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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 13, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes the dictionary look like a gripping read. Last time Rayford became a Christian and joined church leadership. What happens this week? Well, very little really, but along the way we almost get to meet the Anti-christ. Yay?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto who manages to really read between the lines:

"And I [Rayford] know how overwhelming this is for you because it has been for me, too. I've got a lot to talk to you about, actually."

And I'm going to convert the shit out of you all night long.

Indeed- from sex object to prayer object. Nothing ever changes for poor Hattie, does it? Great work scripto, and best of luck to everyone else!

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 order of their spending on Christian porn...

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.

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.

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


Chapter 13: In which we read a pointless obituary, have limp discussion between Chloe and Ray, insult learning and thinking, and introduce a man so gifted and well-intentioned that he just has to be evil.

Page 227- Line Tobogan:

No quote, but the chapter opens with Buck Williams who is... well... reading an obituary. So, basically, we're reading about Buck reading. It's like some kind of French post-modern cinema project, but with vastly less nudity. And to add to the effect, the obituary is produced verbatim. Because that's a good use of page space:

Page 227- Line 4-15:
Cameron Williams, 30, the youngest senior writer on the staff of any weekly newsmagazine, is feared dead after a mysterious car bombing outside a London pub on Saturday night that took the life of a Scotland Yard investigator.

Williams, a five-year employee of Global Weekly, had won a Pulitzer as a reporter for the Boston Globe before joining the magazine as a staff reporter at 25. He quickly rose to the position of senior writer and has since written more than three dozen cover stories, four times assigned the Weekly's Newsmaker of the Year story.

Okay, so, first off, it isn't really an obituary if he's only said to be "feared dead." It is instead what we like to call a "news report." Secondly, is there any point to this? Not really, but the story continues- again printed verbatim- for another 28 lines on page 228. I don't reproduce it here basically out of a sense of pity. And then, believe it or not, the "narrative" switches back to Rayford. But not to fear- the stoopid is only just beginning.

Page 228-229- Line 228: 26-27, 229: 1-5:
Rayford Steele had a plan. He had decided to be honest with Chloe about his attraction to Hattie Durham and how guilty he felt about it. He knew it would disappoint Chloe, even if it didn't shock her. He intended to talk about his new desire to share his faith with Hattie, hoping he could make some progress with Chloe without her feeling threatened.

See, this is why everyone winces whenever Rayford Steele has a plan: they're f-ing catastrophes. I absolutely love, as well, that he's all proud of himself for being honest with Chloe about Hattie even though he's really doing it as an under-handed ploy to try and preach. Anyway, they drive around for a while, he thinks about how Chloe went to the church meeting "for skeptics" even though she left part way through. She also watched Vernon Billings' craptacular little tape. Then, passing a bunch of burnt out houses, Rayford explains that he thinks the occupants were raptured away while the stove was on, leading eventually to a house fire. Then things get interesting... sort of.

Page 229- Line 18-30:
"And you [Rayford] think this was God's doing?" Chloe said, not disrespectfully.

"I do."

"I thought he was supposed to be a God of love and order," she said.

"I [Rayford] believe he is. This was his plan."

"There were plenty of tragedies and senseless deaths before this."

"I don't understand all that either," Rayford said. "But like Bruce said last night, we live in a fallen world. God left control of it pretty much to Satan."

"Oh, brother," she said. "Do you wonder why I walked out?"

Indeed, because we've just staggered drunkenly upon the problem of evil. If god is all-loving and all-powerful, why do bad things happen? The obvious answers are (a) god is not all-loving and (b) god is not all-powerful. Alas, neither answer is religiously acceptable so, instead, we get the always bizarre (c) it only looks evil from our perspective, but god has a plan. Right. Call me crazy, but I think the holocaust, rape, and so forth are pretty much bad from any perspective. Or, perhaps more accurately, I don't think I want to worship any god who considers genocide and sexual violence to be okay under certain circumstances. And don't even get me started on that whole "left the world to Satan" shit. How does that even begin to solve the problem? Does Rayford rise to the occasion? Yeah, not so much. Instead, he offers his own hypotheses as to why Chloe left Bruce's sermon early:

Page 230- Line 1-2:
"I figured it was because the questions and answers were hitting a little too close to home."

Seriously, Rayford? That's your answer? She left because she was afraid of the potency of your new faith, as opposed to- say- the fact that it's utterly looney? Gah. Thankfully, we start talking about sin and a whole new vista of weird opens up before us.

Page 230- Line 7-18:
"But I [Rayford] know I'm a sinner and that this world is full of them."

"And you consider me [Chloe] one."

"If you're part of everybody, then, yes, I do. Don't you?"

