DATE October 28, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Tim LaHaye discusses his series of Christian books
dealing with the apocalypse
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The best-selling novel of 2001, "Desecration," is the ninth in a series of
novels about the apocalypse and the second coming of Christ. The 10th, "The
Remnant," was a best seller this year. More than 50 million copies of these
novels have been sold. They're known as the "Left Behind" series, named after
the title of the first book, which told the story of the rapture, where
millions of born-again Christians are instantly raised into heaven. The
non-believers are left behind on Earth to face seven years of tribulation,
wars, plagues and other catastrophes until the final battle between Jesus and
the Antichrist. In these books, the Antichrist is the former head of the
The authors are Jerry Jenkins and my guest, Tim LaHaye. LaHaye is a longtime
leader of the Christian right. He was a co-founder of the Moral Majority. In
1987 he briefly served as co-chair of Republican Jack Kemp's presidential
campaign. LaHaye also co-founded the Council for National Policy, a secretive
group whose members are described by abcNEWS.com as among the brightest lights
of the hard right. Their guest speakers have included Clarence Thomas and
George W. Bush. Tim LaHaye has a new self-help book in which he offers his
advice on how to face the end times. I asked him what he thinks are the signs
that the end is near.
Mr. TIM LaHAYE (Author): First of all, Israel being brought back into the
land. All prophecy scholars teach that the phenomenon of our age is Israel
coming back into the land, when they didn't have a homeland for 1,700 years.
No nation in the history of the world has ever been able to succeed having
been disrupted from their homeland and maintained existence for over three or
500 years, except the Jews. And the interesting thing is God's word many
times predicted that the Jews would be taken back into the land, and it always
means the Holy Land, and so that's one. That's the supersign.
Then another sign is people will run to and fro on the Earth and knowledge be
increased. And then after that there are a number of others, the decadence of
our society and the movement toward a one-world government. We hear so much
today from many kinds of people talking about the panacea to man's problems
being a one-world government. And it's true, there have been an enormous
number of wars in human history, particularly in the last century, and so man
naturally thinks if he's going to solve these problems by himself without aid
from God, then it makes sense to have a one-world government. What they
forget is that then you have a man running the government, and absolute power
corrupts absolutely. So it can be dangerous. But anyway, we're moving in
that direction just as the Bible said.
GROSS: Tim LaHaye, I'm gonna ask you to describe your understanding of the
end of days. What happens at the end?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, the Bible is very clear. If you take it literally, it's
very clear about the events in the last days. The next major event on the
prophetic calendar is what we call the rapture of the church, when Christ
shouts from heaven and all the dead in Christ for 2,000 years--there'd be
billions of people who have called on the name of the Lord as their Lord and
savior--they'll be resurrected. And then which we are alive, all believers on
the Earth today, and only God knows how many--I hope it's maybe one or two
billion people that have received Christ while they're alive--and they will be
transformed, and we meet in the air. Then we meet in the clouds and then we
meet the Lord in the air, and then we'll ever be with the Lord. And so the
believers have one scenario when they go up to heaven to be with him in
fulfillment of Jesus' promise that, `I go to my father's house and I will come
again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.'
So we have a certainty that we will go to the father's house.
But then--and this is what the book of Revelation covers and what we cover
mostly in our fiction series, "Left Behind," is the events that will happen
here on Earth. And they're detailed in the book of Revelation, and you'll
find the time of wrath, the wrath of God on those who reject him and follow
the forces of evil.
GROSS: And what are some scenarios we might expect during that period of the
wrath of God?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, the first thing that will happen will be the sealed
judgments. There are seven of those. And then after that there are trumpet
judgments and after that there are vile. So there are 21 judgments in all.
And the sealed judgments start with the rider on the white horse. The
Antichrist comes in and with diplomacy and cunning and so on, he gains control
of the world. And then by offering peace, says we'll have world peace, and
everybody today wants world peace, but the Bible says the next horseman--and
this is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the first four seals--and
the second one is war and bloodshed. And then you have famine and so on.
