L.B.: The Naked Truth

Left Behind, pp. 21-25

Here we read with greater detail — although less detail than we might like — of how LaHaye and Jenkins envision the bodily rapture of believers, but not of their clothes. Thus:

Harold's clothes were in a neat pile on his seat, his glasses and hearing aid on top. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes and socks.

L&J seem to envision a great gathering in the clouds of all the believers in their born-again birthday suits. At the very least, this invites a rewording of some of the old gospel hymns about heaven: "When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be bare."

There's a logic to this idea, I suppose. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve are described as going about naked and unashamed. So if the shame of nudity is a temporal, this-worldly consequence of fallenness and sin, then one could argue there's no need for clothing in heaven. (Admittedly, it's difficult for me to imagine this without also imagining the redeemed frolicking about, playing volleyball.)

This heavenly disrobing also seems a bit suspect coming from the writers who created Rayford Steele — poster-boy for raging lust and repression. There's a whiff, perhaps, of something lascivious in this unexpected promise of heavenly nudity.

L&J may also be missing a cross-promotional marketing opportunity. Back in the 1840s, William Miller made a nice profit selling his followers white "ascension robes."

The news that Harold's eyeglasses and hearing aid are left behind along with his clothes follows the same logic about the restoration in heaven of all that is fallen, broken and less than whole. The heavenly Harold angel will hark without need of a hearing aid.

But reading this about the hearing aid and eyeglasses makes one want to know more. You want Rayford or Buck to examine these piles of abandoned clothes more carefully. Isn't that what you would do? If someone vanishes leaving only their clothes, wouldn't you want a closer look at those clothes?

And if the hearing aid is left behind, what about fillings, pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, toupees and silicon implants? In heaven, one imagines, teeth and hearts are healthy, missing limbs are restored, bald head's bloom like Rosenzweig's desert, and breasts are, well, everything that breasts are meant to be.

Yet it doesn't occur to any of the characters on the plane to take a closer look at the rumpled piles in any of the empty seats. Even Buck, the GIRAT, remains steadfastly incurious in the face of this sudden mystery.

Consider again the description of Harold's clothes and see if it doesn't remind you of something:

Harold's clothes were in a neat pile on his seat, his glasses and hearing aid on top. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes and socks.

Somehow, no one on the plane is reminded of having seen this exact scene in dozens of "shrinking man" movies. My favorite such example is in the Beatles' Help, the scene titled "The Exciting Adventure of Paul on the Floor."

Paul accidentally gets injected with the shrinking serum that was supposed to shrink Ringo's finger so that he could remove the ring of Kaili. The others look away, then look back, and Paul's clothes are in a neat pile on his seat. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes.

Paul meanwhile, has been miniaturized, slipping down his pantleg and onto the floor where he dons George's discarded gum wrapper, and bathes in orange soda in an ashtray.

We readers know, of course, that Irene had been right, and Left Behind is a rapture story — not the story of the fantastic voyage by an adventuresome band of microscopic airline passengers. But it seems strange that the characters should know this as well.

Confronted with the bewildering sight of all these Pauline piles of clothes, you'd think it might have occurred to the folks on that plane to tread carefully. If I were on that plane, I'd be checking my shoes on the off-chance that Harold and the others missing were now on safari among the harsh, tree-like strands of the plane's carpeting, fashioning its microfibers into crude weapons with which to battle gargantuan, monstrous dust mites.

I'm not saying that the shrinking scenario (whether via the filthy eastern ways of Kaili, or via a shrinking ray from some trite hackneyed mad scientist) is the most plausible explanation for the passengers' disappearance. But it's no less fanciful than any of the other suggestions that might quickly spring to mind.

These would include, among others: mass hallucination/insanity, alien abduction, rapture/Enochian assumption, spontaneous human combustion, rapid-acting flesh-eating bacteria, wormhole in the space/time continuum, the return of D.B. Cooper and his extended family, and/or an evil sorceror from an alternate dimension plucking away slaves to work in his sulfurous mines. You can probably think of others.

Sherlock Holmes famously said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Confronted with the apparent impossibility of the mass disappearance, it ought to occur to the people on that plane to begin speculating on the possible, if improbable, explanations.

