L.B.: Accidental honesty

Left Behind, pp. 92-96

Left Behind is filled with moments of accidental honesty in which L&J admit that the Christians aren't just "raptured," they're dead. We find two such passages in this section, first in Buck's phone conversation with Hattie Durham, and then again in his talk with the late Lucinda Washington's teenage son.

Buck pulled out the number the beautiful blonde flight attendant had given him and chastised himself for not trying again to reach her earlier. It took a while for her to answer.

"Hattie Durham, this is Buck Williams."

"Who?"

"Cameron Williams, from the Global –"

L&J never seem confident that they've established Buck's nickname, so they keep having him re-establish it.

"Mr. Williams, what did you call yourself?"

"Buck. It's a nickname."

"Well, Buck …"

This is the third or fourth such scene in the book, and it won't be the last. It reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch in which Dana Carvey reimagines the moment at which Gordon Sumner informs his mates that, from now on, he wishes to be called "Sting." Or of Paulie Shore's insistence that we refer to him as "The Weasel." Buck and his creators seem not to realize that nicknames are bestowed, not asserted.

Buck tells Hattie he has "good news" for her:

"Oh, thank God! Tell me."

"Someone from my office tells me they reached your mother and that she and your sisters are fine."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

By "fine" what Buck means is that Hattie's family are not among the disappeared/dead. They both regard this as good, even joyful, news, which for Hattie it certainly is.

L&J, however, do not consider this good news. The fact that Hattie's mom and sister are "fine" means that they, like Hattie, were not raptured. They were "left behind" and that, to L&J, is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Worse even than having your life end in a flash as you're zapped right out of your clothes.

After the obligatory discussion of the state of the phone lines Hattie asks Buck about his family. This gives her a chance to fill in the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time about the fact that all of the prepubescent children in the world having gone missing, a detail which, again, the GIRAT hadn't yet noticed himself, having spent most of his time since the event meditating in a men's room stall:

"I got word that my dad and brother are OK. We still don't know about my sister-in-law and the kids."

"Oh. How old are the kids?"

"Can't remember. Both under 10, but I don't know exactly."

"Oh," Hattie sounded sad, guarded.

"Why?" Buck asked.

"Oh, nothing. It's just that –"

"What?"

"You can't go by what I say."

"Tell me, Miss Durham."

He's still not putting this together, even with help.

"Well, you remember what I told you on the plane. And on the news it looks like all the children are gone, even unborn ones."

Even unborn ones. That, for L&J, is the most significant — almost the only significant — implication of all the children being taken. God has a special love for the unborn, a special love he demonstrates at the beginning of the book by slaughtering rapturing them all.

L&J are so enamored of how this scenario reinforces their politics that they scarcely consider any other implications from the elimination of this entire demographic slice. Thus we're told and retold about pregnant women suddenly no longer being pregnant (abortion via divine intervention is, apparently, OK), but never about the scenes that would have played out in every elementary school classroom in the world. They pay no more attention to this event, or to its impact on others, than Buck does.

In the year 2000, about 30 percent of the world's population was under the age of 15. That's about 1.8 billion people — a larger group than the roughly 1 billion Christians on the planet.* But Buck doesn't notice that they're gone until Hattie points it out to him. Twice. Some guys just aren't good with kids, I guess.

Buck makes one more phone call before heading to Waukegan:

Buck checked the phone log in his laptop for Lucinda Washington's home number and dialed. A teenage boy answered …

Yeah, poor kid's a teenager, so he got left behind. Once you start growing hair around your naughty bits, God doesn't want you anymore. Fourteen-year-olds will be tried as adults.

"My mom's not here," the young man said.

"Is she still at the office? I need a recommendation where to stay near Waukegan."

The timeline isn't very clear — with one protagonist seeming to sleep the night away while the other is sequestered in the men's room — but less than a day has passed since global catastrophe struck. And this is how Buck talks to people on the phone?

"She's nowhere," the boy said. "I'm the only one left. Mama, Daddy, everybody else is gone. Disappeared."

"Are you sure?"

"Their clothes are here, right where they were sitting. My daddy's contact lenses are still on top of his bathrobe."

"Oh, man! I'm sorry, son."

"That's all right. I know where they are, and I can't even say I'm surprised."

