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L.B.: The Rise of the Anti-Huck

Left Behind, Chapter 11

Rayford Steele and his daughter Chloe are headed to the New Hope Village Church to speak with the apostate pastor, Bruce Barnes, and to pick up the "I Told You So" videotape recorded by the church's Real True Christian pastor before he and most of his flock were shuffled out of their mortal coils in the twinkling of an eye.

There's a bit of father-daughter bonding en route in which Rayford uses a "babyish voice" and refers to himself in the third person as "Daddy." It's a scene I wish Hattie Durham could have witnessed, as it may have cured her of her unfortunate infatuation with the captain. (You just know Rayford would have switched to that same baby talk as soon as he got the flight attendant into his hotel room.)

The Steele's arrive at New Hope, which is described as "the tasteful little church." The last time the authors went out of their way to comment on style it was to praise Irene Steele for turning her bedroom into a "beautiful, frilly place … decorated with needlepoint and country knickknacks," so we can only imagine what this "tasteful" little church looks like.

Rayford and Chloe go inside and greet the Rev. Bruce Barnes and his shell-shocked fellow apostate, the "sunken-eyed and disheveled" Loretta. It is page 188 of this book and we are now, for the first time outside of flashback memories, encountering Christian characters.

Bruce and Loretta were not saved when this story began. They were unsaved, which is why they are among those left behind. But they did attend a church full of RTC's who were saved, so they knew how to get saved and, once they realized they'd been left behind with all the other unsaved people, they quickly got saved themselves.

Notice how many times the word "saved" appears in that paragraph? Notice how, despite this repetition, it's never made clear just what exactly the term means? That's what reading these next two chapters of Left Behind is like.

LaHaye and Jenkins, like Bruce and Loretta, are saved. And they want their readers to get saved too. So Bruce painstakingly explains to Rayford how he can get saved, and he pesters Chloe about her urgent need to get saved. And then L&J walk us through the process again as first Rayford, then Chloe each gets saved in turn. This is all laid out in excruciating detail, in the simple, childlike language of a recent presidential speech.

I don't question L&J's sincerity here. And I'll even respect their earnestness enough not to dwell on the difference here between propaganda and art.

They earnestly want any unsaved readers to get saved. And, since the prospect of unsaved readers picking up a book from Tyndale Publishers seems unlikely, they want their saved readers to be able to give this book to their unsaved friends knowing that it will explain to them both the need for and the process of getting saved.

The problem is the book doesn't do that. L&J want to tell readers what they must do to secure their own salvation. They don't necessarily offer the wrong answer, they're just asking the wrong question.

"What must I do to be saved?" the young ruler asked Jesus.

"Sell all you have and give it to the poor, then come, follow me," Jesus replied.

L&J's reply is quite different. They're not alone in this — I've heard thousands of evangelistic sermons, but I've never heard an evangelist answer the young man's question the way Jesus did. Evangelists don't like Jesus' answer because they're intent on asking the same question the young man asked, and the whole point of Jesus' answer is that it's the wrong question. If your concern is with yourself and securing salvation for yourself, you're going to ask the wrong questions.

"What must I do to make sure that I, myself get a seat on the ark?" the young man asked.

"Oh Me H. Tapdancing Me!" Jesus says. "It's not always about you, you know. Think about somebody else for a change."

That's a paraphrase, but it's not like this was an isolated case. Jesus was always saying this kind of thing: You want to live? Die to yourself. You want to be first? Be last. Want to come out on top? Head for the bottom. Want to win? Surrender.

You want to get saved? Get lost.

Which brings us to what is, for my money, the greatest scene of salvation and redemption in literature:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell" — and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. … And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

This is, of course, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The piece of paper that poor Huck tore up was the letter he had written to turn in his friend, the escaped slave Jim. Huck had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian (and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity — and what are a few mortal years compared with that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that L&J use in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.

Huck may just be talking to himself there, but I think of that declaration as a prayer — as, in fact, a prayer pleasing to God.

The characters in LB are constantly finding themselves, like Huck, in a close place, betwixt two things. They are constantly having to choose (or rather, thinking they have to choose) between the fate of their own immortal souls and the fate of other people here on earth. And every time, emphatically, they take the path that Huckleberry Finn rejected.

And the authors do the same thing. The entire book — the entire series of books — is intent on condemning most of the world to slavery and punishment. This punishment, they insist, is the law of the land and it is the duty of good Christian people not to question that. The main — and only — duty of Christians in this view is to ensure the salvation of their own immortal souls, everyone else be damned.

The process of repentance and conversion that Bruce Barnes outlines isn't all that different from what Billy Graham would preach, and I don't disagree with most of the content of Billy Graham's evangelistic message. (Yes, again, I really am an evangelical.)

But none of that really matters here.

It doesn't matter what you pray — or in whose name you pray it, or how fervently — if the whole motivation for your prayer is "All right then, screw Jim, I'll go to Heaven!"

