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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 12, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes baby Jesus cry. Last time Rayford and Chloe heard about why Bruce Barnes was left behind. That's pretty much it, actually: we just sat around and listened to a guy talk. What happens this week? It gets even better: we get to sit around and hear about Rayford watching a video tape. Yay!

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" is a joint award to scripto and Ken. Scripto gets the nod for a very nice play on words that actually made me snort a bit (SOL?):

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

He only had term life.

Silly Bruce! Trusting the invisible insurance salesman in the sky! Ken, in contrast, waxes longingly for certain characters that have been too long absent:

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

Ah, have no fear: the skeletal but big-boobed Ms. Durham will return, and sooner than you think, because she's required for what is- hands down- the single most revolting conversation in this entire book. And if it seems like after eleven chapters of this crap it can't get any more revolting, please believe me when I say that you should not underestimate these authors. Seriously.

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

If I were the Antichrist, I would execute the characters in the following order...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

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

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

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

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

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

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


Chapter 12: In which Ray gets saved by a video tape, a tiny amount happens with Buck- in the process of which revealing how stupid he is, Ray sits through a church service, and Ray becomes a part of church leadership.

Page 205- Line Waterboarding:

No quote, but the chapter opens with Buck, who has checked into the Frankfurt Hilton. This does not fit my definition of "lying low," but then I'm not a secret agent/journalist like Cameron "Buck" Williams. Thank god. He then proceeds to call his father and lead with quite possibly the most awesome conversation starter in history.

Page 205- Line 7-10:
"I'm [Buck] really sorry about this, Dad, but you're going to hear that I was killed in some sort of a car bombing, terrorist attack, that kind of thing."

"What the devil is going on, Cameron?"

How's that for a way to scare the shit out of your remaining parent? I'm pretty sure if I started a phone call with my father that way I'd end up dialing 911 shortly thereafter. Moreover, Buck's dad is actually taking it well. Perhaps too well, actually...

Page 205- Line 11-16:
"I can't get into it now, Dad. I just want you to know I'm all right. I'm calling from overseas, but I'd rather not say where. I'll be back tomorrow, but I'm going to have to lay low for a while."

"Your sister-in-law and niece and nephew's memorial services are tomorrow evening," Mr. Williams said.

Hot damn! He's taking it so well, in fact, that he feels free to lay a guilt-trip on Buck for missing a funeral just so he (Buck) can avoid people who want to kill him. That sounds totally plausible! Then again, maybe Buck's dad is just suggesting that if Buck is going to get killed he should at least do so soon enough for the family to get a volume discount from the minister. I mean, hell, as Bruce reminded us (Page 196- Line 7-13) salvation don't come cheap!

Page 206- Line 8-9:
"Are you [Buck] going to be in danger when whoever thinks they killed you finds out [that Buck is alive]?"

Um... yes? Generally speaking, people don't try to blow you up with a car bomb on a whim. If they fail, they generally don't just give up.

Page 206- Line 13-21:
Buck switched to another phone and called the Global. Disguising his voice, he asked the receptionist to plug him into Steve Planck's after-hours voice mail. "Steve, you know who this is. No matter what you hear in the next twenty-four hours, I'm all right. I will call you tomorrow and we can meet. Let the others believe what they hear for now. I'm going to need to remain incognito until I can find someone who can really help. Talk to you soon, Steve." [emphasis original]

Yep, quite the covert operative that one- too bad he didn't mention "duck lips" to Steve. That would have been the clincher. Maybe next Buck will check his own voice mail and order in-room porn with his own credit card? Regardless, at this point the authors get bored of Buck and jump back to Rayford, who is driving home with Chloe.

Page 207- Line 1-3:
What had he [Rayford] done in his raising of Chloe that could make her so cautious, so careful, that she might look down her nose at what was so obvious to him?

And more importantly, how can I do the same thing for my children? Because heaven knows we can't have our children thinking for themselves or demanding evidence! That would be disastrous in a modern industrial state.

Page 207- Line 6-17:
The news was full of crime, looting, people taking advantage of the chaos. People were being shot, maimed, raped, killed. The roadways were more dangerous than ever. Emergency units were understaffed, fewer air- and ground-traffic controllers manned the airports, fewer qualified pilots and crews flew the planes.

