L.B.: Mystery Dance

Left Behind, pp. 344-346

There’s a new reporter at the top of the heap. While Buck Williams has been running around conducting off-the-record interviews, squelching stories and making random introductions in hotel rooms, CNN’s Dan Bennett has captured the world’s attention with his on-the-spot coverage of the trip-and-fall guys in Jerusalem.

CNN has been replaying Bennett’s report for the past 24 hours, and this story is all that anyone is talking about. The aftermath of the Event, the attempt for a full accounting of the disappeared, the search for the missing children or for an explanation of what happened to them — all such lesser concerns have been pushed off the front page by this gripping saga of two men who fell down and died.

But while the whole world is watching this phenomenal occurrence, only the chosen few, the keepers of the secrets, truly understand what it means. This secret knowledge, this gnosis, gives them power. Others can see those pictures in any magazine, but what’s the use of looking when they don’t know what they mean?

Bruce Barnes is fielding yet another desperate phone call from Rayford Steele, who has called him from an airport lounge at JFK to discuss his anxiety over the evangelistic three-way he has planned with his mistress and daughter:

“Bruce, I need support. I’m going to start becoming obnoxious, I’m afraid. If Chloe wants to laugh or run the other way, I’m going to force her to make a decision. She’ll have to know exactly what she’s doing. She’ll have to face what we’ve found in the Bible and deal with it. I mean, the two preachers in Israel alone are enough to give me the confidence that things are happening exactly the way the Bible said they would.”

Rayford’s newfound resolve seems to have less to do with his daughter’s eternal fate than it does with his own determination to exculpate himself, to fulfill his obligation to “force her” to choose and be done with it. As ever, it’s all about him.

Bruce’s advice for his protege is to watch more television:

“Have you been watching this morning?”

“From a distance here in the terminal. They keep rerunning the attack.”

“Rayford, get to a TV right now. … I’m hanging up, Ray. See what happened to the attackers and see if that doesn’t confirm everything we read about the two witnesses.”

“Bruce –”

“Go, Rayford. And start witnessing yourself with total confidence.”

Rayford does as Bruce suggests and, like the pastor, he is awed that what he sees on CNN does precisely “confirm everything we read about the two witnesses.” It’s another example of Left Behind’s weird fiction-as-confirmation-of-prophecy confusion. The authors tell us that the Bible prophesies specific future events, and then they provide a fictional account of those events unfolding exactly as supposedly foretold. That much would be fine, except that they treat this fictional fulfillment as though it were actual evidence and proof of their claims rather than just an illustration of them.

At one time I would have said that such a form of “argument” was too circular and too delusional to be effective, but then I saw Colin Powell use exactly the same approach in his notorious 2003 presentation at the United Nations. Iraq, Powell claimed, had “mobile chemical weapons labs,” and as proof of this assertion he presented drawings of these hypothetical RVs of Death. Like the readers of Left Behind, America’s punditocracy accepted these fictional representations as actual proof — treating them as though they were photographs taken from real life and not mere question-begging illustrations.

Having witnessed this blatant use of fictional evidence effectively used to convince our “very serious” thinkers about the war, I’m no longer surprised that it also contributed to the triumphalistic popularity of the World’s Worst Books. But just because this weird use of fiction-as-proof is sometimes effective doesn’t mean it’s not circular and delusional.

LaHaye & Jenkins’ use of fictional proof is particularly strange in this instance because the account of events they have created really doesn’t “confirm everything we read about the two witnesses” nor do things happen “exactly the way the Bible said they would.” The biblical passage in question, again, is Revelation 11:1-14, which describes the two witnesses as “clothed in sackcloth” (which Moishe and Eli are not), and unambiguously states that “If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies,” and not “If anyone tries to harm them, their enemies will trip and die from spontaneous heart attacks.”

Rather than Bennett’s report giving Rayford a resurgent confidence in the truth of his literal-to-the-letter prophecies, you’d think this notable lack of devouring flame would reinforce his doubts. Perhaps “fire comes from their mouths” was only meant symbolically, as some kind of metaphor, but, again, “Once you begin heading down that road … everything is up for grabs. You can invent any kind of ‘interpretation’ you want.”

But now CNN was showing what happened next in Jerusalem, after the attacks and after the removal of the bodies of the uncharred, undevoured trip-and-fall guys:

Rayford watched as crowds surged into the area in front of the Wailing Wall to listen to the witnesses. People knelt, weeping, some with their faces on the ground. These were people who had felt the preachers were desecrating the holy place. Now it appeared they were believing what the witnesses said. … The first of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists were being converted to Christ before his eyes.