"Not on purpose."

"You're never selfish, greedy, jealous, perry, spiteful?"

"I try not to be, at least not at anyone else's expense."

"But you think you're exempt from what the Bible says about everybody being a sinner, about there not being one righteous person anywhere, 'No not one'?"

"I don't know, Daddy. I just have no idea."

This whole thing just makes me tired. First off, speaking as an atheist, I don't believe in sin. I don't actually believe in metaphysical evil, as in evil that exists outside of the ability of sentient beings to judge. I think there are pro- and anti-social behaviors, things that are and are not good in particular circumstances, but sin is an absurd concept that just doesn't make sense to me. So, really, I would have to answer the question "Are you a sinner?" with something akin to, "No, and neither am I a Leprechaun." Secondly, why is the bible supposed to be some kind of insurmountable authority? So what if the bible says we all suck, why should I even begin to care? Maybe I should pay more attention to the I Ching, or the Bhagavad Gita, or even Dianetics for crying out loud! You can't just babble, "But the bible says..." and expect to be taken seriously. Regardless, Rayford makes sure Chloe knows he's pushing the issue just because he doesn't want her to go to hell if she dies before converting- because nothing says loving like inventing things for your family to be afraid of.

Page 230-231- Line 230: 26-30, 231: 1-2:
"What did you [Chloe] think of the video? Did it make sense to you?"

"It made a lot of sense if you buy into all that. I mean, you have to start with that as a foundation. Then it all works neatly. But if you're not sure about God and the Bible and sin and heaven and hell, then you're still wondering what happened and why."

I don't actually agree with Chloe here for the simple reason that even if you accept God and sin and heaven and hell from the get-go, the bible is still a contradictory mess that clearly wasn't meant to be taken literally. Moreover, there are gigantic logical problems in the foundational concepts of evangelical Christianity as depicted in this book that cause real headaches to smart people. So, no, it doesn't all work neatly if you start with that as a foundation. That said, she is correct that the narrative he's selling is most compelling if you start with a Judeo-Christian background. So, for example, this works really well for people who are lapsed Christians. Somehow, though, I doubt that a lapsed Hindu would find this story nearly as attractive. One man's religion is, after all, another man's mythology.* Anyway, Rayford muses internally a bit more about how he wants so much to convert Chloe and then- after a scant two and a half pages of Rayford Steele and his plan- we're back with Buck. Specifically, Buck is meeting up with Steve Planck in JFK. And Steve asks one of the only intelligent questions of the entire book.

Page 231- Line 22-26:
"What makes you [Buck] think that Carpathia is going to help?" Planck asked later as they walked through a park. "If the Yard and the exchange are behind this, and you think Carpathia is linked to Todd-Cothran and Stonagal, you might be asking Carpathia to turn against his own angels."

Good lord, was that a question born of intelligent analysis? My heart is all aflutter! Sadly, Buck dismisses all this by remarking that he has a hunch about Carpathia. And then he pulls out the big justification.

Page 232- Line 9-10:
"Rosenzweig was impressed with him, and that's one insightful old scientist."

I don't know what I love more here: that a chemist is being touted as the ultimate judge of people or that a scientist is being used to vouch for the anti-christ. And for the authors, that last bit is actually a fairly subtle hint. In any case, they discuss Carpathia for a while longer including mentioning that he speaks nine languages fluently. Then Buck makes a sudden connection about which nine Carpathia talks pretty:

Page 233- Line 22-23:
"The six languages of the United Nations, plus the three languages of his own country." [Buck said]

Yeah, exactly, he has to be an evil genius to have spent so much time learning the languages useful in being an international diplomat. The cad! What really bothers me about this is that it will tend to make certain segments of the population automatically paranoid about talented, educated people who want to make the world a better place. And that just does not seem like a good thing to me. Once you add in the fact that we're not supposed to trust scientists or people who think too much and, really, this particular variant of Christianity sounds less like a religion of love and more like a religion of rampant paranoia. Regardless of your view on that, and with another mental screech of agony, the narrative twists once more to follow Rayford, who is busy trying to avoid choppy air while flying to Atlanta. He and Chloe arrive and head out of the airport for lunch. Along the way their cabbie a "young woman with a beautiful lilt to her voice" (Page 234- Line 12-13)** shows them an unbelievable sight. It's of people using cranes to remove cars that are jammed into and around a parking structure.

Page 235- Line 3-11:
"They were all in there after a late ballgame that night," she [the cabbie] said. "The police say it was bad anyway, long lines of cars trying to get out, people taking turns merging and lots of 'em not taking turns at all. So some people who got tired of waiting just tried to edge in and make other people let 'em in, you know."


