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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 11, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will convince you that literacy isn't always a blessing. Last time Rayford and Chloe visited the visitation pastor at New Hope Village Church and got to hear about his rapture experience. What happens this week? Well, more or less we learn why said pastor isn't in heaven with all his peeps. Sadly, however, it's not much of a story, so don't get your hopes up for hookers and drugs. For that kind of craziness, you'll need to talk to Ted Haggard.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto, who narrowly beat out Ken with his heartfelt apology for the horror that is Left Behind. Or, more accurately, for encouraging me to read the thing in the first place:

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.

Oh, scripto, it's okay. Honestly, my natural curiosity probably would have led me to read the thing whether you had encouraged me to or not. On the other hand, without your encouragement I wouldn't have taken notes on it, or had to revisit it in this much detail, so there's still that to answer for. Regardless, hopefully the series remains at least slightly amusing. In any case, keep at it folks, the best comments may yet be to come.

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

Listed in order of frequent flyer number...

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. Bad husband.


Page 195- Line Whooping Crane:

No quote, but when we left off Rayford had just asked Bruce how he, a pastor, had managed to be left behind. Bruce promises to tell us- and he makes good on said promise- but the story is nothing if not a disappointment. Much like this book, come to think of it.

Page 195- Line 11-15:
"I'm ashamed of myself, and if I never really had the desire or the motivation to tell others about Christ before, I sure have it now. I just feel awful that it took the most cataclysmic event in history to reach me." [Bruce said]

So, two points from this: first, we're back on that "most horrible event in history" nonsense again. Never mind the Fall from Grace, never mind the Noachian Flood, never mind the War in Heaven... all of that shit pales into insignificance beside The Rapture. Because a civil war among demi-gods is clearly not that big of a deal. Seriously, the melodrama is too much for me. Second, I love how they slip in that nudge that we should all be witnessing for Christ. See, it isn't enough fun for this book to be packed with brain-melting horribleness- the reader has to go and inflict similar torment on others. Yay?

Page 195- Line 17-28:
"I loved church. It was my life, my culture. I thought I believed everything there was to believe in the Bible. The Bible says that if you believe in Christ you have eternal life, so I assumed I was covered." [Bruce said]

[Bruce continued, starting a new paragraph for no apparent reason] "I especially liked the parts about God being forgiving. I was a sinner, and I never changed. I just kept getting forgiveness because I thought God was bound to do that. He had to. Verses that said if we confessed our sins he was faithful and just had to forgive us and to cleanse us. I knew other verses said you had to believe and receive, to trust and to abide, but to me that was sort of theological mumbo jumbo." [emphasis original]

I love all this for a couple of reasons. First, it brings us square up against the classic conflict between salvation by faith alone and salvation by faith coupled with good works. Bruce is clearly saying the he believes the salvation by faith alone bit- as is standard for many evangelical congregations- but, as we're going to see, there's a bit of a catch. This is, as a side note, the sort of catch that usually goes along with, "Come hear our sales pitch and get a free weekend in Hawaii" mailings. Second, I love the reference to "theological mumbo jumbo". Treasure this moment, kids, because we have two evangelicals (i.e. the authors) admitting that some parts of the bible just don't make any damned sense on their own. So much for literalism. Finally, my comment in the margins at this point reads, "He's taking the long way to explaining why god owns your ass," which seems to be pretty much on the money.

Page 196- Line 1-5:
"I [Bruce] thought I had a great life. I even went to Bible college. In church and at school, I said the right things and prayed in public and even encouraged people in their Christian lives. But I was still a sinner. I even said that. I told people I wasn't perfect; I was forgiven."

Ahoy there, loosely connected sentences! Regardless, keep this message in mind, folks, because it explains why even if you THINK you're happy and a good Christian you probably aren't. In fact, if you're not constantly bending every fiber of your being to following the teachings of this one, specific, narrow version of Christianity then you're not a "true Christian" and are probably going to hell. Lovely philosophy, no? Unending, unavoidable terror at damnation with a side of prayer. Stuff like this is also one reason why way back at the beginning of this series I commented that I thought this book was aimed at other Christians rather than people like me.* It's basically telling all the mainstream Christians, and even other evangelicals who may be slightly less crazy than the authors, that they suck and are bound for hellfire.

Page 196- Line 6-13:
"My wife said that," Rayford said.

"The difference is," Bruce said, "she was sincere. I lied. I told my wife that we tithed to the church, you know, that we gave ten percent of our income. I hardly ever gave any, except when the plate was passed I might drop in a few bills to make it look good. Every week I would confess that to God, promising to do better next time."

It's like a spiritual protection racket: "Wow, that's a mighty nice soul yous gots dere. It'd be a shame if anythin was to happen to it. Now, if yous was to give us ten percent of your income, like? Then everythin would be allright. Otherwise, well, see there's dis thing called 'hell'..." On a related note, my wife reminded me that when she was a fundamentalist she used to tithe from her babysitting money. Let me say that again: my wife, when she was an adolescent, would give 10% of her proceeds from babysitting so that she wouldn't go to eternal torment. It's like god is a pimp, only with fewer felt hats and more sandals and togas. That's a classy religion you got there, Bruce!

