Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Neil Carter on the Rapture and the Consequences of Dispensationalism

Neil Carter at Godless in Dixie penned a commentary piece on the Left Behind series and the origins of pre-tribulation rapture theology. Carter argues that rapture theology contributes to a sense of paranoia and pessimism that feeds conspiracy theories, promotes a warped view of Middle Eastern politics, and prevents believers from working toward positive social change.
Because adherents to this worldview are so accustomed to expecting sudden dramatic lurches in history rather than slow, gradual change, they find it very easy to believe conspiracy theories which suggest the big bad government will soon take away the freedoms Americans hold dear.  My Pentecostal grandmother passed along a cassette tape of a preacher in the 1980′s predicting we would all get microchips implanted in our foreheads or on the backs of our hands and that this would be the mark of the beast.  That idea stuck for many, so today when someone passes around that often debunked story about Obama dictating that we would all be receiving that very thing, people in churches all over the country instantly believe it.  I also remember a teacher in my home church years ago suggesting that the “www” from internet URL’s could be transliterated into the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, rendering the internet itself the mark of the beast.  The paranoid possibilities are endless, and the fear this teaching creates is as palpable as it is bankable.

The Dispensational worldview promotes a pessimistic view of the future while also viewing the church itself as irreparably broken.  There’s a strange individualistic focus which avoids putting any expectations on the church itself to do anything good while still in the world.  What use would it be, if you know God is only going to come destroy the whole thing in a few years, right?  Along with that pessimism, Dispensational theology also splits up portions of the Bible into verses for the Jews and verses for the Gentiles such that Jesus’s ethical teachings don’t apply to the church.  What you get as a result is a disdain for moral teaching which would help shape the character of the church in such a way that they could ever contribute much of value to the world around them.  They see themselves as just biding their time, waiting for God to hit the reset button.  I mean, why polish brass on a sinking ship?  The church then shares no responsibility for making the world a better place.  And when you talk to them about making a difference in the world, people raised on this teaching will just shake their heads and tell you that you’re talking nonsense.  They are disturbingly disconnected from the rest of the world, and it’s largely because of this system of thought.

I must mention one more consequence of Darby’s ideology for the churches which still teach this stuff:  They are adamant Zionists who believe that since God is supposed to resume a program for saving the nation of Israel, we must as a nation continue to favor Israel in every conflict they encounter, regardless of what sources of information tell us about what’s going on.  In reality, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are mind-numbingly complex, with both good and bad things being done by people on both sides.  But Christian Zionism predisposes American Christians to view Israel through rose colored glasses, as if they can do no wrong because God is always on their side.  At least in part because of the support of those churches raised to believe this theology, our nation has played a major role in arming and protecting the nation of Israel in hopes that they will always win and their enemies will always lose, no matter whose territory is being fought over at the time.  Zionists will not be happy until every patch of dirt claimed by Israel is recaptured from the Palestinians, and this sentiment helps feed our country’s lust for control of Middle Eastern politics.

The people who believe this stuff swear that it represents the only right way to read the Bible.  They are “rightly dividing the word of truth,” and all other Christians have it wrong.  I find it nearly impossible to tell them that their way of interpreting the Bible didn’t even exist before about 1830 because they brush such things aside as lies of the Devil.  They will continue to lap up this stuff and feed their paranoia because fear sells well, and their leaders can’t help themselves.  Hollywood knows this, too, so I figure these movies will keep popping up as long as ticket sales continue rolling in.  The rest of the world just scratches their heads and wonders how on earth anybody can believe this stuff.  It’s just bizarre.
Read the whole thing. It's a revealing look at rapture ideology and the attitudes of figures on the Religious Right.

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