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Remembering Tim LaHaye, Co-Author Of The Apocalyptic 'Left Behind' Series


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Tim LaHaye, who was a prominent figure in the Christian fundamentalist movement, died Monday at the age of 90. We're going to listen back to an excerpt of our interview with him. Lahaye co-wrote the best-selling "Left Behind" series, 16 novels published between 1997 and 2007.

When I spoke with him in 2002 after the publication of the ninth novel, 50 million copies of these novels had already been sold. The stories are about the apocalypse and the second coming of Jesus. The series imagines what would happen during the rapture. Millions of born again Christians are instantly raised into heaven.

The non-believers are left behind on earth to face seven years of tribulation, wars, plagues and other catastrophes until the final battle between Jesus and the anti-Christ. In these books, the anti-Christ is the former head of the United Nations. LaHaye was a longtime leader of the Christian right. He co-founded the Moral Majority. In 1987, he briefly served as co-chair of Republican Jack Kemp's presidential campaign.

LaHaye also co-founded the Council for National Policy, a secretive group whose members were described by abcnews.com as among the brightest lights of the hard right. Here's an excerpt of our interview.


GROSS: Tim LaHaye, I'm going to ask you to describe your understanding of the end of days. What happens at the end?

TIM LAHAYE: Well, the Bible is very clear. If you take it literally, it's very clear about the events in the last days. The next major event on the prophetic calendar is what we call the rapture of the church, when Christ shouts from heaven and all the dead in Christ - for 2,000 years, there'd be billions of people who have called on the name of the Lord as their Lord and Savior.

They'll be resurrected. And then we which are alive, all believers on the earth today - and only God knows how many, I hope it's maybe 1 or 2 billion people that have received Christ while they're alive - and they will be transformed. And we meet in the air. Then we meet the Lord, who we meet in the clouds. And then we meet the Lord in the air.

And then we'll ever be with the Lord. But then, and this is what the Book of Revelation covers and what we cover mostly in our fiction series "Left Behind" is the events that will happen here on earth. And they're detailed in the Book of Revelation. And you'll find the time of wrath, the wrath of God, on those who reject him and follow the forces of evil.

GROSS: So first comes the rapture in which the believers rise to heaven. And then comes the seven-year period of the tribulation, which is filled with war and plague and famine and all that stuff. And the people experiencing that are the non-believers, the people who have been left behind on earth. And how does that end?

LAHAYE: Well, that ends by Christ finishing his coming. In the rapture, he comes in the air. But in the seven years later, he comes to the earth. And he conquers the anti-Christ armies as they're gathered in Armageddon. And then he sets up his kingdom. And then you have what everybody craves for, peace on earth, goodwill toward men. And you have the government of Christ.

It's a time of righteousness, a time of justice and a time of blessing. And it lasts for a thousand years.

GROSS: So the creation of Israel is, in your mind, a sign that the end is near. Now, what happens to the Jewish people in your vision of the end of days?

LAHAYE: Oh, they're going to go back into the promised land, and they're going to rebuild their temple. And they're going to set up their temple worship. You know, it's been 2,000 years almost that they've had no worship. Ever since 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed, they've had no sacrifice. And so they will return to that.

GROSS: So although the establishment of Israel is important in your vision of the second coming, Jews themselves will have to convert to Christianity in order to be saved and those who don't will be condemned to suffer here on Earth during the tribulations and then basically to go to hell if they haven't converted after that?

LAHAYE: That's a good summary of what's going to happen. Just because you're a Jew does not mean that you don't have to make the same decision that everyone else does. The Bible refers to men all-encompassing in the words whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. And so he doesn't discriminate between Jews or Gentiles.

It's God's will that all men be saved and receive Jesus as their Messiah.

GROSS: You believe that the only true faith is born again Christianity and that only born again Christians will be redeemed and go to heaven. During this time on earth, what is your feelings toward people of other faiths or your feelings about people who are Christian but not born again Christians? Do you have respect for their faiths?

Do you respect them as Catholics or Jews or Muslims?

LAHAYE: Well, I respect them for what they believe. In fact, I try to be respectful toward all people and yet disagree with what they believe. That should be my right in a free society. But it's my responsibility before God to confront other people with the truth as it is in Christ. A lot of people say that you should know the truth and the truth will make you free.

But they take it out of context. The truth there is Jesus. Jesus is the truth. He is the way that God has prescribed to come. And he says no man comes to the Father but by him. I'll tell you a little secret. I was in the Holy Land when they were having a religious conclave. And who should be walking down the hall toward me with an entourage but the Dalai Lama.

And I didn't know - here I am a minister from America visiting. And I just stuck out my hand and shook hands with him and said, sir, has anyone ever explained to you who Jesus Christ really is? If they haven't, I'd be glad to spend an hour with you and just share with you the truth about him. And his aide, of course, brushed me off and told me that he was busy.

He didn't have time. But that was just an involuntary response to a man who is very religious and very pious and probably very sincere. But he doesn't know the truth of the way to God. And I think we Christians have to be ready at any moment to share that truth with them.

GROSS: The rapture takes place during your series of novels. And that's when people who are believers get just instantaneously lifted into heaven. And in your novel, suddenly their kind of personal effects are left behind. But the people have disappeared, you know, leaving behind, like, earrings or clothing or other personal effects. Would you like to be alive during the rapture?

Do you think that it makes a difference to your soul whether you die before the rapture or whether you're here for the actual rapture itself?

LAHAYE: No, it doesn't make any difference for your soul. But I'll be honest with you, my wife and I have kiddingly said, you know, we've been married for 55 years. We would love to be part of the rapture instead of either one of us having to face death of the person we love, to go together in the rapture.

And it's a comfort to us to know that in the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, Jesus could shout and we could be translated into heaven forever and ever and ever and ever.

GROSS: Well, Tim LaHaye, thank you very much for talking with us.

LAHAYE: It's been my privilege. God bless you.

GROSS: Tim LaHaye, recorded in 2002. He co-wrote the "Left Behind" series and co-founded the Moral Majority. He died Monday at the age of 90. After a short break, we'll listen back to an interview with singer Marni Nixon who also died this week. She dubbed the singing for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.