Intolerance for the Intolerable

Nicholas Kristof highlights the latest of the “Left Behind” series, Glorious Appearing, in which the Son of God kicks serious ass. An excerpt from the book:

Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again.

Kristof rightly notes that this Jesus-as-genocidal-angel- of-vengeance theme is fairly disturbing. “In Glorious Appearing,” Kristof writes,

Jesus merely speaks and the bodies of the enemy are ripped open. Christians have to drive carefully to avoid ‘hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses.’

Jesus is knocking on your door. If you don’t let him in, he will. . . fillet you! Kristof makes the point that this vulgar, brutal, and vindictive crypto-Christianity, in which non-believers are splayed and sucked into “yawning chasms”, doesn’t look a whole lot better than the vulgar, brutal, and vindictive form of Islam that has us so terrified. This is, I believe, a very fair point.

However, Kristof worries about offending the delicate sensibility of sadistic Christians who thrill to “Left Behind”-style eschatological porn.

I had reservations about writing this column because I don’t want to mock anyone’s religious beliefs, and millions of Americans think “Glorious Appearing” describes God’s will. Yet ultimately I think it’s a mistake to treat religion as a taboo, either in this country or in Saudi Arabia.

That’s nice, I suppose, that he had reservations. And it’s true: religion is not a taboo subject. He concludes:

People have the right to believe in a racist God, or a God who throws millions of nonevangelicals into hell. I don’t think we should ban books that say that. But we should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.

That’s not what America stands for, and I doubt that it’s what God stands for.

The “right” of which Kristof speaks is ambiguous. People have a political right to think or express anything they want. No books shall be burned. Yet people have no intellectual or moral right to think or express whatever they like. “Left Behind” Christians deserve to be criticized, chastised, and mocked for their wanton violation of the demands of reason and basic decency. Reasonable people may believe false doctrine, but reasonable people may not believe savage doctrines, and those who do are owed no moral quarter.

Kristof is right: we should be embarrassed by the fact that we live in a culture where this kind of odious filth, posing as piety between covers, shoots to the top of the best-seller list. But embarrassment is not enough. Decent people should be outraged. People reading Glorious Appearing on the bus ought to be treated with the regard we reserve for the happily nodding public reader of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is not all right, and people have no right whatsoever to feel that it is.

From the Left Behind website:

I’m 12 years old, and my mom got me hooked on the Left Behind series. I’ve read most of the kids books and all of the adult books. I think Glorious Appearing is the best one yet. It conveys the feelings of the characters so well. I just want to say thank you for starting this series, it’s brought me so much closer to God. So thanks.
—Nicole, posted 5/14

That’s really not all right.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center