Christian video game creates a stir
'Left Behind,' a virtual battle for the souls of unbelievers, draws criticism for its 'us vs. them' view of the world.
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First, Jesus comes to transport "true Christians" to heaven in what's called "the rapture"; "the tribulation" follows on earth, involving seven years of catastrophe and plagues (as drawn from Revelation).Skip to next paragraph
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"It is going to be an unprecedented time of horror of God's judgment on earth," says Terry James, of raptureready.com, the most popular prophecy website.
The period will end with Armageddon and the Second Coming. Those who preach the theology say Jesus' return is imminent. And according to Mr. James, the creation of Israel in 1948 is the most important signal that the End Times have begun. The job of Christians is to convert and save as many people as possible.
The novels focus on the time of the tribulations. The Antichrist is a former head of the United Nations, based in Iraq. His evil minions are called the Global Community Peacekeepers, and are the only people who seek peace treaties. Battles occur around the earth between good and evil forces, leading up to Armageddon in Israel. There, some Jews convert to Christianity and the rest are destroyed along with others who have not accepted Jesus as their savior. Jesus' rule then begins on earth.
The video game engages young gamers as the Tribulation Forces to fight the evil peacekeepers. In multiplayer mode, gamers play on both sides.
"It's ironic the game has been put out for Christmas, which honors the Prince of Peace who said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,' " says Mr. Elnes. "What this game says is 'Cursed are the peacekeepers, for they are children of the Antichrist.' "
The game is the latest facet of a struggle within Christianity over growing promotion of the theology in books, on websites and TV, and in Christian Zionist organizations backing a strong alliance with Israel. Premillennialism is not consistent with Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or mainline Protestant teachings.
Barbara Rossing, an expert on the book of Revelation at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says the notion of the rapture is not a biblical idea but a fiction, and the word isn't found in the Bible.
"That's not what the book of Revelation is about, forecasting a sequence of terrifying events that are going to happen," she says. "Also, while Christians say there is evil in the world, we should never say that evil is incarnate in people.... The traditional Christian teaching is to be engaged with loving God's world, seeing God's image in people, and taking care of one another."
Some Jews are also troubled by the game. "Jews are often instrumental in rapture theology – war in Israel, Jews converting to Christianity, all other Jews disappearing in the third act of a four-act play," says Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, of Jews On First, a First Amendment watchdog group. "What happens if no rapture or Second Coming occurs? The classical response in history has been to blame the Jews for somehow foiling everybody's hopes and plans." Jews On First has created a petition opposing the game on its website for people of all faiths to sign; some 500 have done so in the first few days, the rabbi says.
Many critics admit that in America, banning a product is not the best solution. They say they are trying to educate parents about the contents of the game so they can exercise judgment.
There's even a stir among the faithful over the amount of violence they hear is in the game, says James, though neither he nor most of those e-mailing him have yet seen it for themselves.
Frichner says the issue is simply one of different views of Christianity, and the game, which has been approved for teens by the software ratings board, will sell mostly among evangelical Christians.
Yet they are already having success in evangelizing others, he adds. The game has elements that educate players on various issues (such as evolution and intelligent design), and gives them the opportunity to become believers.
"We've already received e-mails from people who have done that," Frichner says.