Are We There Yet? is a feature in which I break down the current issue of Endtime Magazine, the bimonthly print publication of Endtime Ministries. As you might have guessed, Endtime’spurposeis to advance the notion that the end of the world is nigh and that current news events were prophesized in the Bible’s more apocalyptic passages. The magazine has been published for 22 years without ever questioning whether the end times are actually upon us, which is impressive in a way. I’ll be writing this column every other month or so until the sounding of the first trumpet, or until I get bored with it, whichever comes first.
You’d think it would be pretty fun to write for a magazine where you constantly get to talk about the end of the world—the gigantic battle between good and evil, the seven seals, the Antichrist announcing himself, all that cool stuff. It’d be especially thrilling for you every time a new pope gets announced because, obviously, you get to ask, IS THIS POPE THE FINAL, EVIL POPE WHO WILL USHER IN THE AGE OF THE ANTICHRIST? Plus you get to run a cover of that new pope surrounded by flames and resembling a villain from one of the Star Wars prequels.
(The secret to making the Catholic church look evil is that any old man in fancy robes like that looks evil. And that collection of cardinals behind the pope on Endtime’s cover provide another ominous-looking visual. If the church wants to improve its image, maybe it should stop dressing its leaders in blood-red robes and having them assemble in high-ceilinged places full of ancient, grotesque statues? Gatherings like this look fucking terrifying. But I digress.)
Go to Homeschool – My Education Among the Strange Kids of Rural Georgia in the 90s
“To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid.” - John Holt
My brother’s first-grade classroom was a repurposed janitor’s closet. There wasn’t enough room for aisles, so he and his 40 classmates would crawl over the tops of the desks to enter and exit the room. They went on exactly one field trip that year, to one of the actual, honest-to-God classrooms the Cherokee County, Georgia, school system was frantically building to catch up to the massive influx of families moving to suburban Atlanta. “You’d better be on your best behavior,” his teacher said, “or we’ll never move into this classroom.” They never did.
I reckon that my fourth-grade classroom, on the other end of the school, didn’t suffer from as many health-code violations. There were a half-dozen leaks in the ceiling, but those would have probably helped if the classroom had ever caught on fire. We didn’t really have aisles either; the desks were arranged in a sort of amorphous jumble to avoid the drips from above.
My parents were more concerned with the curriculum than what the classroom looked like. In third grade up North, I was learning long division, and then we moved to Georgia, where I stepped down to single-digit addition and subtraction. Worksheets featured such problems as 6-2, 3+9, even the occasional 1+1. One day, the kid next to me scooted his desk over. I thought he was going to laugh with me about the 1+1. He spoke in a thoroughly Southern drawl I was still getting used to. “You know how to do this? I don’t get it,” he said as he pointed at the first problem on his worksheet. Eight plus zero.
The following summer, I encountered the term homeschool for the first time. It was on a button my mom had brought home from a conference of some sort, and it read:
Sold. For the next four years, my brother and I were homeschooled.
I Got Saved at San Diego’s Creationist Museum (Just Kidding, It Sucked)
In addition to the fancy multi-million dollar creation museum in Kentucky, there are several smaller, shittier ones dotted around the US. Last weekend I took a trip to the one in San Diego called the Creation and Earth History Museum. I brought a camera with me so you could laugh at it from the comfort of your own home without having to deal with any weirdos.
There was a fleeting moment when I first arrived at the museum when I thought it might actually be a fun place. There were a bunch of model dinosaurs outside, and inside near the entrance they had one of those electro-plasma things where the lightning follows your finger as you touch it. And everyone loves those (although, like all things in museums that are there for children to touch, it was coated in some kind of sticky substance that smelled like McDonald’s).
But then I turned a corner and found myself in snoozetown’s central square. This is, essentially, what every single room of the museum looked like: a wall covered in little signs.
