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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 11, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you curse the development of movable type. Last time Buck managed to evade some nebulous and apparently badly organized conspiracy. What happens this week? Not much- just enough preaching to choke a sperm whale.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken, for taking the time to analyze the physics of Alan Tompkins unfortunate demise outside of a pub:

Let us see: The door of the Pub (secured, reasonable weight) "was blown into the room" but "A leg and part of a torso [weight between 30 and 50 pounds; 5 stone at most] lay on the sidewalk- the remains of Alan Tompkins."

An explosion that blows a door off its hinges from X feet leaves body parts from Y feet, where Y>X??

Either Alan drank in cheaply-constructed "pubs" (think Elephant and Castle) or the author's are thinking with his head. Which, by the physics displayed here, is presumably on the other side of the street, hanging from a lamppost like a crucified thief.


No question about it: the authors hate and fear the devil, science, and the English language. Lovely. Thanks, Ken, and best of luck to everyone this week!

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

Listed in descending order of tendency to engage in autoerotic asphyxiation...

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.

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.

----------


Chapter 11: In which Ray and Chloe sit through a really boring, unconvincing testimony.


Page 187- Line Potato:

No quotation, but the chapter opens with Rayford going for a drive (authors' phrasing) with Chloe. Of course, this isn't so much "going for a drive" as "driving to Irene's church" but, hey, since when are the authors careful with their terminology?


Page 187- Line 5-9:
Chloe had been sleepy and quiet all day. She had mentioned the idea of dropping out of the university for a semester and taking some classes locally. Rayford liked it. He was thinking of her. Then he realized she was thinking of him, and he was touched.


Leaving aside the writing, which can only be described as "shameful," there's the content itself. I will admit I do not have children yet, and I imagine that if my wife and son were to die in some unanticipated accident I might be reluctant to see my daughter fly to the other side of the country, but I think I would also be reluctant to see her drop out of fucking Stanford. Just sayin is all. Anyway, they talk a little bit and Rayford admits he still treats Chloe like a little girl sometimes. She says he can make it up to her, and he tries to guess how...


Page 188- Line 5-9:
"You're [Chloe] going to say I [Rayford] can make it up for treating you like a little girl by letting you have your own mind today, by not trying to talk you into anything."

"That goes without saying, I hope. But you're wrong, smart guy." [Chloe answered]


Yes, indeed, a prince among men. I don't know what's funnier: that he thinks he's being a nice guy by "letting her" have her own mind, or the idea that he can actually prevent her from thinking for herself if she's so inclined. Then again, it's pretty hysterical that she thinks Rayford is smart or that he has any intention of dealing fairly with her. This is the man, you will recall, who two chapters ago lied to her face (Page 169- Line 1-8) about considering alternative "theories." So, yeah, this is a heartbreaking little comedy act.


Page 188- Line 18-19:
Rayford let that comment hang in the air as he turned the corner and the tasteful little church came into view.


At this point in the margins I scrawled, "To them we ascribe every virtue." That pretty much sums things up, too. It's a "tasteful little church" that Irene went to. Not a gigantic megachurch with three multimedia screens and a satellite linkup from Ted Haggard. Neither, you'll notice, is it one of the dime-a-dozen tacky little stripmall churches I see all over. No, this is a nice, safe, middle-class "tasteful little church." But remember, folks: saved people aren't better, just forgiven. And, you know, tasteful. There is a very creepy sort of middle-class myopia going on in this book and, I gotta tell ya, it doesn't make it seem like the authors have any concern with the poor whatsoever. Anyway, they arrive and meet Bruce Barnes, who is basically the interim pastor at New Hope Village Church. They also meet Loretta, who is effectively Barnes' secretary. Well, it's good to know that even the rapture can't disrupt traditional gender roles. Then we get to the sticky part.


Page 190- Line 1-14:
"Folks, Loretta there looks like I [Bruce] feel. We're shell-shocked and we're devastated, because we know exactly what happened."

"Or you think you do," Chloe said. Rayford tried to catch her eye to encourage her to back off, but she seemed unwilling to look at him. "There's every kind of theory you want on every TV show in the country."

"I know that," Barnes said.

"And each is self-serving," she added. "The tabloids say it was space invaders, which would prove the stupid stories they've been running for years. The government says it's some sort of enemy, so we can spend more on high-tech defense. You're going to say it was God so you can start rebuilding your church."


And, of course, Chloe is right on this point. Barnes and company DO believe that they know what happened, but the exact same is true of a whole lot of people with a whole lot of different theories. One's own belief in one's theory is not, in and of itself, evidence of anything except that one is convinced of one's own theory. And let's face it: that guy on the streetcorner wearing a tinfoil hat is as convinced of his "CIA mind control" theory as Bruce is of his "goddidit" hypothesis, so we shouldn't be too taken by personal conviction. That said, Chloe is being a smidge rude given that she's in this guy's place of worship and she might want to think about holding her tongue just a tad.* And, apparently, Bruce agrees on that point.