Well, during that last seven years of tribulation, they have to make a
decision: Are they going to become believers or are they going to become
followers of Antichrist, who is really led by Satan himself? And so it's a
matter of God or Satan.
GROSS: So first comes the rapture in which the believers rise to heaven, and
then comes the seven-year period of the tribulation which is filled with war
and plague and famine and all that stuff. And the people experiencing that
are the non-believers, the people who have been left behind on Earth. And how
does that end?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, that ends by Christ finishing his coming. See, the
rapture, he comes in the air, but seven years later he comes to the Earth and
he conquers the Antichrist's armies as they're gathered in Armageddon, and
then he sets up his kingdom, and then you have what everybody craves for,
peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, and you have the government of Christ.
It's a time of righteousness, a time of justice, and a time of blessing, and
it lasts for a thousand years.
GROSS: So the creation of Israel is, in your mind, a sign that the end is
near. Now what happens to the Jewish people in your vision of the end of
Mr. LaHAYE: They're going to go back into the promised land, and they're
going to rebuild their temple and they're going to set up their temple
worship. You know, it's been 2,000 years almost that they've had no worship;
ever since 70 AD when the temple was destroyed, they've had no sacrifice. And
so they will return to that. But during that time, there will be an
outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the moving of many people's hearts to come
to God. And the people that reject God will be those who just rebel against
God. They're opposed to anything spiritual, and they deny the existence of
God. And people with that attitude are quick to follow something that's
spurious, and during the tribulation period Antichrist will come along and
fill that vacuum and lead the people to follow him. And he really is
following Satan and doing Satan's work. It's a classic illustration of the
last days battle between good and evil. The last days--actually I call it the
long war between God and Satan for the souls of men...
Mr. LaHAYE: ...and it will reach its vortex during that period.
GROSS: So let me see if I understand correctly. The re-establishment of
Israel is important in your understanding...
Mr. LaHAYE: Yes.
GROSS: ...of the end of days, but what about the Jewish people? Are they
considered believers when the rapture comes or non-believers?
Mr. LaHAYE: That's an individual experience. Anyone can become a believer
from any religion, any ethnic group, and the Jews are no exception. About a
third of them, according to Zechariah, will become believers...
GROSS: Believers in Christ, is what you mean.
Mr. LaHAYE: ...before the end--exactly. A massive number of them will
receive Christ as their Messiah.
GROSS: So although the establishment of Israel is important in your vision of
the second coming, Jews themselves will have to convert to Christianity in
order to be saved, and those who don't will be condemned to suffer here on
Earth during the tribulations and then basically to go to hell if they haven't
converted after that?
Mr. LaHAYE: That's a good summary of what's going to happen. Just because
you're a Jew does not mean that you don't have to make the same decision that
everyone else does. The Bible refers to men all encompassing in the words,
`Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,' and so he
doesn't discriminate between Jews or Gentiles. It's God's will that all men
be saved and receive Jesus as their Messiah.
GROSS: Now what about Catholics? Do they have to--I mean, does everybody who
is of the Christian faith get saved or, I mean, do they have to follow a
certain type of Christian faith? Will Catholics be saved? Do they have to
convert to a more born-again type of faith?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, we believe that when Jesus said twice in John 3, that
`Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven,' that that's
a mandatory requirement for salvation. You have to be born again. But
somewhere--and it's not defined exactly how you do it. I think sometimes
we're a little more specific because of our tradition. I'm convinced that
there are many people who have, from their ignorance, recognizing that Christ
died for their sins and that he rose again, they've called out to God in the
name of Christ for mercy. They don't know exactly how to pray, but you see,
God looks on the heart, and that's the neat thing about it is that a man looks
on the outward appearance, the Bible says, but God looks on the heart. And so
when he looks into the heart and sees that person call on the name of the Lord
to be saved, then he's saved. Doesn't matter whether he's a Baptist or a
Catholic or a Presbyterian or whatever.
