L.B.: The Final Frontier

Left Behind, pp. 57-58

I’m not sure, but Steve Plank — the delusional and anti-Semitic executive editor of Global Weekly and Buck Williams’ boss — may get his name from Jesus’ parable/proverb, translated this way in the NIV:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

I may be reading too much into this, of course. Planks are long and hard, and the editor’s name may simply be drawn from the same freudian well as the names of the other male characters in Left Behind (“Buck,” “Steele”). And if his name is an allusion to the parable, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean.

Jesus’ plank-eyed hypocrite was blinded by his own hypocrisy, and Steve Plank does exhibit a lack of vision. He’s one of the few people we’ve met so far in the story who doesn’t seem to have read the book jacket and therefore doesn’t see that he is a character in a premillennial dispensationalist “novel of the Earth’s last days.” Whether or not we’re intended to read this as evidence of Steve’s blindness I can’t tell, but his different perspective does allow him to ask some legitimate questions.

At the end of his rambling, expository and conspiratorial e-mail to Buck, Plank mentions that “a niece and two nephews” of his are among the disappeared. “You think they’ll be back?” he asks.

That’s a legitimate question. The mass disappearances were so utterly inexplicable that a subsequent mass reappearance could hardly be more surprising. Plank further speculates about the disappearances:

If I had to guess, I’m anticipating some God-awful ransom demand. I mean, it’s not like these people who disappeared are dead. …

I thought the same thing about the ransom demand (see “The Lex Luthor Factor“). But Plank supposes only that such a demand would come from whoever was responsible for the disappearances. He doesn’t envision the more likely scenario of opportunists who might issue such demands.

And I’m not sure what LaHaye and Jenkins intend us to make of Plank’s insight that “it’s not like these people … are dead.” From L&J’s perspective, that’s true. Kind of. Although they have a hard time explaining how that’s true. They want us to believe that the “Rapture” means escaping death. As Rayford’s dear departed (but undead) wife Irene put it, “Jesus coming back to get us before we die.”

L&J are never clear on why we’re supposed to believe there’s any meaningful difference in the experience of sudden, unexpected “rapture” and that of sudden, unexpected death. It’s not like these people are dead, is it? Yes. It’s exactly like that.

Plank’s e-mail ends by dismissing another speculative explanation:

I’m not ready to start believing the tabloids. You just know they’re going to be saying the space aliens finally got us.

But, absent any special knowledge gleaned from the book jacket, what’s wrong with the space alien theory? In the absence of any credible terrestrial explanation, why rush to rule out an extra-terrestrial one?

Despite the book’s intended PMD premise, I still haven’t ruled out the space alien theory. I’m not thinking of the almond-eyed grays of Close Encounters, but of the powerul creature in Star Trek V who masquerades as God.

Yeah, I know. The odd-numbered Trek movies mostly suck, and The Final Frontier is often unenduringly embarrassing (“I want my pain! I need my pain!”).

But the premise is intriguing.

Such a malevolent alien creature, one vastly more powerful and intelligent than us, wouldn’t have much trouble performing enough “miraculous” signs to convince us it was divine. Those who believe that omnipotence is God’s only significant characteristic would be especially susceptible to such a ruse.

Imagine that such a creature has been listening in on the radio signals beaming out into space from our little planet. For decades, those signals have included the prophecy babble of PMD radio preachers like LaHaye and Harold Camping. The creature realizes it has been given a step-by-step blueprint for how to steal away all of Earth’s children for use as slaves in some nefarious intergalactic plot …

Or maybe not.

All I’m saying is Plank shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the space aliens theory.

  • JoXn Costello

    Eh, I remember as a kid reading a book which claimed that UFOs were simply deceptions of Satan that were designed in advance to explain away the mass disappearances of the Rapture. This theory seems to be moderatly popular on the web, too, though I can’t find a reference to that original tract: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/7895/delusn.html
    I’m surprised that LaHaye & Jenkins didn’t pick up on that one — but maybe they weren’t interested in writing a “science fiction” novel.

  • Diamondrock

    Whoa! I love that “night-omnipotent space alien” theory! I may have to steal it for one of my stories… ;) Seriously though, that could make a really good novel.

  • wednesday

    How I envy those who do not yet know how the Plank situation turns out.
    Full of envy. Envytastic. Envilicious.
    Babylon Rising is far worse, though, so it’s not all bad.

  • Darryl Pearce

    I’m so skeptical… how will I know I’m dead after I died?

  • julia

    but there’s also “thick as a…” and of course, in his deranged way, he is constant.

  • Temperance

    Tim Powers beat you to it when he wrote his terrific book Dinner at Deviant’s Palace in which the alien doesn’t bother to “rapture” people — he just performs a lot of “miracles” and then sucks the vital brain essence out of his followers. Sort of like L. Ron Whatshisname.

