Title: Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America
Author: Amy Johnson Frykholm
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Interesting exploration of what conservative evangelicals believe and why
Interesting discussion of the ideology and assumptions behind the Left Behind books
A bit heavy on the post-modern discourse regarding texts
Analysis of the beliefs and culture of evangelical Christians
Focuses on peoples reactions to and use of the Left Behind series of books
Argues that evangelical culture is more integral to American culture than usually perceived
Written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the Left Behind books are a publishing phenomenon. They tell the story of the rapture, an aspect of evangelical theology not shared by the rest of the Christian community. Evangelicals generally believe that, at some point in the future, all True Believers will be raptured up to heaven. Those left behind will have to fight in the final battle between good and evil, either on the side of Christ or the side of the Antichrist.
The importance of the rapture for evangelicals cannot be underestimated. People spend large amounts of time trying to figure out when it might happen; believers watch the news and interpret everything they see in terms of whether it is a sign of the coming rapture. The question of whether they will be among those taken up to heaven constitutes one of the fundamental organizational points of their lives.
Peoples understanding of the rapture, and thus also of Christianity and their lives as a whole, have been strongly influenced by the interpretations set forth in LeHays and Jenkins books. Amy Johnson Frykholm explores how people read these stories in her book Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America. She interviews men and women, evangelicals and non-evangelicals, to create an anthropological study of Americas Rapture Culture, the segment of America which believes in and awaits the rapture.
Frykholm is not an evangelical, so she is a stranger to their culture; she comes from an evangelical background, though, so she is not completely ignorant and harbors a lot of sympathy for them.
Thus, we learn not just about the rapture believers and the alienation they have from American culture generally, but also about Frykholm herself and the alienation she is experiencing. Frykholm doesnt hide the fact that she thinks the books are simply bad fiction, but she is able to explore why others dont feel this way and what sorts of psychological reactions they have to it.
Some people read the books because they reaffirm their religious views, some because they provide alternative theological perspectives from what they hear in church and thus they even provide a basis for readers to challenge what others in church are saying. Some simply find them to be entertaining fiction and ignore the theology, while others disagree strongly with the theology and stop reading after a couple of volumes.
Unlike the Bible, everyone recognizes that the books are fiction and thus shouldnt be taken literally, but this acceptance of them as fiction allows the theology to be incorporated without the same critical reflection and study they apply to the Bible itself.
Thus, paradoxically, recognition that the books are just one persons theological interpretation helps ensure that this interpretation acquires greater penetration into their own belief systems.
This has long been one of the reasons why fiction and art can come in for special criticism: people often read them without the same mental filters that they apply to nonfiction, such as news. This allows ideas to spread and become incorporated on an unconscious level where it becomes very difficult to critique them and develop some critical distance from them. Its not that fiction is bad, but unreflective reading of fiction can be.
Frykholms study of the Rapture Culture in America has something to say about evangelical culture, about American culture, and also about the nature of reading and interpreting fiction in general. Its a very conversational book (which is natural given the fact that is based on a large number of personal discussions and interviews conducted by Frykholm) and an interesting read for anyone curious about religion in America.