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Crawford Gribben

Before Left Behind

It's not easy to say something new about the end of the world

Would you know how to discern these signs, there are myriads of books upon the market today which will help you.
—Sydney Watson, Scarlet and Purple
Exactly at eleven, someone emerged from the vestry and passed up the rostrum stairs. A moment later the man was standing at the desk. Many instantly recognized him. It was the Secretary of the Church. A dead hush fell upon the people. … "He has come, and we, the unready, have been left behind … My wife has gone … My daughter, too."
—Sydney Watson, The Mark of the Beast
"Now I know, dear Abraham," she presently cried, "How it is that Jehovah is allowing our Rabbis … to be led to dates that prove the Messiah is coming soon? Now I know why God has allowed our nation to be stirred up,—the Zionist movement, the colonization of Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, and all else of this like—yes, it is because the Christ is coming."
—Sydney Watson, In the Twinkling of an Eye

It's hard to write something new about the end of the world. Senses of endings are so basic to thinking about time and mortality that ideas of personal and global apocalypse recur throughout the history of civilizations. Norman Cohn, in The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), famously compared medieval millennialism to fascism's 1,000-year Reich and the perverted utopias of the Communist Bloc. Today, however, it appears that millennial aspirations have outlived their exploitation by medieval sect-masters and tyrannical governments. If a recent series of opinion polls are to be trusted, millennialism's new spiritual home lies not in "Old Europe" but deep in the American South, where the astonishingly successful Left Behind series enjoys its most fervent following.1

What is interesting about much of the comment on the Left Behind phenomenon is the assumption that this market did not exist before the publication of the series' first novel. Indeed, a great deal of media discussion has assumed that the series' fictionalizing of apocalyptic interests was entirely without precedent. ...

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