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 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 13:38 GMT
Armageddon fiction grips the US
Tim LeHaye's books explore the end of the world

Fifty million copies have been sold in the US of a series of novels which dramatise the 'end times' as fundamentalist Christians call them.

The books also deliver a strong political message.

In these fundamentalist tales, Jesus Christ swoops back to earth and Christians are all taken up to heaven, as foreseen in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

The rest fight among themselves - some eventually join Jesus and some are taken off to eternal damnation.

Never in the history of mankind has there been so much fear of self-annihilation

Tim LeHaye
Millions upon millions of ordinary Americans, and not just the ones who live in log huts and think the government is poisoning the water, are reading them.

The author is an evangelical preacher named Tim LeHaye.

"Never in the history of mankind has there been so much fear of self-annihilation," he told the BBC.

"People are asking the question what is going to happen in the future, and the Bible gives them the answer."

And he believes that as the end of the world approaches, it will be presided over by a world government.

"The Bible is very clear that is the last days there is a world government - it could be the United Nations, because the UN is totally an anti-Christian organisation, and has been from the beginning," he added.

Political message

The point about the UN is important because it goes to the heart of the political message in the books.

In the first novel, millions of devout Christians disappear. They are taken suddenly up to heaven.

On a transatlantic plane there is some panic when passengers depart leaving their clothes and belongings behind.

So far, it is not political.

Kofi Annan
Harsh criticism for the UN in Tim Leave┐s book
But then the Antichrist arrives and becomes Secretary-General of the United Nations. He persuades all nations to disarm.

According to Rob Boston, a watcher of the religious right, the message is a powerful one for many who would not otherwise be exposed to this point of view.

"I know that a lot of people who read these books are susceptible to its political and religious message - and many people in this country have not been terribly supportive of the United Nations." he said.

"Look how long it took for George Bush to go to the United Nations over Iraq."

Religious converts

The powerful appeal of the books is confirmed by the views of readers who have gathered in Slosberg's Deli on the outskirts of the Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

"The rapture is going to take place," says one reader.

Others believe that Americans have already been given signs that the end is near.

"I know when the attacks on September 11 happened, my sister called me and said this was the end of the world - she had connected because she had read the first book," another woman adds.

Another man claimed that Bible study using the novels had resulted in several converts.

And for the true believers, the fact that there are those who are questioning the Book of Revelation is also a sign that the end is coming.

The true believers are sure they will be saved.

They are a self-confident lot, no doubt.

And if they are right, the last laugh will indeed be on them, and the rest of us had better watch out.

See also:

08 Aug 02 | Middle East
31 Mar 02 | Education
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