People checked the graves of loved ones to see if their corpses had disappeared, and unscrupulous types pretended to do the same while looking for valuables that might have been buried with the wealthy. It had become an ugly world overnight, and Rayford was worried about his and Chloe's safety. [emphasis added]

My margin note at this point reads, "Yes, without evangelicals, the world sucks." I remain as skeptical now as I was then that the world would immediately collapse into chaos without someone around to oppose gay marriage and nationalized healthcare. At the same time, I find myself experiencing one of my rare moments of pity for evangelicals: it must be truly awful to believe that your own species is so hateful and cruel as a matter of habit. I don't think we're angels, don't get me wrong, but I rather think we're likable enough on the whole. In crises I think we pull together more than we fall apart, and I simply can't imagine how depressing it must be to be constantly taught to the contrary. In any case, Rayford tries to get Chloe to watch the tape with him, she refuses, he tries to get her to go to church with him the next day, and she... well...

Page 208- Line 1-4:
"Daddy, please. You're going to push me away if you keep bugging me about it. I'm not sure I even want to go to that. I heard his [Bruce's] pitch today and he said himself it's going to be the same thing tomorrow."

Okay, so that makes quite a bit of sense, but take a look at where our next quote comes from...

Page 208- Line 26-28:
Rayford gave up. He would deal with his own soul and pray for his daughter, but clearly there would be no badgering her into the faith.

Note that it took another 22 lines of badgering between this passage and the preceding for Rayford to decide to back off. Likewise, as stupid as Rayford is, how did he manage to figure out that coercion into faith doesn't work? I've seen folks spend years trying that tactic with me before they finally get it. Anyway, after Chloe goes to bed, Rayford sits down to watch the video tape he got from Bruce. And you thought you were done with thinly-veiled preaching! In any case, the video comes on to feature the former pastor of New Hope Village Church, one (totally not kidding here) Vernon Billings, explaining that if you're watching this tape, you've been left behind.

Page 209- Line 17-27:
"Let me [Vernon] show you from the Bible exactly what has happened. You won't need this proof by now, because you will have experienced the most shocking event of history. But as this tape was made beforehand and I am confident that I will be gone, ask yourself, how did he know? Here's how, from 1 Corinthians 15:51-57."

The screen began to scroll with the passage of Scripture. Rayford hit the pause button and ran to get Irene's Bible. It took him a while to find 1 Corinthians, and though it was slightly different in her translation, the meaning was the same. [link added, obviously]

Once more with the "most shocking event in history" nonsense. I am really, really tired of that refrain. You have no idea. Beyond that, however, consider that last sentence: the authors are careful to mention that in different translations the meaning is the same. This is a necessity for them, really, because if the meaning changed from translation to translation, we couldn't just pretend that the bible has all the answers, and that any old dumbass can get them from any old bible, now could we? Anyway, the pastor then reads the passage out loud. I reproduce it here more or less because the authors attempt to get an awful lot of blood from this particular turnip:

Page 210- Line 1-17:
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?' The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." [Vernon read]

Rayford was confused. He could follow some of that, but the rest was like gibberish to him.

Yes, well, that's because it's a two-thousand year-old allegory written in a different language and subsequently translated into your own. So, yes, the meaning is a shade obtuse. And if you're waiting for me to mock the bible itself... keep on waiting. Seriously, it doesn't need my help. Anyway, the pastor then explains that "sleep" means "death" for the slow ones in the audience and explains that the bit about incorruption means that people will be given an incorruptible body. Sure, why not? That's as good an explanation as any, even if I feel like we're trying to interpret the first century equivalent of "Yellow Submarine." Then it gets good and, coincidentally, answers a long-standing question for us.

Page 211- Line 5-13:
"I [Vernon] believe that all such people [true Christians] were literally taken from the earth, leaving everything material behind. If you have discovered that millions of people are missing and that babies and children have vanished, you know what I am saying is true. Up to a certain age, which is probably different for each individual, we believe God will not hold a child accountable for a decision that must be made with the heart and mind, fully cognizant of the ramifications."

