Stephan dissects novels' appeal

by Zach Swiss | 10/31/05 6:00am

Alexander Stephan, professor and Ohio Eminent Scholar at the Ohio State University and senior fellow at the Mershon Center for the Study of International Security, discussed the blockbuster success and implications of the "Left Behind" Christian fiction series in a speech Thursday evening at the Rockefeller Center.

"Left Behind," whose heroes come from Middle America to battle the anti-Christ and fend off imminent apocalypse, is the highest-selling Christian literary and movie series of all time.

"[The series] outsells everything but Harry Potter," Stephan said.

In response to its enormous popularity, "Left Behind" products have flooded the market. Some tie-ins include audio books and large print editions. Even a "Left Behind" video game is in production stages.

Stephan tied the popularity of the "Left Behind" series to the growing religious culture that has emerged in the United States. According to Stephan, 97 percent of Americans believe that God exists, and 82 percent of Americans consider God very important in their lives.

In a more political context, Stephan said 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is under special protection from God, and 62 percent think that President George W. Bush is guided by the right amount of religion in his decisions.

Similar surveys indicated that Germany's population is less religious, Stephan said, but "Left Behind" is no longer just a national phenomenon. Volumes of the series have been translated into 28 languages, and its appeal is growing among other nations.

Part of the series' immense appeal, Stephan said, is the lack of sex, alcohol and potentially offensive language. The series does, however, include significant violence.

Tim LaHaye, one of the series' authors, is an evanelical minister and the author of other books, including many that Stephan described as "Christian self-help books."

"LaHaye has been very active directly in politics," Stephan said. "He was a co-founder of the Moral Majority in the '80s."

Stephan said the series' popularity was part of a larger trend of religion in public life. He cited reports that prayer is common in Bush's White House, and Stephan's PowerPoint presentation featured the President and many advisors in prayer during a meeting. The slideshow also included a picture of the president at the Western Wall, a holy site in the Jewish religion.

Though the book series is enormously successful, many Americans still remain unfamiliar with the books.

"Very many Ameicans have never heard of 'Left Behind,'" Stephan said.

Stephan's speech was sponsored by the German studies and government departments and co-sponsored by the Rockefeller Center and the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

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