The evangelistic impulse at its best is, like Huck, motivated by a concern for others. But in the twisted world of LB, the evangelistic impulse has nothing to do with empathy. It becomes, instead, a way to justify, and revel in, the destruction and damnation of others. L&J and their heroes are, like Jonah, willing to preach the good news to the Ninevites, but only because, like Jonah, they are hoping to see that city destroyed by fire and brimstone.

  • cjmr

    All I can say is, “Wow, Fred! You hit that nail right on the head!”
    This was (almost) worth waiting three weeks for…

  • Andrew Cory

    Whee!
    I got just what I wanted for solstice!
    What do you make of the idea that it was the SBC (or their forerunners) who propagated the “Slavery=god’s will” meme?

  • VKW

    Merry Christmas, Fred!

  • The Old Maid

    I wonder how many people miss the fact that when Paul told Useful (Onesimus) to go home, Paul also told Philemon that he, Paul, was giving Useful his old office for his new Pauline duties. People can (and do) rationalize that “we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ,” but it’s quite different when Paul (or God) starts telling you to treat someone better and starts giving away your stuff!
    I’ve been recommending one of the books I studied, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in evangelical America by Amy Johnson Frykholm. Reading this book actually fired me with the strong desire that one of Twain’s contemporaries had interviewed the readers of Huck Finn when that book first hit the market. No, seriously. That was the line I used to try to get my local libraries to start stocking it. (Didn’t work.)
    A quick aside for semantics: Fred keeps using the word “apostate.” I’ll concede the word may have a different meaning in his denomination … however it kept coming up in my research that rapturists really don’t believe in apostasy, at least, not as most Christians would use the term. The true apostate is someone who once 1) believed that Christ is very God; and 2) believed in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and then renounced those beliefs. Rapturists, particularly those in L.B., insist that once one is a saved-and-sealed Christian, it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. Thus there are only once-saved-forever-saved people, and never-saved people. Never-saved people (what Fred is calling “apostates”) would be called “phonies.” So Bruce Barnes and Loretta would not be ex-believers, but fakes who got caught.

  • emjaybee

    Thanks Fred; that scene is one of the most moving spiritual scenes in literature, and it’s always been one of my favorites. Of course Twain wasn’t much of a believer. But he seemed to know truth and falsehood when he met it, didn’t he? Makes him more trustworthy than any number of LaHayes and Jenkinses when it comes to describing how human beings really are.

  • The Old Maid

    *smacks forehead* I can’t believe I left this out.
    Take a good look at Chloe the skeptic. Try to memorize her fighting spirit and her patience with her father’s alternating fits of bossiness and wheedling.
    Then remember the line Fred said about how Rayford started trying to convert his daughter before he even converted himself. The question is, converted to what?
    Early on in her spiritual walk, Chloe had entertained a smugness, particularly when people berated or derided her for her beliefs. She was too polite to gloat, but she couldn’t deny some private satisfaction in knowing that one day she would be proved right.
    But that attitude too had mercifully been taken from her. The more she learned and the more she knew and the more she saw examples of other believers with true compassion for the predicaments of lost people, the more Chloe matured in her faith. That was manifest in a sorrow over people’s souls, a desperation that they see the truth and turn to Christ before it was too late.
    from Volume 11, pages 231-232
    She turns into a little Rayford, in other words. Yet she’s not a clone of him. Anyhow, I had a few questions where I could use a second opinion.
    Chloe originally reacted badly to the secret rapture because it violated her concept of justice. To her mind only a “spiteful” God would do this. At what point does she stop thinking this way? That is, at what point does she start thinking of the scenario as just?
    In Volume 1 Chloe is about to get seriously annoyed with her father because she thinks he is being smug. So why would she do it, and when did that happen?
    By the time Chloe gets to Volume 11 she is grateful for the believers in her life who taught her compassion for the lost. Didn’t she have more of that compassion before this whole thing started? how did she lose it? and (my personal favorite) who, exactly, were the role models of compassion she is citing?
    It’s quite a tumble through the looking-glass to compare what Chloe will become with the person she is now. I’ll join the clamor for “more meandering details, please!” particularly the “babyish” dialogue. It’s important (well, it’s entertaining and unnerving, anyway) to see exactly how all this is accomplished.

  • Lopp

    Fred, excellent as always. Do you listen to This American Life on NPR? Last week’s episode (Heretics 12/16 Episode 304 http://www.thisamericanlife.org/pages/archives/archive05.html) was on Carleton Pearson. The summary from TAL:
    The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of hell, and with it, everything he’d worked for over his entire life.
    Listening to it, I knew I wanted to hear your response. So if you get an hour to listen , and then some time to write a post on it, I’ll be watching for it (but you probably ought to get another LB out to placate the hordes!)

  • Chuck Dupree

    Beautiful. I’ve always admired that passage from Huck Finn. It’s a perfect complement to the Left Behind story.
    Thanks again, Fred, and Merry Christmas!

  • Jason

    I always either get chills or burst out crying at that point in Huck Finn. I don’t care if it makes me a big girl.

