L.B.: The Pope of Mount Prospect

Left Behind, pp. 421

After the Steeles meet with the Rev. Bruce Barnes, it’s Buck Williams’ turn:

Two hours after the Steeles had left, Buck Williams parked his rental car in front of New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois.

The real Mount Prospect is home to more than a dozen churches. I can’t help but wonder if they also exist in the fictional world of Left Behind and, if so, what’s going on at their buildings while Bruce stays up late at New Hope trying to design a cool logo for the Tribulation Force.

Were the parishioners or members or attendees of those other churches — the Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians and Catholics — among the disappeared? If so, have they also, like New Hope, begun to gather small cadres of those who realize what happened and what they missed?

The gist of LB thus far suggests that all of those mainline Protestants and Catholics would not make the cut come Rapture time. They might call themselves Christians, but they’re not Real True Christians according to Tim LaHaye’s idea of God’s standards (which is to say, Tim LaHaye’s standards — he seems to think that on the day of judgment God will hire him as a consultant to separate the wheat from the tares). But even so, non-RTCs still have children. Or had children. The disintegration of every single child of every single family at all of those churches would lead to crowded sanctuaries filled with grieving, traumatized parents seeking answers.

Pastors like the now-departed Vernon Billings tend to stick to themselves. They don’t associate or cooperate much with other clergy in their communities. They don’t get involved with ministerial councils or interdenominational efforts. The stated reason for this is usually that light should have no fellowship with darkness, by which they mean that they would consider it a sin to associate with people like that liberal Methodist pastor who got arrested at that protest last year, or that woman from the Episcopal church who calls herself a priest, or that “welcoming and affirming” [epithet] from the local UCC church who wears a rainbow prayer stole.

Plus when the rabbi shows up at those interfaith meetings, they ask you not to mention Jesus when you pray, and you know the spell doesn’t work if you don’t say “in Jesus name.”

Working with other churches is perilously ecumenical. Ecumenism — cooperation among disparate Christian churches in recognition of our underlying unity — is not considered a Good Thing by people like Billings, or Lahaye and Jenkins. Even the most harmless-seeming forms of cooperation, such as taking turns providing shelter through a local interfaith hospitality network or some such, are too dangerous. It’s a slippery slope from there to syncretism, the collapse of absolute standards, moral relativism, one world religion, One World Government, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria.

The Ghostbusters quote at the end there is hyperbole. The rest of that isn’t. This is exactly what they believe. What they will tell you they believe. What they teach. Left Behind teaches this explicitly. Readers are intended to see the slippery slope between a metropolitan ministerial council and Carpathia’s “Enigma Babylon One World Faith.” This is meant as a warning.

This objection to interdenominational and interfaith cooperation was much-discussed in evangelical circles following 9/11. The scale and impact of that tragedy was such that a few RTC pastors for once set aside that objection, participating in some of the various memorial vigils and prayer services. That participation was a source of “controversy” and recrimination for months afterward. (That same kind of controversy never seems to follow, however, when the interfaith activity in question is a vigil for Terri Schiavo or an anti-abortion rally. That’s interesting.)

The willingness to interact or associate with clergy from other denominations or faiths used to be one of the markers for differentiating between fundamentalists and evangelicals. Evangelicals rallied behind Billy Graham as he effectively worked with local churches from every denomination (even papists!) to help coordinate his mass-evangelism “crusades.” Graham’s mega-church heirs — people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren — have taken a similar approach. I may not like everything Warren says, but I appreciate that he’s willing to work with clergy of other denominations and even other faiths. This new generation of leaders, like Graham, insist that such cooperation is possible without compromising one’s own identity. Their critics disagree, vehemently. And those critics are no longer found only in the fundamentalist/separatist wings of the subculture.

The fundies’ white-knuckled anxiety — their barely repressed doubts and their fear that their faith may be a house of cards that would crumble if exposed to the wider world — seems to be spreading to other branches of the evangelical movement. That’s the predictable result of adding weird mythologies to one’s faith. The fundies convinced themselves that if the world is any older than 10,000 years then Jesus doesn’t love them. Thus they have to avoid all exposure to science. Evangelicals are trying to convince themselves that homosexuality is a choice and that the invasion of Iraq was God’s Will. Like the fundies, they have welded these ideas to the bearing walls of their faith, so that if they are not true, then nothing is true. They thus find themselves, like the fundies, having to avoid exposure to an awful lot of the real world around them.

