L.B.: Freeze frame, roll credits

Left Behind, pp. 467-468

Buck Williams carefully plans the book’s final phone call:

Buck couldn’t wait to talk to his friends in Illinois, but he didn’t want to call from his office or his apartment, and he didn’t know for sure whether his cellular phone was safe. He packed his stuff and took a cab to the airport, asking the cabbie to stop at a pay phone a mile outside the terminal.

One last phone call, one last NY-to-Chicago flight. All he needs is one last multi-page bout of introspection in the men’s room and Buck’s end-of-the-book victory lap would be complete.

Buck’s precaution here about the phone lines is a prudent bit of paranoia, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that Nicolae tapping his phone lines might be the least of his worries. The newly appointed god-emperor of earth has just singled him out as the subject of mass-delusion and I can’t imagine how that could be a good thing.

This recalls Buck’s earlier stint as an innocent man on the run, traveling under a false name to elude the conspiracy led by Stonagal and T-C. That episode ended with him having his best friend* and closest colleague pick him up at the airport and then take him back to the office. He seemed to assume — correctly, as it turns out — that the nearly all-powerful conspiracy tracking him across three countries would not also be staking out his office or keeping an eye on his friends.

Now Buck worries that he may have run afoul of an even more powerful conspiracy, so he takes great pains to find a safe phone line on which to call his newest close friends and arrange to have them pick him up at the airport. If Cary Grant had been this clueless he wouldn’t have survived the first half-hour of North by Northwest.

Not getting an answer at the Steeles’, he dialed the church. Bruce answered and told him Chloe and Rayford were there. “Put them on speakerphone…”

Speakerphone! (Confetti and balloons drop from the ceiling, the band begins to play, etc.)

“Put them on speakerphone,” he said. “I’m taking the three o’clock American flight to O’Hare. But let me tell you this: Carpathia is your man, no question. He fills the bill to the last detail. I felt your prayers in the meeting. God protected me. I’m moving to Chicago, and I want to be a member of, what did you call it, Bruce?”

“The Tribulation Force?”

“That’s it!”

And who publishes that, again, Bruce? Tyndale? And will that be available soon at a bookstore near you?

“Does this mean –?” Chloe began.

“You know exactly what it means,” Buck said.

That Nicolae has brainwashed you into returning to Chicago as his spy, infiltrating the resistance as a mole in order to learn all of our secrets, foil our plans and eventually have us all killed?

Oh, or maybe you meant that other thing. …

“What happened, Buck?” Chloe asked.

“I’d rather tell you about it in person,” he said. “But have I got a story for you! And you’re the only people I know who are going to believe it.”

I’d have switched that around a bit and ended the book right there: “Have I got a story for you … but I’d rather tell you about it in person.”

That would be a nice note to end on, with telephone-addicted Buck Williams taking the first halting steps toward recovery, expressing for the first time in the entire book a preference for face-to-face communication without the telephone as a crutch. It would be almost uplifting.

Jenkins doesn’t leave it there, of course. The book has to close in prayer and he has to get everyone together for the team photo while he plugs the sequel for another three paragraphs. (Note: If as an author you’re finishing Book 1 in a series and you’re not yet convinced that readers will want and need to read Book 2 as soon as it comes out, then turning the final page of your novel into a sales pitch for the second book probably won’t help much.)

Here, then, are the appropriately awful concluding paragraphs of Left Behind:

When his plane finally touched down, Buck hurried up the jet way and through the gate where he was joyously greeted by Chloe, Bruce and Rayford Steele. They all embraced him, even the staid captain. As they huddled in a corner, Bruce prayed, thanking God for their new brother and for protecting him.

They moved through the terminal toward the parking garage, striding four abreast, arms around each other’s shoulders, knit with a common purpose. Rayford Steele, Chloe Steele, Buck Williams and Bruce Barnes faced the gravest dangers anyone could face, and they knew their mission.

The task of the Tribulation Force [Tyndale House, $19.95, 450 pages] was clear and their goal nothing less than to stand and fight the enemies of God during the seven most chaotic years the planet would ever see.

The inspiration for this scene seems to have been the freeze-frame endings of 1970s television. Our smiling heroes walk, four abreast, toward the camera and the picture freezes, just like the ending of every episode of CHiPs or The Love Boat. It’s easy to picture this scene playing out on such a TV show.

It’s not easy, however, to picture this scene playing out in a crowded terminal at O’Hare International Airport.

