One of the most foundational reading experiences of my young life was the Left Behind (For Kids) series, a violently protestant YA spinoff collection of books about the Christian rapture by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. I grew up in the Catholic Church, but despite my theological differences with LaHaye and Jenkins I still avidly consumed these books, which I saw more as “Action & Adventure” than “Youth Pastor Propaganda.”
As we hurdle through our own apocalypse of sorts, I’ve found myself thinking of these weird, wild books and wanting to share the experience with my good pals, the subscribers of this newsletter. So, just for you, dear reader, I’m going to recreate them from memory so you can join me in reflecting on their lessons and what they have to say about the end of the world. I haven’t read them since 2005, so some details might be a bit fuzzy. You’ll just have to deal with that. Well OK here I go.
Our story begins with Capital-G God poof-ing all the Good Ones™ from earth. There’s a pilot on a plane and he’s just sort of zapped from existence leaving only his clothes behind because you’re raptured naked and the rest is drag. The plane crashes but it’s fine because it was full of bad people. I don’t know where this happens exactly so let’s just say Chicago.
Well, the bad news is you live in Chicago and the pilotless plane crashes into your home. Really stressful day, all in all. The plane crashes into your home at just the right angle to kill your sinner dad but not you or your sinner mom. You’re both distraught over this and there’s fire everywhere, so know that. You pick through the burning remains of your filthy heathen house and manage to make it out. RIP to your dad, but maybe if he’d simply been better he wouldn’t have been in that situation.
“Why has this happened to us,” you ask your mom, who like you is a rotten person that God looked at and thought, nah. “Why did the plane fall from the sky and punish us thus?”
It’s at this point that you and your mom, who I don’t feel like characterizing, see people’s clothes scattered everywhere because God snapped his cosmic fingers and made that happen. But you don’t know that yet so it’s really confusing for you. “We should find Pastor Bruce,” your empty void of a mother says out of plot convenience. Seriously this woman could be anyone, I don’t care.
You and your pixelated mom go find Pastor Bruce who couldn’t have been that great of a pastor if he’s still here after the rapture, honestly. But that makes him deep because he’s flawed, and as we all know flawed characters are good. Anyway you go ask your fraudulent pastor who didn’t make God’s final cut why God is doing all this. Good luck with that.
“I think God did this,” Pastor Bruce says. In my mind Pastor Bruce was hot because I was gay and always pictured the men being hot when books didn’t go out of their way to make them ugly. So whatever “hot man” looks like to you, put that in some Birkenstocks and frosted tips. Very “youth pastor in 2002.” That’s Pastor Bruce. “I read about this in the Bible, the book that we all know and I should have read better. This is the rapture and God is rapturing us.”
Your mom goes away at this point because she knows this is a teen action story and she can’t stick around. Can’t say I’ll miss her. Anyway, you, a teen, are now left to team up with sexy Pastor Bruce, which you do because oh shit oh no you’ve got to fight the ANTICHRIST.
Not only do you and Pastor Bruce have to fight the antichrist, but God feels like fucking with the human trash he LEFT BEHIND™ because well that’s the mood he’s in and what can we do about it. You’ve also got earthquakes and fires and plagues and swarms of insects to deal with. These are important because we need them to pick off your team one by one ahead of the final confrontation.
Oh, yes, the team. I honestly don’t have time to bring everyone together individually so pretend the gang’s all here and they all have tragic backstories that are super compelling.
Pastor Bruce sexily leads you to a room in his failed church where ten or so other teens are waiting for you and holding Bibles. Cool Bibles, though. Like maybe one is camo themed and anyway these are cool youths who just so happen to be Christians, which, it must be said, is a kind of dorky religion. They recently converted after Pastor Bruce told them that God hadn’t chosen them just like when Tyra doesn’t take some of the contestants to Paris in America’s Next Top Model. They call themselves the Tribulation Force, which is a pretty decent name.
“Hi, I’m Annie,” your love interest says. “My entire family was killed in one of the subsequent earthquakes God sent for shits and giggles. It made me start believing in him because honestly I’m terrified and I don’t think he will leave me alone until I pray a lot.” You fall in love out of obligation to the genre but there’s not much you can do about it because you’ve got to go fight the antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, the head of the United Nations and the former prime minister of Romania. So, you know. Huge get for Romania there.