Well, that answers one question, then. The "age of majority" for rapturing is calibrated to each individual child's level of maturity. Easy enough to do if you're god, I guess, but guaranteed to make parents absolutely paranoid. Think about it: if you're an evangelical of the authors' stripe, you have to continually work to convert and re-convert your kids to Christ since you have no idea when they will turn the corner and become vulnerable to hellfire. Keep this in mind for later.

Page 211- Line 13-17:
"You may also find that unborn children have disappeared from their mothers' wombs. I can only imagine the pain and heartache of a world without precious children, and the deep despair of parents who will miss them so."

My margin note here reads, "So are humans sterile now? Because we really should be." Indeed, if the point of rapturing the unborn is to save them from the hell of the tribulation, it wouldn't make any sense for people to be able to bring new children into the world, right? Sadly, no, later in the series children are indeed conceived, just demonstrating once more that this doesn't make any friggin sense. And honestly, that insults me more than anything else about this kind of theology: if god were real, theology and reality should make a deep kind of beautiful, logical sense. Yet, when we run into obvious, simple, but profound contradictions like these, the response is to just whistle and try to ignore it. Gah.

Page 211- Line 18-21:
"Paul's prophetic letter to the Corinthians said this would occur in the twinkling of an eye. You may have seen a loved one standing before you, and suddenly they were gone. I don't envy you that shock."

They're really wringing a lot from this passage. Given that the whole "eyes were twinkling" thing is, itself, a metaphor, it seems unwise to use it to determine precise timing. I mean, seriously, how long does it take for an eye to twinkle? A second? A half-second? Is it instantaneous? What? Eh. Whatever. What do I know? I'm damned to hell and such.

Page 212- Line 5-9:
"You may wonder why this has happened. Some believe this is the judgment of God on an ungodly world. Actually, that is to come later. Strange as this may sound to you, this is God's final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected him."

Yep, you read that right: he's careful enough to protect those who can't make their own decisions from punishment, attending to their precise ages, but he can't be troubled to show equal courtesy in revealing himself to the rest of us. Instead, he goes out for the "rain down indiscriminate death and suffering" approach. What. The. Hell.

Page 212- Line 18-23:
"Let me encourage you that your loved ones, your children and infants, your friends, and your acquaintances have not been snatched away by some evil force or some invasion from outer space. That will likely be a common explanation. What sounded ludicrous to you before might sound logical now, but it is not." [emphasis added]

Dude, I couldn't agree with you more. What's funniest about this, though, is that alien invasion is repeated yet again as obviously silly, but invisible all-powerful, all-knowing superfriend in the sky? Oh yeah, totally different, totally plausible!

Page 212- Line 24-29:
"Also, Scripture indicates that there will be a great lie, announced with the help of the media and perpetrated by a self-styled world leader. Jesus himself prophesied about such a person. He said, 'I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.' "

Honestly, this doesn't sound so much like prophecy as a rhetorical point, but whatever. As a side note, doesn't this just help you understand why certain folks keep trying to say that Obama is the anti-christ? Gotta love it. Regardless, Vernon goes on for a bit about the seven years of shit god is about to rain onto mankind- otherwise known as the tribulation- and Rayford gets a bit anxious about the whole thing.

Page 214- Line 1-3:
Maybe he [Vernon] had taken this prophecy business too far. But this was no snake-oil salesman. This was a sincere, honest, trustworthy man- a man of God.

Ugh. You know, someone can be honest, sincere, and trustworthy, but nevertheless wrong. That's the issue here, folks. It isn't that we skeptics think you believers are deliberately lying to us, we believe that you're (more often than not) entirely sincere, we just don't believe you're correct. Why is the distinction so damned hard to grasp?

Page 214- Line 7-10:
It was time to move beyond being critic, an analyst never satisfied with the evidence. The proof was before him: the empty chairs, the lonely bed, the hole in his heart.

Yes, well, the evidence in fiction is often more compelling. Sadly, however, we do not live in a work of fiction and here in the real world the evidence for their god is far from convincing. Still, as evangelical fantasy goes, actually having evidence on your side for once must rank pretty near the top.