Just try walking this way with three friends — “striding four abreast, arms around each other’s shoulders.” It’s not easy. Or comfortable. It’s completely unnatural (unless you’re also singing “… people say we monkey arou-ound” while swinging your legs in choreographed unison). People don’t walk like this, especially not through crowded airport terminals and even more especially not if they’re part of a secret resistance cell group facing “the gravest dangers anyone could face.”

The idea of our heroes walking like this might sound semi-plausible at first, but once you try to picture it actually happening you find that it seems unreal and impossible. The more you try to flesh out how such a thing could really occur, the more convinced you become that it never could.

This brief chorus line stroll here on the final page of the book is only a trivial example, but larger examples of larger impossibilities can be found on every other page. This is, in fact, a major theme — perhaps the major theme — of Left Behind. The book is an unending series of events that it is impossible to imagine really occurring in the way they are described.

This brings us back to the failure of world-building we discussed last week. LaHaye and Jenkins almost never bother to tell us much of anything about the strange post-Event world in which their story takes place, and when they do provide details they turn out to be irreconcilable with details provided earlier. This lack of world-building in Left Behind is not an oversight, it’s a necessity. The authors are presenting an impossible story set in an impossible world. The more they tell us about that world, the less convincing their story becomes. But they couldn’t do more to describe such a world even if they wanted to because such an impossible place is indescribable, unimaginable.

I’m not merely suggesting that this story is outlandish or that it’s premise is audacious. I like outlandish and audacious stories. Tell me that the super-powered last son of Krypton has come to earth, or that vampires are real, or that a wardrobe can be a magical portal to a land of talking animals and I’ll gladly go along for the ride. Spin me a tale based on a time-traveling Gallifreyan, or a fleet of faster-than-light spaceships, or an alternate earth where 99 percent of the population is lycanthropic and I’ll be delighted. A square protagonist in a two-dimensional world populated by geographic geometric figures? Fine. Wonderful. Tell me more.

But such outlandish settings must be consistent. Storytellers can make up their own rules all they like but, having done so, they have to abide by them. Otherwise, it’s just nonsense.

And Left Behind, ultimately, is just nonsense. It makes up its own rules and then breaks them. And then it makes up more rules that require its other rules to be broken. Left Behind refutes itself.

The premise of the book is clear and clearly stated. The Rapture and all the other events foretold by premillennial dispensationalist “bible prophecy scholars” are all real and are all really going to happen. Soon. The book wants to show us the events of this cosmic drama acted out before our very eyes in a story that takes its plot from the authors’ End Times check list.

Yet the more we watch, the more we read, the less convinced we become that such a series of events could ever occur. Not because they’re too outlandish, but because they contradict and preclude one another. We cannot accept the authors’ assertion that A will be followed by B and then by C, because A renders B impossible and C could never take place in a world in which B had already happened.

This is the great and insurmountable failure of Left Behind. It set out to be a work of propaganda, a teaching tool meant to demonstrate — the authors would say to prove — that the events it describes could and indeed will really happen. Yet their attempt to present a narrative of such events instead demonstrates — I would say proves — that these events could not and indeed will not ever happen. It proves that the weird and contradictory events of their check list could never happen in a world anything like the world we live in, or in any other imaginable world. It proves that their supposed prophecies will never, and can never, be fulfilled.

Left Behind fails as a novel for many, many reasons, but all of its other faults — the odious lack of empathy it holds up as a moral example, its blasphemous celebration of self-centeredness masquerading as Christianity, its perverse misogyny, its plodding pace, its wooden dialogue, it fetishistic obsession with telephones, its nonexistent characterization, its use and misuse of cliches, its irrelevant tangents, deplorable politics, confused theology, unintentional hilarities, hideous sentences, contempt for craft, factual mistakes, continuity errors … its squandering of every interesting premise and its overwhelming, relentless and mind-numbing dullness — all of these seem to be failures of the sort that one might encounter in any other Very, Very Bad book hastily foisted off onto the public without a second glance.**

Any one of those faults, on its own, would have been enough to earn Left Behind a place on the Worst Books of 1995 list. The presence of all of those faults — in a single book and in such concentrated form — is more than enough to secure its place on a list of the Worst Books of All Time.

Yet the book’s signature failure is something far simpler. Left Behind disproves the very thing it sets out to prove. It presents an inadvertent but irrefutable case for the unreality and impossibility of all of the events that Tim LaHaye claims are prophesied to occur at any moment.

Those events are not about to occur. They never will occur. They never can occur. Don’t believe me? Go read Left Behind and see for yourself.

