Thursday, October 27, 2011

Death And The Rapture

If you are reading this, then contrary to American evangelist Harold Camping's prediction the world has not ended on Friday 21 October. An Oxford University research student has explored the alternative world in which premillennial Rapture movements such as Camping’s flourish in an attempt to shed light on why such claims are believed by so many.

Rapture prediction
Credit: Oxford University

Anbara Khalidi, a student of the Faculty of Theology, has studied the Left Behindseries of bestselling novels, which are steeped in Apocalypticism. Her studies suggest that premillennial movements that preach the coming of the Rapture have used media very effectively to play on human fears, and that over the last 50 years, our removal from the process of dying means that such predictions are much more effective and common today.

She said: ‘Considering the blanket media coverage of Camping’s last prediction and that even The Simpsons have been Raptured, there is no doubt that premillennialism has entered mainstream consciousness. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Left Behind series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, novels which have sold over 63 million copies in 25 languages since 1995.’ Although fictional, the novels are written within the theology and language of premillennialism, and branded identically to a series of non-fiction books that explicitly preach premillennial Prophecy. These books, Khalidi says, are the premillennial movement’s way of subtly influencing people and bringing them into their way of thinking.

‘The books play on the most basic of human fears and anxieties, manipulating our horror of bodily corruption with gory images like people’s eyes popping out, then reassuring the reader that to avoid this happening to them, they need only believe in the Rapture,’ Ms Khalidi explained. ‘An airline pilot called Ray Steele is the hero of the novels and one of his ‘heroic’ deeds is his intention to kill the head of the UN – the UN is seen as the seat of the Antichrist because it aims to promote global peace, an impossibility in our morally degenerating world.’

Ms Khalidi says that people have been predicting the Rapture since the 1600s using various forms of numerology (such as multiplying the number of weeks in the book of Daniel) and says that such predictions have become more salient because of the movements’ use of the media. She said: ‘Even though much of the media commentary on Camping’s prediction was gently mocking him, it nonetheless established the subject as a mainstream topic of discussion. Premillennial movements have also effectively used the internet and publications to get their message across.’

Ms Khalidi suggests that such movements have developed an alternative world. ‘I have met lots of American Rapture believers who were perfectly nice and normal, and it should be remembered that their aim is to save people from going to hell, so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them,' she said. 'Their belief system is quite coherent and, after all, belief in the end of the world is a commonly held Christian belief. This alternative world of premillennialism holds academic conferences, meetings and hosts chairs at Evangelical universities. 

Many believers are high up in the US Republican Party and even the language used by the Bush White House betrayed a lot of premillennial influences –for them, Saddam Hussein represented the Antichrist. More recently, Barack Obama is a popular contender. Books like the Left Behind series are, I believe, bringing more people around to this way of thinking.’

Despite hundreds of years of failure, Ms Khalidi argues that more and more people believe in the Rapture because humans are more removed from the physicality of death than ever before. She explained: ‘For people living in the West, we have had relatively little exposure to death since World War Two – people die in hospitals and often we don’t see the process by which this happens. It’s possible that this makes people more afraid of dying and therefore more likely to believe in a way to escape the horrible death which Rapture would bring about.’

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