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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 12, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that has nowhere to go but up and yet still manages to get worse. Last time Rayford watched a video tape. What happens this week? Well, we get to witness a conversion, and then a whole bunch of other pointless stuff happens. Yippee.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for his observation on when a disappearance would be most disconcerting:

"Paul's prophetic letter to the Corinthians said this would occur in the twinkling of an eye. You may have seen a loved one standing before you, and suddenly they were gone. I don't envy you that shock."

I can envision other situations with a loved one where their disappearance would turn out to be even more disconcerting.


Thus demonstrating once more that if you actually try to take this stuff seriously, it becomes way more absurd than I could ever hope to make it! I'd also like to give an honorable mention to one of the several anonymous commenters (I'm assuming it was several, rather than one person who just kept coming back) who made such a lovely comparison between Left Behind and Bonanza. I suspect the resemblance will only get stronger with time.

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


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Dramatis Personae

In order determined by necromantic ritual...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious. Bad husband.

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

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Page 215- Line Fiesta:

No quote, but we rejoin Rayford as he's watching the video tape featuring the preaching of Vernon Billings and deciding that he needs Jesus in his life. And this is, indeed, the moment we've all been waiting for- a conversion experience. If Left Behind is evangelical porn, this is the money shot. And like a money shot, you're more than likely going to feel dirty afterwards.


Page 215-216- Line 215: 27-30- 216: 1:
Rayford sat with his head in his hands, his heart pounding. There was no sound from upstairs where Chloe rested. He was alone with his thoughts, alone with God, and he felt God's presence. Rayford slid to his knees on the carpet.


Woah, woah, there Rayford! God's not really there physically and, even if he were, unless he's got a lot in common with Ted Haggard, I don't think that's gonna help!


Page 216- Line 1-5:
He [Rayford] had never knelt in worship before, but he sensed the seriousness and the reverence of the moment. He pushed the play button and tossed the remote control aside. He set his hands palms down before him and rested his forehead on them, his face on the floor.


Finally! The skills he learned pledging Pi-Kappa-Epsilon are paying off! Less flippantly, I think the words "he senses the seriousness and reverence of the moment" should probably never be followed by, "he pushed the play button and tossed the remote control aside." I'm just sayin is all. Finally, I love all the emphasis on position for praying- do intelligent people really think our physical posture matters for communing with the metaphysical? Well... yes and what's more, they have some pretty awesome visual aids, too.


Page 216- Line 5-12:
The pastor said, "Pray after me," and Rayford did. "Dear God, I admit that I'm a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me and save me. I ask this in the name of Jesus, who died for me. I trust in him right now. I believe that the sinless blood of Jesus is sufficient to pay the price for my salvation. Thank you for hearing me and receiving me. Thank you for saving my soul."


And this is our first magic spell. I refer to it as a magic spell because it is a specific set of phrases meant to invoke a supernatural power for a specific purpose, in this case a "spiritual transaction." Moreover, it's a spell that actually requires human sacrifice as a power source- that's what that whole "sinless blood of Jesus" thing is about. I'm assuming that the effect of this spell more or less boils down to a +5 to sin resistance. On a less humorous note, I feel I should point out that while I am a devout atheist I am also an empiricist. So, when I got to this point in the book, I actually went through the same rigamarole as Rayford. Think of it as an experiment- I would try what the authors wanted and see what, if anything, happened. What happened was I felt silly and developed some back pain for a few hours, which was more or less what I expected. Actually, I think that pretty much sums up my experience of religion in general. Then again, the next part of the tape may "explain" my failure to get results:


Page 216- Line 17-18:
As the tape finished the pastor said, "If you were genuine, you are saved, born again, a child of God."


