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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 7, Part 1

Welcome back, one and all, to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes it clear that even the people Jesus doesn't want are boring. Last time we were reminded why nobody likes Rayford, learned a little about Buck's family situation, and were given yet more hinting about how bad the antichrist is. What will happen this week? Hard to say, but odds are it'll be stupid.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week the prize goes to scripto for his eloquent summation of a central problem with this book:

Shit. Nothing's happened and I still got lost. I had to check the cast of characters to see who the hell Cameron was. I always knew him as Buck. Quit messing with my head.

Yeah, tell me about it. As this book staggers drunkenly on characters are introduced at an appalling rate and then ignored for a half-dozen chapters only to crop up again at random moments. There's a reason why I put a list of characters at the beginning of each entry- because otherwise I wouldn't be able to keep up with it either. Thanks for the insight, scripto, and keep at it everyone! There's plenty of time to get your comments in.

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.


Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by zodiacal sign...

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

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.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde.

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.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite.


Chapter 7: In which we talk about aliens, insult mainline Protestants and cabbies, Ray discovers the bible, Buck gets to his office, and we enjoy a loving recitation of flight schedules.

Page 115- Line Zulu:

No quote, but the chapter opens with Buck climbing into the car of Ken Ritz, the pilot who is going to get him to New York. As it happens, Ritz is both polite and punctual, like all disaster profiteers. In any case, Buck chortles to himself about the shitty tip he left for his hotel keeper. You remember, the tip he promised in the last installment (Page 110- Line 14-17, roughly) in return for a bandage? In combination with the earlier revelation that he washes his clothes in a sink while traveling, it really does appear that Buck is the cheapest secret agent-journalist ever. Just imagine James Bond with a tag dangling from his tuxedo so that he can return it to the store after defeating Goldfinger and you've pretty much got Buck in a nutshell. Well, except that James Bond is actually competent at any number of tasks whereas Buck is... um... well... really good at traveling? Anyway, he and Ritz reach an agreement for how much it will cost to get Buck to New York and set off to find an actual plane. Specifically, Ritz's plane, but that isn't the point. The point is, it turns out there is the faintest whif of drama about trusting Ritz as a pilot...

Page 116- Line 16-26:
"Better money on your own?" [Buck asked Ken]

"Yeah, but I didn't know that when I switched. It wasn't my choice."

They were climbing into the Lear. Buck shot him a double take. "You were grounded?"

"Don't worry, Partner," the pilot said. "I'll get you there."

"You owe it to me to tell me if you were grounded."

"I was fired. There's a difference."

"Depends on what you were fired for, doesn't it?"

"True enough. This ought to make you feel real good. I was fired for bein' too careful, beat that."

Okay, several points: (1) This is an entirely accurate sample of typical dialogue in this book. I'm pretty sure if we had been reading this shit to the guys stuck in Guantanamo, we'd have found Osama by now. (2) I enjoy the line "climbing into the Lear". I know they mean a Lear Jet but I prefer to imagine they mean King Lear. Oh, Buck, you naughty boy! (3) Can you shoot someone a double take? I know you can shoot a look or a glare or even a knowing wink, but a double take just seems like one of those things that happens. It isn't really shot at anyone in particular. (4) Once more, we're in a damned western. All "partner" this and "bein'" that. Pretty soon Buck will show up at the hoedown and buy Hattie a sasparilla! (5) Just to make sure everyone is clear on this: Ritz is charging Buck $1500 to get him from Chicago to New York. Ritz is what we call a profiteer.* And yet Buck thinks Ritz owes him anything? Dude, you're lucky he doesn't just kill you and take that fanny pack of yours with the magic travellers checks. (6) That last bit about being fired for being too careful is priceless. It turns out that he was fired for refusing to shut up about a critical defect in some turboprop commuter aircraft. He was eventually vindicated, but the company still fired him. What a trooper! Or, as I scrawl in the margin on the next page, "Awesome! The opportunist with a heart of gold!" This is just part-and-parcel of the ongoing, "Jesus doesn't care how ethical you are unless you say the right incantations," schtick that makes this brand of Christianity all but indistinguishable from voo-doo. Gotta love it. Anyway, following this stirring discussion Buck starts interviewing Ritz to get his views on what caused the disappearance of so many people. Because the world just has to know what a random pilot thinks!

Page 117- Line 26-30:
"Dangedest thing I've ever seen. 'Course, that doesn't make me unique. I have to say, though, I've always believed in UFOs." [Ritz answered]

"You're kidding! A levelheaded, safety-conscious pilot?" [Buck asked]

This is the beginning of a theme for the rest of the book: the frequent mention of the alien abduction explanation. The authors constantly try to portray it as silly and stupid but, really, we know that intelligent tool-using critters can exist because we ourselves exist. Omnipotent, omniscient invisible friends? Yeah, so far, none have turned up. So, honestly, the alien explanation is more reasonable in many ways that "goddidit." Also, on another note: "dangedest"? Just... wow. In any case, Ritz goes on to tell a weird nonsensical story about seeing some mysterious black helicopters that wouldn't identify themselves, thereby linking Left Behind firmly with the worst conspiracy nuts on the internet, and then we return once more to the subject of aliens.