Page 190- Line 15-26:
Bruce Barnes sat back and looked at Chloe, then at her father. "I'm going to ask you something," he said, turning to her again. "Could you let me tell you my story briefly, without interrupting or saying anything, unless there's something you don't understand?"

Chloe stared at him without responding.

"I don't want to be rude, but I don't want you to be either. I asked for a few moments of your time. If I still have it, I want to make use of it. Then I'll leave you alone. You can do anything you want with what I tell you. Tell me I'm crazy, tell me I'm self-serving. Leave and never come back. That's up to you. But can I have the floor for a few minutes?"


Now, as I indicated above, I do actually think that Chloe was being a bit rude, but mostly because she was in Barnes' church when she advanced her arguments. The thing is, I don't think the authors are including this bit because they want to draw attention to Chloe's rudeness in this particular situation. I think, instead, they're sketching a way to deal with skeptical people in general. And, as I scrawled in the margins at this point, I would be more sympathetic if I didn't have to give evangelicals the floor so damned much. A handful of days ago my wife and I returned from walking our dog to find two men waiting in our driveway to preach to us. A few weeks ago as I was walking my dog I was stopped on the street by two men who wished to do the same thing. When I drive around I am constantly running into billboards and other advertising, much of it hateful and mean-spirited. And don't even get me started on how seriously we as a nation take an incredibly narrow perspective that seems to just hate the hell out of every group that doesn't agree with them.** I get it that Chloe was being rude but, that said, if the evangelicals who salivate over the Left Behind books think they never have the floor, they're so stupid it's amazing they don't forget to breathe.


Page 190- Line 27-30:
Rayford thought Barnes was brilliant. He had put Chloe in her place, leaving her no smart remark. She merely waved a hand of permission, for which Barnes thanked her, and he began.


Yes, well, Rayford is an asshole who likes watching strangers verbally slap his daughter. And Chloe does still have a smart retort- something along the lines of, "Fine, I'll listen to your account, but then will you be prepared to discuss the logical implications and inconsistencies thereof?" Alas, this book never throws anything more deadly than a strawman at faith, so this opportunity is lost entire. Regardless, Barnes launches into his story, in the process mentioning that he was in bed with his wife when the rapture struck. Don't get excited, though- she was sleeping, he was reading, and their three children were in their own beds.


Page 191-192- Line 191: 22-30- 192: 1:
"She [Barnes' wife] worked so hard with the kids and a part-time job that she was always knocked out by nine or so."

"I [Bruce] was reading a sports magazine, trying to turn the pages quietly, and every once in a while she would sigh. Once she even asked how much longer I would be. I knew I should go in the other room or just turn the light off and try to sleep myself. But I told her, 'Not long,' hoping she'd fall asleep and I could just read the whole magazine."


While the narrative goes on in this vein for a while, you're getting the point: Bruce was a shitty husband and Bruce was also left behind. So, he has lots in common with Rayford. And as often as I find the way that the authors talk about women objectionable, at least they do seem to be pretty into that whole "treating your partner with respect" thing. Sort of. In their own special way. In any case, Bruce notices that his wife is missing all of a sudden, then goes and finds that his kids are missing, too. He rushes back to bed where he finds the confirmation that he needed:


Page 193- Line 21-24:
"I [Bruce] didn't want to, but I tore the cover back from my wife's side of the bed and there was her nightgown, her rings, and even her hair clips on the pillow."


At this point in the book my margin note reads, "I wonder about pace makers and other implanted artifacts," and, indeed, that's a good question. Many of us have artificial objects permanently in our bodies. For some it's a filling or a crown, for others its a pacemaker, and in my case it's several pieces of paladium in my chest cavity.*** Regardless of the specifics, however, there should be a whole mess o' crap left behind by these folks that just isn't getting described. Perhaps that's because- and this is pure speculation you understand- the idea of people disappearing out of their clothes seems mysterious and possibly wondrous, but the idea they might leave their artificial knee behind when they do it is really creepy and weird. That said, when your religion prominently features symbolic cannibalism, I wouldn't think that creepy and weird would be a problem. But hey, there you go. And we're off again with this continuing train wreck of a personal account. He starts phoning around using the church membership list but keeps getting answering machines. The implication is that it's because everyone has been raptured, but I wonder if people just don't like talking to Bruce Barnes. He eventually just goes to the church and discovers Loretta as well as a handful of other members who were left behind. Then they remember the pastor's "rapture tape."


