TF: Pocket full of kryptonite

Tribulation Force, pp. 279-282

Rayford Steele telephones Bruce Barnes for some last-minute advice on meeting with the Antichrist and here we are given another inadvertent glimpse of what constitutes virtue in the Left Behind universe:

Rayford Steele arrived at the United Nations. He had been praying silently since he phoned Bruce Barnes just before he boarded his flight. "I feel like I'm going to meet the devil," Rayford said. "Not much in this life scares me, Bruce. I've always taken pride in that. But I've got to tell you, this is awful."

So thoughts of the devil should fill you with a fearful anxiety, but taking pride in your own fearlessness isn't anything to worry about. If I were the devil, that's exactly the kind of attitude I'd be trying to encourage.

Bruce still seems to be struggling with his role here as Prof. Exposition. He's the guy with the library and the keeper of the Rev. Billings' sermon notes and videos, so he's supposed to be the one informing readers of just what it is our heroes are up against.

"First, Rayford, only if you were encountering the Antichrist in the second half of the Tribulation would you actually be dealing with the person who was possessed by Satan himself."

"So what is Carpathia? Some second-rate demon?"

"No."

Bruce doesn't offer a "second" to follow that "first" and he doesn't begin to address Rayford's question — "what is Carpathia?"

I can't blame Bruce for this. He can't play the helpful role played by Rupert Giles or Data or Obi Wan Kenobi because their job as Mr. Exposition was to inform the heroes of the nature of the enemy so that they would know what to do and so that they could vanquish that enemy. But poor Bruce is dealing with heroes who don't intend to do anything. The idea of vanquishing their enemy doesn't even occur to them. With such useless heroes, why shouldn't he offer only useless exposition?

Bruce's pedantic explanation of when precisely the Antichrist will become "possessed by Satan himself" is a detail that Tim LaHaye goes on about at great length in his writings about Bible prophecy. Like most of LaHaye's Bible prophecies, it is not actually prophesied in the Bible, but this is also another of LaHaye's idiosyncratic contributions to the standard Bible-prophecy template. Like his quirk of having the "Great Tribulation" begin after the treaty-signing instead of after the Rapture, or his idea of having the Two Witnesses show up before the Tribulation begins, this is a detail of "Bible prophecy" you won't find in most of his premillennial dispensationalist competitors' books.

That suggests, then, that the fictional Bruce Barnes must be consulting the books of the nonfictional Tim LaHaye — that Tim LaHaye, famous author of Bible-prophecy books, is also a character in the Bible-prophecy novels co-written by Tim LaHaye.

So here let me commend LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins for not making this more explicit. Let me commend them, in other words, for refraining from using Bruce's "studies" as a pretext for product placement. That phone call between Rayford and Bruce could have been much worse:

"I feel like I'm going to meet the devil," Rayford said. "Not much in this life scares me, Bruce. I've always taken pride in that. But I've got to tell you, this is awful."

"First, Rayford, I've been reading an excellent book from Pastor Billings' study called The Beginning of the End, by a brilliant author named Tim LaHaye and this book explains that only if you were encountering the Antichrist in the second half of the Tribulation would you actually be dealing with the person who was possessed by Satan himself."

"Wow, Bruce, that sounds like an insightful book that might provide an invaluable guide to the End Times."

"Yes, Rayford, it's one of several titles by Tim LaHaye available from Tyndale House — books that no real, true Christian should be without. …"

I'm sure they thought of doing something like that, yet they restrained themselves. That restraint is uncharacteristic. This whole volume, after all, is a cynical exercise in padding out what was originally conceived as a trilogy into a longer, and thus more lucrative, series. Authors capable of that kind of larceny wouldn't seem incapable of the kind of crass self-promotion I've imagined above. But for whatever reason, they opted not to indulge in it, and for that I am grateful.

Apart from product placement, though, the fact that Tim LaHaye's own books are clearly a central focus of Bruce's studies might also have been the basis for something more interesting. Think of what someone like Kurt Vonnegut might have made of the metafictional possibilities.

OK, wait, scratch that. The idea of Jerry Jenkins attempting something like that really isn't very appealing. So actually I'm grateful they didn't pursue that either.

Bruce tells Rayford he'll "need prayer support" during his meeting with Nicolae, just like the team provided for Buck.

"Buck is 10 years younger, and in better shape," Rayford said. "I feel as if I'll fall apart in there."

Rayford apparently thinks of himself as still 40. That might be a subtle poke at the captain's vanity, but allowing that these characters have any flaws goes against the established pattern in these books, so maybe it's instead just Jenkins' passive-aggressive swipe at his co-author.