  • Christopher

    Thanks for the link to the “Heretics” broadcast, Lopp. It’s fascinating, although I get the distinct feeling none of the Evangelicals or Pentecostals in the show, including Carleton Pearson, had ever heard of universalism before (which is what his message is, despite the name change to “Gospel of Inclusion”.) They all act like he’s come up with a new, unheard-of idea when the idea’s been around for a long time! I’m pretty much a universalist myself, so I sympathize with him, but they could all stand to look outside the walls of their own tradition a bit. If nothing else, Rev. Pearson wouldn’t have to justify his theology all on his own — there are generations of universalists who wrote before he came around.

  • Beth

    Left Behind Fridays are always nice, but Left Behind Thursday’s? It’s like Christmas in July.
    Idea for an alternate Left Behind. It would be much like this one (ok, maybe better written), except that even after the rapture, people keep disappearing. They’re not RTCs, sometimes not Christians at all, so Rayford just kind of ignores it because it doesn’t fit his plotline, and anyway he’s too busy rushing around being Super Christian. Still, as the years roll by and the books pile up, it gets harder and harder to ignore. By the time the seven years are up and the Final Battle is set to begin, there are only two people left on earth, Rayford and Hattie. How can the Great Payoff happen with just them? Who will supply the screams of agony, the rivers of blood? He’s so confused by this turn of events, he does something completely out of character. As he’s rushing to his private Jesus Jet he sees Hattie running towards him, tearful and terrified, and instead of pushing her out of the way as he normally would, he’s overwhelmed by compassion. He opens his arms to her and just stands there, letting her weep on her shoulder, as his chances of getting in on the Big Show slip away. Hattie suddenly stops crying and steps back and Rayford sees that it isn’t Hattie at all, but Jesus Christ. Hattie was really Jesus all along, and He/she spent the whole series, and even before the series began, trying to tempt Rayford, not to sex, but to human sympathy. At last, Rayford has succumbed, and like all those other sinners before him who were being raptured throughout the Tribulations the instant they performed a kind, unselfish deed, he is lifted up to heaven to the sound of trumpets and angelic hymns of praise.

  • The Old Maid

    Beth tells a story
    Likes. :)
    Reminds me of an episode from the updated Twilight Zone or Outer Limits or whatever it was … “The Crime of Coldness” or whatever it was called. A man is convicted of the crime of coldness to other human beings. Since his society has no prisons, he is sentenced to one year of Invisibility. The police place a mark on his forehead and walk away. At first the man thinks this is wonderful: he can walk into the finest suite in a hotel and the occupants will silently leave it to him; he can steal food from the finest restaurants, or off peoples’ plates, and nobody stops him. But humans are social creatures, and the year begins to wear on him. When a blind man strikes up a conversation with him, he welcomes and is left aching by the brief contact. When he sees an Invisible young woman, he tries to strike up a conversation with her. She flees from him because the police, at least, watch the Invisible; if she speaks to the man it will lengthen her sentence. He hits bottom when he is run over by a car and everyone leaves him to die. Somehow he lives through this ordeal and is little more than a zombie when the police remove the mark and warmly greet the restored citizen. He gingerly re-enters his life only to encounter the Invisible young woman, going through the same frenzy stage of free-range solitary confinement. The man feels for her, but he is too frightened to break his parole, so he turns his back on her. The woman falls into weeping, asking, “How can you know what it’s like and still just walk away? How can you be so cold?” Which is the reason for his conviction in the first place. It’s too much for him, and he takes her into his arms and comforts her. Fade to black as the police close in on the man who has broken his curfew and is probably going back to “prison.”
    Beth’s story would get to explore why it takes Rayford seven long years to figure out these things. (It would make a great cautionary tale like The Screwtape Letters.) And as the main post says, Huck Finn didn’t even have to grow up to figure out these things.

  • Jesurgislac

    The modern version of Huck’s declaration: “I’ve been attacked by many people in my life — it will not be the first time. I’m a Catholic, and I’m praying. But I am the Prime Minister of Canada. When I’m Prime Minister of Canada, I’m acting as the person responsible for the nation, and the problem of my religion I deal with.”
    Jason: I always either get chills or burst out crying at that point in Huck Finn. I don’t care if it makes me a big girl.
    Unless you are a closet transsexual, what it makes you is a big boy. :-)
    Interesting point of historical knowledge: when I first read Huck Finn (I wasn’t 10 yet) I had no historical context in which to set the novel. I knew, as a given, that slavery was wrong, and that people who freed slaves and helped slaves escape were good. So, when I first read Huck’s declaration, I didn’t get the cold chills or tears in my eyes: I just took it as Huck doing the right thing. You might think that Twain’s depiction of slavery days in the South would have enlightened me enough to “get it”, but no: I just didn’t know enough to understand why Huck’s decision was such a big thing for him.
    Over the years, I accumulated enough background information that I did. Then I happened to re-read Huckleberry Finn… and then I got cold chills when Huck said “All right then, I’ll go to Hell.”

