IFAS | Freedom Writer | Summer 2000 | lahaye.html

The fantasy world of Tim LaHaye

Opinion by Guy Manchester

The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession, is the newest installment in the fundamentalist "end times" saga by Tim LaHaye. Advance orders for The Indwelling reached 1.9 million copies, propelling it overnight to number one on amazon.com, and The New York Times best-selling fiction lists. According to The New York Times, the writers, the Rev. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, have pulled off "an unparalleled achievement for an evangelical novel."

The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession is the seventh book in the "Left Behind" series. The phrase refers to the Christian fundamentalist belief in the Rapture, that is, at the sound of a trumpet, Jesus will soon appear in the clouds to take believers up to meet him, thus escaping the horrible calamities foretold in the Book of Revelation. Unbelievers who are left behind will have to engage in a three-and-a-half year battle with the forces of Satan. According to fundamentalist theologians, including LaHaye, all of the Jewish people will be left behind at the Rapture, and will suffer mightily during the dreadful period called the Great Tribulation. But before it's all over, 144,000 of them will accept Jesus as their savior. The rest will perish. The clear message to Jew and Gentile is "You don't want to be left behind."

So far, 17 million copies of the "Left Behind" series have been sold. Interestingly, when The New York Times tabulates its bestseller list, it excludes sales from the thousands of evangelical Christian bookstores across America.

Last fall, this newsletter profiled Tim LaHaye in an article called "Tim LaHaye: the man behind the bestsellers." The article noted: "Tim LaHaye is the book series' theologian. His friend Jerry Jenkins is actually writing the series. LaHaye said he gives Jenkins the story outline and Jenkins fleshes them out. 'Jerry is a phenomenal fiction writer,' said LaHaye.'" In other words, LaHaye is the engineer; Jenkins is the mechanic.

Using the Book of Revelation as an outline, the authors add present-day fictional characters to the ancient allegory. While their books are fiction, the authors truly believe the events that they describe will play out in our lifetime.

The 72-year-old Tim LaHaye has had a profound impact on American politics. LaHaye is a graduate of the ultrafundamentalist Bob Jones University (a fact never mentioned in his biographies), where he met his wife, Beverly. LaHaye's early pastoral ministry was mostly apolitical. Then, in the 1970s, his focus turned toward politics when he cofounded the Moral Majority with the Rev. Jerry Falwell. The group's fundraising letters warned that America was faced with doom by secular humanists, militant homosexuals, and "baby killers" - unless enough people were "saved, baptized, and registered to vote."

Meanwhile, left behind at home, Beverly LaHaye launched Concerned Women for America, which claims to be the largest women's group in the US. Then, in 1980, Tim LaHaye organized the Council for National Policy, a vehicle for conservative religious leaders, politicians and business people to come together to share and implement their dogmatic ideas. In 1984, he formed the American Coalition for Traditional Values, and began training seminars for Religious Right leaders. Even though the Moral Majority and the American Coalition for Traditional Values collapsed through lack of funding, the Council for National Policy (CNP) and Concerned Women for America remain viable and important today. LaHaye is so fond of the CNP that he once said, "It isn't often in life that reality is better than the dream. That's the way it is with the Council for National Policy."

The fact that LaHaye is an ardent foe of the separation between church and state is evidenced by a letter he wrote to The Freedom Writer in 1988. He wrote that The Freedom Writer "is full of disinformation," and, "typical of left-wing journals like yours, you print anything you can find that is derogatory to those with whom you disagree - without checking the facts."

"Why not admit that the words 'separation' and 'church' do not even appear in the U.S. Constitution," he added. "Instead, they do appear in Article 52 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union."

Today, LaHaye has gone from activist to novelist. Instead of using sensational fundraising letters to exploit people's fears, he writes sensational novels. One might say that he's exchanged one form of fiction for another. Yet, in his new role, he's reaching far more people than he ever dreamed of back at the Moral Majority. The financial rewards aren't bad either. The authors report that their bestsellers have earned each of them $10 million.

While spine-chilling fiction is run-of-the-mill, such fiction is usually hypothetical. But for LaHaye and millions of avid fundamentalist followers, "end-times" fiction is their reality. That is truly scary.

The insatiable readers who devour the "Left Behind" series have limited vision and little hope. To my dismay, in recent years, many of these folks have become politically involved because they desire an America without non-Christian religions, humanists, homosexuals, abortion, and erotic images. But because in their hearts they know such a scenario will never unfold, they have turned to wishful escapism. Their escapism is not the kind of escapism most people enjoy when they pull the curtains and curl up with a gripping novel. For them, LaHaye's works of fiction beyond belief are gospel. Because fundamentalists have failed to adopt a positive worldview, they hang onto his every oracular word, believing that their "blessed hope" will come when they take wings with their soon-coming king.

LaHaye's notions are the epitome of quick-fix solutions to life's real challenges. What about overpopulation, disease, hunger, and world peace? Fundamentalists haven't a clue about what to do about any of these problems, and it doesn't bother them in the least. Don't worry, Jesus will whisk the believers away too bad for those left behind.

If LaHaye and his fundamentalist followers don't want to be part of the solution, then they shouldn't be part of the problem. To most, the fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation is just plain wacky. But, for others, especially Jews, it's downright uncomfortable. For they are told that the day is coming when they'll have to choose Jesus and life, or death and hell. LaHaye doesn't seem to mind that this doctrine is abhorrent to Jews. In fact, he rejoices. After all, 144,000 fortunate Jews will choose Jesus and life.

Guy Manchester is the author of Acts of the Apostles (available at Xlibris), a new novel about theocracy in America.

© 2000 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.