The Rapture, Left Behind and the DaVinci Code

Remember how so many Christians were verging on hysteria around the time of the release of The DaVinci Code movie? The weekend before its releases, churches around the country-around the world for that matter-were rocking with fire and brimstone sermons hell-bent on either keeping parishioners away from the theater, or at the very least making sure they knew it wasn’t true, that it was all a work of fiction. You would have thought the fact that the movie was based upon a novel would have done that trick. But no.

And I’ve finally figured out why. Think about what was going on during those heady days last summer when Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were paraded before an endless assembly of reporters and forced to publicly state that their movie wasn’t a documentary, but a Hollywood thriller. Can you imagine the makers of Snakes on a Plane, or Talladega Nights or even Pirates of the Caribbean being literally forced by the public outcry of a small minority to come out and publicly state that their movie wasn’t true, but merely fiction?

It has astounded me ever since. I couldn’t quite understand why certain Christians could have such little faith in their own belief system that they honestly thought a Hollywood thriller like The DaVinci Code could put some kind of nasty crack in its faÃ?§ade. And finally it hit me. And the more I think about it, the more sense their fear makes.

Are you familiar with the astoundingly successful series of novels known as The Left Behind Series? It is a collection of about sixteen different novels that engage in a kind of fictionalization of Christian eschatology. Or, in other words, the end of days. The apocalypse. Armageddon. The Rapture. Wildly successful, these novels are sold in churches and Bible bookstores, not to mention secular bookstores. There are fewer atheists in capitalist endeavors than there are in foxholes.

The novels tell of the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible-most especially the Book of Revelation-and how the Antichrist rises to power in a chaotic world in which all true Christian believers have already been raptured up into heaven. Non-believers have been left behind. Get it? Those who gobble up this kind of stuff are the same types who really plug into that whole idea that in an instant all those who truly and deeply and honestly believe Jesus Christ is their savior will-at some unidentified point in time-simply vanish from the view of the rest of those who don’t share that religious doctrine.

Which brings us to the problem. Because most readers of the Left Behind series find a solid correlation between what happens in the novel and what they believe to be true about the Bible. They not only accept that fictional framework of the Rapture as it is presented in Left Behind, but they also accept it as Biblical doctrine. There’s only one problem: there’s absolutely nothing actually in the Bible about the Rapture. In fact, there is far more evidence that the fiction in The DaVinci Code has certain merits to it than there is that the Rapture has any merits.

So you can clearly see how these types of Christians might have gotten nervous over The DaVinci Code. Now, I know there will be people who respond angrily that I don’t know what I’m talking about and how there are all sorts of things in the Bible that point to the Rapture. Well, yes and no. In the first place, let’s get this whole Rapture nonsense out of the way. If you do a text search through just about any Bible available on the internet, chances are you will not get any hits at all on the word “rapture.” And on those few versions that you do, the verses will have nothing to do with Christians suddenly disappearing and leaving everyone else behind. In the second place, there are certain verses that do have a tangential connection to what many say will happen during the Rapture. For instance, consider this verse from I Corinthians 15.52

“In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Sounds kind of similar to what is supposed to take place during the Rapture, right? Only now look at that same verse in context:

“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”

Sounds like the author is merely discussing death and the afterlife in a general sense now, doesn’t it? That’s the problem with the Rapture proponents. They pick and they choose and make connections that may or may not make sense. How about this one from I Thessalonians:

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

I want you take careful notice of the use of pronouns in both of those Biblical quotations. Notice that in the first one is said “WE will be changed.” In the second it is said “WE shall ever be with the Lord.”

The writings of Paul, as well as whoever wrote the Book of Revelation, has a very steadfast feeling of immediacy to it. Whenever Paul wrote of the Second Coming, there is an intense feeling of immediacy, as if the Second Coming of Jesus was not far off. In fact, most of the writing specifically points to his predicting it would happen in his own lifetime. And then there’s the Book of Revelation. What really kills me about Christians who think that everything has to be taken literally is that almost without exception when Jesus was trying to get another point through his dunderheaded disciples he used a fiction. We call it a parable, of course, but it’s still a fiction. A non-literal instructional device was good enough for Jesus, but not for many Christians. Everything must be literally true in the Bible or else it loses all meaning.

If the writer of the Book of Revelation was not writing about something that he expected to happen soon, if he truly was bearing witness to an apocalyptic vision of things that would literally be happening thousands and thousands of years later, then why are there no cars? No bombs? No skyscrapers? No planes? No machine-guns. No America? Why is there absolutely nothing in his tale to suggest that he actually was capable of prophesying the future?

Ahh, because it’s metaphorical, Christians who will go to their death believing a man lived inside a fish for three days will tell you. The story of Jonah isn’t metaphorical, but the Book of Revelation is! The story of Jonah should be taken literally, but not the Book of Revelation. Do you want to know what I think all that stuff about seven seals, and the dragons and the beast and 666 is? I think it’s all code. I think it’s all code that readers at the time could understand, but that was lost on the translators by the time they got hold of it. Consider this statement for a moment: “I don’t need alfalfa to see the picture alley, I got an Annie Oakley from the chandelier.”

Believe it or not, to some people that sentence will make perfect sense. To most none at all. And in another hundred years chances are it will be retranslated to mean something completely different. Code and slang are not new; they’ve been around forever. And to try to attach some kind of 20th century meaning to words that in the first place were probably mistranslated and misunderstood, but then have gone through multiple reinterpretations that have completely devalued whatever original meaning they once had borders on the insane.

Yet that’s exactly what clergyman John Nelson Darby did when he came up with his wild idea of Dispensationalism. It is Darby who is responsible for the Rapture and the Left Behind books and the current attempt by people like Newt Gingrich and John Hagee to convince Americans we are in the grip of not just World War III, but Biblical Armageddon. None of the evidence that anything taking place in the Middle East today has a bearing on the end of the world comes from the Bible. It all stems from John Nelson Darby and his single-handed creation of the concept of, you guessed it, the Rapture.

It was Darby who pieced together unrelated Biblical quotes to form the fabric on which a sadly large number of American churches write their weekly sermons. It is John Nelson Darby who deserves the credit-and a goodly portion of the royalties-for turning the Left Behind series into a mainstay of contemporary Christian literature. Or should I say the blame. All these History Channel specials about the Antichrist, and all these Hollywood movies about the end of the world trace their origin back to John Nelson Darby, not the Book of Revelation. Nobody knows exactly what the Book or Revelation is really saying, though chances are it was simply a coded message to frightened Christians during the time of the Roman Empire. Not a message to frightened Christians during the time of the Bush Empire.

And so we come back to The DaVinci Code. (Yes, I’m going to translate that bizarre sentence, don’t worry.) I understand now how so many Christians could be so upset that a work of fiction would drive someone else’s religious beliefs. It is because a work of fiction is driving their own religious beliefs.

“I don’t need money to see the tattooed man, I got a free pass from the guy working the lights.” The original was bona fide carny slang. And just think, whatever misinterpretation of the original sentence you came up with is only a few decades removed from the time when many more people would have understood. Imagine what kind of meaning might be attributed to in another 2000 years.

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