Page 194- Line 16-20:
"Our senior pastor loved to preach about the coming of Christ to rapture his church, to take believers, dead and alive, to heaven before a period of tribulation on the earth. He was particularly inspired once a couple of years ago." [Bruce said]


Well, it's good to know Jesus will rescue the dead believers before the tribulation, too. Because being on earth through the tribulation would... um... not matter in the slightest to them because they're dead and all. Anyway, Chloe and Rayford mention that they remember Irene saying something or other about this before but don't remember what the "rapture tape" is.


Page 194-195- Line 194: 24-30- 195: 1-5:
"Well," Barnes said, "the pastor used that sermon and had himself videotaped in this office speaking directly to people who were left behind. He put it in the church library with instructions to get it out and play it if most everyone seemed to have disappeared. We all watched it a couple of times the other night. A few people wanted to argue with God, trying to tell us that they really had been believers and should have been taken with the others, but we all knew the truth. We had been phony. There wasn't a one of us who didn't know what it meant to be a true Christian. We knew we weren't and that we had been left behind."


Okay, several points. First, I once more hope y'all are taking notes, because the authors are giving you f-ing instructions. Go make your wacky "in case of rapture" tapes right now! Second, as I read this passage again I was once more struck by the mind-numbing weirdness of this entire situation. I am actually commenting at length on a book whose authors think that the disappearances it describes are not merely possible, but inevitable. Moreover, this whole tape thing is- in their eyes- a sensible precaution. Let me say that again: there are people who think that a videotape full of magic incantations**** is a sensible response to the hypothetical possibility that millions of humans could suddenly disappear, and these same people are considered to be sensible adults who can vote and drive cars. This just boggles my mind. Third, in response to that "true Christian" line my margin comment reads, "I love that sort of buffoonery," and indeed, I do. It isn't enough that people be Christian, but they have to be true Christians in order to be saved. That's some serious whatthefuckery right there. Finally, I'm terribly amused by the fact that in this one instance the evangelicals are actually willing to rely on empirical evidence. Bruce and his merry band of morons were left behind, therefore they must not have been true Christians. QED, bitches! But when it comes to things like the age of the Earth and evolution? Oh, yeah, screw evidence, we have the bible! Bah.


Page 195- Line 6-9:
Rayford had trouble speaking, but he had to ask. "Mr. Barnes, you were on the staff here."

"Right."

"How did you miss it?"


My margin comment reads, "Here we go..." because, yes, we're about to learn the answer to our burning question: how did this doofus we just met get left behind? Well, there's an answer, and I promise all of you that it's utterly absurd. But, sadly, you're just going to have to wait until next time to find out the answer, because we're at the end of this episode. I'd say this is a cliffhanger, but that presumes anyone gives a shit how Bruce got left behind, and I sincerely hope that isn't the case. Regardless, tune back in next time when Bruce reveals his dark secret and the authors attempt to tell a convincing conversion story. It's about as exciting as you'd expect, and Chloe loses whatever intelligence she may have appeared to have in favor of becoming a horrid caricature of a thinking human being. So, hey, I guess she takes after Rayford!

See you then!


* As an only somewhat related side note: I think there's something very wrong with rules of politeness that allow people to spout errant nonsense without anyone else having the right to contradict them. Here's a tip: if you want to assert that something is true, be able to back it up. If you can't, keep it to yourself.

** For my scant handful of evangelical readers: I'm not saying you do hate the hell out of everyone else, but as a member of that "everyone else" it sure seems that way. And Pat Robertson is just a case in point. If you are all love and gumdrops for the unbelievers, please be advised that your PR on that point is really lousy.

*** Trust me: it's a long and not particularly awesome story.

**** I am not exaggerating- just wait til we get to that chapter.

Labels:

3 Comments:

Blogger Ken Houghton said...

If we stop right now, we can still believe there are two sane characters in the book: Hattie and Chloe.

You are implying, sadly, that Chloe will be Stepforded by the glories of being Bored by Bruce. (As opposed to having been "bored" by Bruce, whose adultery with Loretta I'm going to assume because it is likely more interesting than The Real Story.)

So once again the second half of the chapter will be a letdown. This book really is the equivalent of Forty Days in the Desert.

Thursday, December 24, 2009 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"I [Bruce] didn't want to, but I tore the cover back from my wife's side of the bed and there was her nightgown, her rings, and even her hair clips on the pillow."


Not her labia or nipple rings, I take it.

"...and he was touched."

We call it "teched" around here.*

* I'm sorry but I'm afraid my high point commentary was "Left in the Behind - Part One: The Titillation". All my good material is long gone and now I'm just sad. But I feel so very bad for you and somehow responsible. I voted for this.

Monday, December 28, 2009 9:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read this entire series. It requires massive suspension of disbelief and only gets heavier on the guilt.
It's much more entertaining if you speed read. Exciting because then you can do other things and enjoy life!

Monday, January 04, 2010 5:55:00 AM  

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