I'm Jewish. I'm male. I'm alive. By Jerry Falwell's standards, that puts me on the short-list of candidates.
The notable thing for me about the "Left Behind" series--beside the fact that few in the secular media have noticed that millions of Americans are busy reading books warning about the imminence of one-world government, mass death, and the return of the Messiah, is that all the Jewish characters are Christian. LaHaye and Jenkins are both active participants in the absurd and feverish campaign by some evangelical Christians to redefine Judaism in a way that allows for belief in Jesus.
J ews (and again, I feel comfortable speaking for all of us here) find this sort of Christian imperialism just a wee bit offensive. Just imagine if Jews began an official campaign calling Muhammad irrelevant to Islam--can you imagine the fatwas that would produce?
But evangelical leaders, who are, in my experience, uniformly kind and generous in their personal relations, can also be terribly obnoxious in their relations with Jews.
There is only one road to salvation for Jews, and that road runs through Jesus, LaHaye told me. To his credit, though, LaHaye doesn't believe that the Antichrist will be Jewish. He will be a European gentile, who will kill lots of Jews. "The Jews will be forced to accept the idolatry of the Antichrist or be beheaded," he said. This will take place during the seven-year Tribulation.
Jewish suffering, though, is divinely ordained. Even though the Antichrist will not be Jewish, Jews are still capable of great evil and have often been punished for their evil, LaHaye explained. "Some of the greatest evil in the history of the world was concocted in the Jewish mind," LaHaye told me, for reasons that aren't entirely clear--he knew what the name "Goldberg" generally signifies. "Sigmund Freud, Marx, these were Jewish minds that were infected with atheism."
I asked LaHaye to tell me more about the Jewish mind.
"The Jewish brain also has the capacity for great good," he explained. "God gave the Jews great intelligence. He didn't give them great size or physical power--you don't see too many Jews in the NFL--but he gave them great minds."
Of all the evangelical leaders I have interviewed, LaHaye is capable of some of the most anti-Semitic utterances, which is troublesome, because he is also the most popular author in the evangelical world.
The Rev. Falwell is smoother than LaHaye. He acknowledges "where the sensitivity comes from," though he shows no understanding of the role the myth of the Antichrist played in the history of anti-Semitism, and he refuses to back away from his opinion that somewhere in Great Neck or West L.A. or Shaker Heights is living Satan's agent.
"In my opinion," he told me, "the Antichrist will be a counterfeit of the true Christ, which means that he will be male and Jewish, since Jesus was male and Jewish."
I asked him if he understood that such statements strip Jews of their humanity, which is the first step anti-Semites take before they kill them. He responded, "All the Jewish people we do business with on a daily basis, not one has ever got upset over this." It is not Jews who picked this most recent fight, he said, it is supporters of President Clinton.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.