L.B.: Inhumanly profamily

Left Behind, pg. 45

Rayford Steele and Hattie Durham make the long walk back to the terminal, carefully threading their way past the smoldering wrecks of various crashed planes. "All around were ambulances and other emergency vehicles trying to get to ugly wreckage scenes," LaHaye & Jenkins tell us.

One pictures Rayford wheeling his little pilot's bag behind him, muttering G-rated curses under his breath as it pops up onto one wheel and drags on its side after bumping over the still-twitching body of one of the thousands of injured. "Two square miles of tarmac," Steele thinks, "and this jerk has to drag his fatally wounded self right here so I have to wheel around him? Like I don't have enough trouble already?"

Okay, that last scene doesn't actually appear in the book. LaHaye and Jenkins, like their hero, are wholly focused on moving along. The "ugly wreckage scenes" are not explored in any further detail — they exist only as obstacles between Rayford and his family.

Here we see the "profamily" ethic of Timothy LaHaye's brand of religious conservatism at work. Rayford is, first and foremost, a husband and a father. The dead and the dying who surround him at the airport are strangers, untermenschen. They are not his family and therefore, according to LaHaye's profamily view, Steele is right to ignore them on his way back to Irene and the kids. (Even though, by now, Steele has a pretty good idea that Irene and the kids are long gone.)

Rayford Steele's single-minded tunnel-vision — his ability to avoid even seeing the suffering of those outside of his immediate family — is typical of the worst extremes of this profamily ethic as applied by the outer wing of America's religious right.

I don't wholly reject the idea at the heart of this "pro-family" approach. Marriage and parenthood are extraordinary bonds that would seem to entail some extraordinary responsibilities. Some of our obligations to our families do seem to take priority over some of our obligations to others.

Yet when these obligations are allowed to trump every other claim, something has gone horribly wrong.

I would suggest that what has gone wrong for "profamily" types like Steele and LaHaye is that they have confused priorities with boundaries.

My friend Dave Gushee is an ethicist, a Southern Baptist moderate who was among those purged in the conservative takeover of Southern Baptist Seminary. Dave's dissertation work, expanded into a book, involved the Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. Specifically, he explored why it was that some people, at great personal risk, helped their Jewish neighbors in Nazi-occupied Europe while the majority did not.

Much of Dave's study involves what he calls "boundaries of moral obligation." One such boundary, for many, was the fear of putting one's own family at risk in order to rescue a neighbor or a stranger from certain death. Many of those who remained bystanders did so due to a kind of "profamily" ethic. They allowed a legitimate priority of moral obligation to become an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation.

It is only by erecting such boundaries that Rayford Steele is able to sidestep the suffering of strangers, picking his way across the airport to the terminal and refusing to let his gaze dwell on the "ugly wreckage" that surrounds him.

There's something deeply perverse and inhuman about a story in which we are asked to consider such a man "heroic."

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  • Chris

    But Ray is so important to everything and besides they are all horrible sinners in any event since they were LEFT BEHIND…
    I’m not sure if Ray’s determined crawl-over-the-bodies march home isn’t just the sad result of bad writing. In any event, every, um, narrative individual (they can hardly be called characters) lives in some strange little hermetically sealed universe. Bucky doesn’t have a family, but doesn’t take even a second to help the injured.
    I think the inhumanly profamily sense of LaHayne is indicative of an even bigger problem. He sees only the individual and the distant God (who has no real relation to anyone except through the Bible, the Holy Spirit being non-existent in the modern world). There is little or no community between Man (and for L&J it is SO Man) and God. It’s like Stalinism combined with Calvinism, a “Christian” atomistic world view. Other people are not truly real, they exist only as means to Man’s end.

  • David Adams

    Steele isn’t supposed to be a hero yet! He’s unsaved at this point in the book.
    I think your criticism is a good one, but that’s a big gap you are leaving.

  • Keith Tyler

    Don’t forget — Anyone who wasn’t taken up is a stubborn heathen who has forgotten God. Therefore, they are not worth worrying about. Unless, of course, either a) they will end up reaccepting Christ or b) they will end up unknowingly assisting the Antichrist.