GROSS: Your series of novels, "Left Behind," that's based on biblical
prophecy of the apocalypse, the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the end
of days, these series of books has sold over 50 million copies. Would you
like your readers who aren't born-again Christians to convert?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, I must say that that's the primary purpose of our writing
is to communicate the grace of God and the mercy of God to individuals, and
extending them salvation, and then show it in real-life characters, that
people that are born again or people that call on the name of the Lord are
just ordinary people, like an airlines pilot, the hero of our series, Rayford
Steele. After the rapture, he prays to receive Christ, and then his daughter
finally does, and then the journalists--so that people from all walks of life
are doing what we call having a believable conversion. And we try to write it
down to earth and reasonably believable. And that it's the kind of prayer
that another person can pray. I think that the success we've had is
attributed to Jerry's personal writing and the incredible story that God has
outlined for the future.
GROSS: My guest is Tim LaHaye, co-author of the apocalyptic Christian novels
known as the "Left Behind" series. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Tim LaHaye, is the co-author of the best-selling Christian
novels about the apocalypse and the second coming known as the "Left Behind"
series. He was on the board of the Moral Majority.
In imagining what the second coming will be like, you have to imagine the
final battle between Christ and the Antichrist. Is there anyone now on Earth
who you suspect of being the Antichrist?
Mr. LaHAYE: No, I don't. I can't imagine who it would be, and I'll be honest
with you, I have looked. And among Bible scholars, though there's very little
disagreement about the fact that Christ is going to come to the Earth, there
are many people that have tried to pinpoint. I have not been that
speculative. I think that brings the whole cause of prophecy into disrepute
when someone turns out not to be the Antichrist. But I wouldn't be at all
surprised if he's in the world today.
GROSS: One of the chief villains in your "Left Behind" series is Nicolae
Jetty Carpathia, who's the former president of Romania, former
secretary-general of the United Nations, and now the head of the global
community. What does his casting as the villain indicate about your views of
the United Nations?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, the United Nations is just an easy fall guy for the fact
that the Bible has taught for many years that there would be a one-world
government set up, and it's not just the United Nations. But the thinking of
mankind ever since World War I when you have the devastation of all but seven
countries of the world involved in the conflagration, and millions of people
dying, both because of the war and then as an aftermath, they were back then
trying to get a one-world government established to solve the problems of man.
And it wasn't until 1945 that the United Nations was set up, and here we are
50 years later and it's the closest thing that exists to world government.
And so it just happens to be the fall guy of what we think the Bible predicts.
There will be a one-world government. It may not be the United Nations.
GROSS: We are living in an age of nuclear weapons, and now, you know, the
White House fears that Saddam Hussein is close to building a nuclear weapon.
It looks like North Korea has a nuclear weapon. How does this come into play
in your vision of the end of days? Is this a sign, do you think, that we're
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, yes, it certainly is an indication that we're living in
perilous, insecure times, and it is interesting that it focuses on the Middle
East. See, the Bible makes it clear that Jerusalem and Israel and the Middle
East will be the focal point of the world's interest factor, and in my
lifetime that's--at least my professional lifetime--that's been a main focus,
because the Bible predicted that the end times would focus on the Middle East.
And the thing that's drawing them, of course, is oil. What we're seeing here
is a not-so-subtle attempt to control the world's oil, because who controls
the oil controls the world.
GROSS: You know, you were talking about how important the Middle East is in
preparing for the end of days. And I'm wondering is that for instance why Pat
Robertson, on the newscasts on his show, has always devoted so much time to
coverage of the Middle East?
Mr. LaHAYE: Could very well be, because that's a focal point of prophetic
interest. And the interesting thing is that the Bible says that in the last
days in Israel would be a troublesome stone, and that's exactly what they are.
They're a trouble to the whole world. I'm not saying they shouldn't do what
they're doing, but it's causing great trouble in the whole world...
GROSS: How--I'm sorry.
Mr. LaHAYE: ...because of the animosities of--you have the Islamic peoples
against the Jews. It goes back centuries, and it's culminating in our own
GROSS: Tim LaHaye, your best-selling series of "Left Behind" novels, about
the rapture and the Antichrist, the Second Coming, the apocalypse--these have
really struck a chord--I mean, 50 million copies sold. In these books, a lot
of people convert and become born-again Christians and go to heaven. Are you
confident that you're going to heaven?
