Sometimes I hear about a movie sequel that just didn’t ever have to happen. I’m not even sure why someone felt the need to make some of these. The world didn’t need a Conan the Barbarian sequel, for example. The world had a perfectly adequate Conan already which had said everything we needed said on the topic of that eponymous barbarian. Not only did we get a perfectly awful sequel to it and a spinoff featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in a not-quite-Conan-but-aw-cmon-it’s-totally-Conan role up against a be-mulleted Brigitte Nielsen, but we got a gritty reboot of it some years later. None of these movies did anywhere near as well as the original had, and all sank into obscurity. Meanwhile, all we need to hear is Mako’s voice to get transported back to “the days of high adventure.”
When a horrible remake gets made of a movie that was already horrible to begin with, though, that’s when things have potential to get really bad. Left Behind is one such movie franchise. It’s based on a long-running book series about the end of the world. It begins with the Rapture. Many fundagelicals think that the event that will kick off the Endtimes will be their god plucking all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in the world to be with him in Heaven to avoid all the terrible things that will come to pass on Earth as it lurches toward Armageddon. The series tracks some people who convert to Christianity post-Rapture and then fight the horrible, evil, nasty, villainous Antichrist (who really kinda seems like a decent fellow to anybody who is not intent on seeing him as a puppy-kicking Big Bad). The first book is about how one of those future converts, an airplane pilot, has to land his plane in the sudden absence of its Raptured crew while his daughter has to fight her way home through mobs of rioting Americans.
And it’s not like the original was some sort of one-off. Left Behind starred Kirk Cameron in not one, not two, but three shitty movies, the last of which got made in 2005. That wasn’t even ten years ago, but apparently we needed to re-examine the whole topic in 2014. A short time of separation between remakes isn’t always bad–in my opinion, Death at a Funeral was awesome in the original and just as interesting and funny in the remake of it that followed only three years later (and Peter Dinklage is in both of them, so there’s that). I just don’t think the world needed another remake of Fox-News-inspired Christian apocalyptic masturbation fantasies.
Combine the notoriously-awful nature of modern Christian movies with the beyond-ludicrous material itself, add one Nicolas Cage, and muddle; drain into a greasy shotglass, squeeze a wedge of emotional manipulation over it, and serve to people who are already so drunk with false-persecution delusions that they won’t notice how foul it tastes. I found myself asking why this particular franchise needed a reinterpretation–why anybody even needed a few more hundred million dollars poured into a series that any sensible person could see is one of the most divisive, mean-spirited, implausible, and cruel examples of Christian media.
And it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.
If God’s Not Dead shows us the false, hateful ideas toxic Christians have about atheists and college in general, then the Left Behind series shows us the false, hateful ideas toxic Christians have about society itself–and about what they imagine is their place in and value to that society. Just as God’s Not Dead tells fundagelicals that even their youngest members can outwit a mean ole atheist professor and that they are right to reject “evilution,” Left Behind tells them that they are of paramount importance to the proper running of society and hugely necessary for culture to function. Yes, that is the very definition of pandering. But are we really surprised that both movies are popular with fundagelicals considering what it feeds them?
The Rapture itself is one of the most visible symptoms there are of toxic Christianity. Let’s face it: it’s a belief that this god certainly doesn’t want any of his precious little children stuck in a world where terrible things are about to happen and bad people are about to do bad things. If someone is a very very very dedicated and true Christian and does everything just right, then he or she can skip all the unpleasantness to come to enjoy a big party up in Heaven while humanity suffers below on Earth.
Besides the obvious problem of this god letting his children suffer every single day in reality, which makes his solicitude and care in this one situation look more than a little creepy, there is an equally troubling problem of just what kind of immoral assholes would happily party down in Heaven while they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that people are suffering elsewhere. Indeed, one character in the trailer even explicitly states this premise just in case anybody wondered: that this god took all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (and stealing children from their parents and fetuses right out of their mothers’ bellies–ZING to the forced-birthers, considering that in the Bible their god doesn’t actually care much about babies until they’re a month old) to protect them from “the darkest time in the history of this world.” And the fun doesn’t end with those two disturbing problems.
Exactly what kind of world do its fundagelical authors imagine will exist without Christians and their loving god in it?
Why, a nightmare dystopia, of course. Here is the trailer clip. Can you spot all the fundagelical tropes in it?