Ah. Right. So you have to believe the magic spell will work before you cast it or else it won't work. If it doesn't work, then it's because you didn't believe enough. This reminds me of the excuses faith healers use to cover their inevitable failures. "What? I didn't really cure your cancer? Why, you must not have believed enough! Shun the unbeliever! Shuuuuuuunnnnn!" What almost makes this worse is that, since there's no way to verify whether you believe enough to make the spell run, this is just a guaranteed way to generate paranoia in the supplicant. Lovely.


Page 216- Line 19-24:
Rayford wanted to talk to God more. He wanted to be specific about his sin. He knew he was forgiven, but in a childlike way, he wanted God to know that he knew what kind of a person he'd been.

He confessed his pride. Pride in his intelligence. Pride in his looks. Pride in his abilities.


Pride in his new state of grace? Oh, whatever. I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading this shit. I will observe once more that it must suck to belong to a faith that forces you to hate everything positive about yourself. I also find the whole "childlike way" bit revolting. The whole vibe of this theology is that humans are eternally infantalized by god. We never grow up, never mature, just remain helpless and dependent for all eternity. That is just not an appealing state of affairs to me and I fail to see how it would be appealing for god either.


Page 217- Line 1-3:
His [Rayford's] first prayer following that was for Chloe. He would worry about her and pray for her constantly until he was sure she had joined him in this new life.


Man, is it ever creepy when people insist on praying like that for you. Gah.


Page 217- Line 4:
Buck arrived at JFK and immediately called Steve Planck.


And we're back with Buck again. Maybe this will be a nice break from Rayford's incessant bitching? Anyway, Steve says that Chaim Rosenzweig was "singing Buck's praises" to Nicolae Carpathia, and now Carpathia wants to talk to Buck. As you might expect, Buck immediately develops a man-crush:*


Page 217- Line 17-21:
Buck hung up and clapped. This is too good to be true, he thought. If there's one guy who's above these international terrorists and bullies and even the dirt at the London Exchange and Scotland Yard, it will be this Carpathia. If Rosenzweig likes him, he's got to be all right. [emphasis original]


Oh, Buckykins, you're right: Carpathia is so dreamy! You should totally get your hair done before you meet him. OOOHHH! And wear that suit that emphasizes your ass! You know, the one that hides how your butt is shaped just like the cushion of an airline seat.


Page 217- Line 22-23:
Rayford couldn't wait to go to New Hope the next morning.


Oh, COME ON! Less than a page? We got less than a page worth of a break from Rayford and his creepy conversion before we're heading into a church service. How boring does this chapter have to be? For crying out loud. Regardless, Rayford goes back to New Hope Village and sits through Bruce's story again. At the end, Bruce extemps just a bit:


Page 220- Line 1-8:
He [Bruce] added, "I know many of you may still be skeptical. You may believe what happened was of God, but you still don't like it and you resent him for it. If you would like to come back and vent and ask questions this evening, I will be here. But I choose not to offer that opportunity this morning because so many here are brand-new in their faith and I don't want to confuse the issue. Rest assured we will be open to any honest question."


Ah, yes, indeed. Best keep the questions and concerns of the skeptics away from the credulous morons who have already jumped onboard. Very wise. I'm also not sure what to make of that "honest questions" caveat. I think it means that Bruce will entertain questions from people who already basically agree with him, but won't accept truly skeptical questions. Sounds about like normal, actually. Anyway, Bruce has people come down and witness about their conversions- in other words, literally preaching to the converted- and then brings this dog and pony show to a close:


Page 220- Line 24-29:
Bruce said, "I'm going to have to bring this to a close. One thing I wasn't going to do today was anything traditionally churchy, including singing. But I feel we need to praise the Lord for what has happened here today. Let me teach you a simple chorus of adoration.


"Our god is an insecure god" maybe? I've just never understood why such a powerful, perfect being would be interested in worship.


Page 221- Line 8-15:
People seemed reluctant to leave, even after Bruce closed in prayer. Many stayed to get acquainted, and it became obvious a new congregation had begun. The name of the church was more appropriate than ever. New Hope. Bruce shook hands with people as they left, and no one ducked him or hurried past. When Rayford shook his hand, Bruce asked, "Are you busy this afternoon? Would you be able to join me for a bite?"