What's bewildering is the characters' lack of bewilderment, their lack of curiosity. No one inspects the piles of clothes. No one seriously attempts to consider who disappeared and what else they might all have in common.

If you were on a plane, and 50 or so passengers suddenly disappeared shortly after dinner, wouldn't it be good to find out whether or not they all had the salmon?

  • alphabitch

    I’ve been paying attention to the LaHayes for some time, and a few years ago I read a sex manual for Christian couples written by Mr. & Mrs. LaHaye. Apparently they used to give workshops. I have to say it was a while back that I read it, and I really just skimmed most of it. I recall it was surprisingly funny and charming, considered in the context of their other writings. Apparently fun sex (within certain limits) is a Christian duty of sorts for both men and women. They were quite forthright and practical about most things, but one definitely got the sense that Mr. LaHaye was, as you say, a ‘poster-boy for raging lust and repression.’ I recall specifically the out-of-proportion (it seemed to me) vehemence of his warnings against pornography, fantasies about people other than your spouse, and anal sex.

  • Jorge

    I attribute this characteristic to Lehaye and Jenkins own innate lack of curiosity. They already know everything and pretending bewilderment or curiosity, even for the sake of constructing a fictionalized framework in which to explore their own faith simply does not occur to them. That would be the sin of doubt, after all. This also explains the popularity among likeminded indeviduals. They too lack the basic intelectual curiosity necesary to question the flimsy reality of the books. Even half of the critical thinking skills applied here would make these books at least an amusing jaunt into speculative fiction. But that is obviously not the author’s intent. They are simply preaching to the choir, which is why the LB series has all the dramitc tension of a hastily written sermon.

  • PZ Myers

    Anyone remember Stephen King’s The Langoliers? It was a really bad movie, and I don’t really recall much of the short novel on which it was based other than that it wasn’t one of his best efforts, but it does have a scene similar to the one you’re describing: a handful of passengers on a plane wake up to find everyone else has vanished, leaving behind their clothes, dentures, pacemakers, etc. A good chunk of the movie was taken up with people trying to figure out what the heck had happened. I don’t recall that anyone thought the Rapture had occurred. (It turned out to be a cheesy gimmick: the plane passed through a mysterious wormhole, and any passenger who was conscious was left behind, presumably naked and in midair, while all the sleepers continued on with the plane to a weird barren place.)
    Anyway, it would be interesting to compare L&J’s efforts to describe such a scene with that of a competent writer like King, even if he had been stoned out of his mind when he wrote it and was hacking out pulp for dollars.

  • michael (in DC)

    Slacktivist [sorry, I've momentarily forgotten your real name; btw: is your 'net handle in anyway a reference to the gleefully heretical Church of the Subgenius?]: looks like you forgot to assign this one to the “LB” category/archive thingy…
    To be (undeservedly) fair to L&J: the characters “incuriosity” about the clothes could be partially explained as fear–they’re too weirded out and spooked by the whole thing to have any rational curiosity flow through their brains. After all, assuming (again with undeserved generosity) the books are meant to inspire anything but self-congratulatory schadenfreude among the already “saved,” they would be meant to depict and inspire abject, parylizing terror at the prospect of anything but blind acquiesence to Dr. LaHaye’s particular brand of Christ-less “Christianity.” So it would make some sense for the authors to have the folks left behind too shitlessly scared to ask any rational questions…
    But then, given your previous description of the world’s collective shrug at God’s magical antinuclear shield over Israel, it’s pretty obvious that the only motivation for the characters’ behavior is convenience for L&J’s cycling through plot points…
    Oh, and thanks for the excellent Airplane! reference…
    m

  • Chris

    Terror? No one seems to be acting out of terror. Terrified people sit catatonic or scream or run for some form of escape. Nobody does that in Left Behind, at least among the main characters. L&J SAY people are terrified. But nothing that characters do indicated that they are terrified. This I would blame on their crappy writing, they just have no clue how to write characters in the grip of genuine emotion. No, lack of cursiousity seems to motivate the characters more than anything else.
    This lack of curiousity about the disappeared also helps to explain that perverse lack of realistic reaction to the divine SDI. L&J assume that everyone is locked into their mental/philosophical/religious positions and nothing can shift them. After all everyone L&J know are like that. So the deus ex machina over Israel can’t disturb them at all because they don’t think any more than the soon-to-be rapturites can.
    This however leads to one very odd plot hole. Why did Ray think “Rapture” right away?