"You know where they are?"

"If you know my mama, you know where she is, too. She's in heaven."

Lucinda Washington, we are told, is in heaven. That's where Christians believe they will go when they die. So doesn't this mean, again, that Lucinda is dead? What else could it mean?

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

* So how many people were raptured at the beginning of LB? All the children and all the Christians, we're told, which comes out to about 2.8 billion people, or around 46 percent of the world's population.

That figure, however, is too high for several reasons. First, there's the matter of overlap — some of those 1.8 billion children are also Christians, and we shouldn't count them twice. Also, that figure for children is based on age 0-14, and L&J seem to want to set their "age of accountability" somewhat lower than that. Finally, that figure of 1 billion Christians includes an awful lot of people whom L&J would say don't really count as their kind of Christians — such as Russian Orthodox, mainline Protestants or Democrats.

I can't precisely account for these factors, but we can take a shot at a ballpark guess. Let's be optimistic and say that half of the church makes the cut, so let's say 500 million Christians. Since most of the church is in the developing world, we'll guess at a very high percentage of these Christians being children — say 30 percent, or 150 million. So we'll take that 150 million from the total number of children, which we'll reduce to an even 1.5 billion to leave behind the 13 and 14 year olds, and we're left with: 0.5 billion + 1.35 billion = 1.85 billion.

That's still about 30 percent of the world's population. Gone. Poof. And what's Buck doing? He's sparing no expense so that he can get to New York in time to cover "a conference of Jewish Nationalists."

Update/correction: Andrew Cory provides a more accurate figure for the number of Christians worldwide — which is more like 1.8 billion. So, if we still guess that half of these are deemed acceptable as "real" Christians according to L&J's standards, that changes our Rapture Total to about 2.25 billion, or roughly 37 percent of the world's population. (thanks, AC)

  • Jon H

    Fhydra writes: “I think Jesus mentions that that won’t happen in heaven”
    Which reminds me – it seems to me that whatever existence is like in heaven, it’s not remotely human.

  • Dan

    “Who’s going to say “no”, when the result could be another Flood?”
    Then again, whose kid would you rather have: Jo(seph), that weird skateboarder from down the street, or the Almighty Him/Herself? Personally, parenting someone who can supply infinite amounts of food and call fire down on enemies is much more attractive. (Really adds a different dimension to that whole, my-child’s-more-talented-than-yours schtick)
    “what was effectively the rape of a fourteen year old girl by her deity.”
    Eeew, horrible thoughts of “Leda and the Swan” (Yeats sure had a flair for the creepy). At least God didn’t feel the need to, in the words of the Simpsons, “turn into a cow and pick up chicks” like Zeus. So wrong on so many levels…
    BTW Missy, someone pointed out this passage from the (apocryphal) Gospel of Phillip that you might find interesting:
    “Some say, ‘Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.’ They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?”
    (apparently it has something to the Hebrew word for Holy Spirit, ruach hakodesh, being feminine)

  • Barry

    Still, could it really be said that she gave her answer freely? I mean, this is about as big of a superior/subordinate relationship as you can imagine. It’d be an abuse of power in a business, it’d be an abuse of power in the military, it’d be an abuse of power in a church or a school. And in all those cases, the superior isn’t the ineffable being who created the universe.
    You can’t think of God in terms of any other human. Not even as your own father, really. We’re talking the Creator of Everything in the Universe ™, and more importantly, one who is the embodiment and source of Good. There is no hint of sin, evil, or any vices associated with the types of humans you mentioned, so by definition nothing Bad could be associated with such a situation. In fact, by Luke 1:38 (as mentioned before) apparently Mary was given a choice and she replied with the classic “Thy will be done”, which is what Christians are supposed to do.
    I think a lot of people – L&J included, perhaps – perceive God not as an omnipresent, omnipotent, all-encompassing Goodness, but rather as more like Zeus. A Greek God with the capacity for selfish whims and chessboard manipulation of the human race. Certainly the images of a firebolt-tossing Jesus in the last book (which was mentioned here, but I’ve not read so I could be misinterpreting) would embrace that idea.
    It’s natural, yet pointless to assign human characteristics to God – it’s like a microbe trying to explain a human to another microbe. After all’s said and done, God’s only going to seem like a really microbe…

