Monday, October 31, 2011

The Rapture Exposed

The Rapture Exposed: the Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation
© 2004 Barbara R. Rossing
224 pages

"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love."
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am amazed that so much of the horror of my youth was built on so pathetic a foundation.  As a child growing up in a fundamentalist Christian sect,  I was promised a future filled with horror and dread if I was not a perfect child. Any day now, any moment,  all the "real" Christians would float into the sky and the rest of us would be abandoned to seven years of war, chaos, pestilence,  and an evil totalitarian state that encompassed the entire earth. During my adolescence, I frequently panicked and grew fearful if I lost communication with my parents, and often had nightmares about the world to come. Not until I left religion in 2006 did this fear subside, but now that I find that not only is this interpretation of Revalation badly assembled, but that an alternative interpretation carres at its heart what attracts people to Jesus and Christianity: the message that love and peaceful action can overcome evil. In The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing tears apart the Left Behind story, urges readers to combat its political influence in the middle east, and explains her own view.

Around fifteen years ago, the Left Behind series became enormously popular in the United States. The series began with the Rapture spiriting away all the real, true Christians in addition to every child on earth, and then followed a collection of fairly cretinous heroes as they dedicated themselves to God in the aftermath and sought to effect his will throughout the Great Tribulation. The books were fairly terrible (and I say that speaking as someone who read all sixteen), but benefited from the kind of dread and expectation that the coming of a new Millenium brought with it. The series offered Christians horror and drama withotu sex and 'bad words', and is dominated throughout by a self-congratulatory spirit. Despite this, the worldview is distressingly influential.   Rossi opens by first pointing out that this great horrible story of the Rapture has no genuine biblical basis. While its proponents use a collection of Biblical verses from Revelations, Thessalonians, and Daniel to tell their story, that collection is a patchwork fraud -- like a randsom note  written by cutting out letters from magazine articles and gluing them together to turn cheerful advertisments into death threats.  That is essentially what Rossing believes Rapturists have done with Revelation, a book written in her view to offer encouragment to Christians under persecution. She delves into the history of Rapture belief, as well as the history of the early church, pointing out that Revelation belongs to a genre of literature known as Apocalypses, and she uses an excellent metaphor (Scrooge's vision in A Christmas Carol) to  point out that its story need not actually happen for its meaning to be significant.

That meaning, for Rossi, is not one of dread and horror, but of the victory of love. As she guides readers through the book of Revelation, we see that the predominant portrayal of Jesus is one of a slain lamb. She urges readers to  use Revelation's story to help them see the here and now as the Kingdom of God, and their Christian duty in fully realizing it by fighting injustice, serving others, and making this world as best as it can be. In Rossi's view, debunking Rapture mythology is essential not only in fighting escapism or perverting a message of hope into one of horror, but in ending its current political influence as politicians like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and other members of the self-proclaimed moral majority allow Left Behind mythology to influence their potential policy decisions in the middle east.  She ends by offering a selection of verses which Rapture-believers bank on, and then commenting on their meanings within their actual literary or historical context.  The book isn't as thorough a resource as someone struggling with the rapture might like -- there's no mention of how Christians have historically viewed Revelation outside of the brief 200 years the Rapture has been around -- but it should suffice as a wake-up call, or at the very least allow readers to appreciate Revelation for the first time as something other than the work of a madman on a "bad trip".

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