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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 17, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes me long for the riveting action packed narrative of the yellow pages. Last time Buck was offered a deal by the devil and Rayford bitched, moaned, and generally acted like a pathetic little waste of a human being. What happens this week? Not too much, but it involves more straight recitation of wacky theology in story form. So that will be fun.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for asking the really important question:

Why is he so weepy all of a sudden? If he was a true believer you would think he would be happy that his wife was in a better place and doesn't have to get Tribulated like the rest of the left behind. It's not like he was getting a lot of blow jobs before she was raptured anyway.


Indeed, it does seem a little odd that Rayford's knowledge that his wife is in a better place makes him much more, rather than less, upset. But, hey, what do I know of the intricacies of theology? Then again, what do the authors know? So we seem to be on an even footing. Thanks for the comments, scripto, and best of luck to everyone in this episode.

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 an order determined by my wife and her angry eyebrows...

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. Christian.

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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.

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

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

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Chapter 17: In which we learn about some angels, hear how much the next seven years will suck, Buck gets offered a new job, and the whole gang gets on track for a reunion.


Page 301- Line 1-3:
After a few minutes, Chloe gave Rayford evidence that she had heard his cry. "Don't worry about me, Daddy, OK? I'm getting there."


So, right about now you might be feeling a little lost. What the hell is Chloe talking about? Where is this chapter opening? In answer, allow me to just say: in the middle of the same scene that ended last chapter. Yes, that's right: they made a chapter break by just cleaving a scene in twain. If I have to deal with it, you do too. Congratulations.


Page 301- Line 4-9:
Getting where? Did she mean that her decision was just a matter of time or simply that she was getting over her grief? He wanted so badly to tell her he was worried, but she knew that. Her very presence brought him comfort, but when she padded back to her room he felt desperately alone again.


Yikes. It's like Rayford is a sixteen year old girl obsessing over her crush. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with being sixteen, a girl, or both. It's just that when a grown man starts acting like he so very much wants the quarterback to ask him to prom, we're not having a good day for characterization. Anyway, since Rayford can't sleep due to his crushing anxiety, he decides to go down and watch T.V. This, of course, provides the authors with a chance to shove some more wacky theology down our throats. Buckle up, kids.


Page 301- Line 11-14:
From Israel came the strangest report. The screen showed a mob in front of the famous Wailing Wall, surrounding two men who seemed to be shouting.


Right. Two guys shouting in Jerusalem. With a mob. Yep. That's... unusual. Sure.


Page 301-302- Line 301: 15-16, 302: 1-7:
"No one knows the two men," said the CNN reporter on the scene, "who refer to each other as Eli and Moishe. They have stood here before the Wailing Wall since just before dawn, preaching in a style frankly reminiscent of the old American evangelists. Of course the Orthodox Jews here are in an uproar, charging the two with desecrating this holy place by proclaiming that Jesus Christ of the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Torah's prophecy of a messiah." [emphasis added]


Ah! Awesome! These guys are the two wacky angels that appear in Jerusalem in the end times to generally aggravate everyone. Great, I've been waiting for these guys to put in an appearance! I also love that whole "old American evangelists" bit. It's been... what? A week since the rapture? Are they really the "old American evangelists" at this point? Apparently we all have very short memories. And how can you not love that bit about "Jesus Christ of the New Testament"? No, really? You don't mean Jesus Christ of 323 Elm Avenue? I'm shocked!