Page 196- Line 21-24:
"I [Bruce] was lazy. I cut corners. When people thought I was out calling [i.e. bugging people at home with Chick tracts] , I might be at a movie in another town. I was also lustful. I read things I shouldn't have read, looked at magazines that fed my lusts."

I know what the authors mean above, but I can't help but imagine that Bruce was actually reading "Scientific American." Gotta love that tense shift in the third sentence as well.

Page 196- Line 28-30:
"I [Bruce] knew that true Christians were known by what their lives produced and that I was producing nothing."

Aaaaand we're back to the good works thing. See, the way it gradually unfolds in Left Behind is that one is saved by faith alone but, if you have that faith, then you just naturally follow all the rules and do everything you're supposed to. If you don't, then you didn't really have the faith. It's a theological version of the No True Scotsman fallacy! It also reminds me of an abusive spouse who says things like, "If you really loved me, you'd let me pound you in the butt." Because nothing says loving like anal tearing.

Page 197- Line 3-5:
"I [Bruce] wasn't a rapist or a child molester or an adulterer, though many times I felt unfaithful to my wife because of my lusts."

I'm not sure what to do with this. Do the authors mean to imply that "reading things you shouldn't" makes you like a rapist? Do they mean that the main issue with being a rapist would be that Bruce would thereby have been unfaithful to his wife? What? Regardless, Bruce explains that he tried to make sure people didn't think he was a religious freak, and then we get to this:

Page 197- Line 16-19:
"I [Bruce] see now, of course, that God is a sin-forgiving God, because we're human and we need that. But we are to receive his gift, abide in Christ, and allow him to live through us." [emphasis original]

Please tell me someone else finds this creepy. It sounds like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for crying out loud.

Page 197- Line 22-23:
"And as miserable as I [Bruce] was most of the time..."

What, did he have to read Left Behind too? As a side note: can I just point out that he was constantly at church, went to bible college, etc, and was miserable so, hey, clearly the problem is not enough religion! Huzzah! Regardless, Burce prattles on in this vein for a while and eventually kinda stumbles to a halt. Note that I did not say, "reaches a conclusion," because there's no argument here to conclude. Just a long, rambling confession that does not address any questions whatsoever.

Page 198- Line 27-28:
Chloe stood and paced, her arms folded across her chest. "That's a pretty interesting story," she said.

What the f-ing crap? Were you even listening to his story? I've read cereal boxes with a more compelling narrative! Regardless, after some bullshit about how Loretta was left behind, Bruce promises to explain how Rayford and Chloe can be saved as well.

Page 200- Line 16-20:
"It's really quite simple. God made it easy. That doesn't mean it's not a supernatural transaction or that we can pick and choose the good parts- as I tried to do. But if we see the truth and act on it, God won't withhold salvation from us." [Bruce said]

Get used to that "supernatural transaction" language as it appears over and over again. Note, however, that this cloaks the whole thing in free market rhetoric and one of the assumptions of the free market is that actors are... you know... free. The current situation is rife with coercion.

Page 200- Line 21-23:
"First, we have to see ourselves as God sees us. The Bible says all have sinned, that there is none righteous, no not one. It also says we can't save ourselves." [Bruce continued]

So, first, learn to hate yourself. If you ever start to think you're not so bad, then you must immediately beg god for forgiveness. Um... thank you Jesus, may I have another? *thwack* It's this sort of thing that makes me roll my eyes when Christians ask me how I can feel anything but hopeless and empty as an atheist. Honestly, I wonder the same thing about them.

Page 200-201- Line 200: 23-30- 201: 1-5:
"Lots of people thought they could earn their way to God or to heaven by doing good things, but that's probably the biggest misconception ever. Ask anyone on the street what they think the Bible or the church says about getting to heaven, and nine out of ten would say it has something to do with doing good and living right." [Bruce said, feeling the need suddenly to start a new paragraph]

"We're to do that, of course, but not so we can earn our salvation. We're to do that in response to our salvation. The Bible says that it's not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by his mercy God saved us. It also says that we are saved by grace through Christ, not of ourselves, so we can't brag about our goodness." [emphasis original]

I included this passage mostly because it's a fairly clear statement of the book's theology, and therefore is worth mention. Additionally, however, it's pretty funny that Bruce is now insisting that good works aren't what matters to god after spending so much time talking about how he needed to do more good works. Riiiight. As for the bragging: I guess the authors are up shit creek then, judging from this book.

Page 201- Line 6-11:
"Jesus took our sins and paid the penalty for them so we wouldn't have to. The payment is death, and he died in our place because he loved us. When we tell Christ that we acknowledge ourselves as sinners and lost, and receive his gift of salvation, he saves us. A transaction takes place." [Bruce droned on]

My margin note here reads, "All this talk of 'spiritual transactions' makes it sound like god himself is somehow limited." I stand by that- the explanation seems to imply that the market is imposed on god and he has to work within it. Mankind sinned, the penalty for sin is death, so god has to come up with some way to pay if he's going to save us. This is not the way an omnipotent being would do business. Such an account is pretty hard to reconcile with everything else in this book, though.

