L.B.: Back to school

Left Behind, pp. 442-443

Chloe Steele told her father of her plans to finally look into local college classes that Monday.

That makes sense, right? Chloe was just beginning the winter quarter of her freshman year at Stanford when her studies were interrupted by a loss in her family. She returned home to be with her father but now, after two weeks of sitting around at home, she’s looking into resuming her studies closer to home. Makes perfect sense.

Or, rather, it would make perfect sense in a completely different novel — one where the Steeles’ family trauma was an isolated event and not part of a global apocalypse, a world-altering trauma heralding the end of the world. Here in Left Behind, the idea that Chloe would begin resuming classes — or that there would even be classes for her to resume — doesn’t make any sense at all.

Part of the reason that she can’t just pick up where she left off after her mother’s funeral is that there was no funeral. Not for Irene, not for Rayford Jr., not for any of the 2 billion or so people all over the world who are now gone.

LaHaye and Jenkins could not allow funerals in this book. For them, everything depends on their ability to maintain an artificial distinction between “raptured” and “dead.” This isn’t just the alleged premise for this book, it’s the linchpin for their entire End Times check list and the thing that reshapes every aspect of their theology — not just eschatology but soteriology, ecclesiology, theodicy, the whole shebang. If they’d allowed funerals in Left Behind, then this artificial distinction would’ve been impossible to sustain and the wheels would have flown off their entire belief system.

In the early pages of the book, Rayford recalls his wife’s cheerful description of this indistinct distinction:

“Can you imagine, Rafe,” she exulted, “Jesus coming back to get us before we die?”

Her tone would have been a bit less exultant if she had avoided the euphemistic dodge of the “rapture”: “Can you imagine, Rafe, Jesus coming back to grant us an instantaneous and painless death?”

But the latter is just as accurate as the former. Irene and every other real, true Christian and Raymie and every other innocent child on the planet have passed on. They are no more. They have ceased to be, gone to meet their maker. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. The plumage don’t enter into it.

This transition from earth to heaven, from life to afterlife, is in every way indistinguishable from the inevitable form that this transition usually takes. We have a word for that experience. It’s called “dying.” Irene Steele went to bed, fell asleep and died. Saying that she was raptured does not, in any meaningful way, change the experience for her. Her experience of this event would’ve been no different had there been a carbon monoxide leak, or a gas leak and explosion, or a Donnie Darko-style jet engine through the roof. And the experience for those she left behind — for her surviving husband and daughter — isn’t different in any meaningful way either.

The majority of the 2 billion or so “raptured” at the start of this book are children, those L&J believe are below some blurry “age of accountability” and who therefore would be regarded as innocents. (In interviews outside of the book L&J seem to underestimate the proportion of the earth’s populace that falls into this age range. They seem to have assumed that developing countries would have the same basic ratio of old and young as we have here in the U.S.) These innocent children are included in the rapture, L&J say, because God is merciful, sparing them the suffering of the coming Great Tribulation.*

Viewing the rapture of these children as an act of divine mercy is entirely dependent on the dubious distinction between raptured and dead. As long as we think of it as a worldwide “snatching away,” and not as a worldwide slaughter, then we can pretend that what has happened to all those children is somehow merciful. But that requires us to avoid anything that would allow or cause us to think more deeply about whether these things really are any different. Such deeper thoughts cast a disturbing light on Irene’s exultant longing for the coming rapture — and on the longing of her real-world counterparts (look again at that John Hagee sermon we looked at last week).

“To live is Christ, to die is gain,” St. Paul wrote, but this longing for and celebration of a global rapture seems to have less to do with that than with something more like Jonestown, or Heaven’s Gate, or the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.

Hence no funerals in Left Behind. Better to describe an impossible world in which humans do not act like humans — in which the universal human need to grieve and to ritualize mourning does not exist — than to allow readers to reflect on the similarities between the indistinguishable statements “Irene was raptured” and “Irene was dead.” Elephants mourn their dead. The alleged humans in Left Behind do not.

But even in the impossible, inhuman, no-funerals-allowed world of this book it seems unlikely that local colleges would or could so soon be resuming their normal routine.

