Marks of the beast: "Left Behind" and the internalization of evil in American evangelical prophecy fiction
Shuck, Glenn William
Doctor of Philosophy
Despite the remarkable economic prosperity of the 1990's, Americans purchased enormous numbers of evangelical prophecy novels that specialized in depictions of impending destruction. This phenomenon might appear counterintuitive, as the New Economy, driven by rapid technological development, materially enhanced the lives of many. The economic expansion, however, also revealed cultural fissures indicating deeper concerns about the self and the possibility of its absorption into the technological matrix. Evangelical prophecy writers responded with texts that while deceptively banal, nevertheless made the incomprehensible aspects of the emerging global culture appear familiar to their readers, depicting a world in which humans could regain responsibility over their futures. The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins has emerged as the most popular exemplar of the genre in part due to its ability to address post-Cold War themes among a readership less interested in external threats. While Left Behind uses the same symbols as its predecessors, impugning globalization, multinational capital, and the cultural changes consistent with late modernity, its emphasis shifts towards the perceived effects of such developments upon evangelical identity. As the webs of relationships that bind the world together tighten, the novels speak to the anxieties of many evangelicals who feel their identity threatened. Most critically, the novels break with a history of resignation and inaction, proposing a means of resistance against the forces of globalization. The overarching response in Left Behind, however, is more problematic than those advocated by previous novelists, both for evangelicals and others in North American culture. Faced with the twin dangers of isolationism and over-accommodation, the novels suggest different possibilities. The first foregrounds faith, and accepts the ambiguity inherent in contemporary life, while the second, more dominant theme advocates a drive for security and certainty that ultimately incorporates the logic of the Beast culture evangelicals seek to resist, further endangering evangelical identity while increasing tensions with non-evangelicals.
Modern literature; Religious history