L.B.: The Blair Witch Video

Left Behind, pp. 154-156

Rayford Steele is anxiously awaiting the safe return home of his daughter, Chloe.

It's kind of strange that he is not also anxiously awaiting the safe return home of his wife and son. Readers of the book know for certain that those who suddenly disappeared will not be coming back, but the family members they left behind have no such certainty. Rayford's departed wife used to go on and on about the rapture, so he has a pretty good idea what kind of story he's in, but he shouldn't be so certain. He seems to have neither doubts nor denial.

It's not just Rayford — the way LaHaye & Jenkins describe it, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief seem to have been carried off along with all the true believers and children. Everyone seems to be skipping denial, anger, bargaining and depression and moving directly to acceptance:

The news on TV showed the amazing progress being made at clearing the roadways and getting mass transportation rolling again. But the landscape would appear tacky for months, Cranes and wreckers had run out of junkyards, so the twisted wreckages remained in hazardous piles at the sides of roads and expressways.

"Tacky?"

It's weirdly inhuman that the "twisted wreckages" resulting from the mass disappearance should outlast the emotional and psychic wreckage(s). Contrast that with the sentences just before it:

Where was Chloe? He had been inside all day, pacing, mourning, thinking. He felt stale and claustrophobic.

That's not bad — "stale and claustrophobic" is a nice description of the impotent anxiety of waiting. But it's odd that this anxiety should be rendered with more care than the deeper anxiety of grieving the lost. Grieving, after all, feels like waiting. Another troubling thing about all this is that Tim LaHaye is, among other things, a minister and pastor. He has in his charge the spiritual care of a congregation. Is this how he counsels them through their grief?

So here's Rayford, feeling stale and claustrophobic — but not to the extent that he decides to track down what flight his daughter will be arriving on and, perhaps, drive to the airport to meet her. I realize that the roads are still strewn with "hazardous piles," but I don't see that this makes a cab ride home safer for Chloe than if her father were to pick her up.

While we wait, with Rayford, for Chloe's arrival, let's also consider her name: "Chloe." It is, like "Irene," a classical Greek name, but also a biblical one. St. Paul's first epistle to the church in Corinth predates Longus' second-century tale of "Daphnis and Chloe," and the biblical reference seems a likelier source for L&J's choice of this character's name.

This seems a strange choice.

Here is the full extent of Paul's mention of Chloe of Corinth: "My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you" (1 Cor. 1:11).

So Chloe was a leader in the local church who appealed to the apostle for help in ending the factional infighting in that troubled community. Paul refers to "Chloe's household," not to "Chloe's husband's household." A female head of a household? According to some from Beverly Tim LaHaye's household, this is anathema. We don't know much about the biblical Chloe, but she probably wouldn't have been a member of "Concerned Women for America."

Mm10blairwitch
To pass the time, Rayford dials that number he circled earlier — the office number of his dead wife's church — and hears this message on the answering machine:

"You have reached New Hope Village Church. We are planning a weekly Bible study, but for the time being we will meet just once each Sunday at 10 a.m. While our entire staff, except me, and most of our congregation are gone, the few of us left are maintaining the building and distributing a videotape our senior pastor prepared for a time such as this. You may come by the church office anytime to pick up a free copy, and we look forward to seeing you Sunday morning."

Rayford is delighted by the idea of such a videotape:

What a creative idea, to tape a message for those who had been left behind! He and Chloe would have to get one the next day. …

Copies of the fictional New Hope Village Church's fictional video are, of course, available for sale from LeftBehind.com. The popularity of LB reportedly inspired some actual pastors here in the real world to record similar video messages, just in case.

In his introduction to the video (which we'll get to in another 50 pages or so), the senior pastor, Vernon Billings, says, "That you are watching indicates you have been left behind. You are no doubt stunned, shocked, afraid and remorseful …"

I don't think that follows. This is, after all, a video recording of a dead man, the instructions for which indicate that it is not to be viewed until after his death and the mass-death of everyone in his religious community. The message of the video is, in essence: "We're all dead. You're not. Here's why." At the very best, its message could be spun as "God didn't love you enough to end your life like he ended ours."

I've seen similar videos before — such as those from the Heaven's Gate cult — and while I have been moved to pity, I haven't felt remorse.

The idea of this video reminds me more of The Blair Witch Project, or of those creepily effective anti-smoking ads that Yul Brynner recorded shortly before his death from lung cancer. But in this case the disappeared and departed aren't sounding a cautionary note — they're assuming that survivors will be jealous of them and, therefore, "remorseful." That makes sense, sort of, given the premises of the fictional events in LB, but it's still deeply disturbing.

The good news here on page 155, however, is that a cab arrives at the Steele home and Chloe arrives safely home. Just in time — Rayford's interior monologue was getting rather stale and claustrophobic for us readers and we can be grateful that he's finally got another person to converse with.

Rayford runs out to the driveway to greet his daughter:

"Oh, Daddy!" she wailed. "How's everybody?"

He shook his head.