"And then, poof, they say more than a third of the cars ain't got drivers, just like that."

I'm from the south and, I gotta tell ya, I really doubt that a third of the people at a Braves game are going to qualify under the authors' definition of "true Christian." I'd frankly put the percentage at well under five, particularly given people like Bruce who talked the talk but evidently did not walk the walk.

Page 235- Line 26-30:
"How about you?" Rayford asked the driver. "Did you lose people?"

"Yes, sir. My mama and my grandmama and two baby sisters. But I know where they are. They're in heaven, just like my mama always said." [the cabbie replied]

First we hate cabbies, now cabbies are good people? Honestly, this book confuses me. Then again, maybe it's just that Buck hates cabbies? Eh. Who cares? Alas, it gets better.

Page 236- Line 3-10:
"Are you [Rayford] saved now?" the girl asked.

Rayford was shocked by her forthrightness, but he knew exactly what she meant. "I am," he said.

"I am, too. You got to be blind or somethin' to not see the light now."

Rayford wanted to peek at Chloe, but he did not. He tipped the young woman generously when they got to the restaurant.

Classy, eh? He's teaming up with random cabbies to harangue his daughter. Or is it god sending a sign? In either case, Rayford apparently pays for preaching so, hey, make of that what you will. I'm glad he "knew exactly what she meant" though, particularly given that she was speaking plain English. Regardless, after they leave the cabbie behind Rayford tells Chloe about his lusting after Hattie. She takes it in stride. He mentions that he never did anything, at least partly because of how obsessed Irene was with religion. Then we get this:

Page 236- Line 21-28:
"I [Chloe] know. Funny thing, though. That [Irene's craziness] kept me straighter at school than I might have been otherwise. I mean, I'm sure Mom would be disappointed to know a lot of the things I've said and done while I've been away- don't ask. But knowing how sincere and devout she was, and what high hopes and expectations she had for me, kept me from doing something really stupid. I knew she was praying for me. She told me every time she wrote."

My margin note at this point reads, "I wonder how often it has the opposite effect?" which is, I think, a valid question. Certainly knowing people care about you matters, but constantly having religion rammed down one's throat may provoke a degree of rebellion. I'm just sayin' is all. The really beautiful part of this too, though, is that it not only implies that prayer works- in an absurdly subtle fashion- but simultaneously implies that were it not for people praying, all of us college educated types would be total sluts by now. Much as I'd love to know what it is that Chloe has done that's so bad, I have to note that I've been in school a long time and don't drink, do drugs, or otherwise get up to no good. And as far as I know, no evangelicals are praying for me so apparently I have only myself to blame for that.

Page 237- Line 1-10:
"But you still don't buy it [Irene's faith]?" [Rayford asked]

"I want to, Dad. I really do. But I have to be intellectually honest with myself."

It was all Rayford could do to stay calm. Had he been this pseudosophisticated at that age? Of course he had. He had run everything through that maddening intellectual grid- until recently, when the supernatural came crashing through his academic pretense. But like the cabbie had said, you'd have to be blind not to see the light now, no matter how educated you thought you were.

So, just to sum up: thinking=bad, blind belief=good. Any questions? I hope not because questions are born of confusion, confusion implies thinking and- say it with me- thinking is BAD. Sometimes when reading this book I just feel so hopeless, you know?

Page 237- Line 11-19:
"I'm [Rayford] going to invite Hattie to dinner with us this week," he said.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "What, you feel like you're available now?"

Rayford was stunned at his own reaction. He had to keep himself from slapping his own daughter, something he had never done. He gritted his teeth. "How can you say that after all I've just told you?" he said. "That's insulting."

Obviously Rayford has been reading his bible. His daughter gets uppity and he's immediately ready to smite the fuck out of her. Hey, Ray? Maybe you should focus a little more on the New Testament and a little less on the Old Testament, you know?

Page 237- Line 24-29:
"I'm [Rayford] going to make it clear what my intentions are, and they are totally honorable, more honorable than they ever could have been before, because I had nothing of worth to offer her"

"So, now you're going to switch from hitting on her to preaching at her."

And Chloe has hit on an important point: before Rayford only wanted her for her lovely- albeit emaciated- body. He didn't really care for her, he just wanted to gratify himself physically with her. Now, however, he only wants her for her lovely- albeit unclaimed- soul. He still doesn't really care for her- in point of fact he doesn't even seem to like her very much- he just wants to gratify himself with her spiritually. What has really changed here? The language, sure, but not the essence. I've heard it said before that Christianity is an other-directed religion and at its best that's absolutely true. But a lot of the time it seems like the preaching is for the benefit of the converted- to convince themselves of their own virtue and has nothing to do with me. And I really have no interest in being spiritually objectified.

