- Six weeks ago, a young man sat down next to an older
woman waiting for him and stated grimly, "I don't care. That's it.
He can say what he wants. As for me, I'm ready to die".
- Referring several times to nearby CBN (Christian Broadcasting
Network), he laid a Bible on the table at the Norfolk coffee shop where
I was writing a book proposal. I felt badly for him; he seemed to have
an incurable disease. The woman mumbled something.
- He quickly retorted, "I don't care what he said.
I won't work with him." His voice was clipped as he emphasized his
refusal to negotiate with a particular coworker.
- The older woman sat holding her coffee, rarely even sipping
it, with a hopeless-looking expression on her face. She showed no sympathy,
looking at him as if she knew what he was about to say. Now I doubted that
he was dying of a terminal illness.
- The slender dark-haired 20-something, looked straight
ahead without touching his coffee. The older lady asked quietly, "Don't
you think that maybe-"
- He cut her off: "Look, the end is coming. I know
that and you know that. You've seen the signs. I just don't care about
this guy, I don't care what he says. The end is coming very soon. None
of this is going to matter." For the first time showing emotion, he
added angrily, "I'm ready to die-I'm ready to go today, right now!"
- I immediately recognized this as rapture talk. This young
man does have an incurable disease, but it's spiritual, not physical: It's
called fundamentalism (aka "millennialism"), the kind of Christianity
to which Bush and his "conservative" advisers ascribe.
- Early last year, I overheard another conversation that
made me tremble for this nation under Bush and his Dobsonian advisers.
This one, however, brought back tragicomic memories of a childhood spent
in fundamentalist churches.
- No longer hearing that depressing conversation, images
of a scary old barn flooded my mind. I was 14, and was riding with our
youth group to a dark field out in the middle of nowhere. It was summer
but dark, so it must have been 8:30 p.m. or later.
- As we got out of our cars, we were taken to a huge barn--to
this day I don't know what kind of barn, because it had no farm equipment
in it--and seated in folding chairs facing a large pull-down screen. We
giggled as usual, flirting and complaining about missing our favorite TV
shows as the adults fiddled with the film projector. But we knew the score:
when the film started, we were to be absolutely quiet and "reverent".
- After a few words of prayer and a reading from Revelations,
the youth director started the film. I remember vividly the opening scene:
a boy of about 13 ("the age of accountability") is walking home
from school. As he enters the house, he finds it empty.
- "Mom? Mom!", the boy calls, but she doesn't
answer. He shrugs and goes to the kitchen to get his own snack, looking
annoyed. Then the music shifts to an ominous minor key, horror-movie style,
and he begins to search the house. Holding a sandwich, he races through
the house calling desperately, "Mom! Mom! Where are you?!"
- Then the narrator explains--Mom has been raptured up
into the heavens to be with God, leaving the boy bereft to regret his sinful
ways, then burn in hell for all eternity.
- Conservative Christianity's Legalistic Loopholes: Repent
- There were other scenes, like the one where an elderly
couple is carrying groceries in the house when the man cries out, grabs
his chest, and falls on the sidewalk. His wife rushes inside to call the
ambulance. The EMTs put him on the stretcher and start for the door.
- But before they can take him to the hospital, the man's
saintly wife delays them in order to pray with him, urging him to repent
now while there's still time. She convinces him to repent of his drinking,
cussing and sinful lifestyle, urging him to accept Jesus as his personal
savior and repeat John 3:16. He does so, then dies. As they take his body
away she's kind of sad, but smiles gratefully towards the ceiling: He's
on his way to heaven.
- The message was clear: You can rape, murder, torture
prisoners, bomb civilians, order executions, cut social programs for the
poor, persecute gays, feminists, or any racial group you choose, and do
anything you please for 75 years or more, then simply whisper a few magic
words for a first-class seat in heaven, right next to Mother Teresa.
- I rejected this as contrary to Jesus' teachings, seeing
through the scare tactics used by eternally sweating preachers who wiped
their sweaty foreheads, weary night after weary night, with the obligatory
handkerchief. Without exception, the revivalists pounded the longsuffering
wooden pulpit, demanding, "Are you ready to die right now?"
- The "good folks" would nod and answer, "Amen!"
but certain recalcitrant husbands and teenagers refused to do so. As punishment
for their defiance, the evangelists would walk down the aisle and stand
right next to the offending party, staring and slapping an open Bible while
describing in lurid detail how it feels to be "licked with the flames
- Not every teen was immune to rapture threats. Some kids
took them seriously and developed the kind of nihilism--the "readiness
for death" masking despair borne of terror-displayed by the young
man who "didn't care" because "the end is coming".
One boy developed such intense fears of being left behind in the coming
rapture that he stopped playing with neighborhood friends (they could lead
him to sin) and stayed safely in his bedroom, rocking and reading the Bible
for hours every day after school.
- This boy and the other more "obedient" kids
prayed constantly, growing increasingly paranoid about committing even
the most minor "sins", e.g., not reading the scriptures before
and after school, inadvertently leaving someone out of bedtime prayers,
failing to ask a classmate if Jesus was his or her personal savior, etc.
These kids worried that some day they'd come home to find their parents
gone. GONE. Forever.
- Fighting for Purity
- For a child raised in fundamentalist "conservative"
churches, there is no safe haven. Everyone is a potential threat, not just
of contamination of oneself--to burn for all eternity--but of causing the
child to suffer the more tangible threat of losing his or her parents,
siblings, and grandparents.
- The rapture film and others like it strike at the very
core of normal childhood needs for security and parental love. Those who
succumbed to the rapture threats grew up to be legalistic Christians, paranoid
and ever on the watch for sinful people. Contamination by Christians of
other denominations was to be avoided at all costs. Imagine, then, how
much greater the fear of Catholics (considered "a cult", not
"Christian" by many fundamentalists), Jews, Muslims, and other
"sinful" citizens. In Purity We Trust.
- Google "purity" with names of Bush's conservative
advisers and "think tank" writers: Notice how they promote this
fearsome concept. Hitler knew the power of "purity", and so do
today's fundamentalists: Avoid contamination by whatever means necessary.
- To make a pure nation you have to break a few heads.
Sure, people will die: the enemy, "our troops", maybe you, too.
But it will have been worth it if even one soul is saved. Anyway, your
choice is stark: Die today (be sure to repent first) or burn for all eternity.
Be "ready to die" at every moment-because the end is coming.
As Freddy Mercury sang so sadly, "nothing really matters anymore".
- In our brave new fundamentalist nation, it really doesn't
matter anymore how many people you kill, or how much of the earth's environment
you destroy. What matters is this and only this: If you don't want to come
home one day to an empty house and suffer in the lake of fire for all eternity,
you'd better hate all the right people, bomb all the right countries, and
back your rapture-ready president in whatever hare-brained scheme he comes
up with next.
- Life itself is a snare, a temptation of the flesh. Your
safest bet is to repent and then die young, before you're Left Behind.
- Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author
of 'Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your
Family' (2004) and coauthor of 'The Nonviolent Christian Parent' (2004).
She writes the column, 'Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't
Have to Choose Just One'.