Page 302- Line 8-15:
"Thus far there has been no violence, though tempers are flaring, and authorities keep a watchful eye. Israeli police and military personnel have always been loath to enter this area, leaving religious zealots here to handle their own problems. This is the most explosive situation in the Holy Land since the destruction of the Russian air force and this newly prosperous nation has been concerned almost primarily with outside threats." [emphasis added]


Okay, WOW! What the f-ing crap is even going on in that paragraph? Where to even begin? Okay, first of all, here's a picture of a soldier at the wailing wall. So... yeah. Second, did the authors seriously just have a CNN reporter refer to presumably VERY observant Jews- on a national broadcast no less- as "religious zealots"? What the hell? Third, this is the most "explosive" situation since the Russian air force was destroyed? You mean, the most explosive situation since the Russian air force was, itself, exploded over Israel? Is that some kind of awful pun or something? And lastly: "almost primarily"? What the fuck does that even mean? It's not "primarily" it's not "almost completely" it's "almost primarily". It's nearly their main priority... but not quite. External threats are, like, their first priority among equals or something? This paragraph is such a disaster, I can't help but laugh. Anyway, Rayford barely reigns in the urge to call Bruce up and share this exciting development with him, but does share some thinly-veiled theology with us.


Page 302- Line 21-25:
Bruce had told him and the rest of the core group at New Hope that there would soon spring up 144,000 Jews who would believe in Christ and begin to evangelize around the world. Were these the first two?


I'll readily admit that I'm neither Jewish nor Christian, and frankly find both religions somewhat humorous, but given the historical context, I also have to admit that talk of Christians evangelizing Jews makes me feel a bit creeped out. Maybe that's just me. Regardless, the news then shifts to Carpathia who is apparently still making major waves. Rayford watches a press conference where the President of the United States basically says that Carpathia is the awesome and we should all listen to him. I won't transcribe the comments for you because they're skull-numbingly insipid, but my margin note reads, "Yeah. Because you get to be President by not having any political savvy at all." If that doesn't give you a sense of what the press conference is like, you're hopeless. Then the other shoe, as it were, drops.


Page 304- Line 1-8:
The anchorwoman continued: "Out of New York late this evening comes a report that a Global Weekly writer has been cleared of all charges and suspicion in the death of a Scotland Yard investigator. Cameron Williams, award-winning senior writier at the Weekly, had been feared dead in a car bombing that took the life of the investigator Alan Tompkins, who was also an acquaintence of Williams. [emphasis original]


Oh man, Buck, did you really sell out? I hope so- this book really needs an anti-hero. Or, for that matter, a hero. Or a plot. I'm not picky. And as long as we're on the subject, it is becoming more and more obvious that the fictional CNN in Left Behind needs to fire their fictional copy editors because they fictionally suck. In any case, this story goes on for another two paragraphs but I'm not going to transcribe it because, for all intents and purposes, it's shit we already know. The authors do slip in this little fascinating tidbit, though:


Page 304- Line 22-24:
"In sports news, Major League Baseball teams in spring training face the daunting task of replacing the dozens of players lost in the cosmic disapperances..."


Never a missed opportunity to claim some other group is heavily committed to Christ, eh authors? Ah, well- just keep doing what you do, I guess.


Page 304- Line 25:
Rayford still was not sleepy.


Then he's not reading the same book I am.


Page 304- Line 25-27:
He made himself coffee, then phoned the twenty-four-hour line that kept track of flight and crew assignments. He had an idea.


Oh, hell, man. That just never works out, you know?


Page 304- Line 27-29:
"Can you tell me [Rayford] whether I can still get Hattie Durham assigned to my JFK run Wednesday?" he asked.


Oh, just beautiful, Rayford. After you alienate her on the phone (Page 276-Page 281)- amazingly in an entirely different conversation from the one where you thought she was a semi-moron about abortion (Page 266-Page 269)- you decide it'd be a good idea to try and strong-arm her onto your flight? For crying out loud, is there a term for someone who is as big an asshole as you? Because I just don't think "asshole" quite captures it anymore.


Page 305- Line 1-2:
"I [the operator] guess you can't. She's going to New York already. Yours is the 10 A.M. flight. Hers is the 8 A.M."


If you're noting that they'll both be in New York, at JFK, and therefore have an opportunity to have an awkward, boring conversation, then you're clearly thinking like the authors. Something to look forward to, I guess. Anyway, at this point the authors decide to jump back to Buck, who immediately takes us into a flashback.