  • lightning

    I’ve always figured that the “Rapture” people are simply scared of death. This gives them a chance to go to Heaven without having to die first. Why would a “Christian” be afraid of death? Well, maybe they don’t believe their own religion as much as they say they do …
    Personally, I figure that “God” is actually Yog Sothoth, the Eater of Souls. (This is also called “Colonel Sanders Theology”.)

  • JBWoodford

    “Personally, I figure that “God” is actually Yog Sothoth, the Eater of Souls. (This is also called “Colonel Sanders Theology”.)”
    And It will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Now enter into the place prepared for you from everlasting,” as It opens Its mouth wide.
    And they won’t like it at all.
    JBWoodford
    (Email addie spoofed in the obvious way.)

  • Keith

    There was also a Next Generation Episode where the Enterprise crew faced off with a con-woman who used technology to convice a planet full of yokals that she was the Devil come back to collect on a mythic debt. Also the whole Q thing.
    I agree that the evil alien posing as God is a far more interesting story, one I’ve pondered writing myself. It contains an interesting philosophical problem: What would the world be like if the Bible were Literally true? What would be the psychological effects of living in a society like ours that is full of so much Biblical Sin, to suddenly be confronted by a wrathful beareded figure with a host of killer angels at his disposal? How would it feel to live your life knowing that this same beareded control freak was watching everyone, all the time?
    Anyone else ever notice that the world of the Biblical Literalists resembles 1984, just with a metaphysical skin on top?

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    Isn’t Manicheeanism (sp?) about an evil sub-God creature masquerading as God? See also Cerebus and _A Voyage to Arcturus_.

  • spygirl

    That Next Gen episode of which you speak led to my favorite thing ever to say in a Klingon voice: YOU ARE NOT FEKLAR!!!!!!
    After seeing “feardotcom” a few years ago, two of my friends (both with BAs in Film Theory) looked at each other in the darkened theatre and said to each other “Wasn’t she stabbed in the throat?” when a character who had, indeed, been stabbed in the throat appeared again. I felt pretty much the same way about the big “climax” of sorts in LB1 and most of the major “plot” “points” and I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the massive narrative problems with these best-sellers. Usually King and Grisham can at least follow their own outline from one end to the other with relative clarity. The biggest theological problem I personally had was the blurring of the line between “evangelizing” and “proselytizing” which may not be as defined linguistically as it is in my mind, but still rubbed me the wrong way all through the second half of the first book. “Listen to the holier-than-thou! They really ARE!” Glad someone with much more insight and patience is taking the time.
    But I really do want to know “how the Plank situation” ends now. I’m such a sadist. (Unless it happened in the first book, in which case it’s the only thing I can’t remember that I would want to.)
    Anyway, thanks, Fred! I came for the LB deconstruction and stayed for the pie! You’re one of my daily web stops!

  • spygirl

    That Next Gen episode of which you speak led to my favorite thing ever to say in a Klingon voice: YOU ARE NOT FEKLAR!!!!!!
    After seeing “feardotcom” a few years ago, two of my friends (both with BAs in Film Theory) looked at each other in the darkened theatre and said to each other “Wasn’t she stabbed in the throat?” when a character who had, indeed, been stabbed in the throat appeared again. I felt pretty much the same way about the big “climax” of sorts in LB1 and most of the major “plot” “points” and I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the massive narrative problems with these best-sellers. Usually King and Grisham can at least follow their own outline from one end to the other with relative clarity. The biggest theological problem I personally had was the blurring of the line between “evangelizing” and “proselytizing” which may not be as defined linguistically as it is in my mind, but still rubbed me the wrong way all through the second half of the first book. “Listen to the holier-than-thou! They really ARE!” Glad someone with much more insight and patience is taking the time.
    But I really do want to know “how the Plank situation” ends now. I’m such a sadist. (Unless it happened in the first book, in which case it’s the only thing I can’t remember that I would want to.)
    Anyway, thanks, Fred! I came for the LB deconstruction and stayed for the pie! You’re one of my daily web stops!

  • http://akma.disseminary.org/archives/001485.html AKMA’s Random Thoughts

    Links

    Slacktivist has been updating his Left Behind blogging. Ben linked to a compilation of “Top 100” lists, one of which correctly notes that “Chestnut Mare” is among the very worst, although the rest of that list’s constituen…

  • fuzzywolf

    Umm, not that the space alien theory isn’t cool and all, but if you are a space alien that ALREADY has the power to beam up and seemingly rapture earth’s kids, why do you need to explain it to the stupid earthlings?
    Can’t you just hang out in orbit and snatch them all up? It’s not like Earth has any planetary defence force s that could do anything about it.
    So, if you have the power to snatch them up from space, you don’t need any explaination, (a transporter means never having to say you’re sorry, at least for kidnapping) so it would make kind of a bad story.

