I’ve had an idea for another novel. It’s against my better judgment, but I’m going to pitch it right here, to anyone who will bother reading it.
I want to write my own action-political-thriller about the “End Times” foretold in the Book of Revelation. Yes, it has been done: “Left Behind, ” series of Tim LaHaye, “Chronicles of Brothers” by Wendy Alec, and probably many others. But this time, I would like to tell my own version, one that is critical, bittersweet, and grounded in reality.
I would like to write this book about Christians, and other people, standing for their faith against insurmountable odds. But I don’t want prophecies of doom, angels and demons, or the spectacular return of Christ. I don’t want shadowy occultists or socialists who hate Christians for absolutely no reason at all. No. I want a story that stems from true political issues and reflects the reality of a conflict between religion and science I see only growing worse in the next 100 years.
* * *
It all begins when a nuclear strike wipes out Manhattan. Daniel Keith, a Christian pastor and writer with dreams to shepherd a megachurch, and Greg Gray, a left-wing journalist investigating an evangelical conspiracy, are forced together in order to survive as the nation descends into chaos. Those who are allegedly responsible for the bombing are revealed — the Lord’s Army, a Christian extremist group with demands to rescind homosexual marriage, illegalize abortion, and replace evolutionary theory with Creationism in public schools, or else more American cities will succumb.
As the nation fears another nuclear strike, another player enters the war — a mysterious army of invincible robots takes over the White House, and a little-known politician named Richard Harris seats himself in the Oval Office and declares himself president of the United States. A new faction raises its flag in the White House: the Axiom, a party that boasts progress, liberty, enlightenment, and above all a grandiose promise to end the “Christian problem” that the old government could not handle.
And, at least for awhile, they do. The Lord’s Army is quickly apprehended, all of its members publicly executed, and the new regime is cherished by the masses. But under the new atheist government, enforced by powerful military robots, martial law is enacted, religion is censored from the media, religious books and icons are banned, and churches are locked up and bulldozed. Old U.S. police and military forces are no match as the Axiom continues its march across the country. Daniel’s faith and welfare struggle to survive as the secular inquisition slowly transforms into a reign of terror.
Meanwhile, Gregory — whose heart has changed to protect Daniel’s faith — infiltrates the Axiom’s ranks as a mole, digging deeper and deeper, uncovering evidence that stirs disturbing questions — Was the Lord’s Army really responsible for the attack? Did the group even exist? Does the Axiom plan to liberate America, or enslave it? — until he discovers the Axiom’s final and terrifying solution: exterminate religion.
Daniel returns to his home in rural Western New York, where he rises as a leader of a resistance populated not just by Protestants, but all faiths — even those whose only faith is in humanity — against the Axiom, while wrestling with a crucial decision. Should the counties take up arms and fight, or should they practice their faith and face imprisonment and possible death?
In a world that is swiftly losing faith, how much agony can Daniel endure before he, too, loses his faith?
* * *
The idea for this tale began when I was a teenager. During an evening church service, I heard a particularly disturbing legend from North Korea. So it goes: Communists discovered a secret hideout of Christians and so killed them by lining them up in front of a steamroller. For days and weeks, I put myself in the place of those Christians. In my nightmares, I faced the deafening roar of the steamroller, the pavement quaking under my back, and I would silently recite every scripture I knew to keep my faith. But in the end, I would always run away or collapse into pleading hysterics before my captors, saying whatever they wanted me to say to keep myself alive. Throw me off of a building, chop my head on a guillotine, inject me with poison, stand me before a firing squad — something swift and painless — but, dear God, please, spare me from that monstrous steamroller.
Matthew 10:33 is very clear about what would happen to me afterward: “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in Heaven.” Because of my God-given instincts of self-preservation, and my mild aversion of my skull popping and my guts spurting out of my mouth like a bottle of toothpaste, I would be rejected by Christ, I would plunge into Hell and there suffer torment infinitely worse and eternal. So I prayed that God would never put me through such a test, until many years later, when I realize the sheer and utter unfairness of this martyrdom.
The Great Tribulation is a part of a grander chain of events which Christ described to his disciples when they asked him how the world would end. According to Matthew, it will be a time when nonbelievers will persecute believers en masse. Steamrollers will be all over the place, mashing up Christians wherever they go, as well as virtually every other sadistic method of extermination humanly conceivable.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. And because iniquity will about, the love of many will wax cold. But those who endure until the end, they will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).
Popular in evangelism is the belief that a shadowy New World Order led by the devil has plans to usher in the Anti-Christ and perform a massive genocide against all the Christians in the world. A poll recently demonstrated that 4 out of 5 Christians in the United States believe we are in the End Times, that this Great Tribulation is nearly upon us, and that Christ will return within their lifetime. Basically, books about the apocalypse sell like hotcakes.
