Tim LaHaye has just died at age 90. LaHaye had a long career as an evangelical leader and a conservative activist, and he was among the clergymen who helped Jerry Falwell launch the Moral Majority. But he is best known for co-writing the Left Behind series, a long sequence of novels about the Endtimes that sold like crazy after they started appearing in 1995.
I try to keep up with the big developments in pop apocalypticism, but I've never been able to bring myself to slog through all 16 volumes of that series. But I did read the first one, which begins with the Rapture and then starts skating toward Armageddon. It's a stiffly written story that at times feels like it was composed in an alternate timeline. (LaHaye and his coauthor seem to think, for instance, that secular reporters refer to Israel's boosters as "the Jewish Nationalists.") The only time it comes alive is a scene where a character becomes a born-again Christian—evidence for the old saw that you should write what you know. Or maybe it's evidence for the opposite: Millions of people bought this novel and then ponied up for the sequels without carping. Write whatever you want, fellas!
LaHaye has a cameo in my book The United States of Paranoia, chatting about the Illuminati in the early '70s with a young man named Mike Warnke. Warnke then went on to pose as a defector from a vast Satanic conspiracy he called the Illuminati, and he got a lot of attention on the Christian circuit before he was revealed to be a fraud. Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, the reporters who exposed Warnke, think LaHaye inadvertently introduced him to the idea of the Illuminati, and thus played an indirect role in spreading one of the most popular conspiracy theories of our time. So that's two big contributions LaHaye made to modern apocalyptic folklore. How many of you have done even one?