  • Bruce Garrett

    That was wonderful Fred! Gosh how I wish I’d had a chance to grow up surrounded by more evangelicals like you, instead of the L&J types I did grow up with. Merry Christmas to you.

  • Garnet

    There’s a bit of father-daughter bonding en route in which Rayford uses a “babyish voice” and refers to himself in the third person as “Daddy.”
    Isn’t Chloe a University student who just made her own way cross-country? Does he perhaps have his children mixed up?

  • Amanda

    No matter; she’s his child, and we all know children, no matter their age, are to be treated like children. It sets the parent as the authority and gives him more control over his subordinate.

  • bulbul

    Alas, cjmr, I must disagree. This was definitely worth the wait.
    Merry Christmas to you, Fred, and to everyone here.

  • Edward Liu

    The Old Maid says: “Reminds me of an episode from the updated Twilight Zone or Outer Limits or whatever it was … “The Crime of Coldness” or whatever it was called. A man is convicted of the crime of coldness to other human beings. Since his society has no prisons, he is sentenced to one year of Invisibility.”
    ( S N I P )
    That was the updated Twilight Zone, and I remember that one, too. It really kind of shook me up (in a good way) when I saw it during my teenage years, and it’s one of the few stories from that Twilight Zone that I remember (the others being one about the woman who can stop time by saying, “Shut up,” and a humorous one where Sherman Helmsley plays a math professor who outwits the devil). But the “invisible” guy was the one that stayed with me for a long time.
    Happy holidays to all, by the way.

  • Andrew Mead

    One of the most powerful set of sermons I have ever had the pleasure to hear in person was delivered by our Pastor on the book of Jonah, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. In his last sermon, our Pastor led us to the point of Jonah’s desire to see Ninevah destroyed, only to be questioned by God, “Who are you to judge?” He then asked the congregation if we knew where Ninevah was. A couple of us knew it was in Iraq; he gave the answer, and the Benediction. You could have heard a pin drop. I think it was one of the bravest acts I have ever witnessed, and I could tell that he was shaking when he closed. Our church is a little American Baptist/UCC federation in rural Michigan, so you can imagine the local political slant. But our congregation is a thoughtful one, and our Pastor’s risk hit home. Fred, continued thanks for your thoughtful posts.

  • lbb

    Ah, that passage from Huck Finn — amazing.
    The thing that I find most telling about it is that, in contrast with the society around him — and in contrast to the world of LJ — Huck has no need to be righteous. He has no need to claim the moral high ground; he doesn’t try for rectitude. Nor does he derive any pleasure from being a “bad boy”. He can somehow set all that aside, and make his peace with the fact that he’s doing what he must do, even though he hasn’t reasoned things through enough to affix the label “right” to his actions. He is righteous, but innocent of his own righteousness, and derives no real pleasure from it.

  • Rob Rodger

    Fred,
    I know you have plenty to do, and I have no idea how this would even be possible, but I would love to someday see you publish a “Christian’s Guide to Left Behind” with this sort of commentary.
    I’ve written, deleted, and rewritten and redeleted various other thoughts, and while one one level I know it would do so little good, I would love to be able to hand someone a nice little book to read whenever they mention the L. B. series to me.
    And you do such a fantastic job, but I suspect I am firmly seated in the choir.

  • Linkmeister

    In “Death of a Dude,” by Rex Stout, one of the minor characters (an immigrant Armenian in Montana) has that passage from Huck Finn framed on the wall of his general store cum dance hall. He calls Huck’s declaration the greatest sentence in American literature. He and Nero Wolfe spend a couple of hours (off-novel, regrettably; I’d love to have read Wolfe’s view) discussing it.

  • Robert

    YAY! Left Behind Friday is back.
    And damn. That was on target. Your eloquent description of the message of Christ was a sober reminder that religion isn’t just about hate, fear and control. That’s easy to forget in these dark days of Left Behind, the War On Christmas and megachurches closed on Sunday.
    That single essay was more of a ministry (to this atheist at least) than Left Behind could ever hope to be.
    Don’t deny us our weekly fix, but eventually this series must be collected and published. There are a lot of “Christians” who could use it.

  • Robert

    But then I’ve always been a softie when it comes to Huck Finn.

  • Jay

    can i say i love athiests? i don’t know if i am right enough with myself to be one. but i think some athiests are among my favorite people. although agnostics grab my heart in a way no one else can. there is a way in which i think an agnostic or athiest can grasp God in a way someone like me never will. i have heard so many sermons and read so many books (and believed all of it) that i have a picture of God. i think i see HIm, think he is something. God weeps at idolotry because it is so harmful to what is really going on in his existence. what i wretch at in this LB theology is how it perpetuates the thought that we can somehow corner God. “Ha! i prayed the prayer! im in!”
    thank you Fred. and please, please publish this madness, it is water to the soul.

