I am Jewish, and someone who looks at religions as cultural expressions, embedded in their context. That being said, I did not re...moreFirst, a disclaimer.
I am Jewish, and someone who looks at religions as cultural expressions, embedded in their context. That being said, I did not read Left Behind because of an interest in Evangelical theology, but more as an anthropologist, wanted to watch from the outside the workings of an expression that comes out of the American Evangelical Christian context. Before reading this book, I had seen it as a practice of fiction claiming religious truth, which wasn't disproven as I read.
That being said, you can definitely see Left Behind has trying to push a universalist message (a claim in salvation as achieved only through Jesus Christ) that is embedded in specific political Christian framings. This theo-political ideology bleeds out of the text, even if ultimately it is not its primary focus. Some instances are of a characters mentioning of his fight against big government, implications of disgust of the "violent" city (the characters suffer a break-in described as something that is now happening in the suburbs and not the "inner city"), there is a brief dialogue on a character's sister who sees abortion as a business (definitely a twisted malignant take on organizations like Planned Parenthood who provide birth control primarily), an inherent distrust of the UN (repeated references to a "global village" as something the suspecting Antichrist aspires to), a pervasive anxiety about global government and currencies, a distrust of disarmament, and a simplified view of the state of the world's "Others." Specifically, this book should not be read as Christian, but a specific Christianity embedded in a political ideology.
The characters themselves are NOT especially ideologically obsessive - instead, they undergo a process of questioning their lives before the Rapture, seeing themselves as inhabiting arguable bad characteristics of self-involvement and importance, a lack of modesty and humbleness, and a greed for materialism. They struggle with their Christianity, don't find its evangelizing particularly easy or clear, and strive to overcome their hurt and pain at human relationships in order to find their way to put a trust in God. These are aspirational in many ways, but embedded in this particular ideology, somewhat disarming because ultimately they are not universalist, but rigidly cultural.
As a Jew, reading this book was a bit unsettling. Jews in the book are strangely portrayed. They are basically pawns of Biblibal prophecy. There are strange references to a meeting of "Nationalist Jews" (not Israeli) who are specifically Orthodox and want to make a one world government along with other international organizations. I had no idea what the authors meant by "Nationalist Jews" and I had an odd feeling that I was missing something that is a signal for others who read this. Israel plays the part of a victim nation that is also a Biblical pawn. There is unconditional support for Israel in this book on one layer, and a strange undercurrent of messianic fervor that links it simultaneously with the Antichrist character, Carpathia, and with evangelism on the other, with the emergence of converted Jews. As someone aware of the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli control, the simplification of Israel as a victim is pretty hard to take for very long. The Russians play an odd role, in that they attack Israel, jealous of its success (since it created an agent that "makes the desert bloom"), which the authors root in the Bible (seriously, they have a section in the appendix about a passage in Ezekiel). Claims are made in the appendix that Vladimir Putin is the "bear" of the bible, justifying a reading of Russia as a harbinger of the end times.
So then comes some of the big critical questions of this book. Is it using a theology to create something fictional, or is it using fiction to advance a theological ideology. Obviously the latter. What is unsettling is that it seems to be advancing these aims by using noncritical readings of biblical prophecy. Does the bible really say that Russia is going to attack Israel? It references an enemy from the north, not necessarily Russia, which as a nation, the "Rus" tribes had not yet existed in that state on the Caucasian plains. In all, the desired effect is to push that we are now in the messianic era, the Rapture and Judgement just around the corner. One could really go on and on questioning these claims and what it means to fiction generally, and this particular evangelism specifically.
Just a note or two on the language and craft of the novel. The book is not particularly well written in that the authors tend to favor general language over specific with odd logic, describing many things analogous to someone who goes to a bar and "drinks a beverage." There seem to be weird editorial revisions (I assume) that create a few parts that look like vestiges of earlier texts. At one point, for instance, a character rewinds a DVD that he sticks in the VCR. There is virtually no description of places, things happening generally in place names like New York or the UN or London. All in all, sometimes you stop and pause trying to understand the logic of a specific sentence, but then find yourself moving on anyway.
In conclusion, I don't want to trash something so wildly popular- as the publishers claim has "converted" 64 million people. I am sure the story and lessons mean a lot. I just want to offer some critical readings from a perspective of someone who does not identify with the specific cultural context. (less)
An important book on an important and often avoided topic: How is the Holocaust used to justify injustice? Burg mainly argues that the inability to mo...moreAn important book on an important and often avoided topic: How is the Holocaust used to justify injustice? Burg mainly argues that the inability to move past the Holocaust (that is, the inability of the state of Israel to not compare everything to the Holocaust, or make every crisis an urgent existential threat) stymies the ability of Israel to be a "light unto the nations."