That signature failure, Left Behind’s forceful refutation of itself, is what earns this book my vote as the Worst Book of All Time.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Like Rayford, Buck seems constitutionally incapable of friendship, but Steve was as close to a friend as he had. Steve has always looked out for him, shepherding his career and securing his recent promotion. He was somebody Buck relied on for rides to and from the airport, and when the Event went down and everyone else was desperate to call their families, Buck McGyvered an airplane phone in order to e-mail Steve. Now Buck has been saved and Steve is captive in the thrall of the Antichrist.

There’s probably nothing Buck could do for his old friend at this point, but you’d think there’d be some nod in the direction of the standard convention/cliche in which the hero protests that “We can’t just leave him” and has to be dragged away or convinced against his will that there’s nothing anyone can do, etc. That convention is so overused because it’s necessary if readers or the audience are going to continue thinking of the hero as heroic. Thus the plethora of scenes in which the sidekick with the broken leg urges the hero to flee alone, saying “I’d only slow you down,” but the hero tosses them over his shoulder anyway, carrying them to safety.

Buck isn’t a hero. He flees, abandoning his former friend without a second glance or thought. He comes across as the kind of guy who would agree with the sidekick, “Well, if your leg is broken, you probably would only slow me down …” Actually, he’s even worse than that. Buck seems like the kind of guy who would bring this up himself:

“Your leg is broken, you’d only slow me down.”

“Wait, don’t leave me! I think maybe I can limp along, and …”

“No, sorry, too slow. Gotta go.”

** The ellipsis there is an invitation to help fill in the blanks. A comprehensive list of all of this books faults is probably not possible, but we can try.

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  • Dahne and Caravelle, I’ve saved your posts as a “conversation” at the blog. Anyone can post here or at the blog, and I’ll add it in.

  • Jessica

    “Nitpick, while we’re talking about Irene’s cows: “milk collected from a cow”? That struck me as an odd way of putting it, but I’ve never spent time on a dairy farm. Do people collect milk from cows– “Good morning, Bossie, do you have your daily quota ready for me to collect?” Or do they just milk the cows?”
    I think there are tones of examples like that where editing would have helped a lot. I mean, my thesis advisor did a better job helping me edit out unnecessary verbiage and he wasn’t exactly getting paid for that work.

  • Jessica

    OMG, the precious moments chapel is SCARY! Have you seen this one? http://www.holylandexperience.com/
    I actually have one of the guide maps from the place, but have never been. I don’t think anyone I know has ever been, the map came by way of a friend of a friend.

  • Other than Dracula in fact I can’t find any off the top of my head. I can’t believe it’s just white knowledge…

    Well, the vampire is a very pervasive myth. Just about every culture on Earth has some form of a vampire in its folklore.

  • hapax

    Not that one. I’ve been to this one, though.
    (shamefaced) It’s an embarrassing hobby. My husband prefers Creationist museums.
    We both enjoy invigorating chats with street preachers.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    I’ve been to one Creationist museum, the Institute for Creation Research outside San Diego, with my Father. Between my father’s master’s degree in Earth Sciences and my knowledge of history, I think we gave it a good if impromptu debunking. Alas, we went on a Woton’s Day, and there was no audience beyond the poor, bored, minimum wage receptionist/ticket taker, who was too busy with her walkman to care about our muttering.

  • Yay!
    Fred, I totally heart you. You did it.

  • Wesley Parish

    …urk. It just occurred to me to wonder why they felt the need to specify that Irene got the milk from a cow. I mean, sure, goats, but aren’t they evil, or something? Oh, God. Oh, God. I need brain bleach.
    Posted by: El Durazno de la Muerte

    It just occurred to me that they needed to specify a cow, as opposed to a bull, because even Left Behind’s publishers need a break, once in a while. ;)

  • Wesley Parish

    And at the top of the gospel-lyrics display was an ad for a laywer: “Get caught soliciting a prostitute? Call the law firm of…”
    I’m sure it was just coincidence.
    Posted by: Amaryllis

    I’m sure the laywer would agree … ;) (Parsing notes: “lay, to”: vb, colloqial for “to engage in sexual congress”. “wer”: noun, derived from ancient Germanic root word for male human, appearing in “werewolf” meaning lycanthrope, cognate in Latin: vir, appearing in modern Engl. in words virile, virility, etc.)
    So, “laywer“, loosely translated as “male sex-fiend“.
    It is at this point I begin to suspect the worst, and it’s out there, and it’s going to get me … No! No!! NO!!!!!

