It's the End of the World and the Writing
by Daniel Radosh
As we approach the millennium and, many believe, the fulfillment of Biblical
prophecies about the end of the world, I have discovered that there are
five horsemen of the apocalypse: Pestilence, Famine, War, Death and Crappy
Novels About the Apocalypse.
Christian thrillers are upon us like locusts. Because these books are
sold almost exclusively in Christian bookstores, their sales havent
been tracked by the bean counters who compile bestseller lists. But if
you believe the publishers, they sell millions of copiesand the
year 2000 is expected to be a once-in-a-millennium marketing opportunity.
Since I like to be prepared for special occasions, I figured it was time
to curl up with some popular Christian millennial novels. I can assure
you that pestilence is a sunny day in comparison.
Typical of the genre is The Illuminati, a novel by Larry Burkett set in
1999. Protagonist Jeff Wells is an ordinary American agnostic who would
never guess that the earthquake that has just ripped apart Japan and unleashed
a devastating tsunami on Southern California is the first sign of what
Christians know as the Great Tribulation. Nor would he imagine that the
U.S. president, a liberal whose pet causes are gun-control, legalizing
drugs and harvesting the organs of crack babies, is a pawn of the antichrist.
Satan plays a key role in every Christian thriller, of course. No whodunits
here. In The Illuminati, the Antichrist is a man subtly named Hussein.
He is introduced this way: "Hussein had but two passions in life:
a deep hatred of Christians and Jews, and a total commitment to establishing
Satan's kingdom on earth." So, like, he's a bad guy. Before long
he's creating a one-world government, herding Christians into concentration
camps, launching nuclear weapons at Israel and replacing all cash with
a computer chip implanted into citizens' hands (the mark of the
One of Hussein's henchmen is the head of something called the National
Civil Liberties Union. Burkett gives us this artfully-written glimpse
into his mind: "God, how I hate Christians. No wait, he thought,
not God--he didn't believe in God. Anyway, I hate them,
he concluded." Also on deck for evil is the secretary of the treasury,
"an avowed socialist and atheist," who was seduced into Satan's
legions by a woman. "Their mutual interests included an elitist view
of themselves, a disdain of religion, and a desire to establish a new
world order," Burkett writes. You were expecting piña coladas
and getting caught in the rain?
Fighting the good fight, meanwhile, is the Christian resistance, led by
the fortuitously named Randy Cross. Holed up in rural Georgia, they nonviolently
battle the government with the help of the converted Jeff Wells. Their
strategy consists largely of group prayer. Spoiler alert: Good triumphs
In his introduction, Burkett allows that he isnt a prophet. "My
biggest concern in writing a novel is that someone may read too much into
it." (His biggest concern should have been that anyone would read
it at all.) Other authors are more convinced that their fictions will
become facts. In 1977, Hal Lindsey published a prophecy book called The
Late, Great Planet Earth. Last year he fictionalized it as Blood Moon.
"I found myself occasionally disappointed at my inability to raise
all of the important and persuasive data and still maintain a readable
and fast-paced work of fiction," Lindsey admits. His solution? Devote
entire chapters to "data," without even the pretext of storytelling,
readable or otherwise.
According to Lindsey's calculations, the year 2007 will bring earthquakes,
tsunamis, one-world government, a nuclear attack on Israel, computer implants
and so on. Our hero is Jeff Armstrong, an ordinary American agnostic who
finds God after comparing current events with the predictions of the Bible
and, I kid you not, The Late, Great Planet Earth. Armstrong joins the
Christian resistance, holed up in rural Montana, where he meets Erin O'Hara.
"What a heck of a time to fall in love," Armstrong sighs, as
a the heavens rain hail and fire mingled with blood. In the end, of course,
the Antichrist's army is defeated and Christ returns. As for Jeff and
Erin, "The Lord Jesus Himself performed their wedding."
Blood Moon ends with a chapter showing the bliss that will come with Jesus
reign. Its somewhat anticlimactic, really, as Jeremy excitedly announces
his new job on the personal staff of the Lord Messiah, while
Eric declares, Im only interested in having my mans
babies. The couple then searches for an apartment in Jerusalem,
and Lindsey tells us, It was an exciting time to be looking.
Hey, if the Second Coming can make apartment hunting fun, count me in.
Then there's The End of the Age, by Pat Robertson. A cynic might suggest
that the busy Robertson had the aid of ghost writer, but there is no evidence
that a professional writer was ever in the same room as this manuscript.
Robertson's protagonists are Carl and Lori Throneberry, ordinary American
agnostics until a giant meteor crashes into the Pacific Ocean triggering
earthquakes, tsunamis and a one-world government. Morality breaks down
and "public displays of sexuality and nudity became pandemic."
So there is an upside. Faced with damnation, Carl and Lori are convert
to Christianity, and Carl, an advertising executive, repents his contribution
to the immorality of society. "We thought you Christians were no
better than right-wing thought police," he tells his new pals in
the resistance. "It never occurred to me that you were trying to
protect us from the wrath of God."
Like the authors of all these books, Robertson spends a lot of time identifying
and condemning various villains as if it matters anymore, what
with the outbreak of natural disasters, genocide and nuclear warfare.
We meet the President of the United States (an alcoholic womanizer), his
First Lady (a power-hungry lesbian), the editor of The New York Times
("a Sixties Marxist who had idolized Che Guevara in print")
and Percy DuVal, the gay chief of White House personnel (who "used
every trick in the book to fill the highest government positions with
those who shared his lifestyle).
