Total Drek

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 21, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that is actually, really worse that the entire Mission Earth series. Last time Buck went back to his office, talked to Bailey, and then went to dinner with the rest of the gang so he could get preached at. What happens this week? Yep, just more of the same. So if you don't like reading about uninspired preaching, this is the wrong episode to read. For that matter, if you don't like reading about uninspired preaching, why are you reading this series at all? I mean damn.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for bravely wading straight into the logical disaster that defines this entire book:

Let's see if I have this straight:

(1) Rayford can only talk to one person at a time.

Corollary: The women left out of sympathy, boredom, or to explore heathen possibilities. Sympathy for Rayford, that is, since they know he couldn't deal with all three of them looking at him with anything but rapt reverence.

(2) Buck believes Rayford, but is still going to go to Chicago because he gets to sit next to Chloe, who is an older Sue Lyons/Dominique Swain.

Corollary: If he realizes that the Bible is true, he must realize that Carpathia is The Antichrist, and that there is only a brief period of time before Little Nicky sees the evil in his heart and ensures that he foil his evil plot.

But he would rather spend the next seven years chasing and/or shagging Chloe than face the possibility of being able to save this world.

Corollary to the corollary: If we accept the literalness of The Story So Far, do we need to conclude that the BEST-CASE SCENARIO for the Left Behind is Seven Years of Bad Luck, followed by The Ascension? In which case Buck's "I want to shag your daughter even more than you do, Rayford" decision is perfectly rational, since killing Carpathia will ruin the Seven Year Plan.

Why, if what Rayford says is true, would anyone do anything over the following seven years that wasn't in their own self-interest? Which leaves us with: why doesn't Rayford shag Hattie, who is clearly willing and able?

We come back to his finally having realised that adult women are Not What He Wants.

And this actually gets at one point in particular that's important to get- from the authors' perspective, the broad sequence of events is effectively unavoidable at this point. Whatever the bible says* is going to happen, however the bible says it, is going to happen. Full stop. It doesn't matter how stupid it would be, nor how inhuman or unnatural, it is going to happen. So, yes, at the moment self-interest should reign and the Chloe shagging should commence immediately.

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 an angry cat....

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. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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

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

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

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

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

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

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

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

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

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

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

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Page 386- Line Guggenheim:

No quote, but when we return Buck is reeling mentally from the intense power of Rayford's preaching. Either that or Rayford slipped Buck some roofies during dinner which, let's face it, is not out of the question. Rayford has a strong date rapist kinda vibe, after all, and Hattie just doesn't seem to be doing it for him anymore.

Page 386- Line 1-3:
Something about this [Rayford's preaching] demanded attention. He [Buck] wanted to believe something that tied everything together and made it make sense.

And this is, really, the thing. The world would be a much easier and, arguably, more pleasant place if finding truth were the same thing as finding something we want to believe in. Unfortunately, however, truth is often hard and the correct answer isn't always the one we want. So, really, this is just a long-winded way of saying that life can be hard and the fact that an answer is emotionally satisfying doesn't mean at all that it is the right one. Or, at least, that's the way it is in the real world; in the authors' wacky fictional universe truth=easy and satisfying.

Page 386- Line 4-6:
Maybe Buck was going through a scary time where he was vulnerable to impressive people.

Well, every child on Earth spontaneously disappeared, lots of adults disappeared, planes crashed, chaos reigned, an evil conspiracy tried to kill him, and he's breaking up with Steve so, yeah, I think you'd have to agree that Buck is going through "a scary time". On the other hand, I have a hard time reconciling the notion of an "impressive person" with Rayford.

Page 386- Line 9-10:
Buck didn't want to rationalize this away, to talk himself out of it.