  • Doctor Science

    “Oh Me H. Tapdancing Me!” Jesus says.
    My new favorite line ever.
    They’re not alone in this — I’ve heard thousands of evangelistic sermons, but I’ve never heard an evangelist answer the young man’s question the way Jesus did.
    *boggles* I mean, really? The vast majority of the sermons I’ve heard over the years have been Catholic, and this line gets brought up a lot. I’m not saying that Catholics are actually more self-sacrificing that evangelicals, but they are certainly reminded a lot that it’s supposed to be a goal.

  • sophia8

    what i wretch at in this LB theology is how it perpetuates the thought that we can somehow corner God. “Ha! i prayed the prayer! im in!”
    Jay – you may not be able to spell very well, but you’ve got the brains to see right through L&J and their kind!

  • sdf (Stu)

    Both your post, Fred, and in particular Beth’s “revised” Left Behind bring to mind for me the theology that Dostoevsky, conservative nationalist that he may have been, tried to express in Brothers Karamazov, through the elder Zosima and then through Alyosha: that holiness (and “salvation”) is achieved through selfless acts of human compassion, entirely unmotivated by “salvation,” and by true love for humans (as opposed to the abstracted, atheist love of Ivan Karamzov — although some people, including myself, find Ivan pretty convincing, but that’s another story); moreover, any sinner, no matter more terrible, can be redeemed if he or she sincerely embraces Love.
    The heart of this message is contained in the story of The Onion, a fable told by the “fallen” Grushenka to the saintly Alyosha. It goes something like this (available online in various places if you google): there was a woman once, a wicked woman, who lived a selfish, wretched, miserly life. When she died, she went to hell, but the angel who was supposed to be her advocate scoured her life’s history and discovered that she had once, almost absently, given an onion to a beggar. This is enough to sway God’s heart, sort of: he tells the guardian angel that if he can pull her out of the fire with the onion, then she will rise to heaven, but if not, she must remain in hell. Well, the angel holds the onion out and the woman grabs it. But as she is lifted up, the other damned souls grab her legs, they want to be lifted up too. Oh, heck, here’s the rest from the horse’s mouth:
    But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.
    In other words, even the smallest act of human compassion is enough to get you saved, but you have to “get it,” you don’t just chant the magic incantation or perform the magical act and through this join the ranks of the saved, securely and irrevocably.

  • Bad Methodist

    I am blown away. You have managed in one 1300-word post to put into words exactly why my gut reacts so negatively to the whole “get saved” thing. Absolutely brilliant.

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/001721.html Pacific Views

    What Huck Finn Can Teach Us

    This week, Fred Clark’s Left Behind essay was a highly appropriate post for the Christmas season. He’s reached a section where LaHayes and Jenkins expound on what it means to “be saved.” What he’s found is the authors are once…

  • Lila

    The folktale version of the onion story is interestingly different in 2 particulars: first, the woman actually *threw* the onion at the beggar (it happened to be in her reach) to make him go away. Second, the story ends with the angel leaning down from Heaven holding out the onion and saying, “Here, grab hold of this and I will pull you up!” How the woman responds to this is not part of the story.

  • Skyknight

    From skimming bits and pieces of the Left Behind books (and a little of the last part of “The Rising”), and what I know of Fellowship Tract League leaflets, the fundamentalists have a bad tendency to see salvation as its own purpose. More specifically, they tend to see salvation in its negation aspect–not getting imprisoned in Hell. Even that quote from “Armageddon” shows Chloe worried more about the “let them be safe from Hell” part than the “let them be in God’s presence” part.
    So where IS the latter element? Even with that one bit from “The Rising”, where a main character is reacting to a leaflet, God’s love is shown as best manifesting not so much in his desire for humanity to be in his presence, but rather in his actions to get them out of a destiny of perdition.
    I suppose I could come up with an endless chain of questions (“What is the purpose of salvation?”, then “What is the purpose of being in God’s presence?”, and so on–I haven’t come up with the next link in the chain yet), but the emphasis on eluding perdition is already telling. They don’t want to be saved to be with God, but they want to be with God because that necessarily means not being cooped up with the Satan and his fellow lunatics for all eternity. Salvation, not God or his ideals, is the focal point.
    They’ve made an idol out of salvation.

  • Lila

    “The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation don’t slumber, the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them.” –Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, 1741
    (http://edwards.yale.edu/major-works/sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god/)
    I submit that one difference between Jonathan Edwards’ congregation and LaHaye and Jenkins is that Edwards’ parishioners were thinking of themselves as the precariously positioned sinners. L&J are picturing everyone BUT themselves in that predicament. And smiling.

