Profit-taking from scraps of "prophecy"
As I describe in detail in my new book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), the Left Behind series is really just recycled evangelical/fundamentalist profit-taking from scraps of "prophecy" left over from an earlier commercial effort to mine the vein of fearsome End Times gold. A book called The Late Great Planet Earth was the 1970s incarnation of this nonsense.
It was written by Hal Lindsey, a "writer" who dropped by my evangelical-leader parents' ministry of L'Abri several times. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the U.S.S.R., Planet Earth groupies claimed Gorbachev was the Antichrist, citing the references in Revelation to the "mark of the beast" as proof because Gorbachev had a birthmark on his forehead!
After everything predicted in the book came to nothing, Lindsey rewrote and "updated" his "interpretations" in many sequels, in what must have been some sort of record for practicing George Orwell's idea of "doublethink" via editorial revision of ever-changing "facts."
To Jenkins and LaHaye, who have taken over the Hal Lindsey franchise of apocalypse-for-fun-and-profit and expanded it into a massive industry, the "chosen" will soon be airlifted to safety. The focus on the "signs" leading up to this hoped-for aeronautical excursion is understandably no longer the defunct U.S.S.R. but the ripped-from-the-headlines gift that keeps on giving: the Middle East.
The key to understanding the popularity of this series and just why a nonentity like Palin is accepted as a leader by her fans -- and now Fox, and the whole host of other End Times "ministries" from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre pages of Christianity Today magazine -- isn't some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community.
The Evangelical inferiority complex
The words "left behind" are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their "intellectuals" touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have been left behind by modernity. They won't change their literalistic anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against "the world." This has led to a profound fear of the "other."
Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind Palin/Fox crowd against the "elite." The Left BehindDemocrat-voting, over-educated fags who have been mocking us! franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass Democrat-voting, over-educated fags who have been mocking us!
The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high. They want revenge on all people not like them -- forever.
Jenkins, LaHaye -- and now Palin -- cash in on years of imagined victimhood
I say imagined, because the born-agains had one of their very own, George W. Bush, in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that. Nevertheless, their sense of being a victimized minority is still very real -- and very marketable. Whether they were winning politically or not, they nurtured a mythology of persecution by the "other." Evangelical/fundamentalists believed that even though they were winning, somehow they had actually lost.
Most of that sense of lost battles is related to the so-called "Culture Wars" issues in which evangelical/fundamentalists did not fare so well, from the legalization of abortion to gay rights. But rather than admitting that they were often losing the arguments, or had come across as so mean (or plain dumb) that few outsiders wanted to be like them, they blamed everyone else, from the courts to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the New York Times, and the "left-wing media."
Just about any scapegoat would do to deny or disguise the simple fact that fewer Americans wanted to follow the evangelical/fundamentalist Church Ladies into their gloomy cave (and/or the never-never land of the Rapture) and park their brains there.
I used to be part of the self-pitying, whining, evangelical/fundamentalist chorus. I remember going on the Today Show with host Jane Pauley back in the late 1970s (or early 1980s). I debated with the head of the American Library Association about my claim that our evangelical/fundamentalist books weren't getting a fair shake from the "cultural elites." We Schaeffers were selling millions of books, but the New York Times never reviewed them. I made the point that we were being ignored by the "media elite," which was somewhat ironic, given that I had been invited to appear on Today to make that claim.