See? Here again is proof. Cold, hard, fictional evidence that the Jews are wrong and the Christians are right (not all Christians, of course, just the real, true ones who pay particular attention to the prophetic portions). The evidence is right there before your eyes in all those weeping, kneeling Jews bowing at the feet of the witnesses and saying “We were wrong all along, but you, Moishe and Eli and Dr. LaHaye, you were right all along.”

“These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence fictional representations.”

What more proof could anyone need?

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    I have to say, of course, that if I supposed that in the hospital in my town a doctor was routinely killing babies – newborn, one month, three months – at the mother’s request, and without interference – I would not let it be. It would make no difference if a law had been passed that permitted infanticide. Killing babies is wrong.
    Mabus claims to believe that abortion is “killing babies”. Mabus claims to believe that women – and, therefore, doctors – are murderers. Either Mabus is a terrorist, or at least allied with terrorists, or in Mabus’s own eyes s/he is a spineless creep who won’t defend babies… or was lying, and doesn’t actually believe women who have abortions are murderers or that a fetus is a baby.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    Ecks, the study you mentioned reminds me that Aspies such as myself prefer non-fiction over fiction. When I was a kid, I read encyclopedias for fun. When I read fiction, I have to focus to picture the scene in my mind, and occasionally I have to re-read a certain passage if I’m losing my place in the story visually.
    Oh pooh. I guess my self-diagnosis of Asperger’s (all the not-cool kids are doing it) is wrong after all. To the extent I prefer either, I’d have to say fiction, even though I’m an historian and I don’t think I have a strong preference. But I did spend my childhood reading encyclopaedias. Do I get into the club?
    I barely visualize at all… Things exist pretty much in an independent realm of words to me. People are surprised sometimes when I say that I really don’t have pictures of characters in the books I read… I’ve also been asked why I put very few descriptions of characters in the fiction I write
    Yeah, everything he said, plus: I’m liable to skip description in what I read if it’s too long (generally anything over a couple of lines). Perhaps that’s why Richard Matheson is one of my favourite authors. A more economical author I’ve never read; he doesn’t include any detail that doesn’t directly move the story forward. If he tells you the house on the hill is blue, you can bet its blueness is integral to the plot; otherwise he wouldn’t bother to tell you.
    Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly re: Blade Runner. The book sucked.
    I think the novel is brilliant (superior to the film, even, but that’s probably only because I prefer the novel’s theme). Jaws was my example of a terrible book adapted into a superior film. Blade Runner was my example of a unfilmable book adapted successfully by radically changing it. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought it was a bad novel.
    Yes, I hear the words “aloud” in my head & it is my voice. Or at least it’s my voice *as I hear it inside my own head*, which doesn’t match what I hear on tape.
    The first time I heard my voice on tape, I didn’t recognise it as my own. It was only when I noticed that voice was speaking my lines of the script we were working from that I realised that was me. I was not pleased.
    When I read, I hear the words ‘aloud’ in my internal voice, which isn’t anything like that horror on the tape. That is, unless a film portrayal has been so influential that the actor’s voice intrudes. That’s pretty rare, but I can’t read any dialogue of Captain Picard’s without hearing the wonderful voice of Patrick Stewart (and who’d complain?). I also heard Malcolm McDowell when I read A Clockwork Orange, especially since it’s written in the first person and many of the lines in the film were taken directly from the book.

  • Ecks

    Jes, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time with trolls this week, but on this one particular point, while you are absolutely correct that someone who believes abortion=murder should be motivated to try to prevent abortions, this does NOT mean that they have to approve, IN THE LEASTEST TINIEST LITTLE WAY of people using bombs, violence, or terrorism to do so. There are plenty of things I utterly detest, none of which I want punished with such violence. In fact, there are several which I feel that I must openly tolerate to exist, despite my revulsion (Fox news comes to mind).
    So argue if you will with Mabus, go back and forth all day over the logic of the thing, fine. In fact I’m actually mostly pulling for you in this debate. But it is disingenuous to the point of trollery to contend that his stated belief makes him either a supporter of terrorism or a hypocritical coward.

  • http://www.TheGoldenDance.com Michele

    Ecks: But it is disingenuous to the point of trollery to contend that his stated belief makes him either a supporter of terrorism or a hypocritical coward.
    I don’t mean to speak for Jesu – I doubt if anyone could – but IIRC, Mabus has publicly called him/herself a member of the “Pro-Life” movement & that movement itself uses bombs, violence, and other terrorist methods in an effort to end abortion. Jesurgislac therefore maintains that Mabus (as a member of that movement) condones such tactics.
    Speaking personally, I have found Jesurgislac’s sometimes caustic manner to be very thought-provoking. By taking things to their (logical?) conclusion, she makes me (and others?) re-examine the justifications for my belief system & thus either abandon those beliefs, or realize that I do in fact believe them and accept the consequences of that belief.