"I don't want to hear this," she said, pulling away from him and looking to the house as if expecting her mother or brother to appear in the doorway.

"It's just you and me, Chloe," Rayford said, and they stood together in the darkness, crying.

So are they crying because Irene and Raymie are gone? Or are these tears of jealousy and remorse?

  • J

    First of all, in a time before embalming, bodies decomposed into bones fairly quickly, so any time this process appears to be retarded in some way, it was considered just shy of a miracle.
    Except that it was clearly only through great and entirely human artifice that Leo and ALL of the other supposedly “incorrupt” bodies I saw in Italy seemed to be kept together. As miracles go, incorrupt corpses are not particularly convincing.
    “Next, the celebration of martyrdom/death aspect of Christianity is one of the things that serves to counter the human instinct to regard someone as being a “bad person” because he befell death or tragedy . . .”
    So, then, what is the deal with the whole “wages of sin is death” hang-up that Christians have?

  • Erick Oppeen

    You mean to tell me that if there is a Rapture, the tax collectors will go first? Hoody-HOO! No more IRS! I get to keep my money! Hooray!
    But…but if it’s heaven, how can there be tax collectors there?

  • bowlesy

    “First, they get to live forever in their current body. None of that intangible soul thing for them. They get to have a nice physical body in heaven.”
    Standard Christian belief for the past two thousand years has been in the physical resurrection from the dead, not the existence of intangible souls in heaven. The PMD folks haven’t got everything wrong. Just most things.

  • Lucia

    Right after 9/11 my DH started reading up on Islam, to try to make some semblance of sense of where the terrorists were coming from. He read one bit — I think it was a commentary of some kind — saying that the good Muslim (man, of course) in heaven gets all the wives he had here, plus the infamous 70 (or 72) virgins, who are ever ready to serve him and who continually revert to their virgin state. My only question was, assuming for some odd reason an atheist ended up in this place, and assuming he divided his time evenly among all the women, disporting himself with us 24/7, I’d get him for about 20 minutes a day: could I knit while waiting my turn?

  • Scott Daly

    Thanks for the clarification Bowlsey. Being an agnostic I know just enough to make a fool of myself occasionally.

  • Beth

    My understanding was that physical ressurection was only temporary. Everyone got up to be judged, then sent off, non-corporeally, to their final destination. Physical bodies are limited to earth. When you go to heaven, you have to leave them behind. (Maybe some Christians here could confirm or correct.)
    In Judaism, it’s a bit different. After the arrival of the messiah, the dead are raised and everyone retains their physical bodies, but no one goes to heaven. Instead, earth itself becomes a paradise.

  • J

    A friend of mine once poked an interesting logical hole in the idea of physical resurrection: The human body is made of carbon, mostly from the food we have eaten (although certain cells–for example many central nervous system neurons and a woman’s egg cells–are generated in utero and carried with us our entire lives.
    But the food we have eaten comes from the ecosystem–fields, woods, oceans, pastures–and it is pretty much inevitible that, at some point in the past, human bodies buried in the ground or burned and the ashes scattered had their component carbons incorporated back into the bodies of other living things–which were eventually eaten and incorporated into the bodies of other human beings.
    So we’re probably composed, at least fractionally, of other human beings. So when resurrection comes: Who gets what pieces of borrowed carbon?
    (And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the much more direct problem of cannibalism . . .)

  • ninjanun

    My understanding was that physical ressurection was only temporary. Everyone got up to be judged, then sent off, non-corporeally, to their final destination. Physical bodies are limited to earth. When you go to heaven, you have to leave them behind. (Maybe some Christians here could confirm or correct.)
    In Judaism, it’s a bit different. After the arrival of the messiah, the dead are raised and everyone retains their physical bodies, but no one goes to heaven. Instead, earth itself becomes a paradise.
    Beth: a careful reading of the New Testament renders this conclusion as well. We get physically resurrected, and God creates a new heaven and a new earth. The new Jerusalem occupies the new earth, and earth is for humans and all corporeal creatures. This whole idea of heaven being where we go when we die is just lazy exegesis of the scriptures, IMHO. Maybe it has something to do with Paul saying he was “caught up in a vision to the 5th heaven” at one point.
    Our current ideas of heaven and the afterlife in general can be more attributed to Greek mythology and Dante than to actual scripture.

  • OG

    I was taught that the dead received new bodies, beautiful, unaging, and incorruptable, upon resurrection, and the bodies of the Raptured were transformed to match. Details like which carbon atom goes with whom would be immaterial.

  • J

    I was taught that the dead received new bodies, beautiful, unaging, and incorruptable, upon resurrection, and the bodies of the Raptured were transformed to match. Details like which carbon atom goes with whom would be immaterial.
    Hmm, except that getting a new body after death is not, technically speaking, resurrection (Resurrection=”re” (again)+ “surre” (to stand)). Getting a whole new body–even if its the same as your old one–is reincarnation.

