If you’d like to see what you will look like after the rapidly approaching end of the world arrives, find a photograph of yourself as you were at age 33. If you’re younger, you may imagine how you might appear at that age. Now, presuming of course you are not of the damned, imagine looking like that for eternity—or at least for the first thousand years of it, during Christ’s coming millennium reign on Earth.
According to Reverend Tim LaHaye, the evangelical minister and boffo raconteur of the End Times, all of the redeemed will be returned to their “incorruptible” bodies, which naturally correspond to the 33-year-old body of the resurrected Christ. That’s what the apocalyptic American co-author of the just-published The Glorious Appearing told London’s Telegraph newspaper earlier this year.
The new tome concludes his 12- volume chiliastic epic of the multi-million-selling Left Behind novels, grandiosely chronicling an imagined series of historical events leading to Armageddon, the defeat of the Antichrist, and the return of Christ, as presaged in the biblical book of the Revelation of St. John. The redeemed may be transported to their hot-body past, but the unbelievers’ bodies explode, their blood boiling in their veins.
But lo, there will come other incredible prizes for the lucky winners. In the same Telegraph article, LaHaye reassured his bachelor interviewer that there would likely be singles’ clubs in eternity, for the 30-something unmarried redeemed, and that LaHaye himself was particularly interested in using his free time to do a little space travel, “We’ve been told that we will be able to travel at the speed of thought. Personally, I plan to go planetary exploring.”
This would all be hilarious if it were from a Second Coming-themed sequel to Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, but the truth is America, long fascinated with its own presumptively glorious role in the Christian triumph at the end of time has never been more under the sway of the fiery apocalyptic mind. A Pentagon general proclaimed that our army was an instrument of God’s final plan. President Bush has been quoted referring ambiguously to his own belief that he was chosen by divine fiat to be commander-in-chief in these times—and he wasn’t just trying to explain Florida 2000.
One recently observed bumper sticker on a pickup truck in San Antonio put it most succinctly, announcing: “Read the Bible. In the end we win!”
For those who believe, this must be a bracing thought—to be alive during the butt-kicking final chapter of the cliffhanger cosmic Christian pageant. Or, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith described it, we know how history ends, we just don’t know how we get there. In a rare interview from 1985, he said, “the Christian knows that history is already saved, that therefore the outcome in the end will be positive…We know that the ‘powers of darkness’ will not prevail over the Church, but we do not know under what conditions that will transpire.”
For the rest of us, the apocalypse unbelievers, a chill wind blows, a certain defeat of the ideal of the United States as a global republic where all of the world’s people, along with their diverse beliefs can find a home. Like a bomb ticking in our basement, the end of the world augurs also the end of the American republic.
Predictably, much of the U.S. press coverage of the new Left Behind book in which Jesus returns to Earth, has focused on the novelty of an evangelical bestseller and the burgeoning market for conservative Christian products. The real story, perhaps uncomfortable to truly fathom, is that a good deal of the world, Christian and non-Christian, is presently haunted by a myriad of dreams of a coming end, with more and more Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others resigned to let the debacle unfold. Why not have it out once and for all, embrace the chaos so that divine justice can be done? Let’s throw down and set to reaping the whirlwind already.
A Jewish sect in Israel labors to birth a perfect red heifer, one of the signs of the Messiah’s coming. A lamb was recently reported born in Hebron with the name of Allah written on one side of its coat, Mohamed on the other. For the last years, in bookstores in the West Bank, Cairo, and Baghdad, other bestsellers foretell the coming of Islam’s final prophet, the Mahdi, under whose name an army of insurgents is now attacking American troops in Najaf, Iraq.
Do readers of the Left Behind novels really expect to witness the triumph of Christianity over all other sects in our nation, a nation pledged to the highest principle of religious freedom and equality? Could we be approaching the proverbial apocalyptic “tipping point,” a global vortex of score-settling violence and vengeance likely to engulf believer and non-believer alike, and regardless of whether Jesus, the Moshiach, or the Mahdi even show up after we make our monstrous mess upon each other? Now, that would be embarrassing.
Perhaps we could create a huge apocalyptic theme park, Disneygeddon, say on an ample, appropriately barren former nuclear test island in the Pacific, and all of these multi-flavored end time enthusiasts can go off on their own and sort everything out along the scripturally correct plotlines of their great ghastly tales, for whatever time is left.
And then let those of us who are left behind get on with the rest of the great human story. It’s not like we have forever.
Originally from San Antonio, John Phillip Santos is a producer, journalist, and author whose work examines intersecting concerns of media, culture, and identity. He is the author of the critically acclaimed family memoir, Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (Viking/Penguin, 1999) and is at work on a new book, The Farthest Home is in an Empire of Fire, to be published next year. He lives in New York City.