Page 118-119- Line 118:30-119:12:
"If there is intelligent life out there, and there had to be because of the sheer odds-" [Ritz began]

"What do you mean?"

"The vastness of space."

"Oh, so many stars and so much area that something has to be out there somewhere." [Buck answered]

"Exactly. And I agree with people who think those beings are more intelligent than we are. Otherwise, they wouldn't have made it here, if they are here. And if they are, I'm thinking they're sophisticated and advanced enough that they can do things to us we've never dreamed of." [Ritz concluded]

Okay, this is basically a reasonably competent explanation of the Drake Equation, the result of which boils down to a conclusion that there really should be other intelligent life around. Granted, given the nature of our universe, it might be so damned far away that for all intents and purposes we'll never know about it, but there you are. I do have to take issue with that bit about "more intelligent than we are" since intelligence is not the same as advanced. Modern folks are not smarter than olde timey folks even though our tech works better, we just benefit from more time to figure shit out. And anyone who tries to tell me that Glenn Beck is smarter than Einstein because he (Beck) has a really nifty computer has shit for brains. Anyway, it does seem to make sense that if an alien race could get to Earth, without our knowing about it, they might have the technology to teleport away a bunch of naked people. Why the hell they'd want to is beyond me, but there you go. Anyway, Ritz goes on to explain that some people were taken because they were somehow more susceptible, leading to this...

Page 119- Line 29-30:
"So we're still here because we were strong enough to resist, or maybe we weren't worth the trouble." [Buck concluded]

Yes, well, that "strong enough to resist" bit does sum it up in some cases, except what was being resisted was a highly infectious parasitic meme. Or so some would claim. Sadly, I think the authors mean for us to shake our heads at the arrogance of the characters for assuming that they must be better because they were Left Behind. Stupid characters! Why aren't they sad that they weren't wiped out in an inexplicable disaster! Stupid will to live! That said, there's also some truth to that "weren't worth the trouble" bit. I mean, hell, would you want to spend eternity with Rayford?

Page 120- Line 9-11:
"At first I would have said no [to the idea of teleporting nekid people]. But a week ago I would have told you that millions of people all over the world disappearing into thin air sounds like a B movie." [Ritz said]

And, ironically, now it is:

In fact, now it's several b movies:

As a side note: Man is Kirk Cameron a lousy actor. Gah!

Page 120- Line 27-28:
Buck shrugged and sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally he said, "There's a little hole in your argument."

Oh, really Buck? Just one little hole in the "aliens abduct naked people with no willpower" argument? You're some kinda big thinkee-man always thinking about things, aren't you?

Page 120- Line 29-30:
"I know of some people who are missing who seem as strong as anyone." [Buck finished]

Yeah, great job there with the counter-argument. Never mind that throughout this entire conversation we've never- not once- actually defined what "strong" means in this context. Hell, back on page 119 Ritz just said that all the disappeared had "unusual personalities"** [Line 20-21] so the transition to strength was really Buck's paraphrase- Ritz never claimed to have any idea what the hell the real difference actually was. So, basically, the authors never really made any pretext of this being anything other than the flimsiest of straw man arguments. Much like their theology, coincidentally. Anyway, the "narrative" switches back to Rayford at this point, which is about as welcome to all of us as a kidney punch.

Page 121- Line 16-20:
He [Rayford] started by searching for a Bible, not the family Bible that had collected dust on his shelf for years, but Irene's. Hers would have notes in it, maybe something that would point him in the right direction.

And here we go on an exciting adventure in recursion: we're going to read a book about Rayford reading a book. Honestly, are the authors trying to be boring?

Page 121- Line 21-22:
It [Irene's bible] wasn't hard to find. It was usually within arm's reach of where she slept.

My comment in the margins reads, "She must have been awesome in the sack." My wife commented in response, "Maybe before she went Christian. But it sounds like she's been into doilies for a while." Indeed, it takes quite some time to build up such an impressive collection of "country knick-knacks." In any case, Rayford reasons that he should start reading the bible from the back, since maybe that will have the answers he needs. This is, of course, kinda dumb but then again, Rayford's bible knowledge seems to be worse than mine, and I'm a devout atheist.

Page 122- Line 1-2:
The only Bible verse Rayford could quote by heart was Genesis 1:1.