Page 214- Line 24-29:
"Nearly eight hundred years before Jesus came to earth the first time, Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied that the kingdoms of nations will be in great conflict and their faces shall be as flames. To me [Vernon], this portends World War III, a thermonuclear war that will wipe out millions."

But this is the trick with prophecy- it's so damned vague. This could as easily be World War II as anything else. The only reason the authors don't say that is because the world obviously didn't end seven years after that particular global conflict. Also note the whole "to me, this portends," bit. So much for us not needing to interpret the bible.

Page 215- Line 13-26:
"If you accept God's message of salvation, his Holy Spirit will come in unto you and make you spiritually born anew. You don't need to understand all this theologically. You can become a child of God by praying to him right now as I lead you-"

Rayford paused the tape again and saw the concern on the pastor's face, the compassion in his eyes. He knew friends and acquaintances would think him crazy, perhaps even his own daughter would. But this rang true with him. Rayford didn't understand about the seven years of tribulation and this new leader, the liar who was supposed to emerge. But he knew he needed Christ in his life. He needed forgiveness of sin and the assurance that one day he would join his wife and son in heaven.

That's a lovely sentiment, no? Don't worry about thinking or understanding- just believe and everything will be fine. Because, really, faith is kinda like one of those magic eye paintings- if you try to focus on it, really see what's in front of you, the illusion just disappears.

So what happens next? Does Rayford come to Jesus? And if so, does he come quickly? Well, if you want to know the answer, you'll have to come back next time, when even more boring shit happens. Until then, boys and girls!



Blogger Dutchdear said...

"Moreover, Buck's dad is actually taking it well."
He's most likely taking it so well because he, too, knows that Cameron Williams is a complete asshole and knows how to get himself into shit like that. Never underestimate the stupidity of... "Buck"...

Thursday, January 07, 2010 9:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realized today that Left Behind is a lot like Bonanza. Seriously, I caught part of an episode today, same bad dialog, bad plot, sexist, etc.

Thursday, January 07, 2010 2:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you successfully convert to a True Christian after the Rapture, are you then automatically raptured, or do you have to still go through the sever years of tribulation? What about being a True Christian before an arbitrary, unknowable date makes you worthy of forgoing the rapture if you are not automatically raptured up? If people are auto-raptured how would anyone figure out what happened, or how to do it?

"Where'd Jim go?"
"I don't know."

You'd think God would want people to figure this out. How many people are really going to be able to see this tape in sever years? But then, if you aren't auto-raptured, how would you know if it worked or not, if you believed enough? I can imagine St. Petter at the gate to Heven:

"Haha, you idiot! You didn't do it right!"

But let's say God auto-raptures some people, and leaves a few true believers behind (Rayford?) to preach the Good Word. Gee, what an honor to have to suffer through tribulation.

"Thanks God, but, um, could someone else do it? I'd really like to see my family now. I mean, really, I'm flattered, but I'm not that great at public speaking, you know? Sure you do. Could you maybe ask some other people if they want to volunteer? You auto-raptured those other people, but maybe they'd like a chance to preach the Good Word. And, if you can't find enough people, I'll totally do it, 'cause you know I got your back."

Thursday, January 07, 2010 3:30:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"Up to a certain age, which is probably different for each individual, we believe God will not hold a child accountable for a decision that must be made with the heart and mind, fully cognizant of the ramifications."

OK, so I should be good until I'm 80 or so.

Friday, January 08, 2010 6:13:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

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

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

Friday, January 08, 2010 6:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ anon, unfortunately no they don't rapture, they just wander around with a thumbprint on their forehead. Rough deal.

Saturday, January 09, 2010 5:19:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Scripto wins, though I'm not certain for which of the last two comments.

So it was difficult for Buck to get from around Pittsburgh to NY/NJ, but he has had no trouble at all getting from the UK to Frankfurt. Indeed, everything was running normally in the UK.

Take that, Anglicans!

Seriously, I want a world map of where people were lost. Cause there's gonna be a lot of places open for squatting and looting, and if the next seven years are going to be bad, I want to start well provisioned.

Saturday, January 09, 2010 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honest to Buck, this blog is the best!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 2:37:00 PM  

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