There’s one other reason that I think people like the Rev. Billings oppose interdenominational cooperation. It has to do with power and influence. Evangelical polity — the structure of this unstructured, nondenominational movement — is roughly feudal, like a collection of competing fiefdoms. It’s very important to a guy like the Rev. Vernon Billings that he be the biggest fish in the pond. Acknowledging that his is not the only pond, and that it is far from the largest, threatens his sense of authority. Once you recognize the legitimacy, or even the existence, of all those other churches in town then it’s much harder to maintain the illusion that you’re the Pope of Mount Prospect.

Getting back to those other churches in town, if we accept the world of Left Behind as the authors have sketched it out for us, then we have to assume that most of the adults from those other congregations were not RTCs and so were not among the disappeared. Bruce Barnes was until very recently a faux-Christian himself, but he seems to view the clergy and laity of these other churches as an even more reprobate species of fraud. It thus never occurs to him to speak to them about what he knows or to attempt to recruit them to his cause.

But while it’s not surprising that he doesn’t reach out to them, it’s strange that none of them are reaching out too him. Those other clergy may not believe the premillennial dispensationalist heresies that Billings taught, but they would all be familiar enough with the substance of them to recognize what they were seeing. They would realize by now what was happening — realize that they, like all the church fathers and theologians they had ever studied, were wrong and that Billings and Hal Lindsay and (especially) Cassandra LaHaye were right. And despite their being overwhelmed with their duties chaplaining the traumatized community, those other clergy would all be getting in touch with Bruce Barnes.

That doesn’t happen here. It doesn’t happen for the same reason that Bruce has no problem renting a car or driving 20 miles out I-90 to Mount Prospect despite all the chaos and debris that should be but isn’t affecting anyone, anywhere in this book a mere 10 days after The Event.

And but so anyway, Buck pulls up to the church:

He had a sense of destiny tinged with fear. Who would this Bruce Barnes be? What would he look like? And would be be able to detect a non-Christian at a glance?

The authors apparently imagine that his is a common question unbelievers have about RTC clergy: Does their non-Christian detection power work at a single glance, or does it require physical contact?

I can’t figure out why anyone would ever think this. Nor can I figure out why the authors would think that anyone would ever think this. It’s not just wrong, it’s bewilderingly wrong.

And anyway why should Buck care? He’s not trying to pass himself off as a Christian, so he shouldn’t be worrying that Bruce’s spiritual gaydar will penetrate his cunning disguise.

Buck sat in the car, his head in his hands. He was too analytical, he knew, to make a rash decision. Even his leaving home years before to pursue an education and become a journalist had been plotted for years. To his family it came like a thunderbolt, but to young Cameron Williams it was a logical next step, a part of his long-range plan.

What family wouldn’t be thunderstruck? Buck finishes high school and then astonishes them all by announcing that he’s going away to college to pursue a career. It’s so utterly unprecedented.

We’re constantly being told that Buck is methodical and analytical (always a bad trait in LB), but we never see this. It seems that by “analytical” in this case the authors mean his stubborn refusal to accept the undeniable implications of explicit divine intervention. That actually seems like the opposite of analytical.

We’ve also seen that not only is Buck capable of making a “rash decision,” he has a propensity for it. He flew to England to expose an international conspiracy, but less than 24 hours later he was cutting a deal with them and helping them to cover their tracks. He met Chloe yesterday, fell in love at first sight and impulsively booked the seat next to her on a flight to Chicago.

Again, this could have worked in a different novel where this was an intentional device — the self-deceived voice of an unreliable narrator rather than the voice of one writer’s Mary Sue substitute. But here the chasm between Buck’s concept of himself and his actual character and behavior escape not just his notice, but the authors’ as well. They don’t perceive any such gap, and even if they did they seem to think that their assertions trump the actions they describe. We’ve never seen Buck think “analytically” and we have seen him, time and again, make rash decisions, but when the authors contradict this — “He was too analytical … to make a rash decision” — that’s supposed to settle the matter.

This is Bad Writing, but it’s not wholly unrelated to the authors’ Bad Theology. The same gap between what they tell and what they show, between asserted character and actual character, can be seen wherever the novel touches on the nature of God. They tell us that the God they believe in is good, just and loving. But the God they show us is a bloodthirsty, capricious, evil monstrosity.

