Friday, May 01, 2009

Why I Heart Slacktivist (And You Should, Too)

I've mentioned Slacktivist here many times, and, in fact, have a link to it over in my Blog Roll.
The main reason I visit Slacktivist so often is the in-depth analysis of the Left Behind series, a series of books set in the near future detailing the events that will occur in the world after The Rapture, that moment when Christ magically whisks all Bible-believing Christians - and children who are younger than a nebulously-defined "age of accountability," including fetuses - up to Heaven, and those of us who don't meet that criteria are "left behind" to suffer through the period of Tribulation that follows until Christ returns to Earth to reign over us all for a thousand years, as is detailed in the Bible.
Except that it isn't. In the Bible, that is.
The concept of The Rapture, as espoused by Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists, such as Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the co-authors of the Left Behind books, requires a very tortured, specific, and convoluted reading of the Bible, and a reliance on extra-Biblical authorities, despite the fact that its adherents claim that it comes from a straightforward literal reading of the Bible.
(They keep saying that word, "literal." I do not think it means what they think it means.)
The thing is, despite the fact that these beliefs are held by a relatively small number of Christians - and there is no universal agreement about Biblical interpretation among the adherents of the multiple brands of this theology - the media often accepts these claims as mainstream Christian belief. When the LaHayes of the world say "It's in the Bible," many people just accept that claim as, well, gospel.
(And what is "mainstream Christian belief" anyway? Despite the fact that Protestants outnumber Catholics in America, Catholics are actually the largest single denomination. Does that make Catholic doctrine the mainstream belief? It seems to me that the numbers would suggest that to be the case, but try telling that to a Baptist. Or a Lutheran. Or a Mormon. Or a Methodist. Or a...well, you get the idea.)
This is part of the reason that Fred "Slacktivist" Clark finds the books so onerous. As an Evangelical Christian himself, he is offended - and rightly so - by the assumption that these books, which, inexplicably, are bestellers, represent what he believes, especially given that, from his perspective, the theology they represent is not just wrong but evil.
It doesn't help matters any that the books, judged on their own merits as creative works, are absolutely dreadful.
This is why Fred devoted more than five years to dissecting the first book, several months to dissecting the movie based on the first book, and has now moved on to dissecting the second book.
In any case, all of the above leads me to this, an excerpt from Fred's latest post, examining, with great care, pages 28 through 32 of Tribulation Force, the second book in the series:

I'm just not really clear on how cloistering themselves in Bruce's study every weeknight is supposed to lead, even indirectly, to more churches being started. Studying "prophecy" in an invitation-only small group doesn't seem like an effective church-planting strategy. I guess maybe the "144,000 [singing, virgin] Jews" are supposed to spring up to take care of the front-line work.

"That sounds fantastic," Chloe said. "We should be thrilled."

"I am thrilled," Bruce said. "But there will be little time to rejoice or to rest. Remember the seven Seal Judgments Revelation talks about?" She nodded. "Those will begin immediately, if I'm right. There will be an 18-month period of peace, but in the three months following that, the rest of the Seal Judgments will fall on the earth. ..."

Bruce, like Tim LaHaye, has a way of running off the rails when he gets into the details of his prophecy scheme. One can, in fact, open the book of Revelation and find mentioned there seven "seals" of divine judgment. By mentioning that fact first, Bruce casts a kind of biblical halo over whatever non-sequitur nonsense he says next -- "Remember the seven Seal Judgments Revelation talks about? Well, then Godzilla, lamb chop, munchkin, glockenspiel gumdrop." And everyone nods along as though he was somehow citing chapter and verse with authority.

This is where "Bible prophecy experts" leave me dumbfounded. It's not simply that they're offering some strange interpretation or some overly imaginative exegesis -- they just flat-out make stuff up. Arbitrary, deliriously weird stuff. "Remember the seven Seal Judgments Revelation talks about?" Yes, in fact, I do remember that. It's in Revelation 6. Feel free to read that yourself some time and look for any hint or basis for spinning out this 18-month/3-month business. It can't be found there.

This might sound to you like I'm simply disagreeing with LaHaye/Bruce over the meaning of a passage in our sect's sacred text, but it's much more than that. It's not like a couple of Melville scholars arguing over the meaning of the whiteness of the whale. It's more like encountering a supposed Melville scholar who tells you that Moby Dick is mainly about killer robot ninjas from outer space.

That last line is, in a nutshell, why I heart Slacktivist. Throw in the frequent references to comic books, science fiction, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you begin to understand why I'm hoping to live long enough to see Fred make his slow, careful way through all sixteen of the books and the two (so far) remaining movies. At the rate he's going, that's unlikely to happen, but even so, I will keep going back every Friday for my Left Behind fix.
But really, that's only part of it. There is much to recommend regular readings of Slacktivist. I don't always agree with the points Fred makes in his posts - How could I? He is, after all, an Evangelical Christian - but you can be certain that he always makes those points brilliantly and hilariously.
And the posts themselves are, again, only part of the appeal. The comments demostrate that some of the smartest, coolest, weirdest, and most diverse people in the world are just as enamored of the works of Slacktivist as I am.
So I heart Slacktivist. And you should, too.

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

I do heart Slacktivist and I am repeatedly impressed by the level of decency whenever I descend into the comments. While disagreements abound, flames are kept to a minimum and things are usually very civil.