  • Stacy

    The babies and fetuses are all raptured – OK, it’s their fantasy. But why, then, are those who are left behind able to get pregnant after the rapture? I gather that the rapture is really a kind of reward for living the life of hardship that a “Bible-Believing” Christian faces, so they get to skip the troublesome spots on the board and go right to Go and collect eternity. There’s also the part about how the Dispensation goes back to the Jews and the Christians have to be out of the scene so they don’t screw it up. Having the kids be raptured is the theology of anti-infant-baptism (which is completely unbiblical), and having the fetuses raptured is politics.
    Fine. Those who were Christians before the rapture get a reward, and those who were innocent children aged -9 to 12-ish get to miss the really nasty parts, that’s nice. But when people are able to get pregnant after the rapture, that just screws the whole logic up. Not that I figure L&J are losing sleep over being logically inconsistent.

  • cm

    by the Resurrection / Last Judgement everyone will be aged 33
    I wonder if that’s negotiable at all. I’d much prefer to be 35, as that was a better age for me than 33.

  • FHC

    There’s a common belief in spiritualism that everyone becomes 35 after they die. If a baby dies, he or she ages to 35 then stops. When grandma dies, she reverts to 35. Now, when I say spiritualism, I mean the ouija board and seance type of spiritualism, not the filled with the holy spirit of the Lord variety. But then, once again, in L&J’s world, there isn’t all that much of a difference, is there?

  • Scott

    If a raptured embroy was going to split into twins the next day, do we get one or two angel-babies in Heaven?

  • pepperjackcandy

    The babies and fetuses are all raptured – OK, it’s their fantasy. But why, then, are those who are left behind able to get pregnant after the rapture?
    That was my question.
    And since identical twins only have one soul between the two of them (they’d have to, if “human life” (which is to say, souled life) begins at conception), I’d say that there’d probably only be one embryo in Heaven.

  • Jon H

    What about conjoined twins? Do they come back separate, or still conjoined?

  • Scott

    What about instances where one twin absorbs another (those odd cases where they find a jawbone growing in some poor kid’s ribcage)?

  • colin roald

    So doesn’t this mean, again, that Lucinda is dead? What else could it mean?
    Not that I want to make excuses for any of this, but isn’t there a possibly valid difference from the point of view of the deceased? One gets to heaven through the terrible experience of dying, and another through the presumably more pleasant experience of being raptured?
    Of course, that seems a rather ignoble sort of distinction to celebrate in your theology. And it invites a lot of awkward questions about what sort of God would put dying people through the sorts of things many of them go through, if there’s another way.

  • colin roald

    So doesn’t this mean, again, that Lucinda is dead? What else could it mean?
    Not that I want to make excuses for any of this, but isn’t there a possibly valid difference from the point of view of the deceased? One gets to heaven through the terrible experience of dying, and another through the presumably more pleasant experience of being raptured?
    Of course, that seems a rather ignoble sort of distinction to celebrate in your theology. And it invites a lot of awkward questions about what sort of God would put dying people through the sorts of things many of them go through, if there’s another way.

  • Sophist

    Ok, so here’s my question. Given a theology that says:
    a) 100% of all people below age n (n being whatever L&J are pushing, I haven’t quite figured it out yet) go to heaven.
    b) A significantly lower percentage of people of age n or greater go to heaven.
    c) Going anywhere other than heaven is infinitely worse than going to heaven.
    …how are you not advocating the wholesale killing of young children? I mean, if you honestly believe that a Chistian child has a fair chance of being hellbound when they reach age n, and a non-Christian child who reaches age n is virtually guaranteed an eternity of suffering and damnation, what other logical action can you advocate?
    p.s. What about instances where one twin absorbs another (those odd cases where they find a jawbone growing in some poor kid’s ribcage)?
    They grow up to write hard-boiled crime fiction under the pen name “George Stark”.

  • Christine

    Sophist, I’ve often wondered that.
    It also leads to the odd situation that one who murdered as many children as possible for this purpose would presumably go to hell for violating a major commandment and thwarting the will of God or somesuch, and would have known that they would go to hell. Thus you would have the most Christ-like human being (someone willing to endure an eternity of torture for the benefit of others) going to hell, not to mention being reviled by pretty much every human being while they were still alive.
    It’s stuff like this that confirms my atheism.