Let’s ignore the sexily-dressed stewardess with the (GASP) short hair and (EWWW) excessive makeup and (WTF) neck-ribbon like we thought were soooooo sexeh in the late 80s and also ignore that she is clearly either banging Nic Cage’s character or else planning to do so in the very near future (spoiler: she ends up paired off with the Antichrist, because of course she does) and the pure-and-sweet-but-weirdly-sexualized college-aged daughter. Don’t worry about them. And let’s not worry right now about just why Nic Cage has chosen to play Rayford Steele (no, really, I’m not making this up–that’s his goddamned name; I know, and believe me: it’s a total downer to me as a writer to know that something this bad ever got published) as someone struggling to avoid slipping into a coma at any given moment.
Concentrate on what society looks like in the absence of TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Watch the trailer and see what this movie’s audience clearly expects to see once their god has taken them all off-planet to the party bus. This is the fundagelical equivalent of taking their ball and going home; this is their flounce post on the forum. Look what we made them do!
Look what will happen once they’re gone!
Car accidents–because apparently people will forget how to drive.
School buses will just go over embankments–because school bus drivers are such wonderful Christians that of course they’ll get Raptured.
Fires and riots, with cities in flames and people attacking each other–because only non-Christians would ever do that.
There’s an ambulance, so obviously hospitals are still operating, but one has to wonder how well the police are doing in this universe. Obviously the firefighters aren’t up to the tasks presented in this trailer alone. Does this movie know that quite a few doctors are non-Christian? So why can’t the police and military and firefighters also be okay? There’s lots of non-Christians around in all of those.
Gun crimes–because Christians never commit gun crimes and non-Christians would run amok with their guns if it weren’t for those good clean Christians.
Why are the roads so curiously empty in this trailer? Does this trailer think that there are more TRUE CHRISTIANS™ than most Christians think there are?
Apparently the only people left will be nitwits or people who don’t remember things too well. Ray even asks, “How could she know that?” about his wife’s prescience about the Rapture–because apparently he married the only fundagelical in the whole world who never once told him about it.
If I knew nothing at all about fundagelical Christianity and saw this trailer, I’d come out of it thinking that fundagelicals have a very low opinion of society and a very high opinion of themselves. I’d think they are convinced that they are the only things holding back a tidal wave of violence and dysfunction. I’d think they are totally convinced that without their god forcing everybody to behave, that people won’t behave at all. I’d think they think that non-Christians are fucking idiots. I’d think their callous, inhuman treatment of both women and children is so far past evil that just that aspect of the trailer itself would get its own post if I weren’t so fucking sick of dealing with Christian callousness, misogyny, and inhumanity toward both groups; yes, we get it, you think women are just mobile incubators for almighty fetuses and that children won’t mind not being with their parents for the rest of all time or knowing their parents are suffering in the Tribulation and then going to Hell while they ride sparkleponies with Jesus.
You can learn a lot from one short trailer and not a single thing someone could learn about Christianity is positive in this one. It’s a two-and-a-half-minute-long shriek of Dominionist chest-thumping, shameless fearmongering, and blatant pandering interspersed with passive-aggressive slaps to all those who do not belong to the Cool Kids’ Club.
The people responsible for this movie–both the making of it and the popularizing of it–genuinely think that they are the civilizing influence on the whole world. They think that without their moralizing and attempts to control others, that we’d all just go nuts having sex in the streets and getting cherry-flavored abortion pills delivered with the pizza every Friday.
The mind-blowing part? As puerile and misogynistic and insulting and delusional as this movie is, it is what passes for proselytization fodder for fundagelicals nowadays. Oh yes. They really think this movie is a witnessing tool that will persuade non-believers to join a church (it doesn’t say which, but I’m assuming it means one with TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in it). Indeed, one of those fake reality-TV fauxbillies from “Duck Dynasty” has done a video saying exactly this:
“Like most Christians, my family and I can truly say that we’re excited about the soon return of Jesus,” Robertson says in the video. “And I’m sure, if you’ve been watching the news lately, you know that that return could be any day from now. But what about those who may not even know about it?” Robertson worries. “People who don’t even know what’s at stake?” Take then [sic] to see this film, and naturally they’ll convert and be a-OK. “It’s a warning to those, if it happened today, they’d be left behind,” Robertson explains of the action-packed film. “And I believe people are going to make that life-changing decision to follow Christ on the way home from the theater on Oct. 3. Let’s all make sure we bring some friends and family to see this movie – people who need to see to believe. Opening the door to unbelievers has never been this fun!”
How very odd and strange that he doesn’t mention anywhere in there that he’s one of the producers of this honker and so has a direct financial stake in whether or not Christians flock to his movie and bring tons of friends–which will entail buying tons of movie tickets. How strange that he presents his admonition without mentioning his financial connection to the movie.
