I feel the need to be upfront. I haven’t seen the recent Nic Cage version of Left Behind, whose art I’ve lovingly appropriated above. But worry not, ye Doubting Thomases. My defense of “Left Behind 2014” may not have technical weight, but it’s surprisingly iron-clad in perspective.
That said, the movie is shit.
After reading reviews there’s a lot I could talk about, but I’ll zero in on something specific. Near the end of the film, a Little Person gets punted down a slide like a football. He’s apparently very angry and abrasive, but still… punted. If God made an Eleventh Commandment, it’d probably be against kicking Little People off playground equipment. The Twelfth would be the same thing underlined.
If you need further info on the film’s quality, Rotten Tomatoes published a pretty fantastic critic consensus. It reads: “Yea verily, like unto a plague of locusts, Left Behind hath begat a further scourge of devastation upon Nicolas Cage’s once-proud filmography.” Oh, and it scored 2% approval. 2. Ridiculous.
But I’m not going to defend the film’s quality. Let’s talk about Left Behind. You know, the series. The series I’m notably not defending.
In reading reviews, I found a Christianity Today article that was particularly enlightening. I expected it to assert that the film is not Christian, a point writer Jackson Cuidon emboldens with extreme enthusiasm. It’s as if he wants to distance Christianity from Little Person punting, for some reason.
However, Cuidon did something I didn’t expect. He criticized the popular source material.
“Growing up, I was horrified at the idea that the books were supposed to represent my positions, or the positions of most other Christians,” he writes. “(The books) talked about Christianity, sometimes. But, at their core, they were political thrillers, featuring characters directly transposed from better Tom Clancy narratives—still violent, hostile, and un-reflecting, they just prayed a little more and took communion sometimes.”
Interesting. See, I grew up in the heyday of Left Behind, and my mother occasionally shopped at Christian bookstores. So I recall the overwhelming merchandise opportunity brought by this particular series. Popular rapture theory makes a lot of money, which is kinda weird if you think about it.
I had always considered Left Behind a big part of 90’s Christian media, and 90’s entertainment at large. I recall a “Left Behind Kids” series I perused in 5th grade, which wasn’t anything special then and is simply bizarre in retrospect. Just kinda pulpy Christian thrillers, but nothing terrible.
Of course, if you ask a Catholic…
“There is nothing wrong with having a successful publishing franchise, but when that franchise contains anti-Catholic prejudice and bad theology, that is a problem,” writes Jimmy Akin of Catholic.com. Akin has a particular objection to the second book:
“In Tribulation Force we learn that when the Rapture took place, the Pope was one of those taken to heaven. That doesn’t sound anti-Catholic, but (the authors) go on to explain that this Pope ‘had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the ‘heresy’ of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy.’ In other words, the only good pope is one who agrees with Protestant teaching.”
Not only that, but the post-rapture Pope is one of the major villains. He also hates Martin Luther. Coincidence?
But there’s other issues. According to Charles Henderson of Godweb.org, the books are “as American as apple pie.” The main characters are American, the ideals are American, the themes are American, the bad guys are European liberals… it’s almost as if Left Behind was written to bait American Conservative Evangelicals, to draw on paranoia and fear for monetary profit. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…
Theology’s not the only problem. There are people who dislike the books as pure literature. Jason Rosenhouse of Scienceblogs.com writes, “Even granting their somewhat idiosyncratic understanding of Revelation, as literature this is pretty thin gruel. Paper-thin characters, clunky writing, implausible plot twists… Most of the pages are given over to outright proselytizing, whenever the characters can be persuaded to take time out from mocking unbelievers.”
Even today, there are pastors hosting radio shows and publishing books responding to the errors of Left Behind. Their woes range from theology to philosophy, sociology to literary standards, interpretation to end-time apathy… the only thing they have in common is disdain for Left Behind.
So, how does that make the recent movie defendable? Well, Left Behind 2014 has excised the weird pseudo-Christianity. The books should be considered (at best) light thrillers with a rapture twist. But some evangelicals saw the Christian plating and fell for a ruse. Some actually base their theology on what amounts to a poor Tom Clancy novel. Do you realize how ridiculous that is?
Left Behind 2014 has no pretensions on being Christian. It’s not confusing, it doesn’t cause any problems in Christian circles, it doesn’t mislead. It’s distilled stupidity, and there’s value in truth. Maybe it’ll take the series down a peg. And if this shlock can help Christianity be a little more pure, it is both good and worthy of praise.
And for everyone who doesn’t care about Christianity, we have another Nic Cage flick to laugh at. Really, that’s all I needed to say in the first place…