Not counted among the sinners in these books are the Jews, who are generally
considered only one step away from being good Christians. Jews are almost
universally portrayed as heroes, and their descent into hellfire is tactfully
overlooked. Muslims, on the other hand, are the first to join forces with
the beast. Burkett, author of The Illuminati, especially admires the Jewish
talent for attracting persecution, and his Christians repeatedly gloat
that their predicament is "just like the Holocaust." This eventually
leads to the antichrist's pronouncement, "We will not make the same
mistakes again. First the Christiansthen the Jews." as
if the Holocaust were just a huge case of mistaken identity.
The Jewish question brings us to Paul Meiers The Third Millennium.
The protagonists are a Jewish family, the Feinbergs, and young Ben Feinberg's
blind, Buddhist Chinese girlfriend. It's a refreshingly interfaith convocation
until page 98, by which point they are all worshipping Yeshua, as the
Jews call Jesus. The person who converts everyone is the Feinberg daughter's
Christian boyfriend, a used-car salesman. Don't take that as ironic commentary
on proselytizing; this is, believe me, a genre utterly devoid of irony.
There's the usual mishegoss: nukes, quakes, new world order. A tsunami
(yep, another one) hits California and an angel thudres that judgment
has engulfed San Francisco. Their wickedness has been called into account.
The angel then notes that Los Angeles is in flames and many sections
have been leveled. Yet other portions of Orange County stand. Did
the four horsement check voting records or something? When the Antichrist
proposes computer implants ("Those supporting me can register their
vote by dialing 1-900-666-6666") an Angel appears to Ben and his
girlfriend and tells them not to have premarital sex. Also, they must
organize a resistance. "What can we possibly do?" the girlfriend
says. "A blind Oriental girl and a Messianic Jew aren't going to
make much difference." No, but they'd make a nifty sitcom for Fox.
Eventually, Moses descends from the sky and tells CNN that he, too, is
a Jew for Jesus.
Meier is extraordinarily precise about how events are going to unfold.
Large chunks of The Third Millennium are devoted to wonkish numerology
that is almost as boring as it is incomprehensible. In his appendix Meier
admits that he doesn't know for certain that Yeshua will return in the
year 2000only that it will be some time before 2028. His view on
the Bible is, "Take it literally unless the symbolism is obvious."
To put it another way: It's all true except for the stuff that isn't.
This dodge is embraced by every practiced eschatologist. The strategy
1. If there is some logical corollary to a Bible passage, that's what
the Bible was predicting. For example, most of the novelists agree with
Meier that the Biblical passage that read, "their flesh shall consume
away while they stand upon their feet describes the effect of nuclear
war. In each such instance, and there are many, a character declares,
2. If there is no plausible explanation for a Bible passage, it's symbolic.
You would never know from reading these novels that the Book of Revelation
describes an army riding horses that have serpents for tails and the heads
of lions. Meier places the riders on ordinary horses. The other authors
seem to believe that the ancient prophet was trying to describe tanks.
In cases like this, where everything doesn't fit, the full verse is rarely
3. If there is no real-world explanation for a Bible verse and it is too
difficult to come up with plausible symbolism, it is the literal truth.
Revelation predicts that non-believers will suffer a five-month plague
of insects that are half-locust, half-scorpion. In almost every book,
these creatures appear out of nowhere, just as prophesied. One wonders
why God can create these bizarre bugs on his own, but needs humans to
start a nuclear war just so to consume flesh.
Revealingly, contemporary End Times thrillers have a precursor that is
somewhat different, a 1950 tract called Raptured. In this version, everything
that Revelation predicts occurs literally with almost no embellishment.
The sun darkens because it does, not because of volcanic ash. Water turns
to blood because God turns it, not because a meteor kills all the fish.
Yes, Raptured is an extremely dull book, but it shows just how far you
won't get with a truly strict reading of Revelation.
The single contemporary parallel that Raptured does draw indicates how
silly today's novels will seem 47 years from now (barring their fulfillment,
of course). While the recent books fret that credit cards, or in some
cases debit cards, are the forerunners of the Mark of the Beast, Raptured
knows where the real trouble began: rationing books.
Also in 1950, the sins of the non-believers aren't nearly so sinful. One
churchgoer muses about what life would be like if everyone would embrace
the Lord. "There would be no lewd movies, no drinking, no wild parties,
no dancing, no blasphemy," she thinks. "Yes indeed, this would
be a great world." Again, let me emphasize that no irony is intended.
Yet there is an aspect to these End Times fantasies more troubling than
their dubious soothsaying. It is, oddly enough, their lack of meaningful
moral values. In all the drama of the battle against evil, there is nary
a second spare for mercy, charity, redemption or brotherly love. Sure
there are many exhortations to accept Christ as the savior, but only to
end punishments already being inflicted. Even faith is irrelevant, since
in the Last Days proof aboundsangels and Biblical patriarchs appear
with regularity to explain exactly what is going on. In Blood Moon, Jeremy
Armstrong gets a phone call from Jesus. No doubt through the friends
and family plan.
What does it mean to be a Christian at the turn of the century, according
to these books? Late in The Third Millennium, Larry Feinberg surveys the
plains of Armageddon and exclaims, "Thank God, we're the good guys!"
For Christian thrillers, thats as deep as it gets.