But leaving aside the matter of his own dishonesty, Mr. Robertson actually says that he believes that this schlock–this utterly fictional schlock–will make people convert in droves. He thinks that a bunch of green-screened special effects and a beyond-lame storyline constitute “seeing to believe.” My mind just boggles at how little he understands of what evidence actually looks like; I’ve got to wonder if he saw Harry Potter and thought that must mean that magic and Hogwarts is real because it was after all in a big-budget movie so obviously that’s all anybody needs to see to believe!
And even by that standard, his idea is ridiculous. The problem with movies and worldviews like the one presented in Left Behind is that we can already see what happens when societies move away from Christianity. We’ve been doing it for years and to be honest every single factor of dysfunction improves with decreasing religiosity in a society. We can already see what happens when Christians stop being treated as little godlings in society because very slowly we’ve been peeling away their unwarranted privilege for years now. We can already see how well the Christian god protects his children and how much he cares about their well-being because we’ve been watching for years now as Christians suffer from every single disease and disaster that non-Christians face.
The truth of the matter is that if every single right-wing fundagelical TRUE CHRISTIAN™ did actually vanish off the face of the planet, there’d be some kerfluffle, I’ve no doubt, but society wouldn’t simply break down. To the contrary, I rather suspect society would make some major leaps forward without them dragging us down. There are lots and lots of ethical, moral people who aren’t Christian who’d be capable of keeping the trains running and the libraries open. But I suspect that those Christians don’t like thinking that their impact on society is actually not only negligible in most ways but negative in others–which is why this shitty franchise got a remake now. Christians need an injection of courage, and they ain’t getting it from reality.
As time marches on, the hysterics presented in the Left Behind franchise will become (and have become) less and less believable–and that’s ignoring the authors’ typically fundagelical factual mistakes, such as a plot-destroying one about just how powerful the United Nations actually is and what its responsibilities actually are. I get that it’s a movie so of course it’s going to present a slightly off-kilter view of reality, but this isn’t just a plot-justifying slight warping of reality; it’s a complete rewrite done so Christians can feel smug and satisfied with their religious faith. It’s hard to escape the feeling that toxic Christians don’t have a lot of victories in real life so they have to rely on movies like this one to get their jollies. They seem so very unaware of just how bad they come off looking to people who aren’t in the choirloft with them.
This entire series reminds me of this lady I ran into while doing tech support who insisted that the microphone hole in her computer’s monitor was actually a raybeam projector that kept forcing thoughts into her head; nothing could convince her, not even dismantling the monitor and showing her what was inside it, that there wasn’t a little camera and projection unit in there. Left Behind is not even wrong, because that’d entail it asking a coherent question that can be answered, which it totally doesn’t. It takes a storyline that has no evidence whatsoever to support itself and runs with the assumption that it simply must be true. And its audience takes for granted that this is true as well. But outsiders have no reason to accept this flawed reasoning.
If Christians don’t have some very good compelling reason to convert to their religion, then we will not convert–and those people who are already Christians may well wonder why all they seem to have in their toolbox is emotionally-manipulative bits of pandering like this movie and may well leave once they start investigating doctrines like the Rapture and discover that not only is there no reason to think it’ll happen but that even in Christianity it’s a fairly new doctrine. Movies like this may well snag a few people who lack critical thinking skills, but if Christians are banking on scaremongering movies like this to produce hordes of new converts, they may be waiting a long time to see their churches fill back up again.
I certainly won’t be one of those converts.
Sorry, but I don’t make my personal decisions from a place of fear.
I don’t negotiate with terrorists.
I refuse to respond to threats with no credible backing.
And the very idea that some Christians genuinely think that a movie that is nothing more than an unsubstantiated (and largely non-credible) threat is actually a proselytization tool is so far past offensive that it veers into surreally-disconnected territory. They must really think non-Christians are idiots to fall for something so childishly obvious and blatantly fictional. But I’d prefer that idea to one alternative, which is that a threat this childishly obvious, self-serving, and blatantly untrue would work on them, so they think that it should work on everybody else too.
I think Nicolas Cage is a total hoot so I may watch the movie with the assistance of a bottle of Watermelon Pucker, but I’d like to say this:
No, “Duck Dynasty” dude who likes to pretend he’s a hyuck-hyuck backwoods hillbilly while trying to convince waterfowl to have sex with him. This shitty movie will actually only distance non-Christians from your religion even further than they already were. It will only open your religious ideas up to further scrutiny and mocking. And it will only hasten the demise of fundagelical dominance. So bring it. Knock yerself out. When I’m done drunkenly laughing my ass off at the lameness of this movie, I’ll pop Conan the Barbarian into the ole DVD player to remind myself of what a truly great movie looks like.
(H/t: Why Evolution is True)