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 Story of the day:

LEFT BEHIND Apr-12-2004 (1,290 words) With book cover posted June 17, 2003. xxxn
'Left Behind' series called 'overtly anti-Catholic'

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The wildly popular "Left Behind" series of Christian apocalyptic novels denies a number of Catholic teachings and "is both subtly and overtly anti-Catholic," says an article in The Living Light, an official quarterly publication of the U.S. bishops' Department of Education.

Half of the winter 2003 issue of the quarterly was devoted to feature articles on the "Left Behind" series, the fundamentalist "rapture doctrine" behind it, a Catholic understanding of the end times when Christ will come again, and the large gap religious educators see between what Catholics know and what they should know about church teaching in that area.

The articles' authors warned that Catholics, especially young Catholics, could easily be drawn into such fundamentalist teachings if they have not received solid formation in Catholic teaching about the last things -- death, judgment, heaven and hell.

The issue appeared, coincidentally, shortly before the 12th and final novel in the series, "Glorious Appearing," hit bookstores March 30 with an initial printing of 2 million copies.

Since the series was begun in 1995 by authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, its first 11 novels have sold more than 40 million copies. When a spinoff youth series and video and audio versions are added, the numbers of copies reportedly climb to around 60 million.

"While they appear to be based on the Bible, the 'Left Behind' books actually promote a nonbiblical fear in opposition to Catholic teaching about a hope-filled end time," wrote religious educator Joyce S. Donahue in an article analyzing the theology of the series in relation to Catholic teaching.

Donahue, associate director for children's catechesis of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., helped write the Illinois Catholic Conference's assessment of the "Left Behind" books and videos issued last year.

In The Living Light she gave a brief synopsis of the first 11 books, starting with the first, when "mysteriously, all over the world, all small children and 'good' adults suddenly disappear." The central characters in the story learn that those who disappeared were taken up to heaven in the "rapture" before the seven years of global tribulation that -- according to rapture belief -- will precede Christ's second coming.

After synopsizing each of the novels, Donahue cited some of the key conflicts between the theories propounded by LaHaye and Jenkins and Catholic teaching, beginning with their approach to the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic passages of Scripture.

"Any fundamentalist reading of apocalyptic Scripture is not Catholic teaching. ... Catholics should know that 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church' (by the Pontifical Biblical Commission) says that any literal reading of portions of the Bible written in nonliteral, literary forms distorts the meaning," she said.

"A seven-year tribulation between the 'rapture' and the return of Christ is not biblical. Scripture teaches that Christ will come after a period of tribulation and that all believers will at that time be taken up to heaven to be with him," she wrote.

Rapture theology relies on an interpretation of the passage in St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians where he says that when Christ comes a second time "the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

The word "rapture" comes from the Latin verb "rapere," which was used in St. Jerome's Latin translation of that passage to express the notion of the just being "caught up" with the Lord.

But as Donahue and the author of another article, theologian Paul Thigpen, pointed out, rapture theology ends up teaching about a third coming of Christ -- first in his birth in Bethlehem, second in his secret coming to snatch away the just before the tribulations of the end time, and third at the end of the world to reign in glory.

Catholic and mainstream Christian teaching holds that when Christ comes in glory at the end of this age it will be his second coming, not his third.

Donahue commented, "A 'second chance' at salvation (for those not taken up in the second coming) is not biblical. ... We will all, at the same time, receive the final judgment -- Mt 13:37-43. The postrapture, prejudgment scenario in the 'Left Behind' books borders on Pelagianism because characters seem to be working to redeem themselves." An early heresy in Christianity, Pelagianism held that grace depended on human initiative, not on God's initiative.

Donahue also wrote that the "Left Behind" books present a "harsh and judgmental" image of God, offer a theology of suffering that is not Catholic -- the rapture saves the good from the trials of the end time -- and "deny the efficaciousness of baptism."

On the nonbaptismal approach to salvation, she wrote that "people in the series are saved at a specific moment by saying a verbal formula," and in the first volume of the children's series "a minister describes this to the kids as a 'transaction ... a deal.' Salvation takes place only when a person tells Jesus Christ that he or she accepts salvation."

"In contrast," she wrote, "the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is a process effected and celebrated in the sacraments of initiation and continuing through Christian life."

She described a number of ways in which the series is anti-Catholic, including the portrayal of "a self-centered, obese American cardinal" becoming pope in an election rigged by the Antichrist and then leading "the Antichrist's new one-world religion."

In another article Thigpen, author of "The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to 'End Times' Fever," traced the emergence of rapture theology to an early 19th-century Chilean Jesuit named Manuel Lacunza who proposed a theory that those who receive the Eucharist often will be taken up early at the end of the world and be spared the final 45 days of terrible judgments visited on the rest of the world.

Rome condemned his writing as doctrinally unsound, Thigpen said, but it was translated into English by the Rev. Edward Irving of the Church of Scotland, one of the earliest Protestant preachers of the secret rapture, who was excommunicated from his own church for teaching that Christ's human nature was sinful.

Thigpen said it is unclear to what extent Rev. Irving may have influenced the Rev. John Nelson Darby, leader of a small English sect who traveled to the United States and Canada seven times between 1859 and 1874 to spread his teachings about the secret rapture, becoming the chief historical influence behind rapture teaching in North America.

"Since most Catholics are unaware of its dubious origins," Thigpen wrote, "they need a more careful catechesis in eschatology (the theology of the last things) to help them avoid the problems of the rapture trap."

Other feature articles in the same issue of The Living Light include a Catholic overview of the Book of Revelation, the book of the Bible that is the source of most apocalyptic and millennial theories of how the world will end, and a glossary of terms and concepts dealing with the last things that Catholic catechists should be familiar with.

There is also an article that reflects on how every Catholic celebration of the Eucharist envisions the eschaton, or end time, as "something in which we can truly hope and for which we can joyfully wait" -- in sharp contrast to the fearfully apocalyptic view found in rapture theology.

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Editors: Individual copies of the Winter 2003 issue of The Living Light cost $8.95 plus postage and handling, with lower rates available for bulk orders. More information is available online at: http://www.usccb.org/publishing/subscriptions/livinglight.htm on the Internet.


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