Disclaimer: 'RTCs' in this post does not refer to all Christians, all Evangelicals or all readers of LaHaye and Jenkins, but rather to the Platonic 'dear reader' that the Left Behind books seem to be addressing.The abbreviation was coined by Fred Clark in his posts analysing the books to describe the distinction they appear to make between 'left behind' Christians, who weren't Christian enough to get Raptured, and the real, true Christians who disappear at the beginning of the story.
Fred Clark and those of us who read and comment on his columns often struggle to understand the mindset of "RTCs", "Real True Christians" like those portrayed in the Left Behind books. These attempts are many and various, but I don't think this one has occurred to anyone else so far.
There is a common, but not well-known, neurological condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. It describes visual hallucinations suffered by visually impaired or late-blinded people. More than ten percent of people with severe to complete visual loss experience these hallucinations, but fewer than one percent tell their doctors or other caregivers about them, because they're afraid--sometimes justifiably--of being thought to be insane.
Just for the record: Charles Bonnet Syndrome is not a form of mental illness. It's a disorder of the brain's visual processing system (about which more later). Unlike, say, schizophrenic "voices," the images produced in CBS, though they can be very vivid and startling, are not emotion-laden or connected with the viewer in any way. You may see faces, but they're not the faces of anyone you've ever met; you may see people walking around, but they're not talking to you or even paying attention to you. They are merely abstract visual images.
CBS apparently happens when the brain's visual processing systems become starved for input. These neural circuits then basically begin making stuff up. The resulting images can be simple geometric shapes, miniature visual copies of objects seen at some time in the past, faces (often with distortions such as huge teeth or eyes) or entire scenes of rooms full of costumed people moving about. It's an interesting phenomenon. You can find out more about it in this excellent talk by neurologist Oliver Sacks.
So what does all this have to do with people like LaHaye and Jenkins and their fans?
I think there's an analogy between RTCs and Charles Bonnet Syndrome patients.
What if the sometimes bizarre beliefs of the RTCs--the reliance on "magic words" rather than compassion, justice and mercy; the belief that the President of the U.S. can simultaneously be a Muslim, an Atheist and the follower of a radical Black Protestant minister; the understanding of the Bible as a message to 21st Century Americans rather than Bronze Age-to-first-century Jews--what if these beliefs are being generated by minds starved of "real input" in the form of grasping how the world and people actually work?
Bear with me here.
It doesn't take many pages of Left Behind to convince you that its authors have no idea what makes people tick in real life. In the absence of this understanding, they have to substitute something else. Pretty much any narrative will do. The economy is controlled by Jewish Bankers. Brown people are planning to take over the world. America is persecuted by people who hate our freedom. Pick one. Preferably one that makes you look good.
Likewise, if you have no framework for understanding things like evolution, or plate tectonics, or human physiology, you can interpret AIDS, earthquakes and heart attacks as the Judgment of God on people who are insufficiently like you.
In all seriousness: the human brain is, among other things, a machine for recognizing and generating patterns. If there's not a pattern detectable in the environment, it will supply one itself. (Remember the Face on Mars?)
I think it's worth considering that this sort of pattern-generation in the absence of real data is at work in generating the RTC world view. At the very least, it is a more charitable comparison than the frequently-made charge of mental illness. And it suggests that the problem need not be intractable.
We've all heard stories of people who changed their beliefs when confronted at close quarters with facts that did not fit into that belief system. My gay son is a good, respectful, compassionate kid: is he really going to hell? My black (Muslim, female, transsexual) co-worker shows up on time, gets the job done, and doesn't give me any flak, unlike some others I could name--is he or she really some kind of hostile alien?
Those pink giraffes that I see when I get up in the middle of the night disappear when I turn on the bathroom light--maybe they're not really there.
The Slacktiverse is a community blog. Content reflects the individual opinions of the contributors. We welcome disagreement in the comment threads, and invite anyone who wishes to present an alternative interpretation of a situation to write and submit a post.