  • The Old Maid

    Skyknight: More specifically, they tend to see salvation in its negation aspect–not getting imprisoned in Hell. Even that quote from “Armageddon” shows Chloe worried more about the “let them be safe from Hell” part than the “let them be in God’s presence” part.
    To be fair to Chloe, she does tell a woman on death row, “You will die, but you will be with God … No matter what happens to you today, you belong to God.” (Vol. 11, pages 245-246) Then again, Chloe doesn’t have time to make a speech a chapter long. Fortunately her fame precedes her. Her sermon is four sentences long, minus the leadoff that if “if you know who I am, then you know what I stand for.”
    At this point nine people drop to their knees to pray.
    Chloe was thrilled to see the formerly undecided nine rise and find that six of them had the mark of the believer on their foreheads. Something within them must have confirmed this, because they lifted their hands and smiled despite their impending fate. (page 253)
    The first woman Chloe noticed isn’t one of those nine. Her response is,
    “I prayed,” the woman said, but I am still scared. How do I know it worked?”
    “Let me have a look at you,” Chloe said, and she saw the mark of the believer on her forehead. “What do you see in my forehead, ma’am?” Chloe said.
    “A mark, as if in 3-D.” She reached to touch it.
    “I see the same on you,” Chloe said. (page 246)
    We could make allowance for personality, individual variation. This prisoner was the first convert, after all, and many things are harder for the first person who tries. We don’t know why she didn’t get the Assurance that the others received. It’s the last ones who tried that concern me.
    Something within them must have confirmed this, because they lifted their hands and smiled despite their impending fate. The other three looked miserable, and Chloe assumed they were among the hard-hearted who may have been desperate to change their minds but had waited too long. page 253.
    This happens a lot in Volume 11. Rayford stumbles across a woman who keeps begging God and Jesus to help her, but all she gets is Rayford. (Again, to his credit, when she asks him to bring her something to eat, he does look but doesn’t find anything.)
    Rayford knew the prophecy — that people would reject God enough times that God would harden their hearts and they wouldn’t be able to choose him even if they wanted to. But knowing it didn’t mean Rayford understood it. And it certainly didn’t mean he had to like it. He couldn’t make it compute with the God he knew, the loving and merciful one who seemed to look for ways to welcome everyone into heaven, not keep them out. pages 18-19.
    What does “God hardened their hearts” mean to you/me/us? We’ve always looked to Moses’ Pharoah as an example, but do people agree that God would override a person’s free will to make them “unsaveable?” Pharoah was accustomed to being regarded as a god, so any encounter with a real one would strike at his self-image and ego, his very understanding of the world, not just his intellect. But would God make an individual, or a crowd, “unsaveable” when there are quite enough volunteers for the hard-hearted position?
    Correct me if I misunderstand, but doesn’t the Christian faith hold to the belief that “while there’s life, there’s hope,” and only in the afterlife is it too late; you are bound to your last informed decision?
    To return to our example of Huck Finn, he experienced an all-or-nothing sense of committment and resolution to his life. One could argue that either he received Assurance that his action/belief/choice was pleasing to God, or he crossed over into the land of hard-heartedness and became incapable of feeling remorse for it. If Huck Finn has made a final decision before God, which response from God sounds more God-like? To harden Huck’s heart or to steady his heart?

  • Duane

    Fundies interpret the “God hardened the hearts” one of two ways:
    1) The outcome was going to be the same anyway. God, being all-knowing, just helped the process along.
    2) God didn’t actually DO the heart-hardening: heart-hardening is a normal function of the free-will. God just let it happen without interfering.

  • The Old Maid

    *sigh* hit “send” too soon. Meant to add that there is a belief among the Catholic churches that you can sin badly enough and often enough that you can damage yourself, much as you can damage your body through abuse; there comes a point where it can’t be “whole” again in this life. I understand this belief is separate from the proposal that God or the devil make your soul too “hard-hearted” to respond to God’s grace. You can respond to grace, but as a “cripple” and will limp through this life accordingly.

  • Duncan

    Your use of that quotation from Huck Finn is creepy; as an atheist who’s admired Twain since I was a kid, I must protest. Having read Twain’s other writings on Christianity, I don’t believe that he thought he was substituting a ‘true’ Christianity for the ‘false’ Christianity of his contemporaries. His attacks on the Bible, including the New Testament, were as thorough and consistent as his attacks on US imperialism (see “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” which reveals Twain as the Noam Chomsky of his day).
    I really don’t see any reason to agree with those commenters who think that Twain saw Huck as getting really right with Yahweh. (But thanks to the Old Maid for acknowledging — consciously? I can’t tell — that Yahweh and Satan are collaborators, not enemies.) The reading of Paul’s letter to Philemon is as fundamentalist as anything out of LaHaye: that’s the normal fundamentalist tactic for dealing with hard biblical passages, just interpret it as ‘pharisaically’ as possible, in the confident knowledge that the Bible couldn’t possible be in error, factually or morally. (The claim that fundamentalists take the Bible literally is a lie: they believe it to be inerrant — free from error — and so have to resort constantly to very non-literal readings. But then, so many liberals don’t know what “literal” means anyway.) After all, weren’t Jim’s owners Christians, just like Philemon? Huck could have renamed him Useful Jim and sent him back to them, trusting them to do the right thing.

