Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking

Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking

by Nicholas Guyatt

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In Have a Nice Doomsday, Nicholas Guyatt searches for the truth behind a startling statistic: 50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime. They're convinced that, any day now, Jesus will snatch up his followers and spirit them to heaven. The rest of us will be left behind to endure massive earthquakes,

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In Have a Nice Doomsday, Nicholas Guyatt searches for the truth behind a startling statistic: 50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime. They're convinced that, any day now, Jesus will snatch up his followers and spirit them to heaven. The rest of us will be left behind to endure massive earthquakes, devastating wars, and the terrifying rise of the Antichrist. But true believers aren't sitting around waiting for the Rapture. They're getting involved in debates over abortion, gay rights, and even foreign policy. Are they devout or deranged? Does their influence stretch beyond America's religious heartland—perhaps even to the White House?

Journeying from Texas megachurches to the southern California deserts—and stopping off for a chat with prophecy superstar Tim LaHaye—Guyatt looks for answers to some burning questions: When will Russia attack Israel and ignite the Tribulation? Does the president of Iran appear in Bible prophecy? And is the Antichrist a homosexual?

Bizarre, funny, and unsettling in equal measure, Have a Nice Doomsday uncovers the apocalyptic obsessions at the heart of the world's only superpower.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This humorous, first-person narrative details Guyatt's (history, Simon Fraser Univ., B.C.; Providence and the Invention of the United States) exploration of an end-times-obsessed subculture of Christianity in which the words rapture, tribulation, and Armageddonare part of the everyday vocabulary. Guyatt examines the motivations and personalities of some of the biggest names in the end-times business-e.g., John Hagee (Jerusalem Countdown), Tim LaHaye (the "Left Behind" series), Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), and Joel Rosenberg (The Last Jihad)-as well as some smaller names. He exposes the conflicting views of sincere end-times believers, asking, e.g., whether the Antichrist will use Islam or humanism to take over the world and whether political means should be used to postpone or hasten the inevitable. Along the way, he explains the history of apocalypticism in America and the basics of dispensational theology for a popular audience. (Readers can find a more complete treatment of these topics elsewhere, e.g., in the second edition of George M. Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture.) Guyatt's skepticism is obvious; nonetheless, he portrays his subjects with fairness and dimension. Recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.
—Nancy E. Adams

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Have a Nice Doomsday
Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World

Chapter One

Jews and a Furious Christ

It's a little after eight on a muggy Sunday morning and I'm standing outside Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. The parking lot is vast, filling up with minivans, pickups, and SUVs nearly half an hour before the service begins. The church itself, set back from the road, looks like a resort hotel: there's one of those semicircular drives just in front of the main doors, and I'm half expecting to see valet parking. Cornerstone is the headquarters of John Hagee, one of the most influential Christian leaders in America. Pastor Hagee, like tens of millions of evangelicals, believes that the apocalypse is imminent.

A few months earlier, in a secondhand bookstore in New York, I'd stumbled upon Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee's "warning to the world" about the looming nuclear confrontation between Iran and the United States. The first paragraph got my attention.

Jerusalem Countdown is a page-turning heart-stopper! Using my confidential sources in Israel, information from military experts around the world, and electrifying revelations from Bible prophecy, I will expose this reality: unless the entire world—including America, Israel, and the Middle East—reaches soon a diplomatic and peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear threat, Israel and America will be on a nuclear collision course with Iran!

The book was brand new, and I guessed that some jaded New York reviewer had discarded it. I bought a copy but I didn't think that anyone else would.

When I arrive in Texasin May 2006, Jerusalem Countdown has sold more than six hundred thousand copies and reached number 14 on the USA Today bestseller list. Since Hagee completed the draft of the book the previous autumn, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has steered Iran toward a diplomatic showdown with the United States. Right on the Hagee schedule, Ahmadinejad has just announced to the world that Iran has succeeded in producing weapons-grade uranium. Even though the war in Iraq is going badly for America, some pundits are predicting that the Bush administration will go to war with Iran. Does John Hagee know something that the rest of us don't? "We are standing on the brink of a nuclear Armageddon," Hagee warns in the first part of the book. "The coming showdown with Iran is a certainty!"

Cornerstone is just off a major freeway, and as you drive into the parking lot you pass beneath an enormous sign that flashes the times of church services, the names of upcoming church speakers and events, and a billowing Stars and Stripes. The sign is also a billboard for the latest products from the Hagee commercial empire. Today, it's plugging Jerusalem Countdown, but Pastor Hagee isn't just a minister and author. He's the president of John Hagee Ministries, a sprawling enterprise that sells sermons, videos, Israel tours, and even high-speed Internet access that filters out unsavory Web sites. ("John Hagee Online can protect you and your children from the dangers of the Internet!") He appears regularly on Trinity Broadcasting Network, the nation's leading Christian TV station, and he has his own "television ministry"—Global Evangelism Television—to broadcast Cornerstone services and events to subscribers and across the Internet.

According to the local newspaper, Hagee made $1.25 million in 2001, more than three times as much as other nonprofit directors and executives in this part of Texas. He lives in an exclusive gated community, the Dominion, near the stars of the San Antonio Spurs. When he was challenged by a journalist to justify his income, he pointed out that he worked an eighty-hour week and was entitled to a decent living: "I deserve every dime I'm getting."

Jerusalem Countdown has been keeping Hagee busy. Since it was published in January 2006, the pastor has been touting his "confidential sources" and styling himself as an Iran expert. Some journalists have taken him at his word. Earlier in the year, I saw him interviewed on Fox News, probed by the anchor for some indication of Ahmadinejad's next move. "Make no mistake," Pastor Hagee assured viewers. "Iran will use nuclear weapons against Israel and use nuclear weapons against the United States of America." Hagee has made a number of appearances on Fox, though curiously he isn't introduced as an apocalyptic preacher.

When evangelicals cross over to a mainstream audience, things don't always turn out well. On September 13, 2001, the veteran televangelist Pat Robertson interviewed his old friend Jerry Falwell. The pair of them agreed that the 9/11 attacks were God's revenge on an America that tolerated pagans, gays, feminists, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Although Falwell apologized the following day, both men remained in the headlines for their extreme views about the war on terror. In 2002, Falwell told 60 Minutes that "Muhammad was a terrorist." (Another apology was issued.) In 2005, Pat Robertson suggested on his TV show that President Bush should assassinate the troublesome Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Evangelicals like Falwell (who died in May 2007) and Robertson have made an impact on mainstream culture since 9/11, but I don't think they've found a lot of new converts this way. I remember being on the immigration line at Newark Airport in January 2006 watching a CNN report on Pat Robertson's latest assertion. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, had just been felled by a stroke after removing Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. Robertson saw this as a simple case of divine vengeance. (The CNN headline: "Robertson suggests God smote Sharon.") As the story played out on the video screen at Newark, I watched Americans and visitors in the arrivals hall react to the story with a mixture of amusement and disgust.

John Hagee's relationship with the media seems very different. CNN has invited him to chat about the end of the world as if he were discussing the congressional elections. Fox News treats him like an expert from the Council on Foreign Relations. In spite of his open embrace of doomsday in Jerusalem Countdown, John Hagee has become an authority on the Middle East even while the region has been gripped by unprecedented instability and violence. He isn't just offering a bleak commentary on this debate: he's helping to shape it.

Have a Nice Doomsday
Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World
. Copyright © by Nicholas Guyatt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Nicholas Guyatt was educated at Cambridge and Princeton, and he teaches history at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He is a contributor to the London Review of Books and The Nation magazine, and he is the author of three previous books. Born and raised in England, he now lives in Vancouver.

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