Which is, I am convinced, the main virtue of religious doctrine: it isn't that it is true that gives it power, but rather that we want so badly for it to be true. Like I said above, the world is a difficult place and truth often sucks, so why deal with truth when you can reconstruct the entire world so it doesn't appear so scary? That wouldn't even be such a big deal except that we start killing each other over rival wacky stories and pollute the hell out of the planet because we don't think we need it for much longer, anyway. And that's when the trouble really starts. Anyway, Buck starts thinking about how he's not going to advocate any particular side in his article on the disappearances, but just tell them all and let the readers decide.

Page 386- Line 22-23:
This airline pilot, unless Buck made him look like a lunatic, would come off as profound and convincing.

How, exactly? Because so far none of Rayford's game has been either. Ah, well. What do I know? Maybe this is the authors' way of hinting at how good a writer Buck really is? Because anyone who can make Rayford sound "profound and convincing" must, indeed, have a way with words. Unlike the authors.

Page 386- Line 24-25:
For the first time in his memory Buck Williams was speechless.

Well then, Buck Williams has a short bloody memory because he was speechless just fifty pages ago (Page 336- Line 21-29). And I quote: "Buck was speechless." Even better, in terms of the "plot," that scene occurred as Buck was leaving Carpathia's hotel with Hattie on their way to see Rayford and Chloe for the first time- so we're talking a few hours ago in narrative time. Well done, authors! Honestly, did they even proofread this thing before sending it to the press? Anyway, we suddenly jump back to Rayford for the play-by-play.

Page 386- Line 26:
Rayford was certain he was not getting through.

I'm assuming that this is meant as a lesson for the other evangelicals: even if your audience looks skeptical, bored, or outright hostile, just keep plowing on! You're probably being successful! That sure explains a lot of my experience in high school, anyway. Regardless, Rayford continues in this vein for a while and then we jump back to Buck, who tells Rayford that he'll check back with Rayford before using any of his quotes. Rayford reacts to this with a subtle look of displeasure.

Page 387-388- Line 387: 27- 388: 1:
Suddenly Buck remembered who he was dealing with. This was an intelligent, educated man. [emphasis added]

All evidence to the contrary, Buck is referring to Rayford here.

Page 388- Line 1-5:
Surely he [Rayford] knew that reporters never checked back with their sources. He probably thought he was getting a journalistic brush-off.

A rookie mistake, Buck, he reprimanded himself. You just underestimated your own source. [emphasis original]

Oh, don't worry. It's almost impossible to underestimate Rayford. I keep trying but, so far, no luck.

Page 388- Line 6:
Buck was putting his equipment away...

Okay, I must have really missed something in this scene.

Page 388- Line 6-8:
...when he noticed Chloe was crying, tears streaming down her face. What was it with these women?

Ah, well, they're women and therefore weak. What do you expect? Anyway, Buck decides to ask Hattie what she and Rayford were talking about, there's some pointless dialogue that I won't transcribe because I have better things to do with my time, and then Hattie tells Buck what she thinks of Rayford's testimony.

Page 389- Line 8-13:
"I think Rayford is sincere and thoughtful. Whether he's right, I have no idea. That's all beyond me and very foreign. But I am convinced he believes it. Whether he should or not, with his background and all that, I don't know. Maybe he's susceptible to it because of losing his family." [emphasis added]

And Hattie makes a very good point: conviction does not equal correctness. Likewise, she's right to observe that Rayford is vulnerable to all manner of things because of his grief at losing his wife and daughter. So that's the good part. The bad part is the whole "all beyond me" bit, reinforcing the authors' consistent and all too blunt implication that everyone who disagrees with them does so out of ignorance. Right. I'm sure that must be it. Rayford, of course, isn't thrilled to know that Hattie isn't ready to fall on her knees and... er... convert. Even more, he's upset he hasn't gotten through to Chloe.

Page 389- Line 23-27:
At least she [Chloe] was still sensitive to his [Rayford's] feelings. Maybe he should have been more sensitive to hers, but he had decided he couldn't let those gentilities remain priorities anymore. He was going to contend for the faith with her until she made a decision.