I’m not exactly concerned with whether or not this “Christian extermination project” is possible. I’m a fiction writer. I’m already branded a liar, possibly a heretic. So I’m more interested in creating that fictional set of circumstances in which the nightmare would be possible.
The Christian genocide would look like the holocaust of the Jews. As there was a “Jewish problem,” in Nazi Germany, there would be a “Christian problem” in the United States. Before the holocaust, antisemitism was as fashionable as suits and ties. Europeans widely held conspiracies that Jews, particularly the Rothschild banking dynasty, controlled the banks and secretly ruled the world. Which is why Germany blamed them for the country’s economic collapse after the first World War. Jews were believed to wield tremendous, but secret, political power. Indeed, the Zionists and the state of Israel have great sway over the affairs of the United States.
Christian evangelists also wield the most political power in the United States, and theirs is not even unknown. Every American president professes his faith in Christ. But it is among the intellectual elite where those professing religious faith dwindle. American Fascists, by Chris Hedges, details how the Christian Right plans to take over the country. Christian Nation, a novel by Frederic C. Rich, actually depicts the Christian Right’s takeover of the United States and its enslavement of homosexuals.
But my real concern comes from atheist fundamentalists, the unholy trinity being Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Even the title of Hitchen’s polemic God Is Not Great: How Religion Ruins Everything speaks of the pathological outrage against religion. As Chris Hedges summed up the New Atheist movement:
“These atheists embrace a belief system as intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of the religious fundamentalists. They propose a route to collective salvation and the moral advancement of the human species through science and reason.” These atheists call for “the silencing or eradication of human beings who are impediments to human progress.”
If the current “new” atheist minority were to grow in numbers and power — or else get their hands on an army of indestructible robots — I’m beginning to see the first stages of a phenomena people have all but dubbed “The Christian Problem” coming into play.
I do not believe this Great Tribulation would occur in the next 100 years, if ever — not if it looks like whole villages of Southern Baptists arrested in FEMA camps and gassed to death. The Book of Revelation was written by an apostle in the first century, in a time when Christians were hunted, crucified, burned, and fed to lions by the Roman government and a few pagans suspicious of their communion rituals — and the persecution was neither very long, or even that bad. It’s possible most tales of Christian martyrs are exaggerations or completely made up. It’s a mystery why the ancient world hated Christians so much back then, but I’d be willing to be it’s not for the humanistic reasons of the 21st century.
The legend of the Christian-eating-steamroller is bogus, because North Korea would consider it absolutely insane to make public martyrs out of their political enemies, and such myths of martyrdom make people forget the true persecution Christians face. A regime like North Korea never arrests anyone solely on the grounds they believe in Jesus Christ, but for crimes one implicitly commits by being a believer, namely sedition, treason, and superstition if it’s an ultra-progressive ideology. Christians are put to work in labor camps, where they die silently, forgotten, and at least the state gets at least 18 months of labor out of them.
However, this Christian nightmare would be more probable if the anti-religious regime were not like North Korea, but like ISIS. Muslim extremists, who broadcast their executions all over the internet, do so for a strategic reason — to frighten their enemies into submission. Such a tactic, when it is effective, is actually meant to reduce casualties. It’s exactly why 10,000 trained Iraqi soldiers fled from a mere 2,000 extremist militants. In this context, martyrdom makes tactical sense for a regime. In the face of a certain death, I don’t doubt that most Christians would be quick to denounce their faith, if they saw one of their own getting their face eaten by rats, or their skin pealed off with fishhooks.
In my book, I will model the atheist regime — the Axiom — after ISIS rather than Communists. It will be an organization that begins its evil plan to wipe out Christianity from the ground up, rather than from high above and descending. It will be a minority who seize control of the country after the chaos of a nationwide disaster. A Christian’s worst nightmare.
Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. However, this article (www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/) demonstrates a sharp decline in the Christian share of the population, while the number of Americans who don’t identify with any organized religion is rising. The fall in piety mainly comes from young adults, but is present in all age groups, and Protestantism and Catholicism experienced the greatest loss of adherents.
“The percentage of adults … who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated … has jumped from 16.1% to 22.8%.”
Groups largely feel marginalized by “the other,” either a fabricated enemy or an entire world that is changing away from their traditions. The Bible says Christians are “in the world but not of the world.” But statistics demonstrate that Christians in the United States are the majority.