  • Scott

    Funny, if you think of it that way, how many people does the average abortionist save from Hell during his or her career?

  • Scott

    Funny, if you think of it that way, how many people does the average abortionist save from Hell during his or her career?

  • Dan

    Christine, I remember reading something about how the age of accountability theory was logically impossible. According to the Tanakh, killing little children was a terrible crime before God. I think the most graphic example of this was the people offering them up as sacrifices to Molech, or “putting them through the fire”. Ick. Plus, one of the highest blessings bestowed on good people was to have lots and lots of kids.
    So bringing children into the (sinful, suffering) world = good, and taking them out = bad. Fundies admit as much by opposing abortion tooth and nail.
    This is of course the diametric oposite of the LB view which is, out of the world = very, very good. If babies go immediately to heaven, the greatest thing one could do was get rid of them all as quickly as possible, just like God Himself did in the opening pages, whether by “putting them through the fire”, or even better, aborting them all.
    So why do the babies, unborn, etc, at the time of the Rapture get such special treatment as to go strait to heaven? Are they any better from those born/conceived before or after it, who are not allowed to go immediately, but must be forced to live 50 years or more and most likely lose their ticket the heaven altogether? Surely then there’s enormous incentive to not get pregnant at all, until right before the Rapture. Result: end of (fundie) human life. Oh wait, the rapture’s imminent, isn’t it? Well, you’d better hope it comes in less than 15 years, or the joke’s on your kid!
    I think the author of that piece mentioned above suggested that everyone who dies while a baby is judged by the choices they would have made had they lived (possible if God exists in a multidimensional, quantum plane. There, all possibilities exist in an eternal present; ie, time is not linear like we experience it). Any physicists out there to comment?

  • Scott

    Nah, I just like to think that by the fundies’ own logic, a Planned Parenthood clinic saves more people from Hell than the average Baptist church (particularly since those kids would have been doomed by being raised by parents who would consider abortion).

  • Mabus

    With respect, the idea that all children below a certain age go to heaven–however problematic it may be–is far superior to the idea that preceded it, which is that all children who aren’t lucky enough to be born to infant-baptizing parents go to hell.

  • http://www.kierkegaardlips.com/node/19 kierkegaard lips

    Is Jesus Pro Free-Market?

    Slacktivist is one of the Christian bloggers whose work is consistently thought-provoking and challenging. (He also does a cringingly amusing play-by-play commentary on the Left Behind novels.) One of his most recent posts takes aim at a statement by Past

  • Sumana

    Jon H: You have made me think of a Lilith-esque scenario where the Angel approached someone else before Mary, someone who said No to God. A pretty James Morrow-esque fantasy.

  • Sumana

    Jon H: You have made me think of a Lilith-esque scenario where the Angel approached someone else before Mary, someone who said No to God. A pretty James Morrow-esque fantasy.

  • http://twitter.com/Narrator1 Narrator 1

    I know it’s about six years too late, but “CallMeBuck” Williams’s nickname insistence reminds me of “Drano”, a minor character from Barry Eisler’s “Requiem for an Assassin”.

    Drano was the nickname of a man who was part of an elite group of hitmen hired by a rogue CIA operative to kill the protagonist, John Rain.  However, Drano betrayed himself an arrogant, cocksure “loose cannon”-type, which was a no-no given the clandestine and tightly focused nature of the hit in question.  He was killed by his leader during the briefing before he could do any damage on the field.

    One of the first things that tick the other hitmen that he didn’t belong was that his nickname, “Drano,” was self-assigned.  In that business, according to the story nicknames were granted by other people as a badge of distinction; granting yourself one was a sign of contemptuous arrogance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Ha, I’m still going through these archives now that they’re up, so I suppose somebody might still read any comments posted here. I was fascinated by the ones that survived from seven years ago, too. I’m nineteen so this review of Left Behind has been running for an appreciable fraction of my entire life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Ha, I’m still going through these archives now that they’re up, so I suppose somebody might still read any comments posted here. I was fascinated by the ones that survived from seven years ago, too. I’m nineteen so this review of Left Behind has been running for an appreciable fraction of my entire life.


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