Oooo! Looks like Buck isn't the only one with a man-date! What a naughty little preacher you are, Bruce! Anyway, Bruce and Rayford go to a restaurant, engage in some (very) small talk, and then Bruce pops the question:


Page 222- Line 22-30:
"I [Bruce] know this is very new to you, but I feel as if I should ask you to join our little core group. We will be at the church for the Sunday morning meeting, the occasional Sunday evening meeting, the Wednesday night Bible study, and we will meet at my home one other evening every week. That's where we will pray for each other, keep each other accountable, and study a little deeper to stay ahead of the new congregation. Are you willing?"


So, yeah, Bruce is asking Rayford- who converted the night before- to join the church leadership. Great plan. At the same time, that language about "I feel as if I should" is really interesting. Free will should be everything to these people since it determines their salvation or damnation, but the way they talk of it, it is hardly anything. This is kind of an issue. Anyway, Rayford screws around a bit and then comes to a decision.


Page 223- Line 15-17:
Rayford had the feeling this was the beginning of a relationship born out of tragedy and need. He just hoped it worked out.


I can't make this stuff up, folks. That's literally in the text. Still, I think these two will make a very cute couple.


Page 223- Line 17-24:
When Rayford finally arrived home, Chloe was eager to hear all about it. She was amazed at what her father told her and said she was embarrassed to say she had not watched the tape yet. "But I will now, Dad, before we go to Atlanta. You're really into this, aren't you? It sounds like something I want to check out, even if I don't do anything about it."


Well that's quite a change of mind from last chapter. Hell, from the beginning of this chapter. Seriously, given Chloe's earlier objections, I really don't think that Rayford's new-found fervor would be much of an inducement. But, then again, Chloe is an idiot, so what can you do? Anyway, after a while Chloe mentions to Rayford that Hattie called. Rayford calls her back and learns that Buck Williams was apparently blown up in the U.K. Not that there's any reason for them to be discussing Buck at this point in the book but, hell, that's hardly the biggest plot hole we've run across so far. Then Rayford gets all slimy again.


Page 225- Line 6-8:
"And I [Rayford] know how overwhelming this is for you because it has been for me, too. I've got a lot to talk to you about, actually."


Yes, he has a lot he wants to talk to her about. If you're thinking that means he wants to try to convert Hattie, then you're right. No idea why, though, given that even if he converts her, Hattie's faith could only be strong for someone her age. Not like wise old Rayford. Honestly, Rayford makes the Borg looks f-ing passive: "I am Rayford of New Hope. Resistance is futile, you will be evangelized. Your spiritual and cultural distinctiveness will be added to our own." Yikes.


And that, believe it or not, ends the chapter. So, where are we? Buck is "dead" and has a crush on Carpathia. Rayford is "saved" and is in a committed relationship with his pastor. Chloe is... well... stupid. And Hattie is cruising for a conversion. All in all, the cluster-fuck just keeps unfolding. Come back next time when we have some more half-assed discussions between Rayford and Chloe and finally manage to get the anti-christ on-stage. I, for one, can't wait.

See you soon!



* I should probably note that I am very much a supporter of homosexual rights. I just find all the "fellowship" in this book to be a little funny. I mean, seriously, I have never gotten off the phone in a public place and clapped my hands in glee. WTF?

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2 Comments:

Blogger jwisser said...

Next time someone promises to pray that you'll join them in Christianity, offer to masturbate that they'll join you in sex-positivity.

That's the same thing, right?

Thursday, January 14, 2010 2:02:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"And I [Rayford] know how overwhelming this is for you because it has been for me, too. I've got a lot to talk to you about, actually."

And I'm going to convert the shit out of you all night long.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 6:18:00 PM  

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