Page 305- Line 3-10:
Buck Williams had returned to his apartment after midnight, assured by Nicolae Carpathia that his worries were over. Carpathia had phoned Jonathan Stonagal, put him on speakerphone, and Stonagal had done the same as he made the middle-of-the-night phone call to London that cleared Williams. Buck heard Todd-Cothran's husky-voiced agreement to call off the Yard and Interpol. "But my package is secure?" Todd-Cothran asked.


Gripping, eh? I don't know what Todd-Cothran's "package" is, but I like to assume that it's a Filipino hooker. It sure isn't his penis- there's no way the authors would go for anything that racy. I'm also not sure what to do with the whole daisy chain of speaker phones thing. On the one hand, given that Stonagal is richer than god, I'm assuming he has some sort of solution to this problem. On the other hand, speaking on one speakerphone is shit, much less chaining two of them together. My guess is that, what with the equipment and all, Buck would be lucky to be able to tell that everyone was speaking English. Anyway, after the phone call Buck interrogates Carpathia about how he (Carpathia) can work with people who he now realizes are involved in some shady activities. Carpathia responds that, until now, he didn't know. Buck, as always, is sharp as a sledge hammer.


Page 305- Line 24-27:
"But now you [Carpathia] know. Can you still in good conscience allow Stonagal to help promote you in international politics?" [Buck asked]

"Trust me, I will deal with them both."


In HELL!! Because I'm the anti-christ! Quake before my evil! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Yeah. Anyway, they continue in that vein for a while and then Carpathia almost asks Buck to be his press secretary. Actually, the whole scene makes it sound like he was going to ask but waved off at the last moment because of Buck's reaction. Kinda like when you're an adolescent out to the movies with a girl for the first time and, right before you put your arm around her, chicken out and pretend like you were just stretching. Poor Nicolae! Still awkward after all these years. Fortunately, Buck has a suggestion: Eric Miller. You remember Eric, right? The crazy freak whom Buck had to tackle in a hotel hallway?


Page 307- Line 6-11:
Buck shook his head. "I was kidding." He told Carpathia what had happened in the lobby, on the elevator, and in the hall before Miller introduced himself. Nicolae was not amused. "I'll rack my brain and see if I can think of another candidate for you," Buck said. "Now you promised me a scoop tonight, too."


Oh, wow, really Buck? Carpathia has just gotten international police forces off your back and talked your ear off- now you expect him to put out, too? Apparently so, and Carpathia goes right ahead and let's Buck scoop him. As it turns out, Carpathia has a new diplomatic breakthrough to announce.


Page 307- Line 15-27:
"Israel is particularly vulnerable, as they were before Russia tried to invade them. They were lucky that time, but the rest of the world resents their prosperity. They need protection. The U.N. can give it to them. In exchange for the chemical formula that makes the desert bloom, the world will be content to grant them peace. If the other nations disarm and surrender a tenth of their weapons to the U.N., only the U.N. will have to sign a peace accord with Israel. Their prime minister has given Dr. Rosenzweig the freedom to negotiate such an agreement because he is the true owner of the formula. They are, of course, insisting on guarantees of protection for no less than seven years." [Carpathia rambled]


And if you can get through that whole passage without laughing your ass off, you're either much sterner than I am, or you believe this shit is real. Okay, so, to recap: the whole damn world resents Israel because of their super-fertilizer, reminding us again that folks who grow crops have all the real economic power. That's why the great powers are almost always agricultural states and it's the weak states that have the technology and industry. Totally logical. And so, because of this, if Israel surrenders the very thing that gives them a competitive edge, they can convince the rest of the world to stop being jealous. Okay, sure, that makes sense. Israel gives up its economy for safety. I'm sure the government would love that. Then there's mention of the wack-tacular plan with the U.N., which is now justified as being simpler than setting up one big global accord. Right. Sure. It's not like global accords could ever work or anything. Then we have the idea that the Israeli government would put binding negotiating authority in the hands of a scientist with no diplomatic training or experience whatsoever. And then, to top it all off, the magic number seven pops up again. Israel wants at least seven years of peace. Right. Because if you give up a gigantic economic advantage, there's no way you could really ask for more than seven years before the rest of the world kicked your ass in. That makes total sense. And if that paragraph of utter stupid seems obviously absurd to all of us, Buck is totally unaware.


