Signs of the End

"The Rapture is a racket"

That's the gist of a new book on the rapture and the Left Behind series by Barbara Rossing, a professor at Chicago's Lutheran School of Theology.

She's been "debunking the rapture" on the radio , television and in news stories

Here's what she told 60 Minutes II

“You can piece together that vengeful warrior Jesus. You can find him here and there. But the heart of the Bible, the overwhelming message, even in the Book of Revelation, is a non-violent lamb who conquers, not by killing people, but by giving his life,” says Rossing, who believes that the "Left Behind" authors are marketing a false view of the Bible.

“The message of Revelation is that oppression will be ended. They take the message and personalize it to evildoers. They make this an us vs. them kind of theology. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. They forget the message of the Bible is that each person is created in the image of God.”

I think Rossing is right on.

But her book, and most of the criticism of Left Behind, including my own, has failed to explore what makes this books so attractive to so many people.

There may be some clues in a new book coming out called These Will Not Be Left Behind, which tells stories of readers who say the Left Behind books changed their lives.

I was interviewing a minister recently who was very critical of the Left Behind books from an artistic viewpoint, but then had this point. These books tell readers about a God who loves them and intervenes with power in human history.

Modern religion has "castrated God" this minister added--God is reduced to a kind, loving, warm fuzzy buddy who has no power to change lives and save the world. A book like Left Behind shows a God helps believers in this world and prepares a place for them in the next.

I don't think we can underestimate the power of that kind of message on readers. Left Behind's theology may be shaky and it may lead to unjust positions towards Palestinians-as this piece from Sojourners called "Short Fuse to Apocalypse" points out.

But the hunger or need they are filling for readers- for assurance, to know they will not be forgotten or left behind by God is something to many of us critics have ignored.

One true sign that the end is near. Someone has written a profile of Fred Phelps--a self proclaimed "prophet of God's hate--that makes him a sympathetic character.

The profile, which ran on Religion News Service's wire, can also be found here.

Who would have guessed that Phelps--who made a name for himself with his God Hates Fags signs at Matthew Shephard's funeral--got his start as a civil rights lawyer who once got an award for his work from the NAACP?

The pieces leaves us with a picture of Phelps,74, as a sad figure--reading in his office at the same church he's preached at for nearly 50 years, and a sense that nothing of the teaching of Jesus--like "love your enemies"--has ever penetrated his stone cold heart.

Here's a bit of the story

The 74-year-old preacher sits at a table in his church office, a utilitarian, paneled room bathed in harsh fluorescent light, poring over pages marked with yellow highlighter. Intense blue eyes searching the Old Testament for verses that prove
God hates, not loves.

Love? That's a story that "kissy-poo ministers" tell misguided parishioners so they'll stuff the collection box on Sunday, Phelps insists. "You're not going to get nowhere with that slop that `God loves you,'" he scoffs in a deep Southern drawl. "That's a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.

What makes this piece so remarkable is that there's no mocking--just honest, straightforward reporting that shows Phelps the respect he denies to so many others.

Since you've stuck with me this long, here's a reward. Try this piece from Cathleen Falsani about trying to save the world, one coffee cup at a time.

BTW, this Godsend Institute site is still creeping me out.


A Godsend?

"When God fails you, come to Godsend"

That's the tagline of an online ad for the Godsend Institute a fertility clinic in Cohasset, Massachusetts, that offer to bring dead children back to life by cloning them.

"At Godsend, we have perfected a procedure by which a single cell could be used to create a genetically identical fetus – a fetus which could be carried to term and, in effect, be reborn.

An identical child down to the last chromosome on the last hair of his or her head."

The site has pictures of happy families with their children and even testimontials like this one:

Our son’s name was Michael and when he died he was five years old. I was heartbroken of course, but my wife was absolutely devastated. She had been told that she was unable to have children and when Michael was born, she had taken it as a sign from God. When he died, my wife’s faith died with him.

Then we heard about Dr. Wells and Godsend. It’s been three years since he gave Michael back to us and all I can say is that if there is a God, his name is Dr. Richard Wells.

“When all hope is lost, come to Godsend,” the website claims.

Hidden in a link at the bottom of this page is a link that reveals the site's true purpose.

It's an ad for a movie— Godsend, —a cautionary tale about cloning starring Robert DeNiro.

The person responsible for the ad is most likely publicist Jeremy Walker the man whose guerilla marketing campaign made the Blair Witch Project into a blockbuster reports
Wired magazine.

Wired quotes Brian Alexander, author of Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion

Alexander tells Wired that "the site was clever," but he was concerned about the film's portrayal of scientists involved in cloning.

Connecting mad scientists and sinister outcomes with cloning technology only hurts the efforts of legitimate researchers who are trying to find treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, he said.

And Wired then claims that reproductive cloning is not illegal in the US.

Unlike most other developed countries, the United States has no law against reproductive cloning. Bills that would outlaw cloning to create a baby have gotten hung up in Congress during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

In fact, this piece by the Christian Science Monitor says that a new report from the President's Council on Bioethics a group that opposes cloning of all kinds - may in fact open up the door for cloning in the future.

Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical humanities and bioethics and religion at Northwestern University, tells the Monitor the council made a distinction between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning.

"And that's a positive element of this report," she says, "that one type [of cloning] should be banned now and that one type shouldn't."

I don't know if the Godsend Institute is the sickest movie marketing ploy ever or the most brilliant marketing since the Passion. And I don’t know if Alexander’s book is any good—it got good reviews but is number 227,680 on Barnes and Nobles Chart.

But he’s got one thing right. Biotech is the new religion.

And stem cells are the Holy Grail. Almost any article about them in mainstream new sources had some reference to their magical qualities.

Like this piece from the Boston Globe about a couple that donated their leftover embryos from IVF to Harvard’s stem cell research run by Doug Melton.

If anything in science can be considered magical, it is these cells, formed a few days after conception. Over the course of nine months, they will generate every living cell in the body. By studying this mysterious process, Melton and other researchers hope to be able to grow cells that produce insulin for Sam and other diabetics, or find ways to cure any number of other diseases.

The Globe piece ends with this quote from Marie Dooley, a Catholic woman who with her husband, Tom, donated their embryos.

Here’s why they did it.

``Science gave me a gift,'' she said, as her children circled around the dining room table. ``I felt I should give back.''

Children, once seen as a gift from a supernatural God, are now gifts of a scientific one.

“I can say is that if there is a God, his name is Dr. Richard Wells,” says one of the testimonials on the Godsend Institute site.

Jeremy Walker and the makers of Godsend don’t know how close to the truth they are.


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