That’s partly the result of Bad Writing, too, but more than that it seems to be Bad Writing by Bad People. The character of God in LB is, like Buck and Rayford, another Mary-Sue wish-fulfillment surrogate for the authors. They have recreated God in their own image. And that image isn’t pretty.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RajExplorer/ Raj

    hagsrus: My bad; I misspelled the word. The correct spelling is “epistEmophobic”, not “epistOmophobic”. It means fear of knowledge.
    BTW, I wasn’t trying to put down those who have little or no *knowledge* of scientific astronomy; the disdain I expressed in my post was directed against those who mistakenly think that *gaining* too much o’ that there book larnin and fancy cipherin’ can blunt one’s aesthetic sensibilities. I consider it safe to assume that someone who would speak of being sickened by an astronomy lecture would, indeed, fall into this category (unless he specifies that he wasn’t sickened by the lecture but by some external factor, such as the poor ventilation of the lecture hall).
    Bugmaster: My impression of Sarah Williams’s astronomer is that this is an aging scientist whose work has never been taken seriously, for some reason, by his peers, so he is grooming a protege who will someday make this work known to the world. I wouldn’t bet my worldly possessions on this interpretation, but I think I’m on target.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RajExplorer/ Raj

    Uh, Jesu? hagsrus? damnedyankee? Praline? Anyone…? Oh, I see! They’re all on “More Boxes”! *WHEW!* I thought I missed The R- I mean, I thought I had been left – well, never mind!

  • Jeff

    My impression of Sarah Williams’s astronomer is that this is an aging scientist whose work has never been taken seriously, for some reason, by his peers, so he is grooming a protege who will someday make this work known to the world.
    That’s my take as well, except that he’s also telling the protege not to get upset if the younger man’s work is mocked or ignored.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RajExplorer/ Raj

    Good point, Jeff.

  • Lurker

    I think that the different Star Trek series mirror this world of ours pretty well. If you cut out the bad communication, which makes the captains about as independent as the frigate captains of Nelson’s era, the problems mirror the US foreign policy concerns.
    In the original series, the Enterprise is constantly “exploring” the space between the Klingons and the Federation. It comes occasionally down to exchanging broadsides, but basically, any military actions must be kept rather quiet, lest the fragile peace between Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets shatter into an all-out war. You might think your looking at an American frigate patrolling somewhere on the coasts of South Asia or Africa.
    In TNG, the Klingon Empire is weakened, no longer implacable enemy. Actually, a lot of plot lines deal in preventing the whole Klingon Empire from falling down completely. Then, the DS9 takes you right into a nation-building effort. I somehow think about the Bosnia and Kosovo missions of NATO, especially as the Bajoran clergy somewhat brings the Orthodox Christianity to my mind. (Cardassians, especially their intelligence service, are so reminiscent of Russians that it’s funny.) It is only later that the Dominion War becomes an issue, taking the focus off the dull, oppressive problems of a developing, war-torn small country.

  • damnedyankee

    Uh, Jesu? hagsrus? damnedyankee? Praline? Anyone…? Oh, I see! They’re all on “More Boxes”! *WHEW!* I thought I missed The R- I mean, I thought I had been left – well, never mind!

    Actually, I’m not, that I recall. I’ve found that when a thread degenerates into “what Jesu REALLY believes is-” then it’s time to either go back to a previous thread or wait for the next one.
    In a way, it’s kind of funny, because it implies that Jesu is somehow evasive or hesitant to tell us what she thinks on a given subject.

  • http://jesurgislac.insanejournal.com Jesurgislac

    In a way, it’s kind of funny, because it implies that Jesu is somehow evasive or hesitant to tell us what she thinks on a given subject.
    I’m such a shy, delicate, retiring little flower, and Bugmaster and Jeff are being very nice to take so much trouble to draw me out of my concealing petals and explain to others what my tiny flowery squeaks actually mean.
    Hello! I am Marigold Montoya! You fertilised my garden! Prepare to compost!

  • damnedyankee

    I’m such a shy, delicate, retiring little flower, and Bugmaster and Jeff are being very nice to take so much trouble to draw me out of my concealing petals and explain to others what my tiny flowery squeaks actually mean.

    Je Surgis Lilac?

  • http://jesurgislac.insanejournal.com Je Surgis Lilac

    I love it!