Either way, I'm intrigued by this notion of getting in "shape" to duel the Antichrist's mind-control mojo. Does physical stamina somehow improve one's resistance? I thought only "prayer support" and being a Christian were effective at that. What exactly are the rules for how this superpower works? Mr. Exposition, unfortunately, isn't saying.

Rayford takes comfort in Bruce's promise of prayer:

… and it was particularly encouraging to know that Buck was in town. Just knowing he was in close proximity made Rayford feel less alone.

I get this. Knowing that you're not alone is a basic human need — even if the best you can come up with is the reassurance that some comrade is also somewhere in Manhattan. This has to be one of the more difficult aspects of embracing the antagonistic tribalism of LaHaye's brand of religion. To view oneself as a righteous remnant, perpetually besieged by a hostile world full of wicked people must be, on some level, sad and lonely.

While the authors remain vague about the specifics and mechanics of the Antichrist's evil superpowers, they are much clearer about the superpowers of Satan's other servants: Women.

Women, the authors teach, are evil, casting their wicked spells on helpless men, filling their innocent male minds with a sinful lust. And the only defense, according to the authors, is a protective shield of raw misogyny.

Hattie was waiting when he stepped off the elevator. He had hoped to have a moment to get the lay of the land, to freshen up, to take a deep breath. But there she stood in all her youthful beauty, more stunning than ever because of a tan and expensively tailored clothes on a frame that needed no help. He did not expect what he saw, and he sensed evil in the place when a flash of longing for her briefly invaded his mind.

See? Evil. Rayford is momentarily caught off guard but then, with God's help, he quickly recovers the deep, visceral contempt for women that he hopes can save him.

Rayford's old nature immediately reminded him why she had distracted him during a wintry season of his marriage. He prayed silently, thanking God for sparing him from having done something he would have regretted forever. And as soon as Hattie opened her mouth, he was brought back to reality. Her diction and articulation were more refined, but this was still a woman without a clue.

Confronted with the wanton evil of "a frame that needed no help," Rayford cried out to God for deliverance and the Lord responded by filling him with condescension and scorn, reminding him how much better he was than Hattie.

This is why Jesus taught us to pray, "God I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers." For all those who humiliate others will be exalted.

"Good to hear from you, Rev."

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  • MercuryBlue

    Keith Olbermann says Bush’s memoir says Bush approved the use of waterboarding.
    What was somebody saying about the Cooks editor being toast while others provably doing much worse things get off scot-free?
    …also the discussions hereabouts re inadvertent ethnic slurs mean I am now looking up that phrase to see if it has a history of being offensive to Scots.
    Huh. The phrase scot-free is not in fact an ethnic slur. It’s about tax evasion.

  • http://www.flightpapers.org/ violet

    @Will

    I feel like there’s room in the world for an RPG system that tries to minimise the role of rolls as far as possible, in favour of the natural laws of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: 1) How badly do you want this to work? 2) Is it completely impractical/implausible? 3) Does that make it even cooler?

    There’s a significant trend in RPG design towards mechanics that focus and support play in ways that you can’t achieve with freeform. These rules tend to be lighter, but more to the point, they tend to be helpful and active. You want to engage them, not because of a vague obligation to roll [skill] because your character is [skilling], but because they help drive the story. Playing games from this vein made me stop thinking in terms of heavy/light rules, and more in terms of useful/useless rules. (Though it turns out that if you’re designing a game where all the rules drive the fiction, you’re much less likely to have a 400 page rule book, since it’s nearly impossible to build a machine that big that doesn’t fall apart when you try to run it all at once.)

  • http://www.timecube.com Consumer Unit 5012

    MercuryBlue: Keith Olbermann says Bush’s memoir says Bush approved the use of waterboarding.
    I have three reactions to this:
    1: DUH.
    2: I wonder what it feels like to live knowing you will never, EVER suffer any adverse consequences for your actions?
    3: Boy, it sure is a good thing the Democrats decided not to do anything about thiWHARRGARBL

  • http://profile.typepad.com/shiftercat ShifterCat

    @Mike Timonin and John Farson: thanks!