And the barrage of text doesn’t stop with the signs. They have these little computer printouts, called “Insight…,”next to each exhibit that you can take home so you can read more about it later.
And if that STILL isn’t enough reading for you, they have QR Codes to reveal EVEN MORE info.
I read almost everything in the museum. (Mostly by taking photos of each sign to read at home later. I genuinely don’t think there would be enough hours in the day to read everything while you were there.) Here’s a breakdown of what I learned about their version of history:
- God created the universe in seven days.
- There was no bad stuff in the world until that dick, Adam, ate an apple.
- Noah’s Ark was real and it’s stuck on top of Mount Ararat, but nobody can find it.
As a Muslim from a Christian family, Christmas has historically been complicated for me. Converting to Islam as a teenager, part of what I wanted from my religion was a new identity; the differences between Christians and Muslims held more value for me than the similarities, so I abstained from my family’s Christmas celebration. The boundaries between religions were crucial to my personal reinvention. I believed that there was no way of interpreting Christmas other than through the theological lens in which Christ was the son of God; because this violated my understanding of Islamic monotheism, tawhid, I had to stay as far from Christmas as I could.
In later years, I gave up on my Christmas boycott. I now join in my family’s annual party—with a discreet trip to Denny’s first, because everything at the family dinner has pork in it and Denny’s is the only thing open—and apparently celebrate the birth of someone’s savior, but not mine. I’m now confident enough in my own Muslim selfhood to not let it be won or lost by a holiday. Anyway, the boundaries don’t always mean to me what they once did; but for numerous Muslims with Christian families, Christmas can be a difficult choice. Besides the theological question of whether celebrating Christmas means that you join in the worship of a human as God, there’s the matter of what constitutes proper Muslim behavior. Celebrating Christmas could be classified asbida’a, “innovation,” the corruption of an Islam that’s imagined to be otherwise pure and pristine through mixture with the practices of other communities.
For pro-Christmas Muslims, the esteemed place of Jesus in Islam might offer a rational defense for sharing in a Christian holiday; the Qur’an not only recognizes Jesus as a prophet, but also supports the story of his miraculous birth from a virgin mother. Some Muslims might take part in their families’ Christmas celebrations with the intention to honor Jesus as a Muslim prophet. This can even connect to Muslim traditions regarding Muhammad. Not all Muslims believe that it is appropriate to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, but those who do might consider the celebration of other prophets’ birthdays as well.
Everything changed in 1987. For whatever reason, my mom had shacked up with a creepy long-distance coach driver who changed his name to Bob Blades. After drinking a bottle of whiskey one night, Bob Blades tried to strangle my mother in the surf off the coast of Land’s End. She escaped courtesy of him passing out, but the intervening months were spent living in fear that “Mad” Bob might return to the house where we now slept on our chair beds, kitchen knives concealed beneath our mattresses. It was at this point that the church came a-knocking and enveloped my traumatized family in its happy arms.
Whether they smelled our fear, I‘m not sure. Perhaps my mother had called them in, knowing I’d become a little obsessed with a Mormon girl whose smiley American brothers would force me to watch indoctrination videos as I sat on their sofa, eating their pizza. I was carted off to a Methodist Church, where I met Pastor Mike, who took me under his wing. And compared to “Mad” Bob “Blades,” now a man with not one, but two threatening epithets to his name, Pastor Mike’s wing was very comfortable indeed.
Pastor Mike was the coolest man I’d ever met up to that point. Before his acquiescence to Jesus, he’d been a bank robber. He had a glass eye (he lost the original one in a bar brawl), but he was undoubtedly a young, charismatic and handsome man—a cheeky Cockney with the gift of the gab, whose ocular impairment only made his fervor seem more real.
