First, there's Jesus, always a good source on the Father, since He is the Son.
And, at the end of my epistle, we'll seek insight from Aristotle, currently hanging out at the Limbo Lounge watching the big screen as Beelzebub's Brutes prepare to scrimmage with the Angelic Avengers in the Armageddon Bowl.
Crowds at the pre-game tailgating party are titillated by news that George Bush himself is going to be the starting quarterback, although it isn't clear which team he is captaining. Or, maybe it is clear, but Karl Rove has promised the always eager-to-please media that they can embed reporters among the Rising Rejoicing Raptured if the scribes will ignore the sulfurous odors wafting out of the Oval Office.
All of those good preachers on the cheerleading squad - Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and, not to be left behind or out, Tim LaHaye - are chanting about the imminent arrival of The End (followed, I guess, by the credits). Let's listen to one of their Rapture-inspired cheers: "One, two, three, four/Rip billions of sinners to pieces/That's what we're waiting for."
Falwell decreed five years ago that the Antichrist is alive, walking the streets, is male and Jewish. The good pastor also divined that the Second Coming is due by 2009, so the Lord better get the heavenly hot rod in gear or risk Rev. Jerry's wrath.
Now, some folks, such as Jesus (not to mention the Anti-Defamation League), might have a problem with Falwell's pronouncement. After all, the Lord said in Matthew 24:36: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."
Wow. How do all of the preachers know the time is nigh, when Jesus said even He didn't know when the Final Hour would chime? Only Dad knows.
Sounds like Jerry and the Holy Reverends are those false prophets Jesus warned us about, you know, the ravenous wolves in sheep's clothes.
But this apostasy does get us to the heart of the Rapture or "Parousia." Jesus would probably be hard-pressed to figure out what all of the preachified jabbering is about. After all, the Bible never mentions anything called the Rapture.
Undeterred by a "no comment" from The Man, Rapture-ites weave their fantasy with a hodgepodge of biblical passages:
John 14:1-3, in which Christ says He will come for believers. Those words don't promise a Rapture.
I Corinthians 15:51-52. Paul says the dead will be raised in incorruptible bodies.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul opines that first the dead believers, then the living, will "meet the Lord in the air." This is the rock upon which the Rapture is founded. But it is really little more than sand. Paul was merely using florid prose to address a common first-century belief that only those alive at the time of the Second Coming would go to heaven.
Philippians 3:20-21. Paul, who had a hang-up with sexuality, predicts our "vile bodies" will be transformed.
Revelation 3:10: "I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world." Revelation is a mysterious book, perhaps allegorical, perhaps a cleverly obscure polemic on the Roman Empire. If prophecy, many scholars believe it was fulfilled in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
These widely scattered biblical passages don't add up to the Rapture, and only with logical legerdemain can they be transformed into a theological "given."
The vast majority of Christians who believe in the Rapture probably have no idea that it is a modern invention. For about 1,900 years, Christians were happily pious without any idea they were going to get snatched up in the Rapture.
Here's how it began. A feverish Scottish lass, Margaret MacDonald, in 1830 succumbed to one doozy of a vision that Christ would welcome a select group in the air before the seven years of Tribulation that precede Jesus' Second Coming. In essence, one of Christianity's core beliefs was shattered (if you embrace MacDonald's hallucinations). The Second Coming became the Second and Third Comings, or the Second Coming A and B.
Enter a British preacher named John Nelson Darby, the father of what is called dispensationalism, which proclaims that God has had (or will have) seven different relationships with mankind. You need a canonical lawyer to keep up with the current contract.
Dispensationalists believe they can help order the disorderly Word of God, whether or not He needs it.
Darby embraced MacDonald's vision and stirred it into his strange brew of theology.
At the heart of the debate is the concept that Christ's kingdom, when it comes, will be earthly. But Jesus made clear in John 18:36 that his kingdom wasn't on this orb, and in Mark 9:1 that his reign began shortly after his death.
That does great damage to the idea of taking Revelation as a literal prophecy. Jesus' meaning was pretty simple. Lead good lives (do unto others) believe in his teachings (blessed are the peacemakers), and don't get too excited about far off events of which no one, not even the Son, knows the details.
Of course, nowhere does Jesus mention a Rapture. Then again, he didn't mention many things, such as hating gays and endorsing pre-emptive wars, but ersatz followers nowadays never seem to notice.The Rapture is the stuff of Elmer Gantry prophets, which is to say America's religious, Republican right. They betray Jesus with the kiss of seductive theology. Old Scratch may be the father of lies, but he has lots of little fibbers in the pulpit helping him.
Dispensationalism and the Rapture became popular in American Protestantism and have heavily influenced right-wing politics. The reasons include the doctrine's abandonment of social responsibilities. Heck, why protect the environment since God is about ready to wreck His creation?
Israel, in the scenario of the Rapture, is great because its statehood signals the Final Days. Only the Antichrist will attempt to make peace between Israel and its neighbors; thus, righteous Christians should endeavor to bash the bejesus out of the Arabs. War against peacemakers is justified in the name of the Prince of Peace, or, to rephrase in simpler terms: War Is Peace.
A final word from Aristotle, who mused: "A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects ... do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side."
If you take the strange patchwork fabric we call religion in America - a belief that the select (right-wing Republicans) are saved and Raptured, while liberals, Arabs, French and just about everybody else are damned - a tyrant can get positively rapturous at the political windfall such devilish thinking bestows.
For neutral explanations on the Rapture and dispensationalism, see en.wikipedia.org. Group Senior Editor John Sugg - who sent word to the College of Cardinals, "If nominated, I will not run" - can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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