A mere two weeks after The Event, these schools would still be struggling to figure out which of their students and faculty members were among the disappeared. I realize that L&J view intellectual, academic types as inherently ungodly, but surely some of them would have been taken, and surely some would have been killed in the hundreds of plane crashes and thousands of highway disasters that occurred the night of The Event. And even if those who remained/survived aren’t allowed to conduct funerals or memorial services, they would all, like Chloe, have been touched in some way by the disappearances and the concurrent carnage.

Consider also how The Event would forever alter most of the various academic disciplines. Physics and chemistry professors couldn’t very well continue teaching their students about the Conservation of Matter, what with 50 million or so tons of the stuff having just vanished from the universe. Professors teaching early childhood education or obstetrics probably wouldn’t see much sense in continuing with business as usual either. Those professors of religion and philosophy who remained would, of course, all be busy berating themselves because they were wrong, wrong, wrong not to have listened to Tim LaHaye.

It’s hard to imagine a course of study that wouldn’t have been shattered and turned upside down by The Event. But even if we assume that Chloe is studying subjects that might seem unaffected — say, I don’t know, Renaissance poetry — it seems impossible that classes could just go on as before without the professor breaking down, sobbing, mid-lecture. “Today we’re going to turn again to Petrarch’s sonnets, and … and … and …” (curls into fetal ball behind the podium) “My daughter. My beautiful daughter is gone and no one can tell me what has happened to her … et le piaghe che ‘nfin al cor mi vanno …”

Then there’s the question of where Chloe might be studying, of which local college she would be enrolling in.

This is trickier than it might seem. She’s a convert now, a member of New Hope Village Church’s prophecy-addled variant of the evangelical subculture. As such, somewhere like Northwestern or the University of Chicago just won’t do. But if such hotbeds of secular humanism would no longer be an option for Chloe neither would she have any remaining religious options of the sort viewed as acceptable by her newly adopted subculture. Pre-Event she’d have had multiple options within commuting distance — Wheaton College, Trinity Christian College, Judson University, even Christian Life College right there in town. But post-Event those campuses would be all-but deserted.** If the Christian alternatives are now closed and the secular schools are now unacceptable to her — devoid even of the shelter of a Campus Crusade chapter, like Sodom without even 10 righteous to be found — then where exactly is Chloe supposed to go?

Then again, the above difficulties all seem secondary to the larger question of why Chloe would even bother with college. The world is going to end in six years and 352 days. Spending three and a half of those years working toward her B.A. might not seem like a big priority at this point — even if she thinks that she’d be able to finish in that amount of time without things like Wormwood poisoning the seas or an army of monstrous dragon-locusts interrupting her studies. (On the other hand, it would be pretty sweet to take out all those college loans knowing that you’d never have to pay them back.)

Alas, all of this discussion about Chloe’s college plans turns out to be, well, academic. She soon ends up married to Buck and thus, in the authors’ view, no longer needs to worry her pretty little head about getting an education.

“And I was thinking,” she said, “about trying to get together with Hattie for lunch.”

“I thought you didn’t care for her,” Rayford said.

“I don’t, but that’s no excuse. She doesn’t even know what’s happened to me. She’s not answering her phone. Any idea what her schedule is?”

I appreciate the distinction Chloe makes there — the obligation to care about people even if you don’t care for them. That’s a rare thing here in Left Behind. Note the contrast here between Chloe’s willingness to go out of her way to meet with someone she doesn’t really like and Buck’s unwillingness, a few pages ago, to answer the direct questions of a friendly stranger. Even post-conversion Stepford Chloe seems like she could do better than Buck.

Her dad calls the airline to find out Hattie’s schedule:

Rayford was told that not only was Hattie not scheduled that day but also that she had requested a 30-day leave of absence. “That’s odd,” he told Chloe. “Maybe she’s got family troubles out West.”

Not that he’s going to bother checking in with her to find out if everything’s OK. Rayford doesn’t care for or about Hattie. He assuaged his guilt over their pseudo-affair by forcing her to sit silently through his gospel lecture, so as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t need to give her another thought. And anyway, he’s busy:

“I promised Bruce I’d come over and watch that Carpathia press conference later this morning.”

It might seem easy to mock Rayford and Bruce’s idea of a good time here, but I’d be eager to see that press conference too. There’s a chance, after all, that Nicolae could announce what the new One World Language was going to be, and if that didn’t turn out to be English I might need to re-enroll in college myself.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* This Great Tribulation, according to LaHaye and his prophecy-studies compatriots, is a calamitous time shaped by war, famine, disease and, stalking in the rear, gigantic, inevitable death within seven years. It’s worth noting that this is, right now, an apt description of what life is actually like for millions of children here in the real world. I would ask why God isn’t doing something to change that for these innocents but, as the saying goes, I’d be afraid that God would just ask me the same question.

