Exhibit / May 2, 2018
Hal Lindsey’s bestselling The Late, Great Planet Earth, originally published by the Zondervan Corporation in 1970, revolutionized the Christian publishing industry and introduced the mainstream to rapture or “end times” terminology and imagery, which took root in America with Puritan settlers Increase and Cotton Mather. It was the first Christian book to be reprinted by a major publisher—Bantam, in 1973—directly after the Bantam edition of Chariots of the Gods? became a phenomenon. The first Christian publisher to enter the booming paperback market was Fleming H. Revell Company in 1963 with imprint Spire Books, and, in 1972, Spire Christian Comics was born.
If Spire is remembered today, it’s for the line’s evangelical Archie Comics (1973-1984) negotiated by veteran comics illustrator and recently born again Al Sharpley, in which the Riverdale gang preach “going steady with Jesus” and eschew everything else—TV, dating, rock and roll, alcohol, smoking, the occult, fun, and every ounce of independence and free thought. Hartley adapted several Christian conversion tales originally published in Spire paperbacks, including David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade and Chuck Colson’s Born Again, alongside Bible stories and biographies of “historical” (i.e. Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys) and made-up Christian figures (i.e. Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika).
Hartley’s adaptation of There’s a New World Coming (read the whole thing here) is based on the Hal Lindsey book (1973) of the same name. Billed as a “prophetic odyssey” through the Book of Revelation, it was a sequel of sorts to The Late, Great Planet Earth, a step-by-step guide to the rapture and how to survive it. Devote your life to evangelical dogma and “witnessing” for the church, and you’ll literally get sucked up into Heaven in your comfy corporeal body, where you’ll hang out with a really creepy-looking Jesus for all eternity. Reject the pristine life of a cowering, self-abnegating dog, and you’ll be stuck on Earth during the reign of the Antichrist, seeking solace in free love, the “spiritual adultery” of the occult, drugs, and dirty martinis (see page 28) until Jesus separates the saved from the unsaved, at which point you’ll burn in hellfire. Already dead when Jesus comes back? Not to worry. After the unbelievers are swept painfully into the void, Jesus will resurrect you too. And “It doesn’t make any difference how long the body’s been dead!!! Even if it was chewed up by a man-eating shark—Christ puts it all together again!!!”
The signs that herald the return of Jesus to Earth include lots of wars and drugs and plagues, obviously, but also “Red China’s ability to field an army of 200 million soldiers,” “The revival of the dark occultic practices of ancient Babylon,” and “The decline of the family unit,” the last item illustrated by a panel showing young folks entering an “Alternatives to Marriage Course.” As often happens in propaganda of this sort, the bad things and the fallen world upon which they cleave look like a wild ride, while Heaven appears to be a carefully trimmed state park where wide-eyed, self-congratulatory teen cultists in bell-bottoms stare at Jesus all day. The rapture vortex, on the other hand, looks awesomely psychedelic—sort of like a more laid back “stargate” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. All in all, if you’re a fit young white person, your chances are good. No one else stands a chance.
Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity surged in the 1970s as an ideological pacifier for Nixon’s trembling and silent majority, the authoritarian flip side to the counterculture and the anti-war youth movement. The same year he published The Late, Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey started his first ministry, the JC Light and Power House, at an old fraternity house at UCLA, where he “offered hippies and druggies a place to crash” and charged them a “small fee” to take his classes on the “geopolitical apocalypse” foretold in the Bible. Hartley’s adaptation is a clear attempt to scare the younger kids away from the tokens and attitudes embraced by their older hippie siblings. That Evangelicalism remains the largest religious denomination in America is a pathological miracle in itself.