Nor, as it happens, do I have any interest in moving on, because we're finished with part one. Even more exciting we are now half-way done with Left Behind! There are 25 chapters, so the end of this episode marks the halfway point. Moreover, the book is 470 pages long and we just finished page 237! Woo-hoo! It's all down hill from here, and I mean that in every possible sense!

It seems like this is a moment when we should stop and take stock and, indeed, that's what we're going to do. Let's tally the "Comment of the Week" wins to date, shall we? The ranking is as follows:

Scripto: 11
JLT: 5
Ken: 3
Mister Troll: 2
Jay: 1
Warbler: 1
Rybear: 1
FHR: 1

So why am I listing all this? Well, just to spur you on to even greater creative heights. I think there will be a special prize for whoever has the most at the end, and I'm as curious as anyone else who that will be. So keep at it! Also, frankly, scripto is kicking some ass and a little competition can't hurt.

And with that I say farewell until our next episode, when we return to Buck and finally- fucking finally- manage to get the anti-christ on stage. I, for one, cannot wait.

* I've probably told this story at some point before, but when I was a kid I was big into Greek mythology. I just loved all those stories about Apollo, Hermes, Argus, and so forth. I pretty much checked out every book I could find on this stuff from my school library and read them in a tree near my house. Very Huck Finn-ish. Anyway, one day I made the connection that the ancient Greeks didn't view that stuff as mythology- meaning fancy but incorrect stories- and instead viewed it as the truth. Similarly, I made the connection that we believed that Jesus and Christianity were real and, in my naive way, reasoned that there must be a reason why we knew the ancient Greeks were wrong and we were right. More precisely, I reasoned there must be a reason why we had all stopped believing in Zeus and started believing in Jehovah. So, I put this question to my mother: why did we know Jesus was true and the Greek myths were not? She explained that Greek mythology was just old stories, to which I answered that the bible was a lot of old stories. So how did we know it wasn't just mythology, too? Believe it or not I was entirely earnest in my question- I thought she'd respond with something like, "Oh, well, because of..." and give me some sort of logical explanation for why we knew our stories were true and the Greeks' were false. Instead her response was along the lines of, "Oh, Drek, give me a break." I left, frankly a bit hurt, and more than a bit bewildered. As is normal with children I got over the hurt quickly, but from then on whenever I thought about Greek myths I also felt the seed of doubt. Doubt because if there was a logical, compelling, reasonable answer, she would have given it to me. She hadn't, and it made me face a new and disquieting reality: Maybe there was no simple, compelling answer, and we had no way of knowing that our "truth" was anything more than someone else's "myth." I won't say that experience put me on the path to becoming an atheist, but I will say it sure as hell didn't slow me down.

** By "lilt" I think the authors are trying to say "southern accent." I have no idea why they don't just say so, however.



Blogger Mister Troll said...

Sense of pity? After suffering through this series for longer than I care to think about, I cannot believe you have much of a sense of pity...

Handy scorecard, though! Very motivational.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"So, basically, we're reading about Buck reading. It's like some kind of French post-modern cinema project, but with vastly less nudity."

Normally, I would consider that a pity. In this case, though, it's the first sign of mercy the authors have shown in over 200 pages.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all the experiencing-media-as-characters-experience-it, it's obvious that the authors thought about how they might get this information if they were living the story. However, the problem is that they aren't creative enough to fit the information in the story any other way. So we have Buck reading an obituary. Maybe they could have incorporated this supplementary material like it was in The Watchmen. I doubt the authors have ever read, or know anyone who has read, The Watchmen.

Also, what's the problem with Rayford dating Hattie? Didn't his wife die? "'Till death do we part" and all?

Thursday, January 21, 2010 8:02:00 PM  
Blogger Dutchdear said...

"I'm [Rayford] going to invite Hattie to dinner with us this week," he said.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "What, you feel like you're available now?"

Uh... Chloe, he kind of is. Where have you been the past week? Too busy making Best Student In History?

"I'm [Rayford] going to make it clear what my intentions are, and they are totally honorable, more honorable than they ever could have been before, because I had nothing of worth to offer her"

I really wish he'd just bang her and get it over with, so maybe he could consider her a real human being. Makes me wonder if he thinks she's got "Made In China" tattooed on her butt.

Friday, January 22, 2010 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Saturday, January 23, 2010 9:53:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

This book isn't the result of a bar bet LaHaye made with L. Ron Hubbard, is it? Something along the lines of: I bet I can write an Apocalyptic Christian novel in broken English and sell a million copies before you can start your own religion based wholly on juvenile science fiction.

Monday, January 25, 2010 8:06:00 AM  

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