** I’m picturing poor Mark Noll, shell-shocked and wandering through the empty halls of Wheaton’s campus, muttering to himself and ripping the pages one by one from Michael Williams’ This World Is Not My Home like Ophelia with her wildflowers.

  • cjmr

    *puts down in own notebook, “Remember that when Tonio leaves tags open, you need to use emphasis tags to close what looks like it needs italics tags”*

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    inge, “realistic” was a poorly-chosen word, and I do apologize for getting under your skin.
    I know that SF often needs to violate the laws of physics to be relevant and entertaining. And I’m usually fairly cool with that. For example, I don’t mind at all spaceships going “wooosh” on screen.
    But sometimes, I still twitch, like the “water” thing, or “let’s power the planet off human bioelectricity”, or “we can cure 1000 plague patients by spraying IV medications though the sprinkler system!” Doesn’t necessarily ruin it for me, but it can produce sighs and rolleyes :)

  • http://abelstales.blogspot.com damnedyankee

    [Yawn]
    Thanks for confirming my expectation.

    From the Book of Hicks, a lullaby for aunursa:

    “Go back to bed, America, your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on the living in the land of freedom. Here you go America – you are free to do what well tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!”

    Honestly, aunursa. They’re coming down against habeas corpus on the front page of every major newspaper in the country, and you honestly think nothing’s going on?

  • McJulie

    Anyone got any suggestions for increasing mental clarity?
    I’m a big fan of coffee and long walks.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    MichealBorg: Yes, I know. It wasn’t well justified. The ‘ice ships’ went out of business (according to the history) because the ships were more valuable to transport troops and war supplies. Planets on low-water worlds tended to be single industry/mining colonies; when the ice stopped coming they suffered severe shortages… which would explain a single planet war for water, but not a galactic wide one.
    I attended a talk by Micheal Stackpole (who wrote much of the fiction about the game) who stated that the weapons were given such short ranges so that hand to hand combat was a viable option, because 10 meter tall 100 ton robots punching it out was cool.
    I played a world war two naval minitures battle on the floor of a school gym about 20 years ago. I had command of a Atlanta class cruiser… I managed to hit the Yamato enough to irratate the ship’s captain enough to destroy me.
    Ah, memories. I still do naval minis, just not on gym floors.

  • jamoche

    inge: “Realism” in SF usually means “we change one thing and then play by the rules”. Not “we play by the rules all the way.” Because, why compete with realist literature on its home ground?
    A fair point, and just because I’m having trouble buying it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not entertained by it. Sometimes, though it’s a struggle, such as the “water conflicts” of V, Battletech, and the Voyager pilot. I kept wanting to yell, “You have space travel! There’s water everywhere! Not to mention hydrogen and oxygen everywhere else! Arrrrrgggggh!!”

    Visual SF is worse at this for a variety of reasons (time constraints, design by committee, hiring science advisors then ignoring them) so I cut them some slack – but not on basic logic. Voyager was a really egregious offender; how about the way that alien Kes is a member of a species where the women get pregnant exactly once in their lifetimes and – if the pregnancy even goes to term – give birth to a single child? Can we say population implosion?

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet.html J

    “…and those drippy pagan chicks who think they were really really burned at Salem in their past lives…”
    Guy born in Massachussetts butts in: One of the minimal things the Puritans have going for them is that they didn’t burn the witches. No witch has ever been burned in the Americas. Nope: They all got the rope.

  • hapax

    They all got the rope.
    Except the one guy who was pressed to death by stones under interrogation.
    Fun fact: If you were convicted and executed for witchcraft, your property is forfeit to the state. If you die under questioning, though, your estate remains to your heirs.
    Puts a whole new spin on the current rush to try and fry witchcraft, er, terrorism suspects in this country, doesn’t it?

  • Jenny Islander

    I liked the dopey 1950s B-movie setup of Signs because it made the point that if you were actually in one of those movies it would be something other than an adventure. It’s one of the reasons I hang out here and the main reason I enjoyed the (now sadly defunct) Sues of GAFF site, on which a former Disney in-betweener simply drew some of the more egregious original characters and canon character reworks found in fan fiction exactly as the author described them.
    Is there a technical name for enjoying the absurdity of an absurd premise that has horrific and/or hilarious implications the original author did not consider?

