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Pandeism and the world of Left Behind

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Even the most mundane and miracle-free world may yet be a world where Pandeism is the operative theological model. And, as well, worlds with metaphysical capacities not accounted for in those worlds by reference to religious beliefs might as easily explain those capacities again by the pandeistic model. But what about worlds in fiction where seemingly, or even unquestionably, miraculous events are seen to happen, and where these events are ascribed to the especial truth of one specified modernly observed religion? Such is the world of Left Behind. Now, my first thought upon hearing that name was that is sounded like My Left Foot -- but why would somebody write a novel about just one buttock? But it turns out, in fact, these books are intended to convey a theological program, imagining what the world would be like if one theistic religious viewpoint especially turned out to be the truth.

The story being-- er, told:

The essential story of the books begins with the sudden disappearance of a several million people, who seem to instantaneously bodily evaporate, leaving behind even their clothes and still-moving vehicles. Undoubtedly these wholesale erasures of carefully selected human bodies would entail a quite contorted natural explanation were it to happen in real life, and so it almost certainly would have to be called a miracle. Some characters in the story (who, obviously, have not disappeared) put two and two together and realize that all of those who have disappeared were observant, Rapture-believing Christians. In the same framework, the machinations of the series' black hat are detailed -- Nicholas Carpathia, a suspiciously Eastern European product of the genetic engineering of sperm donated by two homosexual men. (Bad things happen to homosexuals and those who love them wherever and whenever they pop up in this series.) Carpathia is, naturally, employed by the United Nations, where he carries out a devious plot to end war and sickness and such. But just to be sure you know he's evil, he secretly kills people and plots genocides and such. And uses mind-powers (not effective against believers, mind you) to cover his crimes.

Now, getting back to the disappearing people, at this point it might be proposed that the combination of events points to the truth of the theological model assumed by the characters who believe them to have indeed been caught up in events prophesied in the biblical book of Revelations -- the Rapture. One minor hole in that theory is that there isn't exactly a reference to any such thing in the Bible -- in fact, the modern notion of a Rapture, where the best believers are swept up to Heaven prior to the Earth going through some years of various horrific tribulations, was actually invented around the 1830s. It was then that Irish-born New England preacher John Nelson Darby, a member of a Christian order called the Brethren, began preaching this notion, and when others challenged it as non-Biblical, he shrugged that it was a personal revelation to him from God.

And incidentally, and perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly in light of that history, some of the strongest criticism of the novel series has come from within the community of Christianity. Though the books are popular amongst evangelicals, various Christian scholars and denominations have denounced them as distortive and misrepresentative of the scriptural passages from which theRapture meme is drawn. The Roman Catholic Church -- which officially rejects the idea of the Rapture -- has officially condemned the books as antiCatholic for insisting that Catholics will not be saved (and portraying the then-Pope of the first book as raptured only because he was in beliefs a closet Protestant, while making the successor Pope an outright evil character, the leader of a God-rejecting Babylonian mishmash of religions).

A more general criticism is the seeming glorification of violence against non-Christians (or against those who are insufficiently Christian, as with adherents to the wrong denominations). The series sets up a seemingly anti-Biblical fundamental rule: those who accept the Mark of the Beast are lost, and cannot be redeemed, even if they were tricked or coerced into it, even if they later completely change their mind -- which makes them fair game to be slaughtered by Christian commandoes seeking to survive the tribulation. And eventually, even Jesus gets in on the killing, killing, killing -- literally, incinerating millions of people. One would think the presence of an actual Jesus would have sort of amelioratory effect, possibly even allowing what would be miraculous by this book's standards, marked men to convert and be 'saved.' But such appears to be beyond the power of this series' Jesus (hence raising wary voices from members of the Christian community, especially those who pick the loving and constructive doctrines over the hateful and condemnatory ones).

Throughout the series, miracles occur favoring the believers, angels show up carrying divine messages, and finally Jesus and God make appearances in person. Once we get to the culmination of the last book, Kingdom Come: The Final Victory, it would seem all bets for a pandeistic model are off. In this book, despite the fact that the operative deity of the books has shown up in person and engaged in the process (though startlingly slow and inexact for a supposedly all-powerful deity) of wiping out the bad guys, it seems that not only are there still people who reject this deity, but that by the end of the book they number in the tens of billions. Now, perhaps this is because by the end of the last book, we find ourselves in the thousandth year of Christ's reign on Earth, in Jerusalem. We know this because it starts off with the thousandth birthday party of one of the heroic characters.