  • daffodilledyankee

    Heck, why not? It’s spring, after all…

  • Bugmaster

    @Raj:
    Sorry about missing your post. I think you’re right, especially in light of the full text of the poem. These lines are especially heartwarming, or, perhaps, heartbreaking:

    So be careful and be faithful, though, like me, you leave no name;
    See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.

  • hagsrus

    “Je Surgis Lilac?”
    On May 25th, perhaps?
    (Were you there?)

  • Wesley Parish

    Are there modern religions and modern believers who believe in non-immortal souls?

    I read somewhere – I wish I could remember just where – that Buddhism in its most original forms believed that the soul was composed of various interacting components that at the time of death could just as often as not, split up into fragments and thus re-incarnation might involve several fragments of any number of different souls.
    For what it’s worth, most neuroscientists have come to a similar conclusion about the brain’s organization – that it is organized for parts to act autonomously on matters where they are specialized. In case you doubt me, read Springer and Deutsch’s Left Brain Right Brain, in particular the case of the people with their corpus callosum severed.
    And Marvin Minsky’s argued that that is indeed how the brain’s organized, and that therefore Artificial Intelligence must therefore be organized in a similar manner.
    The Buddhist idea is therefore not an “immortal soul” as such, since the soul it is dealing with is too fragile to exist as a unitary whole outside the body. It would cast the Christian resurrection in a whole new light too, if it somehow infiltrated Christian theology.

  • Ursula L

    It’s far more common for them to say, “I’m not homophobic, I just miss the good old days when gays kept their sexual orientations private.”
    The problem with this is that, while it condemns homophobia on the surface, it embraces the effects of homophobia. The “privacy” of staying in the closet was enforced through violence and discrimination. Without the threats, there is no reason to be any more private about one’s sex life than the typical heterosexual – people who publicly recognize their partners, court in public, and enjoy limited displays of affection in public.
    All this position says is that, while they’d rather that there not be violence, they want the oppressed group to continue to live as if they were in fear of the violence.
    It is the same fear and hatred of homosexuals, but with a distaste for direct forms of violence – preferring to have the same homophobic society through more subtly coercive means.

  • http://cityofbrass.blogspot.com Aziz Poonawalla

    I am a Mount Prospect native. Until this LB stuff, our claim to fame was mention in The Blues Brothers – the Bluesmobile was actually a modified Mount prospect police cruiser.
    ok, I got nothing of value to add t the discussion but durn it if I am gonna let the name of Mount prospect be sullied in this manner!

  • Tonio

    All this position says is that, while they’d rather that there not be violence, they want the oppressed group to continue to live as if they were in fear of the violence.
    I doubt that such homophobes even realize that the closet involves fear of violence. I doubt that their conscious motivations on the issue go any further than their own discomfort or distate with homosexuality, or their desire to protect their children from being exposed to it. In all likelihood, they really believe that the closet is intended to protect community sensibilities. That certainly doesn’t excuse their moral blindness – their rationalizations end up enabling the violence and discrimination, because those methods are the only way of perpetuating the closet.

  • Ken

    Similarly, ‘analytical’ is a word you’d expect to be appropriate an intelligent journalist. However, analytical thinking leads to questioning God’s Plan, and what’s really called for is blind faith. — Praline
    So said Mohammad abu-Hamid al-Ghazali in his Incoherence of the Philosophers some 800 years ago, that Reason and Thinking were enemies of FAITH! and that FAITH! Must Prevail. (Just the opposite conclusion reached by St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica when confronted by the same problem — does Reason and Philosophy destroy Faith in God?) Al-Ghazali’s influence on Islamic theology locked Islam’s mainstream into Total Blind Faith, which in turn led to stagnation, which led to the reality-is-no-object fanaticism now exploding in Palestine and the caves of al-Qaeda.
    “Faith” in opposition to “thinking”; “The wisdom of God” as separate from and opposing “human wisdom” instead of being a superset of unseen Reality; Faith (TM) as Denial of Observable Reality instead of the Substance of Things Hoped For; God not bound by His own nature; Aslan not having to play by His own rules…
    Trust me, you DON’T want to go down that road. Al-Ghazali sent Islamic theology down that road 800 years ago, and look at the results today.
    But, if they don’t think about the word too hard, that doesn’t matter. — Praline
    The Moonies called that a “Thought-Stopper”; when you are confronted by something that causes you to think instead of BE-LEEEEVE!, recite the Thought-Stopper mantra (usually some sort of praise-phrase) until the Heretical Thought goes away. Problem solved; FAITH! preserved. (Whether the mantra used is “Praise the LORD!”, “Al’lah’u Akbar!”, or chapter/verse/sura/proof-text(s) of choice; any memorized/rewordgitated sacred verse or phrase can be put to this use.)