  • hapax

    Mabus has publicly called him/herself a member of the “Pro-Life” movement & that movement itself uses bombs, violence, and other terrorist methods in an effort to end abortion.
    Absolutely not touching the broader abortion here, or even on Mabus’s views (which do not reflect mine, despite some obvious points of intersection)
    You raise (or re-raise, actually) a touchy issue here, Michele, and that’s the meaning of “pro-life.” There is certainly one faction that claims that label, and acts in the abhorrent method you describe. There is another faction, that claims the label — the so-called “consistent ethic of life” faction — that is very different, and bitterly opposed to the first.
    Jesu and I had one of our bitterest disagreements about that label. She contends (I think, I don’t want to put words in her mouth) that the brand is so irretrievably tarnished by the terrorists that it is essentially meaningless at best, oxymoronic at worst when used by the second group; and if folks who believe in a consistent ethic of life wish to claim the name, they should focus their efforts on denouncing the hate group.
    I argued, that while I would cheerfully denounce the hate group, I have other priorities than playing “I’m more pro-life than you are, nyah nyah”, and I’ll call myself whatever I darn please, and the terrorists have no more exlusive claim to the name than Osama bin Laden does to define the meaning of “Muslim.”
    I think we got to the fairly silly extreme of counting dictionary definitions, and slinging websites and minutes on broadcast American TV at each other. And, of course, we changed nobody’s minds, least of all each other’s.
    But it has made me much more careful — and long-winded — when using the “pro-life” name on this site, and a couple others.
    Is it possible, in the spirit of charity, and filled with each other’s good baking, to raise the issue of nomenclature again? Is the name “pro-life” — like “silly”, “nice”, “proof”, “girl”, “gay”, and a host of others — irretrievably charnged in meaning (to now equal “pro-blastocyst and I’m happy to kill to prove it”)? Should the “consistent ethic of life” (such a mouthful!) folks try to fight to reclaime it, or just give it up and move on?
    Or is this simply to touchy a topic to even discuss?

  • http://www.TheGoldenDance.com Michele

    hapax, you are correct in your summary & perhaps I should have said a very vocal & visible portion of that movement itself uses bombs, etc.
    I see a parallel with Brian J’s claims about “American Christianity”.
    FWIW, I think Jesu’s (and, by extension, Brian J’s) points have merit. However, I also see the other side of it (esp. as I’m a Christian myself & resent those hate-mongers “stealing” the name) & so don’t have an answer. :-(

  • Ecks

    Michelle, Mabus may indeed be a self described “member of the pro-life movement*,” in which case I still don’t think it would be safe to assume he was pro-terrorist, although it might be rather more incumbent upon him to make that distinction more clear (“I don’t hold with…”). Really, though, it would be simpler to ask. How about this: Mabus, how do you feel about those people who bomb abortion clinics and shoot doctors?
    There, now he can speak for himself, without us placing our preconceptions on his lips**.
    Speaking personally, I have found Jesurgislac’s sometimes caustic manner to be very thought-provoking.
    No arguments here. She is by turns clever, informed, insightful, and funny. Sadly we all have bad habits (I certainly have my share), we all make unfair moves sometimes, and sometimes it’s better when we’re called on them.
    * This is not what Jesu based her assertions on here, though. Quote:

    Mabus claims to believe that abortion is “killing babies”. Mabus claims to believe that women – and, therefore, doctors – are murderers. Either Mabus is a terrorist, or at least allied with terrorists, or in Mabus’s own eyes s/he is a spineless creep who won’t defend babies… or was lying

    ** His fingertips, whatever.

  • Ecks

    Hapax:
    A Rosoideae Rosa by any other name…
    I dunno. One could concede the title “pro-life” to the terrorist set, and come up with a new title, but by the time you managed to popularize it, the terrorists would glom and and use it too… because they inaccurately see themselves as part of the mainstream pro-life movement. Or at least, such is my impression from a distance, I don’t think I’ve ever actually met one.
    Sort of like how clinicians have to keep coming up with new words for retarded, because people keep turning them into insult words (‘idiot’ was originally a clinical term I believe, and already now people are making snide comments about their enemies being ‘special’ or ‘delayed’).