  • Skyknight

    Duncan: It would be amusing to see how dispensationalists would react to finding out that, before they came in contact with Zoroastrianism, the Hebrews saw Belial and all his subordinate dark spirits (including the various angels of punishment and death) as loyal servants of God, not his foes. But then, they saw the God/Belial dichotomy as one of weal/woe, rather than justice/corruption. Evil as we know it would have been contained in the Canaanite deities and the profligacy they championed (well, at least championed OFTEN; I have a hard time believing that all the deities of that region, besides Yhwh, were supposed to be party animals).

  • The Old Maid

    Ooh, Duncan. No, I don’t see God and the devil as collaborators, unless we count the L.B. novels themselves. (In the novels they’re both destroying the earth and annihilating people, though even that may fall under the category of “rather than let you have it”). In the real world they certainly compete for any given soul (since they both can’t end up with it). Therefore it would seem that God or the devil each would welcome and encourage an individual to make more choices that would bring the individual closer to that being. The human individual can be open or closed to these persuasions, ultimately being responsible for his string of choices. As an acquaintance of mine commented, Character is formed by a lifetime of choices, not in one explosive moment.
    (As for Philemon’s situation toward Onesimus/Useful, yes, I’ve heard a lot of people argue that Paul didn’t really hire the man right out from under Philemon’s nose and didn’t really expect Philemon to help him settle into Paul’s old office as Paul’s field agent. But I haven’t heard those people explain why Paul thought he had the authority to do it.)
    Well, we started with Huck, and asked what it was that steadied Huck in his decision. Yes, the religious term for one type of salvation experience is Assurance (as opposed to Arrogance), and it really does put to shame what passes for same in the L.B. novels. Even if you see Huck’s experience as morally sound but non-spiritual, it still puts the L.B. version to shame.
    For the Christian, our hope of salvation is, well, our hope. Assurance is more “present;” you get immersed in it. Let us say that you are in a building (which probably you are). Out of doors there may be a heat wave, or it may be below freezing. From the indoors, you can catch a hint of the “real world” by brushing close to a window, where heat or cold leak into a room. But go outside and the temperature change will hit you like a board. Assurance is like that.
    Rapturism is big on Assurance, as a natural outgrowth of the yes/no, on/off, 1/0 absolutism of the movement. Part of its appeal is that, well, it’s easier. There may also be a moral component. To some people, interacting with less-than-perfect people feels too much to them like introducing less-than-perfect morality or theology. Hence they avoid that feeling by avoiding interaction with people or life situations that provoke that feeling. (Recall all the times Jesus was criticized for associating with tax collectors and prostitutes.)
    But yes, L.B. is full of Assured individuals. In particular Tsion and Buck seem able to insta-defend the faith as soon as they get it. (Saint Peter turned into an instant apologist too. So it is real, but in the hands of fiction writers it’s easy to abuse. Especially when they go from “The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen — but he had no idea what that meant” to Instant Apologist.) Note that it takes Chloe longer of all to get up to speed because according to the novels’ format she has a lot of interior “remodeling” to do. (We might not agree, but we didn’t write the books.)
    A lot of denominations don’t believe in Assurance — not that they disbelieve in it, so much as that they might believe it’s one of the charismatic gifts from the church’s foundation. Paul mentioned that such gifts (e.g., speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.) would recede with time, as the church established itself and got to the daily, patient plodding of faith, doing the boring and painful things that all steady workers eventually have to do. Then again, some denominations insist that speaking in tongues and faith healing were never meant to fade (or, alternately, would return in force as The End drew near). So yes, there probably are denominations who believe that Assurance should be (or soon will be) commonplace.
    Where does that leave the rest of us? I mentioned the “damaging onself” theory as one possible option (and, at that, I never heard of it until recently). On the one hand, it would seem to account for individual resiliency, and on the other hand, it would seem not.
    I’m reminded of actress Grace Lee Whitney, author of “The Longest Trek.” By the time she became a Christian, she had developed assorted psychological and chemical addictions. Seriously, she was this close to turning up dead somewhere. Sure sounds “damaged to death,” doesn’t it? But when she became a Christian, she felt it (i.e., Assurance). She also became aware of suddenly being free of the addictions that had enslaved her body (and mind and spirit) for years. (Those certainly weren’t “pretend” drugs she had been popping, drinking, and injecting.) Assured and cured … she was one of those few who received a can-prove-it miracle. (Now, the L.B. novels are big on miracles, but they’re really only keen about passing out miracles to those who “deserve” them, whatever that’s supposed to mean.)
    One last comment: Huck never felt remorse or doubt. In his culture that attitude would be a sign of “damage” or hard-heartedness past the point of repair. In L.B.’s Volume 11 culture (see quotes, above), “hard-hearted” people supposedly feel remorse all the time — heck, they’re repenting all over the place. Rayford can’t even walk down the hall without tripping over repenting people. The real book of Revelation describes the “hard-hearted” as “groaning and cursing God,” hating God with nary a thought of penitence. Instead many of these fictional characters keep pleading. They acknowledge God’s glory, but in a way that claims they can never be “sorry enough” and anyway it is “too late” so there no longer is “mercy enough.” Revelation describes doomed individuals as being defiant to the end, but in the novels the woman Rayford trips over, and the three people Chloe can’t convert, are broken people. (The authors use the words “scared” and “miserable”.) In the Bible, broken people are “open” people, and only God can decide if they’re playacting to get sympathy, but in L.B.’s volume 11 they “know” they’re just fakes who got caught. The only assurance they get is that they’re doomed.
    Given that Assurance isn’t universal, but “damaged beyond repair” can squeeze out room for grace, there probably always will be debates on Assurance, “hard hearts,” and the patient plodders, honest doubters, and wrestlers-with-faith who live between. (In the Bible God and Jesus traditionally are gentler with honest questioners than with the smugly confident.) However I’ve noticed that most of the opinions voiced so far have been both more divine and more humane than the options rapturism tends to offer.
    Oh, and as for Huck? Put simply, his actions line up more with the real RevelationI than with the novels Fred is so patiently examining. Since L.B. advertizes itself as a reliable interpretation of that real book, this makes Huck a good yardstick with which to measure one of L.B.’s especial failings.