  • Ken

    In the original series, the Enterprise is constantly “exploring” the space between the Klingons and the Federation. It comes occasionally down to exchanging broadsides, but basically, any military actions must be kept rather quiet, lest the fragile peace between Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets shatter into an all-out war. — Lurker
    i.e. The Cold War; avoiding direct confrontation after the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Which WAS in recent memory when “Old Testament Trek” came out.)
    In TNG, the Klingon Empire is weakened, no longer implacable enemy. Actually, a lot of plot lines deal in preventing the whole Klingon Empire from falling down completely. — Lurker
    i.e. The Second Russian Revolution and its aftermath; “Gorbachev’s Fire Sale”.
    Then, the DS9 takes you right into a nation-building effort. I somehow think about the Bosnia and Kosovo missions of NATO, especially as the Bajoran clergy somewhat brings the Orthodox Christianity to my mind. (Cardassians, especially their intelligence service, are so reminiscent of Russians that it’s funny.) — Lurker
    i.e. The breakup of Yugoslavia, the resulting low-grade Nth Balkans War, and the miscellaneous aftershocks of the end of the Cold War.
    It is only later that the Dominion War becomes an issue, taking the focus off the dull, oppressive problems of a developing, war-torn small country. — Lurker
    i.e. The First Gulf War as focus (and fighting) shifts from the remaining Cold War alignments to the Third World and the Middle East. Seventy years of WW1/WW2/Cold War-frozen situations in the Islamic and Third World SNAP! in a new political/religious earthquake building up to 9/11, Iraq, and a possible series of future Islamic Wars.
    They say you can tell what Big Worries a society/time/place has by reading their dystopian fiction. Apparently you can also tell current situations and worries from their speculative fiction situations in fictional countries/worlds…

  • http://liberalhyperbole.blogspot.com/ Randy Owens

    Jon R: I’ve always favored the interpretation that God put us here and has had a relatively hands-off policy (as opposed to the angels, who are in his presence all the time) because this life is meant to teach us how to be people. I think God wanted people to talk with and so on, but just making immortal beings like the angels doesn’t work too well, because too much awareness of Him at an early age stunts the development of an intelligent being. So in the context of our existence as immortal beings, this life is much-needed preparation for our true purpose.

    That would be another argument that does in that whole omnipotence thingy, if He can’t get His angels quite right the first time.

  • Anonymous

    the brain-eating encephalophagic worms, the prion K-J bugs, and such–that you can get from a nice rare steak

    Just wanted to mention that Creutzfeldt-Jakob has only been around for about 50 years, so wouldn’t have been a concern for any Mesopotamians, even if they could have somehow worked out its cause. And prions aren’t bugs. And my, isn’t the word “irregardless” a terrible misuse of grammar. And the kids play music too loud these days. Ok, I’m humbugged out.

  • The Amazing Kim

    the brain-eating encephalophagic worms, the prion K-J bugs, and such–that you can get from a nice rare steak

    Just wanted to mention that Creutzfeldt-Jakob has only been around for about 50 years, so wouldn’t have been a concern for any Mesopotamians, even if they could have somehow worked out its cause. And prions aren’t bugs. And my, isn’t the word “irregardless” a terrible misuse of grammar. And the kids play music too loud these days. Ok, I’m humbugged out.
    Since when did slacktivist have pages of comments?

  • Rosina

    Since Fred left us on our own. Abandoned us to the evil of TypePad, which has inflicted us with pagination and boils!

  • Ursula L

    Eek! Could the Rapture (sans children) have happened, and Fred is the only real Christian?

  • Technomad

    So Tim LaHaye is Presiding Judge over All Humanity?
    It’s up to him to decide who’s worthy and who’s not?
    I hadn’t even known that Harlan Ellison had retired!
    *rimshot*

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1149750585 Monica Swanson

    Well, you see, interfaith worship is the sin of “unionism.” I don’t believe it’s ever mentioned by name in the Bible, but Christians should “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” And if you don’t, well, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” If you believe one piece of false doctrine, pretty soon you lose your faith entirely. So then all those people who claim to be Christians but disagree on the interpretation of a few passages must be hypocrites. Obviously. 


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