While I agree with many tenets of Burg's ideas, I'm bothered by his inability to land on the fact that the Holocaust is often used to direct Israeli policy in the Occupation, shield it from international criticism, and wage a disasterous militant foreign policy. There are moments where this peaks through - but overall, it's ironic that while he decries the crime of "holocaust denial", regarding Israel's puposeful denial of the Armenian genocide, and Israeli policy in the Balkans that ran counter to world opinion, he hardly utters the words, "Palestinian," "the Nakba," "the Occupation," and makes somewhat apologetic statements for Israeli violence. An example of this is while he is decrying Israel's inability to be the center for a humanistic Judaism, and a universalist nation, he talks about the violence of suicide bombers, terrorists, while mentioning a militant culture. It's passive enough that it seems like he's blaming the Palestinians for an inability to be humanistic as well, while showing that despite his deep reading of the racist elements of an Israeli society that claims genocide and tragedy as it's sole property, he may blame the Palestinians for their lack of a state. At least, passively, like his treatment of them throughout the book.
Maybe not, but because his shrillness that vacillates between condemnation of current Israeli policies and a love for his definition of Zionism, it's hard to peg where he lands on the issue that he doesn't dissect, but which the book is ultimately (and secretly) about. (less)
This book researches such a minority strain of history and historical theory that it is almost hard to classify this as "nonfiction." However, it is a...moreThis book researches such a minority strain of history and historical theory that it is almost hard to classify this as "nonfiction." However, it is a great, fascinating read on the alternate history of the origins of a good portion of today's Jews. The history of the c. 600-1200 AD makeup of the Caucauses is quite interesting, and Koestler teaches you a good deal about the origins of the Hungarians, the Russians, and other nations that were born of the Eastern European Steppes. The book begins to fray when Koestler playfully hypothesizes the period after the fall of the Khazar Empire, speaking about race and ethnicitity, and how that pertains to Eastern Europe's Jews.
A great read if you're comfortable with your Jewish identity, though this book can obviously be seen as heresy. Or maybe, it's just entertaining. (less)
Informative, but loses because there are no accompanying maps of Israel - Palestine or the Allon Plan, which is cited throughout. A good critical look...moreInformative, but loses because there are no accompanying maps of Israel - Palestine or the Allon Plan, which is cited throughout. A good critical look at the beginning of the settlement movement, but a terribly misleading title, which makes me suspect that the author was afraid of what the reaction to his book might be. Follows individuals but doesn't give a good overall picture of the major settlements, and only spends a few paragraphs in the epilogue talking about the current manifestation of the settlements as commuter cities. Though seemingly balanced, does not do a good job talking about how the settlements constrict Palestinian movement.
Overall a good read, but I suggest further reading to round out what you might be missing as you go through Accidental Empire. (less)
I love the concepts in Auslander's collection; God as a giant chicken, a "Metamorphosis" into a goy, and the one story, "Holocaust Tips for Kids" is e...moreI love the concepts in Auslander's collection; God as a giant chicken, a "Metamorphosis" into a goy, and the one story, "Holocaust Tips for Kids" is especially biting in terms of reevaluating how we teach kids about the Holocaust. But in execution, I was disappointed. Auslander throws out some HUGE questions and conflicts in Judaism but while making fun of them, he doesn't deliver in a satisfying way. I finished ever story feeling as though he could have gone much further.
It is a quick read, so I would say that for anyone having their own Jewish identity crisis, it is a good book to check out, if not for answers to serious questions, but a few good cracks. (less)
So only 100 pages in and it gets stolen from my car. I hope that bastard that took my backpack and cds and broke my back window will appreciate the de...moreSo only 100 pages in and it gets stolen from my car. I hope that bastard that took my backpack and cds and broke my back window will appreciate the depth with which Kaplan analyzes the conflicts between post-Reformation Prostestants and Catholics. I hope that that son of a bitch is enjoying the detailed accounts of Hugonaut persecution. I assume that the asshat will appreciate Kaplan's thesis that because religion took a highly public and confessional role, it opened up an easy atmosphere for conflict in a world where churches acted as civic institutions. I'll have to put this one on hold until I replace it. What a jerk. (less)
I probably read the first half aout three times. I find it uberly annoying that I keep reading the first half only. It's like when you're watching Sha...moreI probably read the first half aout three times. I find it uberly annoying that I keep reading the first half only. It's like when you're watching Shawshank Redemption on TV and you keep seeing the last half. (less)