  • So, “laywer”, loosely translated as “male sex-fiend”
    Today’s internet is awarded before 6:30 AM!

  • People do have their own personal canons for how things like werewolves and vampires and etc work
    They do, yes, and I think it’s kind of interesting how it ties into stuff like PMD beliefs.
    I’ve been at enough convention discussion panels about vampires to notice a common recurring pattern: people recognize Dracula as fiction, but they have a general sense that it was based on real folklore to a much greater degree than it was. They seem inclined to see the vampires in Dracula as an imperfect picture of something that actually exists outside of the novel, rather than as a bunch of stuff Bram Stoker just made up.
    When I say “actually exists” I mean the folklore. Most people don’t believe vampires themselves actually exist. But some people do, or at least pretend to. And they still get it all from Dracula. So you get people saying things like “I’m a real vampire, you know, and it’s amazing how accurate Bram Stoker was about us.”
    Left Behind-style PMD beliefs follow the same pattern, with the PMD beliefs as Dracula and the Bible as the folklore.
    Just like with vampires and Dracula, many (most?) people are familiar with the tropes, even if they have never encountered the source material directly. And it seems like most people, when they first encounter the PMD story, are inclined to think of it as an imperfect picture of folklore that actually exists, rather than as a bunch of stuff made up whole cloth.
    The big difference here is that the Bible is our folklore, so many people believe in it, and Left Behind actually presents itself as a “true” account. Which increases dramatically the number of people who believe the vampires are real.
    But even with something that has never pretended to be anything other than fiction, the number is not zero. Which seems to indicate something about the way we interpret truth value of narrative, but I’m not sure what.

  • Amaryllis

    Wesley Parish: Eeeek!
    I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I never meant to do it…
    McJulie: I think you’re right. It’s surprising how people are convinced they know what elves or dwarves (I refuse to say dwarfs– take that, Spell Check!) or fairies are really like. And interesting to see how the common concept evolves, for instance, from Tinkerbell and the “flower fairies at the bottom of the garden” type of fairy to the “urban fairy tales,” such as Holly Black’s, that are currently so popular.
    And even more surprising to consider how many people are apt to think of LeftBehind and its ilk as “history that hasn’t happened yet.” Stories are powerful.
    Side note: I’ve never really understood the vampire-story appeal. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve read Dracula and Carpe Jugulum , you’re done with vampires. Are there any others that are any good? And don’t bring up Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer, thank you.
    Now, off to the book festival, for a whole day of people talking about stories. And may the offshore tropical storm stay offshore where it belongs.

  • I’ve never really understood the vampire-story appeal. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve read Dracula and Carpe Jugulum , you’re done with vampires. Are there any others that are any good? And don’t bring up Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer, thank you.

    I’ve always liked Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls (high tolerance for male homoeroticism recommended). Nancy A. Collins’ Sonja Blue books also rate high for me. She also did a World of Darkness crossover with Sonja that reads like a remake of Yojimbo called A Dozen Black Roses if you’re into that sort of thing.
    And I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. That’s the lot, as far as I’m concerned.

  • hapax

    Are there any others that are any good?
    Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE. She pulls off the impossible task of writing a vampire romance in which the vampire is both “realistically” Other and Repellent and yet, weirdly sexy. Most “vampire romance” fans hatehatehate it because
    Bhe Urebvar unf gur qnza tbbq frafr gb “pubbfr yvsr” ng gur raq.

  • Amaryllis

    Thanks, both.
    On spoilers: I don’t care. I translated the above immediately; an unsolved cipher is much more annoying than a revealed plot point. And I expect, if people are discussing books or movies, that they’ll want to talk about the plot. But then, I’ve been known to read the last page of a mystery first, so I may not be representative.

  • hagsrus

    Do people collect milk from cows?
    Certainly, right after they egg the hens.

  • hagsrus

    Another vampire non-fan — adding my vote for Sunshine and Carpe Jugulum (well, all Pterry’s vampires, really)– and for the late lamented Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.

  • Brad

    Caravelle : “People do have their own personal canons for how things like werewolves and vampires and etc work”
    ?I certainly do for vampires (though if I ever make something serious of it I’ll probably have to revise it, my model makes it impossible for vampires and humans to coexist in a stable fashion), which is strange because I haven’t read many vampire stories at all

    Is anyone else familiar with the manga series Chibi Vampire? In this series, vampires can’t “turn” humans into vampires, nor do they suck enough blood to kill. I find it hard to reconcile how they claim vampires and humans are separate species when vampires spend their prepubescent years as human and can even crossbreed with humans (albeit the children from such a union are sterile). It’s all nonsense, of course, stemming from an attempt to do a vampire who is sympathetic, cute, and a misfit. I just wonder what kind of knots the mythology will be tied into come series’ end.