So, to recap, Rayford is pleased that Chloe is offering him the courtesy that he intends to enthusiastically deny her. And he claims this will continue until she makes a decision but, really, if my experience is any guide he really intends to do so until she makes the decision he wants her to make. So, right, yeah, we didn't need respect and tolerance, did we? The authors are not advocating a tolerant faith.

Page 390- Line 1-3:
He [Rayford] wouldn't be pushing her [Chloe] anymore. He only hoped he could sleep despite his remorse over her condition. He loved her so much. [emphasis added]

"Her condition"? What the hell? Is not being evangelical akin to being diseased or something? Gah. Anyway, Rayford tells Buck to go see Bruce Barnes and they all leave the restaurant. Hattie breaks free and heads for the elevators to go... um... somwhere. Rayford leaves at Chloe's request and Chloe lingers to talk to Buck for a moment.

Page 391- Line 8-9:
"Your dad is a pretty impressive guy," he [Buck] said.

"I know," she said. "Especially lately."

Well then he must really have been a loser before if this is impressive by comparison. Or, to be more succinct: "Oh, barf." Fortunately, we have an even better reason to feel nauseous in just a handful of lines.

Page 391- Line 26-30:
"Well I [Chloe] feel stupid," she said. "I just met you [Buck] and I'm really gonna miss you. If you get through to Chicago, you have to call."

"It's a promise," Buck said. "I can't say when, but let's just say sooner than you think."

And so, Buck begins his career as a creepy awkward stalker. I can only look forward to future "flirting" with utter dread and horror.

As we close today- seeing as how we're at the end of the chapter- allow me to share the note that I scrawled on the back of page 391: "An amusing aside: This book more or less makes it clear that it really would require a littany of wacky evidence to make the authors' version of Christianity sound like anything other than looney bullshit." And that's an important point- even when the authors can literally stack the deck by making reality conform to their beliefs, the whole thing still comes off sounding crazy. All I can do is pity them, and not just for their abysmal writing skills. It must be terrible to cling desperately to a belief system that doesn't even make sense in your own fantasies.

And with that, dear readers, we are at an end. Come back next week when there's more romance, two sleepless nights, and a conversion.


* I should note that most of this prophecy crap comes from a "reading" of the bible that is so unbelievably confused that it boggles the mind. So, in fact, I think I'm being somewhat unfair to the bible by even somewhat associating it with these wingnut yokels.



Blogger scripto said...

OMFG! What's a self proclaimed internet wit supposed to do with this mess? What's the big news - somebody talked and somebody walked? I hope this is the calm before the storm because if I fall asleep reading next weeks episode at work I'm gonna get fired.

Friday, May 28, 2010 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding what you say about religion being satisfying but not true (or having no truth value) but being satisfying, what are your thoughts on psychological therapy which gives a pass to thoughts that are not true but satisfying? Should psychology start treating religions as psychological problems?

Saturday, May 29, 2010 8:30:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Anonymous: I'm not sure if you got the impression that I think religion is some sort of psychopathology, but I don't. My comments on truths being hard have more to do with the authors' specific depiction of their religion. They essentially ignore all of the hard questions, or brush them off dismissively, and depict everything as being easy once you cast the right magic spell and become saved. This does people a disservice, because it implies that if you say that spell and, yet, still have a hard time grappling with some of the big questions, it's because you aren't a "true Christian" or some nonsense like that. It's churlish for the authors to blame the hardships of life on adherents' lack of faith much in the same way that it is despicable for a faith healer to blame their failures on the doubts of their victims. So, my comments have less to do with whether or not religion in general is good and more to do with how the authors are selling their own particular brand of it.

As far as psychological therapy goes, I can't even begin to pass judgment unless I know more about the specific therapy and why it's used. Put differently, most therapy doesn't encourage people to believe things that are untrue, but it may validate the way one is feeling even if the feeling is objectively unreasonable. Can you be more specific?

Sunday, May 30, 2010 8:08:00 AM  

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