  • The Old Maid

    Oops. I left the italics on. Let’s see if this fixed it.
    (I’m used to self-editing post boards. Sorry about that.)

  • Mabus

    Regarding the emphasis on evading hell:
    Hell is quite tangibly, painfully described. Whether you take it literally or not, it’s difficult not to react viscerally to the image of being eternally on fire. No depiction of heaven I remember is nearly so vivid–except perhaps the “streets of gold” image, but aesthetic appreciation is pretty abstract compared to searing pain. (Whatever else one might think of it, Islam’s seventy-two virgins and endless wine is at least an intense, arresting description of paradise.) To intellectually know the presence of God is something to be desired is easy. To [I]experience[/I] desire for it is much harder (especially if, like me, you value your solitude).
    Fearing hell isn’t terribly honorable as a motivation. Even so, it’s extraordinarily hard not to, or to value a vaguely described experience more.

  • The Old Maid

    Yeah, the one does stay with you more than the other.
    I once heard that one way to make heaven more concrete, more substantial is to remember the nature of those who go there. For example, Mother Teresa makes me think the place will have room for the worker, but no one will be sick; Francis of Assisi makes me think of nature, the “kindly beasts,” and yes, sometimes quiet moments of contemplation; Rosa Parks makes me think it will have dignity and beauty. *p.s. stood in line*
    (Hmm. Am thinking about Huck’s contributions, if he were real. Courage, among other things.)
    As for the 72, I heard it wasn’t meant to be literal but an expression of abundance, much as Jews and Christians used 10 and 1,000 as expressions of the completion of divine work or glory (e.g., Job had ten sons and ten daughters, or “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills” — Psa. 50:10).

  • Skyknight

    For another Hebrew numerical idiom, I understand that 40 fits. In this case, it often just signifies “fairly large, but indeterminate, number”. So, for example, the forty days and nights of the ark don’t literally mean forty earthly rotations, but just a long time.

  • Mabus

    Probably just as well about the 72 virgins…I mean, imagine trying to satisfy 72 women who presumably have done without since the moment of creation (while remaining eternally young and energetic), so they have plenty of enthusiasm but no experience… Maybe that’s more hell than heaven. “You can’t be exhausted yet, honey, it’s my turn!”
    Just kidding, of course. Just to prove folks like me have a sense of humor.

  • Skyknight

    I’m waiting to hear about the undoubtedly countless Moslem men who, upon arrival in Paradise, relinquish those seventy-two virgins, seeing their respective wives as each worth at LEAST seventy-three virgins…

  • Chris

    Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity — and what are a few mortal years compared with that?
    Just wanted to point out that the sense Fred was going for in this passage might have been reversed: I might be missing something, but shouldn’t this read “but his own immortal soul would be saved for eternity”?
    Other than that, great critique as always.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Well, no–Huck thought that he was duty-bound as a Christian to turn Jim in, and that by not turning Jim in he was condemning himself to Hell. Were L&J in this position, with their Get Saved Uber Alles mentality, they would have turned Jim in because That’s What It Takes To Get Saved. Fred points out that this emphasis on Getting Saved as an end to which all actions on earth are a means… is an inappropriate emphasis, and that it is better to share Huck’s priorities: risk Heaven by acting humane, rather than risking your humanity for a chance at Heaven.

  • none

    “beautiful, frilly place … decorated with needlepoint and country knickknacks”
    So shabby chic-ness is next to godliness? What is it about Midwestern Americana that proves piety?

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/001721.html Pacific Views

    What Huck Finn Can Teach Us

    This week, Fred Clark’s Left Behind essay was a highly appropriate post for the Christmas season. He’s reached a section where LaHayes and Jenkins expound on what it means to “be saved.” What he’s found is the authors are once…

  • Ken

    But in the twisted world of LB, the evangelistic impulse has nothing to do with empathy. It becomes, instead, a way to justify, and revel in, the destruction and damnation of others.
    In practice, Pre-trib Rapture is basically The Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by The Ultimate Revenge Fantasy.


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