Ha! Loser! He totally doesn't know about Lot and his daughters! Then again, given that Chloe is probably off somewhere trading truckers blowjobs for a ride to Chicago, maybe it's better that way. In any case, slightly further down the page I wrote in the margin, "Sweet! A bible reading primer!" because that's exactly what the narrative turns into. They are telling us how to read the bible. It's pretty ugly. Just for the record, however, they make a big deal out of mentioning that the words of Christ are in red.

Page 122- Line 18-19:
So Jesus said he was coming quickly. Had he come?

Honestly, after that passage, I'm kinda picturing Jesus and Mary Magdalene in side-by-side bathtubs above a Cialis logo.

Page 122- Line 19-22:
And if the Bible was as old as it seemed, what did "quickly" mean? It must not have meant soon, unless it was from the perspective of someone with a long view of history.

This passage is making my brain bleed. First, "as old as it seemed"? What the f-ing crap does that mean? Is Irene's bible inscribed on clay fucking tablets or something? Second, please note that the biblical literalists are now assuring us that "quickly" does not imply "soon." And what's this shit about "the perspective of someone with a long view of history"? I mean, leaving aside the fact that creationists think the world is only six thousand years old, what we are doing here is interpreting the goddamn bible. Not accepting it at its "plain meaning", as though there is such a thing, but inferring that since it's been two thousand years since Jesus died, "quickly" must just have been mentioned from the perspective of someone who is really, really slow. Apparently god is an employee at the DMV or something. Literalism fail!

Page 122- Line 22-23:
Maybe Jesus meant that when he came, he would do it quickly.

I tell you, brother, ain't that just the truth? All that build-up and it's always over too soon. I've been thinking of maybe trying that tantric stuff, you know? Really get my rapture on, if you know what I mean.

Page 122- Line 24-26:
Rayford glanced at the last chapter as a whole. Three other verses had red letters, and two of those repeated the business about coming quickly.

In the margins I added, "So in a chapter Jesus only supplies three verses? Why is it called 'Christianity' again?" Hard to say, really: it should be named Apostleanity.

Page 122- Line 27-28:
Rayford could make no sense of the text of the chapter. It seemed old and formal.

And since Rayford has the approximate mental capacity of a fruit bat, "old and formal" apparently means, "utterly impenetrable."

Page 122-123- Line 122:30-123:1-9:
Without a hint of their meaning, he [Rayford] read, "Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."

Jesus wouldn't have been the one who was thirsty. He would not have been the one who wished to take the water of life. That, Rayford assumed, referred to the reader. It struck him that he was thirsty, soul thirsty. But what was the water of life? He had already paid a terrible cost for missing it. Whatever it was, it had been in this book for hundreds of years.

If this book is a sermon in narrative form, this part is where the narrative falls away leaving us with the naked sermon. And it's an ugly old bastard at that. On an unrelated note: wouldn't "soul thirsty" make a great name for a funk band? In any case, Rayford keeps flipping through the bible, discovering spots where Irene marked off passages and labeled them "precious." No doubt just as precious as her antique hoop skirts or whatever other country knick-knacks she has around the house. He also finds a church flyer for her congregation. He then drifts off in fond reminiscing about how he dodged his son's efforts to get him to go to church. And then we get to the real kicker...

Page 124- Line 17-22:
He [Rayford] had given this Bible to Irene on their first wedding anniversary. How could he have forgotten, and what had he been thinking? She was no more devout than he back then, but she talked about wanting to get serious about church attendance before the children came along.

No kidding, what were you thinking! You could have had a wife who was fun in bed and didn't clutter the house with an antique ladle collection! Instead, you gave her a bible and it was all downhill from there. Moron. Also: goodness knows we wouldn't want to raise children without cramming their skulls full of half-assed superstitious nonsense. Then they'd have an easy trip to becoming atheists. Wouldn't want that!

Page 125- Line 5-14:
When Irene discovered the Christian radio station and what she called "real preaching and teaching," she grew disenchanted with their church and began searching for a new one. That gave Rayford the opportunity to quit going at all, telling her that when she found one she really liked, he would start going again. She found one, and he tried it occasionally, but it was a little too literal and personal and challenging for him. He was not revered. He felt like a project. And he pretty much stayed away.

Seriously? Do the authors honestly believe that those of us who prefer not to go to their brand of church with their brand of "preaching and teaching" do so because we want to be revered? Bloody hell. I just want to live my life, love my wife, do my job, have kids, and see as much as I can before I go kicking and screaming into senescence and death. I do not need a bunch of groupies as I do it in order to be happy. No offense. Rayford then, horrifyingly, spots Irene's prayer list.

Page 125- Line 16-22:
She had written, "Rafe, for his salvation and that I be a loving wife to him. Chloe, that she come to Christ and live in purity. Ray Jr., that he never stray from his strong, childlike faith." Then she had listed her pastor, political leaders, missionaries, world conflict, and several friends and other relatives.