Mr. LaHAYE: Oh, yes. I have every confidence because the Bible says if we
would call on the name of the Lord, we would be saved, and I've called on the
name of the Lord. I had a very distinct experience when I was very young, and
I've never had any question. Not based on any goodness in me. I know I have
not lived a perfect life, and I'm not perfect now. But I am a forgiven
believer just like anyone who believes that Jesus died for their sins and rose
again can have forgiveness. So I have no question about being saved.
And I don't mind telling you I think that there are probably a billion or more
of us in this world, that when Jesus shouts from heaven, we're all going.
GROSS: The rapture takes place during your series of novel, and that's when
people who are believers get just instantaneously lifted into heaven. And in
your novels, suddenly, their kind of personal effects are left behind, but the
people have disappeared, you know, leaving behind, like, earrings or clothing
or, you know, just other personal effects. Would you like to be alive during
the rapture? Do you think that it makes a difference to your soul whether you
die before the rapture or whether you're here for the actual rapture itself?
Mr. LaHAYE: No, it doesn't make any difference to your soul, but I'll be
honest with you, my wife and I have kiddingly said--you know, we've been
married for 55 years. We would love to be a part of the rapture, instead of
either one of us having to face death of a person we love, to go together in
the rapture. And the neat thing about it is every one of our listeners today
if they would recognize that they need to receive Jesus, they could have that
same hope. The Bible makes this a blessed hope. And it's a comfort to us to
know that in the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, Jesus could shout and we
could be translated into heaven forever and ever and ever and ever.
GROSS: You believe that the only true faith is born-again Christianity, and
Mr. LaHAYE: Yes, I do.
GROSS: ...and that only born-again Christians will be redeemed and go to
heaven. During this time on Earth, what is your feelings towards people of
other faiths, or your feelings about people who are Christians but not
born-again Christians? Do you have respect for their faiths? Do you respect
them as Catholics or Jews or Muslims?
Mr. LaHAYE: Well, I respect them for what they believe. And in fact, I try
to be respectful toward all people, and yet disagree with what they believe.
That should be my right in a free society. But it's my responsibility before
God to confront other people with the truth as it is in Christ. You know, a
lot of people say that, `You should know the truth, and the truth will make
you free,' but what they don't--they take it out of context. The truth there
is Jesus. Jesus is the truth; he is the way that God has prescribed to
come--and he says, `No man comes to the father but by him.'
I'll tell you a little secret. I was in the Holy Land when they were having a
religious conclave, and who should be walking down the hall toward me with an
entourage but the Dalai Lama. And I didn't know--here I am, a minister from
America visiting, and I just stuck out my hand and shook hands with him and
said, `Sir, has anyone ever explained to you who Jesus Christ really is? If
they haven't, I'd be glad to spend an hour with you and just share with you
the truth about him.' And his aide, of course, brushed me off and told me
that he was busy; he didn't have time. But that was just an involuntary
response to a man who is very religious and very pious and probably very
sincere, but he doesn't know the truth of the way to God, and I think we
Christians have to be ready at any moment to share that truth with them.
GROSS: Well, Tim LaHaye, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. LaHAYE: It's been my privilege. God bless you.
GROSS: Tim LaHaye is co-author of the "Left Behind" novels. His new advice
book is called "The Merciful God of Prophecy: His Loving Plan for You in the
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Gershom Gorenberg discusses his book, "The End of
Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount," and
the "Left Behind" series
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Gershom Gorenberg, is an Israeli journalist who writes about the
intersection of politics and religion. He's the author of the book, "The End
of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount." One chapter
of the book is devoted to his analysis of the "Left Behind" series of
apocalyptic Christian novels co-authored by Tim LaHaye, who we just heard
from. Gorenberg is also an associate of the Center for Millennial Studies at
Boston University and has written for The Jerusalem Report and The New
Republic. I asked him how he interprets the popularity of the "Left Behind"
Mr. GERSHOM GORENBERG (Author, "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the
Struggle for the Temple Mount"): The first thing it says is that there's a
tremendous interest in Apocalypse, in the end of days, as portrayed by
fundamentalist Christianity. It's not restricted to a few nuts, somebody
standing on the street corner with a sign saying, `The end is nigh.' It's a
part of American culture shared by millions of people.