  • Jeff

    I’ll add “An Old Friend of the Family” (I may be off on the title), a nice Holmes – Dracula mash-up.

  • Actually Jeff, the Holmes-Dracula mashup is The Holmes-Dracula File. An Old Friend of the Family is about some of Mina’s descendants in the same universe.

  • Nicely done. Also, I don’t need a proxy to read this from China anymore, so yay again.

  • If you want a serious mashup, check out Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. I think it’s a direct literary ancestor of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It throws just about every conceivable character from literature and historical figure it can at you to tell the story of Dracula becoming Prince Regent during the reign of Queen Victoria.

  • Nicely done. Also, I don’t need a proxy to read this from China anymore, so yay again.

    Journ-O-LST-3, I see that you do not have the security clearance to post on an Ultraviolet page. Please follow the Vulture Troopers Recreational Counselors who are about to knock on your doorframe to the nearest Termination Center Happy Citizen Pleasure Camp.
    This message has been re-parsed for your happiness.
    Have an EVER so pleasant daycycle, and thank you for your cooperation!

  • Sorry, can’t resist an opportunity to make a Paranoia joke. The Geekness is strong within me.

  • hapax

    I just wonder what kind of knots the mythology will be tied into come series’ end.
    I’ll never know, since I gave up around Vol. 8 — the emo romance was dull dull dull, and there simply aren’t enough panty shots and boob jokes in the world to make up for it.
    But the creepy little sister was great.

  • Jeff

    the emo romance was dull dull dull, and there simply aren’t enough panty shots and boob jokes in the world to make up for it.
    It takes a lot of panty shots and boob jokes (and vice-versa) to make uo for an emo romance, that’s for sure. (Firefox doesn’t like the word “panty”! Hey, Firefox: “Panty, panty, panty! :-P [grins])

  • Wesley Parish

    Or maybe it’s an industrial-farming kind of usage. If you’re milking a hundred cows at once with a milking machine, maybe it’s appropriate to talk about “collecting” the milk. But I didn’t get the impression that the Glorious Kingdom was so mechanized.Posted by: Amaryllis

    I have been on a farm, actually several, in my lifetime, and although none of them have been in the US of A, all of them have been mechanized, and on none of them has anyone “collected” milk from a cow. Any more than a calf would “collect milk from its mother“.
    Myself, I think that LaJenkins really meant to say “collected sh*t from the bull“, but were dissuaded at the last moment by their attorneys when it was pointed out that a confession of their modus operandi was uncalled-for at that stage.

  • Fred, you’ve truly accomplished a monumental feat of blogging; I’m enjoying reading as I have time. You’ve clarified things that have bugged the heck out of me about LB and the theology behind it.
    Being new to this series, I’m fairly frustrated that there’s no easy way to navigate it.
    Linking to the “Left Behind” category is nearly worthless; instead of a list of links, we get pages and pages, in reverse chronological order. Consider a Table of Contents post, with links to the entries in chronological order.
    Or, as some have suggested, bind them into a book and make some money off the whole dealio. Write me, I’m a designer and typography geek.
    But please, a TOC! =)

  • I assure you Friend Computer tha tI am typing on an orange keyboard to keep consistant with my security clearance.

  • The Computer

    All personnel of LST sector, please report to the nearest termination center. Remember, failure to report for termination is treason! Treason is punishible by termination.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Hey, Slack (and all the Obama supporters on this blog):
    I find it amusing that after going through Left Behind, you support for President a candidate with Nicky the Mountain’s ability to speechify an audience to orgasm like a rock star, who is literally running on a Messiah Politics momentum, and inspires this sort of creepy quasi-religious devotion among his followers. Even to the point of THIS: “Obama is my Personal Jesus. I Will Follow Him.”
    The staging of his acceptance speech was so over-the-top (The One emerges from a faux-Grecian temple to make The Speech, is lifted up on an elevating podium, and climaxes with fireworks) that even The Daily Show spoofed it and various bloggers (invoking LH&J’s choreography) joked “Does he WANT us to think he’s The Antichrist?”
    Though having a statue of Obama come to life and speak at the end of The Speech WOULD be the only thing that could top the RL over-the-top staging — an “Obama-nation of Desolation” (hee hee hee).