I listened intently as he told me how once, when on the verge of a long stretch, he’d begged forgiveness from Christ in his prison cell. The following day, the judge miraculously let him off and from that point on he had pursued his righteous path. I too asked Jesus for forgiveness, and although I’d probably not done much wrong aside from stealing some Penny Racers from Plymouth Woolworths, I threw myself into it with missionary zeal. I read the Bible from cover to cover and cleared all of the clothes out of my captain’s bunk wardrobe so that I could pray in there for hours on end. Nobody seemed to think there was anything wrong with this. I was 14.
In the late 70s and early 80s, I was a closeted gay man in his 20s working as a campus minister for an evangelical Christian student organization called the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. During these years, I struggled with my homosexuality. I was overwhelmed by grief and saw no option other than to repress my desires for sex and love. In 1978, a missionary friend gave me a 35 mm Pentax K1000 that she didn’t use. I knew very little about photography, but I loved taking pictures. It wasn’t my intention to document the American evangelical movement, but rather to take photographs of the people and places that were important to me. Now I see that the camera allowed me to say in pictures what I could never say in words.
When therapy and prayer failed to change me into an enthusiastic heterosexual, I came out as a gay man and resigned from the ministry. Today, I am working on turning my Kodachromes into a photo book calledJesus Days. I just launched a Kickstarter, which you can support here to help me bring this project to life. These photos offer a unique perspective into the peculiar world of IVCF, which, at the time, boasted 500 affiliated chapters on secular colleges and university campuses across America. I captured my fellow evangelicals praying and counseling with students, leading Bible studies and group meetings, and engaging in missions abroad. Here are a few pictures from my collection. Enjoy!
Christians Made a Horror Film About a Haunted Box of Porn
Over the past few years, a Christian called Rich Praytor has been making a found-footage-style horror film called Harmless. Harmless is about a loving, honest, God-fearing American family that is infiltrated by a demonic box of porn, which, when opened, unleashes a poltergeist that proceeds to haunt the house. The main character (played by Rich himself) watches in horror as his home is overcome by the evil spirit, which terrifies his wife and corrupts their eight-year-old son.
Do you get it yet? Christians think porn is evil, and now one of them has made a film where they cast the porn literally as a demon to remind everyone that they should be keeping their hands away from their genitals.
Here is the trailer:
Once I’d stopped masturbating to the trailer, I did a little research and, guess what? It turns out Rich is also a comedian who travels the country telling God-approved zingers to hordes of giggling Christians. You can check out his promo reel here if you like, but if you don’t have time, it’s basically like@NormalTweetGuy saying things about dinosaurs (oh, so suddenly they did exist) and how long women take to shower. (Why do men complain about this? Would you rather women walked around smelling like shit?)
I decided to give Rich a call. I’m not 12 and have ready access to my own supply of toilet roll and internet, and I wanted to know why he’d made this condescending film to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing to myself.
VICE: Hi Rich, it’s Josh from VICE. I get that it can be kinda soul-destroying sometimes, but do you really think porn is a source of evil? Rich: Some people agree with it, some people don’t. But in the church, there’s been a lot of cases where people have struggled with it. People don’t understand that families break up over it. It can be an addiction for some people.
Have you had any personal experience with porn addiction? Yeah, well, my dad… the movie was kind of based on my dad. I found his dirty magazines and videos when I was a kid, about ten or 11, that was kinda my first experience. It distorted my reality of what sex should be and what sex was. I’m married now and my sex life is fine, but it’s nothing like you see on a porn tape.
So you don’t look at porn any more? It wasn’t like I was looking at it all the time. You would look at it with friends or, you know… it was weird.
Actually that does sound a bit weird. When I was younger we’d go to clubs in LA, and a couple of guys would look at porn before we went out just to get hyped to try to meet girls.
Do you still masturbate? I haven’t masturbated in quite a while, if I’m honest.
Was it to porn? No, it was in my head. With my imagination.
What’s up with the box of porn in the film? There aren’t any naked people on it. Well, we didn’t want someone who was struggling with porn to come see the movie and all of a sudden see naked pictures up there and it be because of us that he has a relapse.