  • Anonymous

    Except the one guy who was pressed to death by stones under interrogation.

    “Enhanced interrogation”, circa 1692, author unknown:
    Giles Corey was a Wizzard strong,
    A stubborn wretch was he;
    And fitt was he to hang on high
    Upon the Locust-tree.
    So when before the magistrates
    For triall he did come,
    He would no true confession make,
    But was compleatlie dumbe.
    “Giles Corey,” said the Magistrate,
    “What hast thou heare to pleade
    To these that now accuse thy soule
    Of crimes and horrid deed?”
    Giles Corey he said not a worde
    No single worde spoke he.
    “Giles Corey,” saith the Magistrate,
    “We’ll press it out of thee.”
    They got them then a heavy beam,
    They laid it on his breast;
    They loaded it with heavy stones,
    And hard upon him prest.
    “More weight!” now said this wretched man;
    “More weight!”again he cried;
    And he did no confession make
    But wickedly he dyed.

  • http://abelstales.blogspot.com damnedyankee

    Ah, spit. 02:41 was me.

  • Jenny Islander

    Forgot to add: The most succinct illustration of this was painted by blogger Bellatrys. She takes a scene John Norman’s Gor series, which are full of meaty bits of insanity, and simply illustrates it exactly as described. The series is supposed to be filled with manly men doing manly things while womanly women adore–from the floor, on their bellies, as is proper.
    But the scene–a heartfelt manly reunion between the two absolutely-hetero-no-kidding-although-women-are-really-just-attractive-chattel manly-man heroes while the ingenue is somewhere else in the tent–turns out to be something else when you use the author’s exact character descriptions and setup. This link is sortakinda NSFW if you turn your head and squint.
    http://pics.livejournal.com/bellatrys/pic/0004s4tp
    Added WTFROFL sauce: The little redhead is the main character and the novel from which this scene comes is told from his viewpoint.

  • Jenny Islander

    Forgot to add: The most succinct illustration of this was painted by blogger Bellatrys. She takes a scene John Norman’s Gor series, which is full of meaty bits of insanity, and simply illustrates it exactly as described. The series is supposed to be filled with manly men doing manly things while womanly women adore–from the floor, on their bellies, as is proper.
    But the scene–a heartfelt manly reunion between the two absolutely-hetero-no-kidding-although-women-are-really-just-attractive-chattel manly-man heroes while the ingenue is somewhere else in the tent–turns out to be something else when you use the author’s exact character descriptions and setup. This link is sortakinda NSFW if you turn your head and squint.
    http://pics.livejournal.com/bellatrys/pic/0004s4tp
    Added WTFROFL sauce: The little redhead is the main character and the novel from which this scene comes is told from his viewpoint.

  • http://abelstales.blogspot.com damnedyankee

    Added WTFROFL sauce

    My favorite topping!
    We have people living the Gorean fantasy in Second Life. Even the furries avoid them. Except for the Gorean furries, of course, who carry around their own personal field of Just Not Right.

  • lonespark

    Oh, Giles Corey, I remember him from the funky scenes at the Salem Witch Museum. I was going to to say animatronics, but I think they were just mannequins, which were lit up and had tape-recorded voices.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    I read the first two Gor books when I was too young to know better. Years later, I attempted to read the third and couldn’t get past the 2nd (or 3rd) chapter. People Do Not Act Like That, Rape Is Not Love, etc.
    (My favoritest of all ‘fan’ fiction was the person who put Kwai Chang Caine’s twin sister on Gor… a female super blackbelt martial artist pacifist. On Gor. Every man who tried to touch her ended up wrapped around a tree. I’m not doing it justice. It was really funny.)

  • Cary Bleasdale

    “If the following question/comment reopens any old discussions from this forum, then I apologize in advance.”
    I just had a great idea for a movie:
    The Smart and the Slacktivist: Tokyo Thread Drift.
    MikhailBorg: “But sometimes, I still twitch, like the “water” thing, or “let’s power the planet off human bioelectricity”, or “we can cure 1000 plague patients by spraying IV medications though the sprinkler system!” Doesn’t necessarily ruin it for me, but it can produce sighs and rolleyes :)”
    Yes, yes and y–HEY! Wait a second! That’s how science works! The Doctor wouldn’t lie to me!
    At least its not as bad as what happens next: “We’ve cured them! WITH HUGS!”
    However, thats still one of my favorite episodes, if only for the scene where The Doctor is taken over by Cassandra- watching David Tennant play a girl is the single funniest that that has ever happened on that show.