Page 307- Line 28-30:
Buck sat shaking his head. "You're going to get the Nobel Peace price, Time's Man of the Year, and our Newsmaker of the Year." [emphasis original]


Yeah, sure, maybe once everyone stops laughing and realizes he's serious. And that they live in a universe where that kind of lunacy makes sense. Then they'll start crying. But then, crying and despair are totally normal reactions to reading Left Behind, so I can only imagine what it must be like to realize you're living in a shitty novel. Anyway, Buck leaves Carpathia believing that he (Carpathia) is pure as the wind-blown snow, and discovers a message from Hattie on his answering machine when he returns home. Alas, we'll have to wait to find out why she's calling Buck, because it's time to check back in with Rayford. Buckle up, kids, because this is going to be a bit of a ride.


Page 308- Line 7-9:
Bruce Barnes called the core group together for an emergency meeting at New Hope Village Church Tuesday afternoon.


Yeah. This will not be as exciting as the word "emergency" normally implies.


Page 308- Line 13-16:
Bruce gathered everyone around his desk in the office. He began by praying that he would be lucid and instructive in spite of his excitement and then had everyone turn to the book of Revelation.


Because when you think "lucid and instructive" you automatically think "the book of Revelation". Oh, absolutely.


Page 308- 23-25:
"In a way, I [Bruce] want you all to be wary, to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, as the Bible says."


I know this is just a metaphor, but this line always bugs me because as cold-blooded creatures snakes are not really what we'd refer to as smart creatures. So, hell, mission accomplished I guess.


Page 308-309- Line 308: 26-27- 309: 1-3:
"As you know, I've [Bruce] been studying Revelation and several commentaries about end-times events. Well, today in the pastor's files I ran across one of his sermons on the subject. I've been reading the Bible and the books on the subject, and here's what I've found."


Now, I want to note at this point that what Bruce is not about to say is, "There's hardly any agreement across different religious scholars about what Revelation means, except that it probably isn't meant to be interpreted as a prophecy about the far future." No, instead, what we get is a sort of under-handed implication that all of the scholarship on the bible and on revelation is somehow in agreement with the authors' world view. Which is pretty funny considering that the f-ing rapture isn't even in revelation. I'm not sure I'd say the authors are lying here, but I'd sure as hell say that they're being less than truthful. And, as a side note, the only things I can really say about the next bit is: spoiler alert!


Page 309- Line 4-5:
Bruce pulled up the first blank sheet on a flip chart and showed a time line he had drawn.


You know those really bad talks you've seen scholars give at presentations? The ones with crappy-or no- visual aids and a horrendous monotone? Yeah- the next few pages are like someone describing one of those talks to you. At length.


Page 309- Line 5-16:
"I'll take the time to carefully teach you this over the next several weeks, but it looks to me, and to many of the experts who came before us, that this period of history we're in right now will last for seven years. The first twenty-one months encompass what the Bible calls the seven Seal Judgments, or the Judgments of the Seven-Sealed Scroll. Then comes another twenty-one month period in which we will see the seven Trumpet Judgments. In the last forty-two months of this seven years of tribulation, if we have survived, we will endure the most severe tests, the seven Vial Judgments. That last half of the seven years is called the Great Tribulation, and if we are alive at the end of it, we will be rewarded by seeing the Glorious Appearing of Christ."