And so it happens that these billions of people who reject God -- despite the actual presence of God -- heavily arm themselves to do battle against God (a notion itself as illogical as the fact that God is depicted as sitting idly by for years while all this happens, only occasionally sending an angel to rescue one especially important follower or another). This disobedient army surroundsJerusalem, and Lucifer personally shows up to lead the charge. And then, to fairly ridiculous anticlimactic effect, Jesus simply meets them outside the gates, declares "I Am Who I Am," and, poof, this army of billions is engulfed by fire and incinerated, screaming. Except for Lucifer, who Jesus lectures for a bit before opening a hole in spacetime, showing Lucifer that Carpathia (and another bad guy, Fortunato), are writhing in eternal agony while screaming "Jesus is Lord!! Jesus is Lord!!" Which is where Lucifer ends up as well. The remaining believers are then taken to Heaven and given glorified bodies (although some had been given these earlier in the series, another entirely non-Biblical innovation). Unbelievers are cast into the Lake of Fire for all eternity, Earth is reduced to cinders by heavenly fire and then instantaneously recreated by Jesus. Heaven, which turned out to have been up in the sky all along after all, floats gently to the ground where God steps out, declares that his work is done, and proceeds to live on Earth amongst his faithful followers (in their new sexless and forever childless glorified bodies), for all eternity.

The nonpandeisticality of the model:

The early-on miraculous events are on the edge of what might reasonably happen in a pandeistic Universe. After all if the spells of boy wizards and the machinations of godlike aliens are explicable within a framework of Pandeism, the disappearance of a few million people on one of the smaller planets around could simply be chalked up to the exploits of such a magician or alien type. If the magic or technology exists to transport people wholesale from one location to another, why ought their clothing not made to stay behind? And, naturally, Pandeism fully accounts for events which human minds interpret as the appearance and communication of spiritual beings, or the miraculous interventions of unseen hands. But that idea has rational limitations.

Now, there are a number of reasons why the conclusion of this series is inconsistent with a pandeistic Universe. One might immediately suppose that the chief one of these, obviously, is that it envisions a clearly interventionist metaphysically operative deity, acting on things in our Universe as an entity separate and distinct from our Universe. True, the realm of action is actually quite finite, all of it taking place on the planet Earth. And so the entity thus depicted could simply be a locally powerful demigod, one of dozens like it but having dominant physical power concentrated in the one corner of the Milky Way where it is active (it's never shown to be able to act outside that physical constraint). But even a being such as that would be more at home in at least apolytheistic Universe over a pandeistic one.

But, perhaps more importantly, the events of this story cannot occur within a pandeistic Universe because it portrays a deity figure as acting far too irrationally and illogically -- indeed, insanely -- to accord with the logic demanded by Pandeism. For example, the deity engaging in these actions is either lacking in omniscience and simply not needed to sustain existence -- or else it would share in the knowledge of all the suffering of all the tens of billions of 'nonbelievers' whom it had cast into that Lake of Fire, and sustains eternally in existence there; or it is indeed an omniscient sustainer but is utterly masochistic, unnecessarily condemning itself to know the endless torment of those it sustains in its Hell. There is some odd relishment of the fact that hundreds of billions of people in this fictional Universe are written as openly contesting and defying an entity which has already been fairly demonstrated to possess massive destructive capabilities; only a few rational explanations suffice for the hundreds of billions of humans acting so contrarily to reason -- one being that they are either being controlled by the identified evil force, which is thusly being allowed to do so by the deity being contested (and so are without the free will to engage in culpable conduct), or even worse they may be under a direct compelsion to do this by the deity itself. Or, perhaps, the deity is one so inherently repulsive in morality -- bigoted, antisemitic, homophobic, and uncaringly allowing its own innocent followers to be hurt by those who it easily could have stopped aeons before -- that people simply can not help but oppose the insanity.

But the deity proposed in this series is supposed to be powerful enough to deal with all of its Creation through much less ham-handed tactics then are actually employed. And so we come to the bottom line of the incompatibility of Pandeism with the Left Behind series: the fictional Universe at issue hinges upon a deity which is simply far too stupid and casually cruel to ever face up to the minimum requirement of rationality set forth in the pandeistic model.

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