  • J

    Oh and don’t go believing that there is one single idea of the afterlife in Judaism: The earliest references in the Torah and other books to the soul and death–including all such statements made to Abraham and Isaac by God–seem to imply that there is NO afterlife whatsoever. The only form of ‘immortality’ spoken of in the earliest parts of the Bible refer to having an unbroken string of descendents.

  • Beth

    OG, What did the raptured do with their bodies until the resurrection? Also, do you know if the incorruptable bodies are flesh-and-blood? I always assumed they were made of something less tangible.
    J, I wasn’t talking about the afterlife, but the messianic age. It’s really the distinction between them, and where the raptured fit in, that’s at issue here. Where do the raptured dwell while they’re waiting for the Final Judgement, and what do they do with their bodies while they’re there?

  • J

    J, I wasn’t talking about the afterlife, but the messianic age. It’s really the distinction between them, and where the raptured fit in, that’s at issue here. Where do the raptured dwell while they’re waiting for the Final Judgement, and what do they do with their bodies while they’re there?
    I’m hoping these are rhetorical or ironical questions on your part. Otherwise, I’d say it’d make about as much sense to try and learn the precise dimensions of the Tooth Fairy’s time-share in Middle Earth.

  • Fred

    My favorite part of Handel’s “Messiah” comes from Job 19: “I know that my redeemer liveth / and he shall stand at the latter day / the latter day upon the earth / Though worms destroy this body / yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
    So there’s the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection in what is probably the oldest book in the Bible. (In the same chapter, btw, that gives us the phrase “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.”) The idea of a body/soul duality came later, from the Greeks, and got a big boost from Augustine, who seemed to think of Plotinus as one of the apostles.

  • J

    But even older than the Torah, of course, is Gilgamesh:
    “Gilamesh, where are you roaming?
    You will never find the eternal life
    That you seek. When the gods created mankind,
    they also created death, and they held back
    eternal life for themselves alone.
    Humans are born, they live, then they die
    this is the order that the gods have decreed . . .”
    “Yes, Gilgamesh: the gods took Enkidu’s life.
    But man’s life is short, at any moment
    it can be snapped, like a reed.
    The handsome young man, the lovely young woman–
    in their prime, death comes and drags them away.
    And yet we build houses, make contracts, brothers
    divide their inheritance, conflicts occur–
    as though this human life lasted forever.
    Then the river rises, flows over its banks
    and carries us all away, like mayflies
    floating downstream: they stare at the sun,
    then, at all once, there is nothing.”

  • Grumpy

    Let’s take a moment to recognize the clever variations on a theme already listed in this thread — more creative than the “Tommyknockers meets The Stand” pseudo-epic that brought us here:
    Vanya: Ironically the poor would probably see an immediate improvement in living standards, the rich would suffer… The Rapture could create, at least temporarily, a great deal of economic levelling, almost a socialist paradise on Earth.
    ajb: We’re talking about card-carrying, presumably sincere Christians faced with the reality that the Pearly-Gates Express has left the station and they’re still standing on the platform… How about shitting themselves at the reality that, despite what they though about themselves, they weren’t saved.
    and Patriotism Over Profits: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” It would be quite entertaining if someone made a parody Left Behind where all the hookers are raptured, ahd chaos breaks out.
    Or perhaps some combination of all three. Proof that there are ways to tell interesting Rapture stories.

  • Grumpy

    Er, that should be “Langoliers meets The Stand” pseudo-epic.

  • R. Mildred

    Where do the raptured dwell while they’re waiting for the Final Judgement, and what do they do with their bodies while they’re there?
    between death and the time of judgement nothing happens as far you’re concerned, your spirit goes into standby mode and your body rots. It’d be akin to the sleeper awakes by H.G. Wells, basically you’d die and then it would seem like you’d instantly have come back to life again but time woudl have passed for the outside world since your death.
    Of course there’s another question I’m intrigued about: Does God teleport all the reconstructed bodies back to the surface or will most of us have to start digging when the end of days arrives?

  • Sophist

    What I find most amusing is that L&J spend the better part of 150 pages having Rayford do naught but pine for his daughter, and then when they are finally reunited the authors can’t think of anything to do with them. All that build up, and the payoff is three lines and a jump-cut to The Intrpid Reporter playing phone tag? Using the word “anticlimax” to descibe this situation would itself be an anticlimax. The english language does not contain a word strong enough to descibe the suckitude which permeates this book.

  • Mazement

    You mean to tell me that if there is a Rapture, the tax collectors will go first? Hoody-HOO! No more IRS! I get to keep my money! Hooray!
    But…but if it’s heaven, how can there be tax collectors there?
    The streets are paved with gold, so whenever a tax collector starts pestering you, you can just hand him a cobblestone and walk off laughing.
    I’ve always liked this image of Heaven: “In the Big Rock Candy Mountains/ The cops have wooden legs/ The bull-dogs all have rubber teeth/ And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs…”
    Heaven needs to have cops and bulldogs and tax collectors so that we can have the pleasure of triumphing over adversity. No car accidents, though. They make the landscape look tacky.

  • L

    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief don’t exist anyway. See http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050119-000004.html


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