Okay, pop quiz: What is god's favorite number? Anyone? Hmmm? Yes, you, in the back? That's RIGHT! SEVEN! Okay, so, to sum up: over the next seven years god is gonna judge the ever living crap outta us. Got it. Loretta, being stupid, seems to be having trouble with the notion that they might all die before the end of the seven years, so Bruce sets her straight about their probable grim fate.


Page 309- Line 22-25:
"If we somehow make it through the seven terrible years, especially the last half, the Glorious Appearing will be all that more glorious." [Bruce said]


Meaning what? You get a commemorative handbag? Look, not to be snarky, but- generally speaking- not getting your ass killed is usually reward enough for not getting your ass killed. Regardless, he concludes by mentioning that after the glorious appearing Christ will totally set up his thousand year reign on Earth. Yay?


Page 310- Line 3-12:
"Again, if I'm [Bruce] reading it right, the Antichirst will soon come to power, promising peace and trying to unite the world."

"What's wrong with uniting the world?" someone asked. "At a time like this it seems we need to come together."

"There might be nothing wrong with that, except that the Antichrist will be a great deceiver, and when his true goals are revealed, he will be opposed. This will result in a great war, probably World War III."


Right. This is the thing that bothers me so much about this strain of religious thought: it implies that the only person who can unite us is Christ, which would be bad enough, but it also suggests that anyone other than Christ who tries is bad and must be reviled. Now, if these guys are right then, hey, that's all well and good. If, on the other hand, they're not right, then we're basically saying that there's a religious group that is actually opposed to efforts to achieve world peace and unity. And that concerns me a tad. On a more concrete note: thanks for that helpful rhetorical question "someone." Anyway, Bruce then decides that he's going to explain the first seven judgments and then release the group.


Page 311- Line 3-8:
Bruce explained that the first four seals in the scroll were described as men on four horses: a white horse, a red horse, a black horse and a pale horse. "The white horseman apparently is the Antichrist, who ushers in one to three months of diplomacy while getting organized and promising peace."


I admit, I'm not really clear on how a white horse differs from a pale horse. But then I'm neither an expert in horses nor the bible.


Page 311- Line 9-14:
"The red horse signifies war. The Antichrist will be opposed by three rulers from the south, and millions will be killed."

"In World War III?"

"That's my assumption."

"That would mean within the next six months."


Sadly, that will probably not be in this book. Too interesting for that. Then again, the authors made the rapture dull as shit, so making a war boring as hell should be simplicity itself.


Page 311- Line 15-17:
"And immediately following that, which will take only three to six months because of the nuclear weaponry available..."


I hate to mention this, but if we're using nuclear weaponry, 3-6 months is kinda a long time. By the time you're breaking out the nukes, we're talking more like 3-6 hours or maybe 3-6 days. Anyway, Bruce then claims the bible predicts inflation and famine, so everyone should stockpile food.


Page 311- Line 23-29:
"That killer famine could be as short as two or three months before the arrival of the fourth Seal Judgment, the fourth horseman on the pale horse- the symbol of death. Besides the post-war famine, a plague will sweep the entire world. Before the fifth Seal Judgment, a quarter of the world's current population will be dead."


But remember: God loves us! He loves us so much, in fact, he's decided to kill the hell out of us in a misguided and inefficient attempt to gain our attention. Praise be!


Page 311- Line 30:
"What's the fifth Seal Judgment?"


Yes, indeed, what is it? Well, if you want to know, you'll just have to come back next time, because this is the official halfway point of the chapter. And, for once, we kinda have a cliffhanger.

So come back next time when we discover another three Seal Judgments and eventually check back in with Buck who, by comparison, is almost dull in his near total lack of crazy.

Don't miss it!

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1 Comments:

Blogger scripto said...

"In sports news, Major League Baseball teams in spring training face the daunting task of replacing the dozens of players lost in the cosmic disapperances..."

Well, at least we'll still have basketball.

Thursday, March 25, 2010 2:19:00 PM  

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