The second thing it says is that the books themselves are spreading that
belief, spreading that interest and, along with it, spreading a whole set of
religious and political ideas; religious ideas that are essentially
fundamentalist, largely intolerant and political ideas which belong to the
right fringe of American politics.
GROSS: What are some of your concerns about the ideas in the series?
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, the series presents a fantasy version of today's world.
In the books, the final seven years of history are taking place, but if you
read carefully, what's really going on is this is our world without the
dissonance felt by fundamentalist Christians. This is a world in which
miracles take place, in which all the bad things from a fundamentalist
perspective are openly being done by the Antichrist. And so it provides a
certain road map of a view of today's world. It promotes the idea that there
is a conspiracy of financiers behind world affairs. It promotes the idea that
that dark, satanic conspiracy has among its aims global disarmament. So the
moment you run into anything that's working for peace or international
cooperation, you're supposed to identify it as associated with the Antichrist,
There is a portrayal of Catholicism as being partner to the Antichrist, as
being a religion which is essentially the handmaiden of the devil, or in the
apocalyptic language that they would use, the whore of Babylon. So here you
have a rejection of an entire religious stream. You have a portrayal of
ecumenicalism and interreligious dialogue as being demonic. You also have a
portrayal of a situation in which the Jews are either converted or killed.
GROSS: The Jewish people in Israel have a central place in the vision of
Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Jesus as it's described in the "Left
Behind" series and as it's understood by the authors of this series. Let me
ask you to explain that place.
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, here, these books really provide a key to understanding
support by the Christian right for Israel and what's underlying it and how,
strangely enough, there's really a very anti-Jewish theology underlying the
ostensible support for Israel, because in the theology that they're
presenting, the Jews have to return to their land and create a state as the
prelude for the Second Coming. But once the apocalyptic events begin to take
place, the Jews will either have to convert or to die. When the scenario is
completed, when the Second Coming takes place, there will be no more Jews.
GROSS: Let me explain. That means that in order for them to get to heaven,
they have to convert to born-again Christianity, and if not, they'll be
condemned to hell. At least that's how it was described a little earlier on
our show by Tim LaHaye.
Mr. GORENBERG: Right. But if you read the books, you see something further
than that, because, again, the books are a playing out of the religious drama
in the real world. So by the latest of the books, by number 10, you have a
scene in which the Antichrist is ordering the slaughter of all Jews. And the
only ones who are going to get saved, clearly from what else is going on in
the book, are those who've already become Christians. So the scene that
leaders are reading is one in which Jews either convert or die. That's the
fantasy in the books. There won't be anymore Jews to refuse Jesus.
In a sense, what you have going on here, again, is this is the resolution of
all the forms of dissonance that the fundamentalist feels about this world.
And one of the prime places of dissonance is: How come the Jews didn't accept
the person that Christianity regards as the Messiah? After all, he was a Jew,
Christianity insists that he was the Jewish Messiah. How come the Jews don't
accept him? Christianity says that he was predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures.
How come the Jews, who have that book, don't accept that?
So what happens in this series of novels, they either accept it or they die.
The irony is that here you have a group of people who are emphatically
professing their love for Israel and for the Jewish people, and yet, they're
basing that on a variation of a theology which is incredibly intolerant to
GROSS: Some leaders on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson, Jerry
Falwell, have offered support for Israel. And I'm wondering if that's
controversial in Israel since part of the Christian right believes the
scenario that we've been discussing, that Israel is important because that
harkens the Second Coming of Jesus, but on the other hand, Jews will have to
convert if they want to get to heaven?
Mr. GORENBERG: It's created growing controversy, particularly in recent days.
There's been questions about groups accepting funds from fund-raisers who
target American fundamentalists. There's been questions about the political
program that the American Christian right would like to promote in Israel,
because its support for Israel is really the support for a very hard-line, far
GROSS: What is that position?