So, on the plus side, at least she's praying about world conflict, even if I don't think that does a damned bit of good. On the minus side... "live in purity"? What the fuck does that mean? Was Chloe blowing truckers even before the Real Christians disappeared? And why doesn't Irene care if Raymie lives in purity? It's okay if he blows truckers, then?

Page 125- Line 28-30:
Didn't salvation have something to do with confirmation, baptism, testifying, getting religion, being holy?

Not to mention distributing shitty tracts, bugging people in their homes, judging other people's behavior, and generally acting like a self-righteous prick? Yeah, I think that's about the size of it.

And, coincidentally, that's about the end of our episode. Come back next time when we return to Buck- who at this point actually seems like an improvement- and his arrival in New York. It will also probably be a slightly shorter episode than this one since, you know, Buck isn't spending pages on end preaching at us yet. And I do emphasize the word "yet."

See you next time!

* Admittedly, Ritz isn't a very good profiteer since $1500 is a pretty reasonable price for a charter flight from Chicago to New York for one person.

** Given the general flow of the book so far, we can conclude that "unusual personality" means "very nice person". And if you don't believe me, please see Page 62- Line 4-5.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

I am convinced that this post is longer than the actual text being discussed. Which would be a Good Thing, except that it excerpts parts of that text, and there are knitting needles in the house.

For instance, I'm fairly certain that if you actually start at the back of a Xian bible, the first thing is that smash-up ending that makes The Sequel seem as if Muhammad Ali is fighting: flurry of punches at the end of the round to make the judges think you were Strong Throughout.

"So Jesus said he was coming quickly." But too quickly would be to "spill his seed" (Gen 38:9), and coitus interruptus is a sin. Which leads to:

"what did "quickly" mean"

Either Rayford "I'm always drunk and my wife is boring, so f*ck Chloe" Steele has never seen a Sharon Stone film, or we're supposed to think of Mary Magdalene saying, "It's Alive! It's Alive!"

(As a side note, I'm fairly certain that Rayford "Blow-by Truckers" Steele quotes John 1:1, not Genesis 1:1. And if he can't do Psalm 23:1, he has clearly managed to avoid funerals despite living to an appropriate age for them. Not to mention miss The Byrds covering Pete Seeger covering the Book of Ecclesiastes.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

On further review:

I note that the first film was released commercially in Spain on 4 Sep 2001. Can it be coincidence that the bombing of the Two Towers was (according to rumor) then moved up a week to 11 Sep?

Thursday, October 22, 2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

""Yeah, but I didn't know that when I switched. It wasn't my choice."
""Don't worry, Partner," the pilot said. "I'll get you there."

I think you hit it on the head. This whole thing is rife (rafe?) with repressed homosexuality. I'm thinking Lahaye is working through a few uncomfortable Scout camp experiences with all this Cowboy Pals around the Campfire stuff.

One a side note: I drove for awhile and I can tell you that the ratio of truck drivers telling you they were blown (blowed?) to drivers actually being blown is about 10,000:1. We were riding one guy about his choice of CB dates one day, he got all irate and told us, "She's not a whore, she's a pros-tee-tute!".

Friday, October 23, 2009 6:53:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Ken: 9/11 as vengeance for Left Behind? I can almost believe that...

Scripto: I am of course not trying to perpetuate stereotypes about truckers here. At the same time, nothing else in Left Behind is true to life, so I may as well take advantage of unrealistic stereotypes for humor value.

Friday, October 23, 2009 7:02:00 AM  
Blogger JLT said...

Argh. That's really painful to read.

"Without a hint of their meaning, he [Rayford] read, "Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."
Jesus wouldn't have been the one who was thirsty. He would not have been the one who wished to take the water of life. That, Rayford assumed, referred to the reader. It struck him that he was thirsty, soul thirsty. But what was the water of life? He had already paid a terrible cost for missing it. Whatever it was, it had been in this book for hundreds of years."

English isn't my first language and the last time I attended a church service* is over twenty years ago but even I recognise the verse and know what it means. That's well-known religious imagery.
But, according to the authors, Rayford'd never heard of it.
I’m sure he’s tracing the line with his finger while reading.

"Rayford glanced at the last chapter as a whole. Three other verses had red letters, and two of those repeated the business about coming quickly."

-- Uh, red letters, that seems to be important. Thank God (haha), it’d take me weeks to read the whole page, I’ll just read the red bits. Nice short words in there, too. [mumbles, brows furrowed] "Let the one who is ... thi..thirs..ty come...". --

” But what was the water of life? [...] Whatever it was, it had been in this book for hundreds of years."

The bible is soaked? The water of life is really dry and dusty?

* other than funerals, weddings, and baptisms.

Monday, October 26, 2009 2:23:00 AM  

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