Page 201- Line 26-30:
"I have to ask you," Bruce said, "something I never wanted to ask people before. I want to know if you're ready to receive Christ right now. I would be happy to pray with you and lead you in how to talk to God about this."

Oh, no. Oh, HELL no! You don't seriously think that just talking about your unsupported beliefs and shitty life will convince anyone, do you? Well, actually, you do. Awesome. Additionally, did you catch that "lead you in how to talk to God" bit? Congratulations, folks! Pretty soon now we're going to learn our first spell! I vote for Magic Missile! In any case, Chloe declines and Rayford ponders why he will also decline, but in his case it's really stupid:

Page 202- Line 19-29:
Rayford could feel Bruce's eyes burning into him as if the young man knew Rayford was ready to make a commitment. But he [Rayford] had never rushed into anything in his life. And while he didn't put this on the same scale as dealing with a salesman, he needed time to think, a cooling-off period. He was analytical, and while this suddenly made a world of sense to him and he didn't doubt Bruce's theory of the disappearances, he would not act immediately. "I'd appreciate the tape, and I can guarantee you, I will be back tomorrow [on Sunday for church]."

Ah, yes, famously analytical Rayford. I'll entertain guesses as to how long he'll make it before he converts. Anyone? Additionally, if you're absolutely convinced of what Bruce had to say... seems kinda silly not to just go for it, no? Regardless, Bruce explains that they shouldn't delay because they could die at any time, thus playing the fear card upon which so much religion is based,** and we get this:

Page 203- Line 10-13:
"I'm [Bruce] not going to push you into something you're not ready for, but just let me encourage you that if God impresses upon you that this is true, don't put it off."

And this is very weird because, as my margin comment reads, "If we need god to convince us that this is true, and we die before he does so, then we go to hell. Isn't that a tad arbitrary?" Indeed, yes, it is. Granted, the usual explanation I get on this point is that we have free will or that god always shows himself to everyone in some fashion, but that makes it sound like we need a damned secret decoder ring to figure out all the messages. Frankly, this all just comes back to Left Behind's confusing and incoherent theology. We have free will except when we don't, we're saved by faith alone except when we don't do any works. It just contradicts itself constantly, wanting to have its cake and eat it too, and we're just supposed to accept it all because we're sinners. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean we're stupid.

What it does mean, however, is that we've reached the end of Chapter 11. Come back next time when- I swear I'm not kidding- we get to read about Rayford watching a damned video tape. We also muck around with Buck a bit, and see that Rayford is destined for "great" things.

Until then!

* Well, Christians and people who hate the English language.

** "Okay, yous don't have ta start wit the tithin right now. But don't wait too long, else somethin bad might happen, you know? Bad thins have been known ta happen, from time to time, like."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Bruce’s story and theology points out a larger reason why the Rapture wouldn’t be such a big deal, to the point that no one would even likely notice it happened, except for in parts of the US.

There are very few Protestant Christians who actually practice their faith in the way demanded by the authors of this book. So, even many mainline Protestant Christians are out, and all those Catholics are out. So, the only people missing are a few folks in the Bible Belt of the US, and a smattering of folks else ware.

One thing I notice about this type of Christian is that they always over estimate how much of the population they make up. I always have to point out that China and India combined make up something like 30% of the world’s population. Indonesia is up there too, and not particularly Christian either. Then there’s the rest of Asia, the Middle East – including Israel, most of Europe, and let’s say a third of Africa. None of these places has very many Christians of the type the authors believe would be Raptured. So, who in fact has even noticed that the event took place? A sheriff in Texas who cannot figure out where some of the members of some church went off to, that’s who and no one else even noticed.

This group of Christians amounts to rounding error in the calculation of the world’s population and they believe that they make up a significant portion of the population, enough anyway that their being missing would create worldwide panic.

I somehow doubt it would.

Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"The Bible says that if you believe in Christ you have eternal life, so I assumed I was covered."
He only had term life.

"When people thought I was out calling [i.e. bugging people at home with Chick tracts] , I might be at a movie in another town..."
With Paul Reubens?

"I was also lustful."
Now we're getting somewhere. Go on.

" I read things I shouldn't have read, looked at magazines that fed my lusts."
That's it? I thought he was banging his secretary. Where's the heaving breasts and inflamed members? This whole book is a big rip off. Paging Ted Haggard.

Thursday, December 31, 2009 2:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

I assume the "lust in my heart" is the standard Evangelical cant. (You can't touch that.)

Otoh, "The Bible says that if you believe in Christ you have eternal life"

Which is still not long enough to read all ten books, or possibly even this one.

When does Hattie come back? I miss Hattie, especially since Chloe is as ballless as her father.

Thursday, December 31, 2009 4:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Friday, January 01, 2010 11:35:00 PM  

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