  • Dave Trowbridge

    Keith wrote “What would the world be like if the Bible were Literally true?”
    P.K. Dick played with that in his “Eye in the Sky,” in which a group of people involved in a nuclear reactor meltdown end up inhabiting each other’s minds, experiencing each other’s ideal world. One is a fundie sort whose world is, indeed, quite horrifying.
    Coming at it from a different angle was “For I am a Jealous People,” by Lester Del Rey, in which God, the God of the O.T., switches sides and makes the alien invaders his chosen people.
    But your idea of an alien invader using dispensationalist theology against us is not only good story fodder, but would explain a lot about the current state of affairs! We’re in the early stages of the set-up!

  • Keith

    I should have Known Phil Dick would have beat me to it. Haven’t read that one yet but I’ll get to it eventually. Personally, I think Radio Free albemuth is the novel we’re currently living in.

  • bellatrys

    Sharon Shinn is covering this too, in her series of speculative-theology disguised as futuristic romance novels. What happens to the priestly caste whose prayers really *do* summon the rains, bring down showers of miraculous medicines and foodstuffs, and avert the lightnings of Jovah’s wrath, when they find out that they’ve been invoking a giant AI-driven spaceship put in place by their ancestors to keep the colonists of the planet from making the mistakes of their homeworld, namely, blowing it up-?
    Well, some of them become virtual Straussians, becoming more outwardly pious than ever before…and willing to stop at nothing to prevent the truth from getting out.
    Others…develop a more sophisticated theology, instead.

  • sophia8

    Like spygirl, I too orignally surfed in randomly and now make this blog one of my daily stops.
    We (fortunately) don’t have any LB hysteria here in the UK; looking up information on it, I found this post on the IMDB messageboard. Fred, what’s your take on this?
    “If you want to have some fun, buy a current copy of TLGPE, and buy one of the early ones from a used bookstore. Compare them, and you’ll see how Lindsey has rewritten his theological timeline to reflect changes in current events. After all, the USSR is no longer around to pose a threat to Israel, so Hal has to make someone ELSE into the invaders who will attack that nation.
    In the earlier versions, he also says that we should look forward to Israel becoming fantastically wealthy in the near future. A lot can happen in 35 years. This “prophesy” wasn’t one of them. ”
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190524/board/nest/712236
    What puzzles me somewhat is just why Lyndsey and Jenkins continue to churn out the books. What with 11+ bestselling titles, plus the movie, plus spin-offs, they must surely both possess enough personal wealth to spend the rest of their lives living comfortably. As somebody very wise once said to me: “You can’t live in two houses at a time, you can’t drive two cars at a time, you can’t wear two suits at a time – so why try to get more money and possessions than you need to live?” So why don’t L & J just start giving the books away?
    In any case, if L & J really believe they are living in the End Times, with Jesus ready to raise them to Heaven at any moment, why are they busy ammassing wealth at all? They can’t take it with them, and I believe that Jesus expressed some doubts on the likliehood of rich men getting into Heaven!

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  • Hoo

    I’ve just found this blog and I’m also morbidly fascinated by these books. Have you considered that the character Steve Plank may be named for German scientist Max Planck? Being an important name in science might well be enough to get your name in these books as a bad guy.

  • Scott

    Have you considered that the character Steve Plank may be named for German scientist Max Planck?
    You give L&J too much credit.

  • Jake

    What puzzles me somewhat is just why Lyndsey and Jenkins continue to churn out the books. What with 11+ bestselling titles, plus the movie, plus spin-offs, they must surely both possess enough personal wealth to spend the rest of their lives living comfortably. As somebody very wise once said to me: “You can’t live in two houses at a time, you can’t drive two cars at a time, you can’t wear two suits at a time – so why try to get more money and possessions than you need to live?” So why don’t L & J just start giving the books away?
    *COUGH*bribes and funding for the republican party*COUGH*
    Not that I’m cynical or anything…

  • Scott

    But they need those millions of dollars to see them through the next 5 years until Jesus comes back. :-)

  • Dan

    Fundies tend to use these two verses to justify amassing (and not sharing) enormous wealth:
    “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)
    “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
    “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:19-21)
    Somehow these two verses abrogate all the other passages in the Bible which tell you to share your wealth with those in need. Well, I can tell you which reading appeals to me more, too!

  • Sophist

    “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)
    Call me crazy, but doesn’t this call for you to spend/give away/share your money instead of just amassing it? I mean, how else would you use it to gain friends? Show them your room full of money?
    The way I read that passage is “use your wealth to make people happy, because your money isn’t coming with you to heaven, but your friends probably will”. But what do I know?

  • The Scornful Roman

    If I had to guess, I’m anticipating some God-awful ransom demand. I mean, it’s not like these people who disappeared are dead. …
    *gasps*
    I just realized something.
    None of the characters in LB ever swear, right? Or at least we don’t ‘hear’ it.
    But didn’t Plank just take the name of God in vain? If it is a sin to do that, is it a sin to read it or hear it?
    Just curious…


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