a lot darker than that [3].”

But the fact that the authors of Left Behind have presented what they believe to be absolute truth in fictional terms can mean nothing but trouble for their own evangelistic goals. Any reader who begins to take Christianity seriously as a result of reading Left Behind must sooner or later find herself in a highly tenuous position. Assuming such a reader is capable of recognizing that these books are obvious fiction and even billed as such, how long can her newfound faith last on such a shoddy foundation? How long will it be before she wonders whether there is any reason to think any part of Christianity is not equally fictional?

There are a great many Christian laypeople whose ears will perk up only when somebody tells them that the Antichrist is coming soon and that they are going to get their innards toasted if they do not repent in the here and now. Conversion stemming from such a self-serving motivation is doomed to have a very short shelf life. If that which can frighten but momentarily is all that impels a person to conversion, their belief is shallow and weak. In order to last, there must be something more to the pitch, and in the case of the highly superstitious and paranoid strain of Christianity pushed by LaHaye and Jenkins, there is nothing more to it.

For this reason, the existence of the Left Behind series may ultimately be unintentionally fortuitous to the cause of freethought and turn more people into atheists. This potential “faith antidote” aspect would then represent the sole redeeming element of the series.


[1] Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: Popular Culture and the Religious Imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), p. 96.

[2] There is a similar important distinction to be drawn between teaching the Bible and teaching about the Bible in public schools and colleges. Christian conservatives often repeat the tired and overly-refuted claim that the Bible has been banned from public schools. No, the Bible has not been banned from these venues of learning. The Bible is often legitimately utilized in the Humanities courses of secular colleges and universities across the country and in public high school literature classes. The key difference is that secular schools are not teaching either that the Bible is historically true in every detail or that the Bible is a bunch of nonsense. Rather, they are taking a neutral position in teaching the Bible simply as religious literature.

[3] Edmund D. Cohen, “Review of the Left Behind Tribulation Novels: Turner Diaries Lite,” Free Inquiry 21, no. 2 (Spring 2001). Available online at http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/cohen_21_2.html (accessed October 17, 2014).

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