The following is my monthly column published in The Somerville News for August 2005:

I am a liberal. I sip a latte every now and then. I studied French in college. I read books that don’t start with “in the beginning.” And I like who I am, but in a place like BostoCamberVille, I can get used to this Northeast, pinko-commie, ape-descendin bubble.

I got tired of listening to the Blame America First crowd. I needed a break from Air America and Maureen Dowd and Osama bin Laden. So, in an effort to understand Bush supporters who exist “out there” somewhere, I decided to break with tradition. I wouldn’t do anything radical like move to Utah (though there’s clearly something in the Great Salt Lake that makes one gubernatorial). I started, more modestly, with a book. I started reading the Left Behind series.

For the uninitiated, the Left Behind series is a set of bestselling books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and it is very popular among those so-called “values voters” in the so-called “Bible Belt.” It’s a fictional account of an extreme interpretation of the Bible, so it’s sort of like meta-fiction.

The main idea is one espoused by many evangelical Christians – by the way, for you tree-hugging set, “Christianity” is what’s known as a “religion” in which people tried to follow the example of a man named Jesus Christ but, along the way, got distracted with “churches” and “gays.”

The evangelicals believe that someday very soon (as in any moment), Jesus will return to “rapture” his church, taking away all the true Christians to Heaven and leaving the rest “left behind.” Get it? Left Behind? The religious right is so clever.

In one instant Jesus will actually snatch away the bodies of the true believers, all children under age 12 and even the dead who were true believers. Pregnant women will lose their babies. Poof! They’ll be gone. It’ll be like spontaneous combustion without that annoying residue. All that will be left are the clothes, jewelry and pacemakers of the disappeared.

The people left behind will have to deal with the fact that the crazy fanatics were actually right, and they’ll have to deal with seven years of tribulation in which the anti-Christ will rise, Jews will convert to Christianity, the world will subscribe to a single religion and lots of bad things involving signs, seals and marks of the beast will generally make a mess of planet Earth.

This sounds like something Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer might make into a big Hollywood blockbuster. Instead, we have to settle for Kirk Cameron starring in the Left Behind straight-to-video DVDs.

On the one hand, these books are kind of interesting – full of adventure, conspiracy and romance like any decent spy novel.

On the other hand, they’re full of the very real beliefs held by millions of people, many of whom are allowed to vote and operate heavy machinery. I saw a bumper sticker on a car in Ohio that read: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”

These Rapturists are allowed to drive, even though they think at any moment, J-Chris will snatch them away from that important duty, leaving their car to slam into who-knows-what? All of the sudden, 72 virgins doesn’t sound so crazy anymore.

Among the millions of Rapture believers is none other than George W. Bush, which kind of explains his governing style. Why save the environment when you and everyone you care about will soon be Audi 5000?

For many of us New England liberals, this is all hard to swallow. I mean, how can a supposedly loving God abandon so many souls?

The Dalai Lama and all those peaceful Tibetan monks? Left Behind. Hindus who may have spent their entire lives serving the poor? Left Behind. It’s not even that all the Christians get beamed up. Only the “true” evangelical, born-again breed qualify for the express train to Heaven.

I began to wonder how God could leave all these good people behind to face Hell on Earth? But maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

Imagine all those crazy, right-wing nut jobs who want a giant Ten Commandments tablet in front of every subway entrance, who want to cover up nipples on ancient sculptures, who harass you on the streets with their salvation pamphlets, who throw blood on abortion doctors and think the Bible is a science textbook and consider dancing a sin. Do you have a good picture of them in your minds?

Now, imagine them suddenly gone, beamed up in a single moment to their “heaven” full of fat, naked people just like themselves with decomposing corpses and fetuses to keep them company, leaving the rest of us Left Alone. I can’t think of a better outcome.

In the words of my favorite evangelical Christian, “bring it on.”