  • ako

    Ecks, “special” as an insult dates back to at least the early nineties. I was in middle school at the time. I remember.
    hapax, I’m going try to answer this charitably, but also honestly. I can see how someone who holds the philosophy you describe might call themselves ‘pro-life’, and if I understand that they’re using it that way, I’ll keep it in mind. But, at the most, it’s a variant usage from what I consider the main meaning, which is the one I see used most often; seeking to make abortion illegal. Which, as the study Ecks found shows, has the practical effect of not saving any fetuses, and increases the chance of danger or death. I’m willing to grant that a lot of well-intentioned people can be sincerely mistaken without being stupid (especially since the most conclusive evidence is fairly recent). But the primary meaning evoked by pro-life for me is, and barring a substantial change in common usage will continue to be, people seeking to legally compel a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, a policy which doesn’t save or protect lives.
    It’s like (to pick a trivial, but hopefully non-inflammatory example), the transatlantic divide over what the word ‘pants’ actually means. The meaning you most commonly encounter is the meaning that seems real. And if you’re in an environment where the alternate meaning is rare, at best, you’re going to keep using words in the way most of the people you deal with understand them. And understanding words in the way most of the people you deal with use them (with a possible mental space cordoned off for ‘those particular people are trying to say something else with the same word’). I’d be willing to shift usage if the prevailing standard shifted, but I don’t know how to alter it, and in this case, I don’t have much desire or interest.

  • hapax

    hapax, I’m going try to answer this charitably, but also honestly. [snip]
    I’d be willing to shift usage if the prevailing standard shifted, but I don’t know how to alter it, and in this case, I don’t have much desire or interest.

    ako, I thank you for both the charity and the honesty. I understand exactly what you are trying to say, which is why I (reluctantly) backed off the term in this venue. It’s not that I was unaware of the other meaning of the label– I do watch television occasionally — but I was truly shocked to see that in a circle with such a varied membership, the meaning that I understood as primary was very much a minority view that needed exhaustive explanation.
    I just am not very happy about it, and was hoping for a bone… :-(

  • aunursa

    I am Question Mark Montoya! You used too many of me in a row! Prepare to be punctuated!
    My keyboard is grateful that I wasn’t drinking while I read this line.

  • Ecks

    In the spirit of closure (for today’s episode) of the eternal debate, I humbly submit, for the pleasure of the gathered slacktivites, my latest discovery. You’ll all be relieved to hear it has nothing to do with statistics of science.
    Presenting the most awesomely awesome web comic I’ve seen in years, one unlike any of the others, rice boy.

  • Ecks

    statistics OR science. Gak.

  • http://www.TheGoldenDance.com Michele

    Ecks: Michelle
    Well, first of all it’s Michèle not “Michelle” – I’m ok if you forget or can’t do the è but please spell it with one L. It’s not the Anglo-Saxon bastardization of the French name, ok? :-)

  • Ecks

    All due apologies Michèle. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been at war with the english language over exactly which letters get doubled up and which don’t. My brain is made from a special type of glue that doesn’t hold this type of information very well (et mon francias, c’est pire). But for a name as cool as yours je vais essayer plus fort. Bien?
    (everyone else, English bastardizations are coming your way. You’re on notice!) ;P

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax: I just am not very happy about it, and was hoping for a bone… :-(
    I’m vegetarian, sorry. Nut-free cookie?
    It is now Left Behind Friday, so Flame War Thursday is over. But I had been saving that Mabus-directed rant up since the previous Left Behind Friday.

  • Ecks

    (everyone else, English bastardizations are coming your way. You’re on notice!
    BTW, that means you Jessylack, Dwayne, Seejay Emar, hapacks, john, and Harry Fennring :P

  • cjmr

    Shouldn’t that be ‘haypacks’?
    *ducks*

  • Jeff

    It is now Left Behind Friday, so Flame War Thursday is over.
    Pretty weak FWT if you ask me. We got most of the flames doused by Tuesday, so it was more of a Bake-Off Thursday this week.
    I missed posing my “Linda McCarthy or Yoko Ono: Which “killed” the Beatles more?” question. That would have ignited a MAJOR Flame War!

  • Ecks

    Shouldn’t that be ‘haypacks’?
    Depends largely on your accent. To me it would be “ha!-packs”
    Jeff, it was my fault, I brought up the abortion thing then. It’s all about timing. Keep your ammo dry for the Beatles one.

  • http://www.TheGoldenDance.com Michele

    Ecks: But for a name as cool as yours je vais essayer plus fort. Bien?
    Trés bien, monsieur! :-)

  • Ken

    Ever since I was a kid I’ve been at war with the english language over exactly which letters get doubled up and which don’t. — Ecks
    Anything like whether you spell “travel(l)er” with one “l” or two? Personally, I spell it with two, but I have my reasons. (And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Joss Whedon and Browncoats also spell it with two, for much the same reason…)

  • Wretched Sinner

    How are they asserting that their “proofs” are real-world proofs and not merely in-story? Is there some sort of footnote commentary? You keep saying this but don’t give any explanation of the form it takes. Everything you describe is within the fiction itself. Have they tried to produce their book as evidence in some kind of TV interview? I’m confused.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X