How far we’ve fallen

For the past several years, we’ve gone without cable TV, both to help the kids focus on their schoolwork and because there’s only a few good channels, like the Learning Channel and the History Channel. But this year we decided to turn it back on again–the kids are older and more responsible, and the local cable access channel has some school activities we wanted to see. And while we’re at it, there were some good shows on the History Channel.

Ugh. Underline the past tense in that last sentence. Last night we were flipping through the channels, and there was a show on the History Channel all about the Rapture. It sounded like a very interesting show. There’s a lot of history behind the idea of the Rapture, starting with the original post-Tribulational Rapture mentioned in Matthew and Thessalonians, on through the early 1800’s and the “visions” of a Pentecostal girl named Margaret McDonald, which then got picked up and popularized by J. N. Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible. And this, in turn, led to a revival of British and American millennialism which played no small role in the establishment of Israel as a Western-backed state in Palestine. Some really cool material that could use some good, solid historical research and presentation.

Boy was I in for a let-down.

I got a bad feeling when I saw they were using Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye (of Left Behind fame) as their “expert” witnesses. But hey, ok, it’s not too unreasonable to let believers explain their own beliefs, even if it does result in “he-said/she-said” journalism. Hopefully they’ll have other scholars on to at least offer the “she-said” criticisms of what Jenkins and LaHaye were offering as “future history” for our planet.

No such luck. Almost the entire program was effectively a fundamentalist Christian believe-or-suffer-divine-wrath sermon, disguised as a documentary. They had a few clips of people miraculously disappearing in the midst of their daily activities, then they cut to commentary by Jenkins or LaHaye or some other fundamentalist preacher/theologian, then back to scenes of the Left-Behinders suffering the consequences of the Rapture. Then they cut to a shot of the words of Scripture, set against a dramatic background of storm clouds at sunset, as the Voice of God read the prophecies aloud. And so on.

By the time the narrator started suggesting that the predictions of the Bible were correlating with current events, it started to get downright funny. Did you know that earthquakes, for example, were becoming increasingly frequent, and that over the last few years they have become some twenty times more common than they were a century ago? Don’t believe me? Here, see for yourself:

Graph of earthquakes 1900-2000

That’s a graph of the earthquakes that occurred from 1900 to 2000, as reported by the U. S. Geological Survey’s Centennial Earthquake Catalog. See how steeply the rate climbs as we get closer to the end of the reporting period? Yeah, me neither. Earthquakes are a fluctuating national phenomenon. Look at 1920 compared to 1950. In fact, look at the remarkable cluster of spikes between 1940 and the mid-1950’s. Jesus is bound to be back by 1960, wouldn’t you say?

The longer the show went on, the more obvious it became that the writers and producers were flagrantly out of touch with reality. With one exception: I do have to admire the subtlety and finesse with which they managed to make their Antichrist suggest Barack Obama without overtly mimicking him. That was kinda classy, in a how-low-are-you-willing-to-stoop sort of way.

At the very end of the show, one skeptic was allowed to express (in 25 words or less) the mere fact that he did not agree with the producer’s interpretation of the Bible. At the end of an hour-long show dramatizing the Rapture and the Tribulation, where the fundamentalists were giving full rein to their imaginations and speculations, with sparkly special effects and dramatic music, the skeptic is given about 37 seconds of dead, drab talk, during which he is given no opportunity to explain why he disagrees, and with no re-enactments or special effects to make his points more attractive. After all, he’s just the token skeptic!

In the end, I think the show ultimately became a pretty good refutation of pre-Tribulational Rapture theology, just by how absurd their stories became when the preachers were allowed uncritical self-expression. They even had a guy from an emergency management team talking about how triage works and saying, “Oh, it’s a really bad situation when you have a disaster and there aren’t enough emergency staff available to cope with it.” Then his “testimony” would be followed by stock footage of riots and police brutality and national guard checkpoints, for some reason, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. But never a word on why people would want to respond to global disaster by immediately forming armed gangs and roaming the streets murdering each other, instead of behaving the way people usually behave in a disaster.

Even their Antichrist was surreal: with a bit more character development he might someday expand into being a 2-dimensional Disney villain who does evil things because, um, well, he’s evil. Really? Even Hitler had more complex motives than just wanting to be evil for the sake of being evil. Then again, Hitler was real, and not just an apocalyptic fantasy born out of recklessly exuberant religious fanaticism.

So yeah, for the thinking viewer, the show does the Rapture more harm than help. Sadly, as the Harold Camping episode shows, there’s no shortage of people whose thirst for the sensational outweighs their hunger for the reasonable. No matter how many times these yahoos fail in their predictions, people will still keep flocking to them. It’s like fighting a disease, knowing that despite our best efforts, some people will still get sick. All we can do is keep defending the truth, exposing the error (and absurdity), and hope for the best.