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, they regularly push the idea that Israel should not give
up any land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but continue ruling those
territories forever. They say that this is land that's promised by God to the
Jews and, therefore, immediate, pragmatic and moral problems involved in the
ruling the Palestinian population are irrelevant. There have been some
members of the Christian right who have even proposed evicting the
Palestinians from the territories. Those are positions that are on the very
far right-wing fringe in Israeli terms.
GROSS: When the Christian right supports Israel with funding, who does the
money go to?
Mr. GORENBERG: There's been a range of programs that they've supported.
There have been some people who simply raise large sums of money for
humanitarian projects, or they're particularly interested in projects to
settle new immigrants here because they see that, the in-gathering of the Jews
to their land, as fulfilling prophecy. But we've also seen the phenomenon of
Christian right leaders and groups lending moral and financial support to
groups on the radical, right-wing fringe in Israel; most specifically, groups
that would like to destroy the Muslim shrines at the Temple Mount at Haram
al-Sharif and replace them with the third temple, because Christian
fundamentalists see that as essential for the Second Coming.
So, for instance, the leader of the Temple Mount Faithful, one such radical
group, regularly goes to the United States and goes from fundamentalist church
to fundamentalist church raising money for his group, which actually has very
little support within Israel. And I've even heard and read statements by
figures on the Christian right who proclaim their love for Israel and, at the
same time, express understanding or even sympathy for the assassination of the
late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This is the equivalent of somebody telling
you that he supports the United States, and that's why he loves Timothy
McVeigh. I think most Americans would feel rather uncomfortable with somebody
expressing that kind of supposed support for the United States.
GROSS: My guest is Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg. He's the author of
the book, "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple
Mount." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, one of the things we're talking about is
the best-selling series of books called the "Left Behind" series, and its
co-author is Tim LaHaye, who joined us earlier on this program. And he is
somebody who believes that the Second Coming is near, and this series of books
expresses a fictionalized version of the events that might happen before the
Now some of those scenarios are based on the Book of Revelations. How much of
this scenario is based on the Bible, and how much of it is based on something
more recent than that?
Mr. GORENBERG: They claim that this is all based on a literal reading of the
Bible, and that they're not putting any of their own interpretation into it.
And, of course, this claim is rather absurd because any construction of an
understanding of the Bible involves human interpretation. You're talking
about an ancient text, one that's poetic, one that's ambiguous, one that's
often allegorical. So when they construct this entire scenario out of the
Bible, it's a vast structure of interpretation in which key girders in that
structure are biblical verses. But the way that those verses are put
together, the way that the structure is built is the responsibility of the
people creating the structure. In fact, that's one of the great moral
problems, is that they don't take responsibility for the philosophy that
GROSS: You also, in your book "The End of Days," cite somebody named John
Darby for first expressing this type of rapture scenario.
Mr. GORENBERG: Right. Darby was a 19th century British preacher who came up
with a new theory of the end of days, and his ideas spread very quickly among
conservative Protestants in the United States and eventually became the main
theology among American fundamentalists and quite influential among the wider
community known as evangelicals. It's not universally accepted. The fact
that somebody is an evangelical doesn't mean that he or she accepts these
ideas, but they are very, very, very influential.
The thing that's interesting is that you'll find that the various prophesy
preachers and scholars with their books and their videos and their cassette
tapes and their radio shows rarely mention Darby, because the conceit is this
is the literal meaning of the text, so you shouldn't refer back to a earlier
interpreter. That would be admitting that this is an interpretation.
GROSS: How did you learn about Darby?
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, I first began to look into these groups because I became
interested in their connections with far right groups in Israel. And in the
course of reading about them, talking to scholars of Christian theology who
had studied these groups, I was pointed to various texts which explained the
history of this movement. But as I said, when you read the popular text,
there is almost never any mention of where these ideas started, where they
came from, because they're supposed to be the literal meaning of the Bible.