  • Chris Martin

    I think the point that Rayford Steele isn’t supposed to be a hero yet is a good one. While Rayford wasn’t a Christian (or the right, specific type of born again Christian that LaHaye’s bizarre philosophy requires), could it be that LaHaye&Jenkins just want to hammer home that he really isn’t a good person?
    Maybe if they were a better creative team, they could have pulled this off with some believability. Instead, we keep seeing this bizarre waffling between the protagonists being heroes and self-absorbed jerks. The problem is that we get to see them be self-absorbed jerks, while so far we’ve only been told that they’re good guys.
    Even so, LaHaye and Jenkins seem to be treading dangerously into Jack Chick territory — the land where only born again Christians who donate to the 700 club, vote hard-right republican, and toe the very narrow political line are good people. We’re not supposed to worry about the majority of people “Left Behind” because they weren’t Christian and, therefore, incapable of being good.

  • Chris

    That’s true, but the problem is that there seem to be an awful lot of these born-again types. Air traffic control is shut down everywhere but Sodom by the Lake (for reasons that continue to baffle me). Chaos has broken out everywhere. While born-agains are ubiquetous, they aren’t that numerous.
    If L&J are right (which they aren’t, but for the sake of argument…), the Rapture would result in some minor inconvenience in most places. Some poor Catholic or Muslim or just a liberal Protestant engineer gets a call to come in on his/her day off because they can’t locate that damn (so to speak) Jesus freak. Outside of the Southern and Mountain states, I find it hard to believe that vital services would collapse without the evangelicals. Certainly not enough to cause the kind of chaos described. Of course, some of that chaos might be the result of a certain freaking out when numerous people go poof.

  • Deana Holmes

    Re: Rayford not being saved…
    Just wait until after he gets saved and his actions put helpers and acquaintances to death. He (and Buck) move through the post-Rapture world believing that there’s nothing that can touch them. They both live until the end of Book 11 (of 12).
    I think Fred’s on to something here.

  • Amber

    I don’t agree. Buck and Rayford know that things can happen as they both have had serious injuries. And, they lost a wife and daughter, respectively, when Chloe was martyered. Anyway, only one of them lives to see the Glorious Appearing.

  • TheRequisiteJew

    Weeeeell… While I definetly agree that the “must only mind family” is a dangerous concept (marked by the fact that my religious community generally sees itself as a family, and thus, I don’t have an immediate version) – I will say that, if my family was close and chaos had erupted on earth, I would rush to help them. If there was a lot of pain and destruction, I’d want to make sure my husband and children were in good health first. Once making sure that they were out of danger (well, in this case, the children would be gone – but then, even struck by grief, I would have a definite answer and could then take action) I would, with them, go back out and start helping people.
    Selfish, yes, but it’s a natural reaction. I would certainly not turn away from someone who was dying or needed immediate help, but for the most part I would want to make sure my babies were okay before I helped adult strangers.
    But I am a bad, bad Jew who does not really understand G-d, so my beastal desires are to be expected. *rolls eyes*

  • Dan

    Ha! That reminds me of one hilarious passage in Assassins, which is book #6 (I think); L&J give a brief run down of a group of people living in one of the Tribbers’ safe houses, and how their coping with it. All are born-again, bar one – the redoubtable Hattie D, who causes them endless problems with her attitude. L&J explain this neatly away with an offhand, “As an unbeliever, Hattie was understandably selfish” (!!!)
    Understandably selfish? Oh well, the poor dear really doesn’t know any better, she’s got a problem …

  • ihavenomouth

    “He (and Buck) move through the post-Rapture world believing that there’s nothing that can touch them. They both live until…”
    “And, they lost a …, respectively, when … was martyered. Anyway, only … lives to see the Glorious Appearing.”
    Can we skip the spoilers, please? It may be bad fiction, but it’s bad fiction I had planned on reading at some point.

  • Axiomatic

    What unexpected plottwist are you expecting here, anyway? It turns out that the Rapture really was aliens? That every character who has it coming gets what they have coming in a blast of poetic justice as imagined by the feverish brains of LaHaye & Jenkins?
    That the Romanian Antichrist from Romania is actually a nice guy who doesn’t say stuff like “Excelent…proceed.” and “Soon, the UN will be…mine.”

  • Duane


  • The Old Maid

    Off topic, but it’s astounding that Reboot still isn’t out in season sets. Now there was a villain who chewed scenery.

  • rhetoricpig

    “They allowed a legitimate priority of moral obligation to become an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation.”
    That’s frickin’ great! Thanks.