4 Responses to “How far we’ve fallen”

  1. Jeri Rooks-Ellis Says:

    Greetings! Indeed, many over the last couple thousand years have wrongly predicted the Rapture would occur “soon,” in their time. Thank you for the earthquake chart; I think it is safe to say, the chart will be much more dramatic as the day grows even closer at hand.

    I think you may have the Rapture and the Second Coming confused with one another, however. The Rapture actually marks the beginning of the 7 year Tribulation. I am only guessing the scriptures in Mathew and Thessalonians are those describing Christ’s Second Coming after the Tribulations. I Thessalonians 4:16,17). In Matthew, Chapters 24,25, tells of Christ coming to the earth and judging the nations. These are two completely separate events. In the Rapture, we are taken up into the sky to meet Jesus; He doesn’t come to Earth, as He does at the “end.”

    I did not see the program to which you are referring. I’m curious when it was filmed. Perhaps, in the very early days of his taking office, some Christians may have suspected Obama might be the Anti-Christ. The False Prophet will show up before the “Big A/C” comes into the scene. I do not believe in any way that our President is either. He may have been impressive, but he would have to be a whole lot more charismatic and well… just much more influential and cool to fill that spot. I believe, he is AN Anti-Christ and is quite possibly paving the way for things to fall into place. The U.S. can not be the great and powerful Nation she once was for the many prophesies to take place. Some believe he is simply not up to the job of being the POTUS. Me, I believe he knows exactly what he is doing and his “handlers,” and many of the Democrats and some Republicans have deliberately weakened our standing in the World.

    Anyway, kudos to you for shutting down the cable for your children’s sake. We did the same for a few years, but since we recently became empty nesters and I had to stop working due to my inability to perform my job or any job; since my once strong and very active body developed PLS/ALS: we turned it back on. I’m still deciding whether or not it is worth the cost. There may be a lot of shows to choose from, but they are mostly garbage.

    Be well and I do hope your reading of the Bible is an indicator of belief; because doing life with God is the most wonderful way to do our lives; in my humble opinion and desire for many to come to know and love Him.



    P.S. I hope this read okay. I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. Ha ha! Good night!.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Hi Jeri, thanks for writing, and I’m very sorry to hear about your disability. I hope that whoever your caregivers are, they are able to take advantage of all the best available medicine and therapy to keep you as able as possible.

      I actually made quite a study of end-time studies when I was a believer. Did you know that it wasn’t until the 1820’s that anybody began teaching that the Rapture was an independent Coming of Christ, apart from the “Second” Coming? A young charismatic Scottish girl named Margaret MacDonald claimed to have seen that in a vision, and influenced a number of people including J. N. Darby, who incorporated it into a new theological theory he was developing called Dispensationalism. From there it got into the Scofield Reference Bible, and spread into general conservative/charismatic Christianity on a much wider scale.

      In America, Darby’s theories got a big boost from Hal Lindsay’s best-seller, The Late, Great Planet Earth, in which he predicted that the Rapture would probably occur some time in the 1980’s. I myself predicted that the Second Coming would be in 1997, which would have been exactly 6,000 years after Bishop Ussher’s calculated date of 4004 BC for the creation of the world. If you take “one day is 1,000 years in the eyes of the Lord,” that would make the Millennium start on the 7th “day” after creation, which would have been a perfect fit, apart from the fact that it didn’t actually happen.

      I was a Christian for most of my adult life (i.e. until my early 40’s), and like you I would have said at the time that doing life with God was the most wonderful way to do our lives. What I have found since then, however, is that life is MUCH better AFTER God, in more ways than I can count. If you find yourself having doubts, or wondering if God is really real, cheer up! It’s actually better not to believe, because you all you lose is the confusion and perplexity that keeps you repeating things about “mysterious ways.” Everything good that you give God credit for is still good, only now it has a basis in the real world instead of just in the stories people keep telling each other. And we have real reason and purpose in our lives, that come from being real people, and not from the idea that “good” has to be defined in terms of some supreme deity getting His own way all the time.

      I could go on and on, but that would be answering a question you didn’t ask, so I’ll just say best wishes and I hope that all goes well with you.

  2. Jeri Rooks-Ellis Says:

    Oh, and sorry for the “thumbs down.” I only meant it as a gesture to signal I disagreed with you. 😀

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      You are welcome to give me a thumbs down any time you wish to signal your disagreement. Comments, criticisms, and complaints are welcome; I reserve hostility only for trolls and spammers and other generally abusive aggressors. That clearly does not include you, so you are welcome to comment, critique, disagree, etc. as much as you like.

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