I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth (2010). Peterson, B. Da Capo Press. (Kindle Edition)
Brenda Peterson’s I Want to Be Left Behind is a personal memoir of her spiritual journey growing up in a Southern Baptist family and finding her own way to her spirituality. I feel that Peterson is really writing about what would be considered Deep Ecology or what Taylor describes as “dark green religion.” Peterson essentially talks about growing up isolated spiritually from her family because of her deep connection to nature. She further makes an argument, for Evangelical Christians, to counter the Rapture-let it burn mentality that pervades much of Evangelical culture. The book is funny, moving, a very easy read perfect for summer reading I think for anyone spiritually or environmentally inclined no matter what your spiritual path.
Peterson also draws an important parallel between conventional environmental rhetoric and evangelical rapture rhetoric. Peterson’s points are valid and important: like Evangelicals, the Environmental movement focuses on doom and gloom fear to motivate people to change their ways. This kind of extremism might scare people into recycling or whatever, but the holier than thou attitude won’t win a war of hearts and minds. Peterson asserts, and I agree, that environmental struggles are truly a war of hearts and minds. People will go grudgingly along with you if you frighten them enough, but teaching people to love animals and natural environments will bring much more meaningful change: instead of just going through the motions conciseness will shift. This book comes from someone on the other side of the shift, watching it for a long time, and is a warning for all environmentalists to change our ways or we risk losing the war.
I guess you’re wondering why I am blogging about a book about Rapture theology, and coming to terms with it, on a Pagan blog. Well, because I’m extending the definition to all things spiritual – and because many people think of Paganism as “nature religion.” Some kinds of Pagans worship nature, but not all do. Some simply fall outside of the big three Abrahamic religions and that doesn’t make you less “Pagan.” That being said, I like many Pagans grew up surrounded by Christianity in a social environment dominated by Christians. I grew up in Missouri, with great grandparents still in the Ozarks, with a deeply religious Baptist great grandma. While my parents always made it pretty clear to me that we were not those kinds of Christians, the Rapture is *not* real, and the end of the world won’t be coming my family members had personal encounters of the Rapture is coming kind. Also, growing up in the UCC and Catholic cultures, nature was God’s creation and sacred as such: we preached environmental stewardship. I was always intrigued by the concept of the Rapture, and frankly I still don’t understand why people believe this way. Regardless of your personal experiences, most Americans have to deal with the consequences of the throw it all away culture created by Rapture theology (especially pre-tribulation Rapture theology which is a distinctly modern American take on the Rapture: more on that another day) in our political life. That’s why I choose to read the book and because of my experiences, friendships, and education the book was moving and interesting. For Pagans who have no desire to revisit any kind of Christianity, or are opposed to finding anything that might redeem Christian culture this won’t be a read for you.
Full Disclosure: I purchased this book. All views and opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and I was not paid or asked by author or publisher to write this review.