  • http://abelstales.blogspot.com damnedyankee

    However, thats still one of my favorite episodes, if only for the scene where The Doctor is taken over by Cassandra- watching David Tennant play a girl is the single funniest that that has ever happened on that show.

    Yeah, it’s like he was suddenly possessed by Joan Rivers. Or maybe Leona Helmsley.

  • jamoche

    Houseplants of Gor
    Yes, I’ve read some of them. What can I say, it was 1977 and I was 12.

    “You do not dare to water me!” laughed the plant.
    “You will be watered,” said Borin.
    “Do not water me!” wept the plant.
    “You will be watered,” said Borin.
    I watched this exchange. Truly, I believed the plant would be watered. It was plant, and on Gor it had no rights. Perhaps on Earth, in its permissive society, which distorts the true roles of all beings, which forces both plant and waterer to go unhappy and constrained, which forbids the fulfillment of owner and houseplant, such might not happen. Perhaps there, it would not be watered. But it was on Gor now, and would undoubtedly feel its true place, that of houseplant. It was plant. It would be watered at will. Such is the way with plants.

  • Caravelle

    Mikhailborg : I know that SF often needs to violate the laws of physics to be relevant and entertaining. And I’m usually fairly cool with that. For example, I don’t mind at all spaceships going “wooosh” on screen.
    But sometimes, I still twitch, like the “water” thing, or “let’s power the planet off human bioelectricity”, or “we can cure 1000 plague patients by spraying IV medications though the sprinkler system!” Doesn’t necessarily ruin it for me, but it can produce sighs and rolleyes :)

    One thing that really annoys me is the opposite phenomenon, like when I was watching the Golden Compass with my cousins and at the end I pointed out how ridiculous it was to have Asriel in the Arctic, alone, with no gear whatsoever. How did he survive ? And my cousins just laughed and said “well, this is a movie with talking bears you know”.
    I usually take this as a sign that the person doesn’t Get SF/Fantasy.

  • lonespark

    One thing that really annoys me is the opposite phenomenon, like when I was watching the Golden Compass with my cousins and at the end I pointed out how ridiculous it was to have Asriel in the Arctic, alone, with no gear whatsoever. How did he survive ? And my cousins just laughed and said “well, this is a movie with talking bears you know”.
    I usually take this as a sign that the person doesn’t Get SF/Fantasy.

    Oooh, Caravelle, I feel you on that one. The point someone made about shortcuts in visual media can apply; you make emotional points about difficulty and heroism by stripping heroes down to nothing in an unforgiving landscape, even though they’d be instant toast (or popsicles). I think it’s also a function of the many people who appreciate sf films more for spectacle than plot, character, or consistent world-building. It sucks, though. Internal consistency and attention to detail can just make the spectacle richer.

  • pepperjackcandy

    The Smart and the Slacktivist: Tokyo Thread Drift.
    I’d watch it.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Hapax: “Just like the existence of acrophobia doesn’t disprove the reality of gravity, the existence of Conspiracy Theorists doesn’t mean that there really aren’t groups of powerful, ruthless people who act in concert to protect their power at the expense of everyone else.
    But I suspect they don’t habitually ride in black helicopters.”
    And I don’t think that they’re all shapeshifting lizard-people from the 5th dimension, either.
    10%, maybe 15%, tops. :)
    Semi-seriously, you might like reading Umberto Eco’s book, Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a really good book, all about conspiracy theories (and history, and why people believe in them), and it does to books like The DaVinci Code approximately what The Tick did to Ninjas.
    aunursa : “[Yawn]
    Thanks for confirming my expectation.”
    Oh, are you one of those crackpot “Coincidence Theorists” who thinks everything “just happens” without humans trying to influence it at all?
    fnord

  • Yeltar

    Jenny Islander asks: Is there a technical name for enjoying the absurdity of an absurd premise that has horrific and/or hilarious implications the original author did not consider?
    Of course there is! It’s called “Left Behind Fridays.”
    Eeeee, heeeee, heeeeee…….


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