  • petcarbocation

    Wow! You did it! You finished the whole thing! Congratulations!
    Some two weeks ago I found about your LB disconstruction in Pharyngula and just read all of the posts (I would certainly buy it if ever released as a book).
    I have had a lot of fun and have learned a lot (and found Nick/Buck slash). Thank you!
    I hope you manage to continue with the movie and the other books. Best wishes!

  • mike

    I first found this thing a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have read every LB post from beginning to end, and convinced a few others to do likewise.
    Today I have finished.
    You have put forth a magnificent effort, an awe-inspiring deconstruction, and it has been a genuine pleasure to read. Moreover, it needed to be done.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    hapax, thank you for visiting the Precious Moments Chapel so I would not have to.
    I still have the odd flashback to the home of a friend in high school whose mother collected the statuettes and housed them in glass cabinets in her living room. The same woman’s cabbagepatch doll collection had pride of place on the love seat.
    My cousin went to the chapel just prior to her (first) wedding and came home with all sorts of…delightful gifts. That was about 15 years ago (she was 18) so I can just imagine what it would be like today.
    — Cowboy Diva
    You know, Diva, your cousin sounds like an intro to a horror movie. I remember all those movies with animated dolls like Chuckie and Puppetmaster, and the urban legends about the same. (Like the “demon-possessed Cabbage Patch Dolls” one that made the jump from National Enquirer/Weekly World News to 700 Club.) I can remember at least one movie and two small-press horror stories regarding people being made into dolls, trapping their souls inside forever.
    The chapel itself just strikes me as a horrifying conflation of Christianity with cuteness; no martyrs or outright sacrifice but rather a fervent belief that pastel colors and soft music will get you into heaven. — Cowboy Diva
    The guy who wrote the original Roadside America (guide to roadside “tourist-trap” attractions) agrees to the point of freakout; his writeup on the Precious Moments Chapel often interrupts itself with variations on the phrase “Dead Babies Everywhere!” and his viewing of an apparent Precious Moments Christ (in one chapel mural portraying Fluffy Cloud Heaven) caused him to go completely incoherent for an entire paragraph…

  • Judith

    This* needed to be posted here. I’m afraid I don’t know quite know how to articulate it, but it reminded me exactly why the Left Behind books are so popular. As most of you know, the CWA was founded by LaHaye’s wife, so it’s fitting it should come from them.
    *If it works. I’ve taken three classes on HTML (two in high school and one in college) and I’m still awful at it.

  • Cowboy Diva

    Judith; good hyperlinking.
    As for the link itself… Great; all we need is actual proof of minority/remnant status for these poor put-upon rightwingers. Their rapture cannot come soon enough, eh?

  • Great!!!!!!!!!

  • katz

    As a preteen, nodding in and out of sleep in the back of a minivan to the lullabye of this book, I think I got the most positive possible impression. Occasional striking phrases stuck with me: “Romania’s not big enough for him. The UN’s not big enough for him.” I constructed a book–the book that I had slept through–around these moments. Carpathia must be a brilliant and effective politician. There must have been chilling premonitions of his future rise to power. Events must have played out according to the timescale of international politics, probably over years. The person uttering the phrase must know what he’s saying because he’s been watching it all carefully, not just because he read the back of the book.
    I did, however, pick up on one thing you haven’t mentioned (though it’s probably already been brought up somewhere in the copious comments): Tim&Jerry’s conservative evangelical conception of Carpathia as the “other.” Namely, he’s not American. Watching Jesus Camp, this stood out to me: “God…bring revival to America.” Zero mention of the rest of the world, except a brief mention of Iraq, which hardly counts. Because who cares? America is the Christian nation God loves. It has democracy, God’s certified form of government. It has capitalism, the only God-approved economic model. Back to LB: Heroes come from America. Villains come from Other Places. The Antichrist has an ominously foreign-sounding name, speaks with the strongest accent of anyone in the book, and comes from a little country most people don’t know anything about. It’s another example of something you’ve talked about: We–Christians, Republicans, Americans, whatever–are the good people. Bad people are the other people.
    God bless America. And the rest of the world.

  • This might be a good moment to start catching up all the hours of sleep I missed ever since I discovered this blog some four or five days ago.
    You are now tying with Shane Claiborne for the position of Person Who Most Restored My Faith In Contemporary Christianity. (And you win, hands down, for the position of Person Who Most Restored My Faith In Contemporary Christianity In An Abolutely Hilarious Way).
    It was epic. Thanks for bringing this creepy book to justice.