One thing that's very funny about it, actually, is that oftentimes, these
literal interpretations are being offered by people who actually can't read
the original text. They're literal interpretations of a translation and, of
course, every translation is, in itself, an interpretation. So they're taking
the English text of the Bible and building these theories upon it.
GROSS: Is there a scene from the "Left Behind" series that you could describe
to illustrate what you consider to be one of the more disturbing aspects of
this world view?
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, in the 10th book of the series, which is the most recent
one, which is called "The Remnant," there is a scene in which the character
known as Nicolae Carpathia, who is the Antichrist, the world dictator, is
sitting in his office, and he calls in his top aide and he tells him to go out
and order the death of all the Jews. He says, `Imprison them, torture them,
humiliate them, shame them, blaspheme their god, plunder everything they own.
Nothing is more important,' and the aide rushes out to do this. Now this
idea, which is basically the idea of a coming holocaust, is one that you find
often in the writings of fundamentalist Christians.
There's books that you can find on their Web sites with names like "Israel's
Final Holocaust." I've had other fundamentalist figures tell me that what
will happen during the last years of history will be worse than what happened
in Europe in the '40s. And when you question them on this, they say, `Well,
we don't want it to happen, but that's what the Bible says will happen.' But,
of course, this is their interpretation of the Bible. The Bible doesn't say
this; this is how they read the Bible.
GROSS: Now you cover the intersection of religion and politics in Israel.
And in Israel, you have people from the three monotheistic faiths coming
because the Middle East is a center for Islamic, Christian and Jewish belief.
So do you feel that Israel is a kind of flash point for apocalyptic thinking
in all three monotheistic faiths?
Mr. GORENBERG: Absolutely. The difficulty that Israel lives with is that
because it's the Holy Land, it's also the stage upon which the apocalyptic
myths of all three religions say that the final drama is going to be played
out. And that creates a situation in which anything that happens here,
particularly anything dramatic, can easily be interpreted as being part of the
end. And so there are people in Israel among the Jews who see the creation of
Israel and the victory of 1967 as proof that the Messiah is coming. There are
Muslims who are also certain, for different reasons, that the events of today
are proof that the last days are upon us as described in Islam. And one of
the things that's not much known here but is very important is that in Islam,
as well, the last events are supposed to take place in Jerusalem. As one
fundamentalist shech said to me, `Islam was born in Mecca, but it will reach
its conclusion in Jerusalem.' So for Muslims, as well, the real-life
political conflict in the Holy Land can easily take on mythical proportions of
GROSS: Do you think apocalyptic thinking is figuring at all into the actual
peace process or the totally derailed peace process in the Middle East now?
Mr. GORENBERG: These kind of beliefs have played a crucial role in the Middle
East conflict for the last century and certainly in the last several years.
And one of the failures of secular politicians and diplomats was not knowing
enough about these beliefs in order to be able to deal with them better.
GROSS: Give me an example of what you mean.
Mr. GORENBERG: Well, first of all, the existence of small, radical fringe
groups in the Israeli public who would like to destroy the Islamic shrines in
Jerusalem and replace them with the temple has reverberated far louder in the
Muslim world to the extent that many, many Arabs are convinced that that's
what Israel as a government is intending to do.
So at the Camp David talks, when the subject of who would have final
sovereignty over the Temple Mount came up and Prime Minister Ehud Barak
suggested that it would remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there would
be a place there for Jewish worship as well, as one Palestinian pollster told
me afterwards, that sounded on the Palestinian side as if, `Ah, it's true.
The Jews really want to get rid of the shrines and build the temple there.'
That wasn't at all what Barak intended, but it was an entirely predictable
response if you know what the religious mood was.
On top of that, there was a vast literature of popular Islamic pamphlets
predicting that the last days would begin in the year 2000, according to the
Christian calendar, and that it would begin with a Jewish attempt to destroy
Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. So the political events, as it were, backed up
this kind of religious paranoia and heated up the temperature greatly.