  • Jon H

    Other things that would be ‘left behind’ – kidney stones, gallstones, and, well, urine and poo.

  • PZ Myers

    That brings up an interesting distinction, or lack of one: if objects that aren’t part of the organic self are left behind, why shouldn’t gut contents also be left behind? Wouldn’t it be awful to have to go through eternity with a full bladder or colon?
    But if we leave that behind, what about all the other components of the body? There is nothing magical about the organism, vitalism is silly. Why not leave behind blood plasma? It’s just water and salts and proteins. How about hair and nails? Why bring along a material heap of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids in the form of muscle and bone and gut and brain in the first place?

  • kodi

    “Why did Ray think ‘Rapture’ right away?”
    To reinforce the point that shrinking people, sorcerors, aliens and flesh-eating bacteria aren’t real, whereas the Rapture is so real that even non-believers expect it.

  • Chris

    Of course. How silly of me.

  • DonBoy

    The Langoliers includes a bit where one of the piles of empty clothes also has a dildo in it.
    (I don’t have to specify that I mean the book, not the TV movie, do I?)

  • Avedon

    Thank you for that wonderful Beatlemania moment. I’ve always fondly recalled the Exciting Adventures of Paul on the Floor. (“Eewww, I’m all sticky!”)

  • The roots of racism

    Program on the emergence of civilization.
    “14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
    13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
    None from the sub-Saharan African continent. ”
    Favor.
    And disfavor.
    They point out Africans’ failed attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it’s applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.
    The roots of racism are not of this earth.
    Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals.
    The North American continent had none. Now 99% of that population is gone.
    AIDS in Africa.
    Organizational Heirarchy
    Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:
    1. MUCK – perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as “god”
    2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management
    3. Mafia (evil) aliens – runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere (“On planets where they approved evil.”)
    Terrestrial management:
    4. Chinese/egyptians – this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
    5. Romans – they answer to the egyptians
    6. Mafia – the real-world interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
    7. Jews, corporation, women, politician – Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.
    Survival of the favored.
    Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
    1986 James Bond View to a Kill 1989 San Fransisco Loma Prieta earthquake.
    They can affect the weather and Hurricane Katrina was accomplished for many reasons and involves many interests, as anything this historical is::
    1. Take heat off Sheenhan/Iraq, protecting profitable war machine/private war contracts
    2. Gentrification. New Orleans median home price of $84k is among the lowest in major American cities, certainly among desirable cities.
    Journal: 10 composition books + 39 megs of text files
    Anti-nuclear is a petroleum industry scam to protect their market.

  • Aurum Inconatimatus

    The salmon? XD Why does this remind me of “Spaceballs”?
    “What did that guy order?”
    “The special.”
    “I ordered the special! Change my order to soup!”
    “Good move.”

  • ASQ

    “not the story of the fantastic voyage by an adventuresome band of microscopic airline passengers.”
    Whoa. Someone needs to write that.

  • Jesurgislac

    It’s a shame Isaac Asimov’s dead. He’d have been the perfect writer for that story.
    If I ever get hold of an intradimensional transducer that can reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and other excellent technobabble stuff, I’m going to go back in time and create an alternate history in which Isaac Asimov really did write the story of a fantastic voyage by an adventuresome band of microscopic airline passengers. I might even arrange for there to be a movie.
    And the only evidence that it hasn’t been this way from the very beginning will be this one comment in this one blog.

  • Ibis3

    And what about all the bacteria? Surely they didn’t get a ride. If you took all the bacteria, viruses, and other critters living in and on us, and put them in a pile, would it be visible? At the very least, if you *are* going to poke around in those clothes, please wear gloves.

    And what about the incubators? I mean pregnant women? A foetus can’t have accepted Jesus but is, according to fundie theology, a person. I guess the poor hapless unborn must just die without the life support systems.  Ah well. God. Mysterious ways and all that.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X