Carpathia’s goals are quite simple: mandate homosexuality, ban gender, eat babies, socialize medicine, and institute a universal language. Calm down, Bernie Sanders! Am I right? He’s also very good looking because he’s the devil and people tend to love him because their lives are shit thanks to neoliberalism. He even has Americans willing to attempt learning a second language, which is terrifying on its own merits.
“We’ve got to bring this son of a bitch down,” Pastor Bruce says, flashing the gumption that was probably why God wasn’t really feeling him. “But how? We’re a small team of one hot youth pastor and YA teens on the outskirts of Chicago, and he’s the head of the United Nations.”
“I have an idea,” one of the teens says, a convert from some exotic religion that brown people like, as proof that neither LaHaye nor Jenkins are racist. Let’s say he’s Buddhist. Anyway, he has a plan. “We can fix the plane that killed the protagonist’s dad, fly it to the United Nations, and pray Nicolae Carpathia to death at point blank range.”
You all put your heads together and fix the murder plane and before you know it you’re all well on your way to the United Nations, the headquarters of which has been relocated to Romania which was already drunk with power after the antichrist chose them as his host country like Elon Musk is flirting with doing in Tulsa.
“We are here in Romania,” Annie says. “But we’re so tired from reconstructing that plane and flying all night so why don’t we rest up in this house until tomorrow?” You all agree, displaying the poor judgment that probably prevented you all from being in heaven right now in the first place. You set up camp inside some house that used to belong to someone who got raptured because God loved them more.
Sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor, Annie whispers that she has something to confess. “There’s something in my heart I’ve been wanting to tell you about,” she says. “Sometimes… when I look at you… I feel…”
Oh NO it’s another one of God’s EARTHQUAKES. God starts shaking the earth like a snow globe and the roof falls apart and one of the beams impales Annie. “OOF!” she says. “Not good.”
“This is not an ideal situation,” you say. Some other members died too but I don’t care really. “Stay with me, Annie. You hear me? Stay with me!”
“OK, but why?” Annie asks. “I kind of feel like if I die I’ll go to heaven at this point and if I don’t I’ll have a massive hole in my stomach. Like, maybe I should just die here? The stakes are really unclear but I guess that’s the problem when you introduce a definite afterlife into the story.”
“Well then die I guess,” you say, and she does. Maybe she’s in heaven now who knows. “Oh no, Annie died,” Pastor Bruce with the massive biceps says. “That sucks. We have to go confront Nicolae Carpathia now before he ends the world, which would be bad I guess because God isn’t done playing with it.”
“Right,” you say. “Let’s go.” But before you do Nicolae Carpathia’s soldiers show up and arrest all of you. They’re probably wearing shiny black helmets and body armor that says “STILL WITH HER” on it or something. “We’re taking you to the boss,” they say, which is handy.
You make your way through the swarms of locusts having an absolute locust rave in Romania to Nicolae Carpathia’s house which is just a house. You and what’s left of your team, certainly not Annie who’s way dead because she’s a girl, prepare for your final confrontation with the antichrist who at this point really hasn’t accomplished a whole lot? I feel like it’s mostly been God killing people but you’re really not beating God in a fight so let’s focus on this fruitcake who wants “one world currency” or whatever.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Tribulation Force,” Nicolae Carpathia says, homosexually. “You’ve foiled approximately none of my plans but that’s fine because I’m not sure what they were. Well, I’m in a bit of a bind here because I guess I could kill you but I’m not sure what that would do. Like, you’re either going to heaven, which is good, or hell, which is where I live. So.”
Pastor Bruce shoots Nicolae Carpathia with his legally obtained firearm and that’s kind of that. “That was for Jesus!” he shouts, and the gay guards clap and convert to Christianity. “Gender is good,” one says. “But only if there are two of them.”
At this point a beam of light shines through the window of Nicolae Carpathia’s normal house and Jesus floats down. “Thank you,” Jesus says. “That's what I wanted you to do. You can come to heaven now. Sorry for not letting you in earlier we just wanted to test you because we’re really bored there’s like nothing happening up there.”
“Can I ask one thing before I go?” You say. “Is… is Annie up there with you?”
“Who?” Jesus asks.
You all go up to heaven where your dad is waiting for you. Your mom might be up there somewhere but who cares. She might still be alive, sinning in obscurity. Annie comes to greet you. “Good job,” she says. “Ultimately I was right about dying. It’s fine. I don’t think it mattered much.” You kiss and that’s the end.
That sure was apocalyptic. I hope you learned a thing or two about the end of the world. That’s all from me. Don’t get impaled by a roof beam we’re actually not sure if there’s a heaven.