GROSS: Well, Gershom Gorenberg, I want to thank you very much for talking
Mr. GORENBERG: It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Gershom Gorenberg is the author of "The End of Days: Fundamentalism
and the Struggle for the Temple Mount."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by Peter Wolf, formerly of The J. Geils
Band. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Peter Wolf's new album "Sleepless"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Peter Wolf is best known as the lead singer for The J. Geils Band. Since
leaving the band in 1983, Wolf has put out solo albums. His new one is called
"Sleepless." Rock critic Ken Tucker says it's more than another veteran
rocker trying to recapture past glory.
(Soundbite of "Never Like This Before")
Mr. PETER WOLF: (Singing) I've been kissed, loved, squeezed and teased, but
never like this before. You got me dragging behind...
KEN TUCKER reporting:
That's Peter Wolf doing a fine cover of an obscure William Bell song called
"Never Like This Before." It was originally cut by Bell in Memphis on the
great soul label Stax. It sounds to me like a natural hit single, but
probably for a consortium of rock radio station that will never exist again,
where white rockers profoundly influenced by black bluesmen get more than the
feeling of power and authenticity; they get airplay.
Speaking of those sorts of white guys, The Rolling Stones are on tour now.
And who knows? Maybe Wolf's duet with Mick Jagger on this track, "Nothin' But
the Wheel," will snag Wolf some attention.
(Soundbite of "Nothin' But the Wheel")
Mr. WOLF: Way on past the boulevards, out here underneath the stars. I've
been flying past the houses, farms and fields. Leaving all I know back home;
rushing through the cold night air and holding on to nothin' but the wheel.
Mr. MICK JAGGER and Mr. WOLF: (Singing in unison) Staying clear of the
interstate, I'm seeking out those old two lanes, trying to explain the way I
feel, till all at once it's half past three, and it's down to the trucks and
me. And I'm holding on to nothin' but the wheel.
TUCKER: "Nothin' But the Wheel" is a good song. Heck, it's better than
anything Mick Jagger had on his solo album earlier this year--You never heard
that one, did you? But as solid as Wolf makes his celebrity cameos work for
him--there's another one here with Steve Earle--it's when he's all alone,
singing as if it was 2 AM and no one was around to hear him speak his thoughts
that he makes his best music. That's the place where this song, "Growin'
Pain," comes from.
(Soundbite of "Growin' Pain")
Mr. WOLF: (Singing) Sometimes I don't know what it is I'm looking for.
Whatever it is I want, I seem to need a little bit more. Careful what you
pursue. Choosing it, it chooses you, 'cause everything around here is a
growin' pain. My old friend left...
TUCKER: When I listen to that song, "Growin' Pain," it summons up a whole
history of a life. The title works as a pun about growing pains, which are
generally perceived to be good, experiences you go through to emerge a wiser
man, but there's also a sense in which Wolf means that life is an increasing,
growing pain. It gets harder to write a song that strikes its author as
meaningful beyond its commercial possibilities. It gets harder to recapture
the enthusiasm of youth. It gets easier to see the ways in which life is
passing you by. Wolf locates these ideas in another song, too, one called "A
Lot of Good Ones Gone."
(Soundbite of "A Lot of Good Ones Gone")
Mr. WOLF: (Singing) If yesterday was still here today, I think I might, I
might do it all, I just might do it all another way. I feel the passin' of
the year with a teardrop. I see shadows everywhere, but I still do carry on,
though there's a lot of good ones gone.
(Soundbite of music)
TUCKER: This album is filled with pain, regret, nostalgia and confusion, yet
the last thing it is is downbeat, jaded or cynical. It takes some heroism for
a guy on the back end of his 50s to rouse not merely the energy but the
sincerity, the discipline to reject cheap irony or faked world weariness, to
put out a record as satisfying as Peter Wolf has done here. His sleepless
nights can be the soundtrack of many of our brightest and bleakest days.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Peter Wolf's CD "Sleepless."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. WOLF: (Singing) You want to feel, you want to touch. Something inside
you means something so much. You pick 'em up, you lay 'em down, you play your
life out all over town. Hey, Jordan, that's a boy's name on a girl. Are you
still undecided? It is such a crazy world. Hey, Jordan, life's a river and
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