“But they aren’t REAL Christians,” I’ve heard them say. Once upon a time, this was my own sentiment. Even today, I’m skeptical of the vast numbers these surveys yield. But consider the cultural origins of the United States: Puritan settlers, Spanish and Irish Catholics. However, I take religious surveys with a grain of salt; the US Census Bureau does not ask citizens about their religion, and even the highest national surveys sample only about 35,000 people.
The fact is, Christians are the majority in the United States, and even at a declining rate of 1% every year, they will continue to dominate through the 21st century. If a mass Christian extermination project were to be carried out, the perpetrators would be effectively enslaving — and potentially wiping out — most of the American population. At first glance, this seems overwhelmingly unfeasible and counter-intuitive. But the Bible verse states that many will turn away from the faith.
So the condition of Christianity in the United States is similar to Jews in pre-war Europe, being that they are both hated and believed to wield secret political power that is manipulating and destroying mankind, but they are also very different — Jews, even before the holocaust, were a minority, while Christians make up the majority.
Yes, I said it — Christians are hated. But they aren’t a minority. However, this idea wasn’t provoked into story-form until my early 20’s, when during an argument I had with my brother, he announced something along the lines of: “We should round all the stupid conservatives and Christians and throw them in concentration camps.”
If there is any religion widely hated today, it is not actually Christianity, but Islam. Atheists may cite the Crusades, the Bosnian war, but no tragedy leaves a stain in the American consciousness like 9/11. Sam Harris, a renowned atheist thinker with whom I bear a personal grudge, believes even though evangelical Christianity is a dangerous force in the United States, Islam presents a tremendously greater threat. If Christianity were to be hated beyond Islam, it would have to be responsible (or, apparently responsible) for a crime unthinkably more evil and disastrous than 9/11.
Let’s say, a nuclear strike in New York City.
And so begins the premise of my book. A group of Christian terrorists obtain a nuclear warhead and detonate it in an American city, Manhattan, the cultural capital of secular humanism and all things hated by evangelicals. The consequences would be as follows:
– 800,000 people would die, and another 900,000 would be injured
– Emergency services would be overwhelmed for days, perhaps weeks
– Martial law would be instituted, resulting in suspension of habaius corpus until “the end of hostilities,” which would probably be indefinite and result in the permanent nonexistence of our republic and our freedom
– Radiation would sicken tens of millions in the geographic proximity of the detonation zone for several generations
– A panic would spread through the country, resulting in an exodus from urban centers unlike anything seen in history, for fear that their cities would be targeted next.
I have no doubt that, if the same sect that blew up Manhattan were hosting church basement Bible studies and handing out Bibles the day before, then Christianity would instantly join the ranks of Nazism and Communism as notorious ideologies of history. Faith in God, let alone Christ, would plunge. To publicly call oneself a Christian would be about as fashionable as being an antisemitic — in places such as college campuses, it sort if is. Communities who once cherished their identities as devoted Christians would waver and convert to the humanist response. Churches would be empty.
But there will remain many Christians whose faith is actually strengthened in the face of this disaster. They will identify themselves not as one of the evildoing terrorists, but as “true” Christians who exhibit love. Whether these Christians are believed, it would all depend on the growing paranoia of the secular world after a disaster that was wrought in the very name of Christ.
There might remain a swath of the population intellectual enough to separate these Christian terrorists from the vast majority of Christians — but, dealing with a fictitious scenario, that would depend how optimistic you are. When I consider that those very “intellectual” and “tolerant” persons leading today’s most successful social movements are those dedicating their lives to exposing and campaigning against organized religion, who blame every single evil in this world on faith in God, I am not an optimist.
I don’t believe in supernatural prophesies, but I do believe in self-fulfilling prophesies. I worry that if churches continue to believe that signs involving such disaster and hardship must pass before this world can ever heal, believers may unwittingly fulfill their own collective death wish. I’m afraid that churches will wait, wait, and wait through endless catastrophes for a savior who will never come back, and they will stand by until there is nothing left to save on Earth but rubble and legends.
Christopher Hitchens, though he may have been a neo-conservative godless bigot, presents a thoughtful question: “What one good thing would a religious believer do that a nonbeliever would never do?” There is nothing intrinsically moral about being a believer or nonbeliever. The question has no answer. In fact, I believe that, in this imaginary scenario of a Christian extermination project, the Christians could not survive without the aid of the true humanists in the world — the people whose hearts aren’t hardened by religion’s terrible history, who don’t see Christians as enemies of progress, but as fellow human beings. These people would have to stand in the way of Christians and their diabolical oppressor. I want my story to demonstrate that, whether your goodness comes from a reality or non-reality based belief, people can still be good regardless. The true evil is not without, but within people’s hearts.