  • http://fetchmemyaxe.blogspot.com/ belledame222

    As I understand it, what it’s like is, you emerge from your golfy public oblivion to go on an interview wherein you reveal that the worst moment of your presidency that included 9/11 and Katrina was being criticized by Kanye West.
    This is also the same person who said that 2001 had on the whole been “a great year for Laura and me…”

  • Rachel McG

    Which isn’t true; lots of individual donations can even the playing field with big institutional donations even post-CU. No, you have to look elsewhere for why, and I think the answer can be found in one number: 86%. As in, 86% of voters were worried more about the economy than any other issue. Incumbents lose under those conditions, at least since 1948, and it hardly matters what they’ve been doing, either.
    Hm, the article you linked to seems to support what I said about the money:

    “First, you can’t really compare money spent throughout the cycle with money spent in the last couple months, and there, we’ve seen an advantage for Republicans and allied groups. The other thing is that a lot of the money that Republican outside groups have spent simply wouldn’t have been legally available to them pre-Citizens United. They’re getting unlimited, secret donations, in ways that not even the Supreme Court intended (or at least in ways they claimed not to intend).”
  • Rachel McG

    I should says that I agree that the poor state of the economy is probably the main reason why people voted Republican, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the Dems were seriously outspent over the last few months of the election season, especially the last few weeks.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jamoche Jamoche

    I assumed that the ballots were postage paid. Why in the world aren’t they?
    They are. Drop-offs are for people who didn’t get them into the mail on time, or don’t have a convenient mailbox, etc.

    Not in California. You get the so-helpful note that the postage is X if you have two pages or Y if you have 3 (you think statewide proposition voting is bad? It happens at the county level too), but I dropped it off at my polling place when I walked my dog. You can drop it at any polling place in your county, though.

  • MercuryBlue

    Democrats were in for it this year, no way around that, part midterms and part economy, but American Crossroads spent $1.6M on Rubio’s campaign. Crossroads GPS, $353K. The Chamber of Commerce spent $2M against Crist. I won’t count the $354K Crossroads GPS spent against Crist, it’s probably the same money Crossroads GPS spent for Rubio.
    Bigass donations permitted by Citizens United, in only one race, from only three groups, came to four million dollars.
    Kind of hard for individual donations to top that.
    (Mind, the five groups Mother Jones talks about spent a combined total of eight million to beat down Bennet and it didn’t work. But still.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jamoche Jamoche

    the Dems were seriously outspent over the last few months of the election season, especially the last few weeks.
    Didn’t help Meg Whitman. $160M of her own (thanks to eBay) money, and she didn’t even win. Bet she wishes there’d been a “Buy It Now” option.

  • Rachel McG

    I assumed that the ballots were postage paid. Why in the world aren’t they?

    They are. Drop-offs are for people who didn’t get them into the mail on time, or don’t have a convenient mailbox, etc.

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this, as I haven’t read all the comments yet, but in Oregon mail-in ballots are not postage paid. I assume because of the cost. Instead of mailing, I always drop mine off at the site next to where I do my food shopping.

  • Leum

    I should says that I agree that the poor state of the economy is probably the main reason why people voted Republican, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the Dems were seriously outspent over the last few months of the election season, especially the last few weeks.

    There was a thing on NPR the other day that said that money spent on campaigns has a negligible effect. That a cut in half or doubling of spending only results in a few percentage points of change. The economist they interviewed said that people have cause-and-effect backwards: the candidates that spend more money are usually able to because they have more support to begin with.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/hawkerhurricane Hawker Hurricane

    Didn’t help Meg Whitman. $160M of her own (thanks to eBay) money, and she didn’t even win. Bet she wishes there’d been a “Buy It Now” option.
    Posted by: Jamoche
    —————————-
    Meg Whitman spent between $140-160M of her own money, PLUS donated money, to lose.
    Of course, it didn’t help that she endorsed her opponent in a campaign speech. (“I want California to be like it was when I first moved here thirty years ago: a balanced budget, a education system the envy of the world, and a good place to build a business.” Who was governor thirty years ago? Guess.)

  • Pentecostal Cylon

    “Of course, it didn’t help that she endorsed her opponent in a campaign speech. “I want California to be like it was when I first moved here thirty years ago: a balanced budget, a education system the envy of the world, and a good place to build a business.” Who was governor thirty years ago? Guess.”
    Oops, LOL.
    I lived in California when I was a kid, for about six years (’82-88) so yeah, that makes me laugh.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jamoche Jamoche

    Who was governor thirty years ago? Guess.
    Oh, wow, I missed that one. I did love the compare-and-contrast ad that matched Governator quotes with Whitman quotes – or rather, lack of contrast ad.

  • Ysidro

    Back to diceless RPGs for a second. Nobilis (my favorite Game I Will Never Get To Play) has a rule. The GM (or Hollyhock God, to use it’s internal terminology) is not supposed to say ‘no’ to a player request. Instead, they are told to say ‘how?’ or ‘yes, but’. The first puts the duty of storytelling on the player and the second allows the player to do whatever it is they wanted but gives the GM the opportunity to add something to the story. These aren’t the only rules of course, but they inform the rest.

  • P J Evans

    One columnist at the LA Times worked it out that Whitman spent about 50 dollars for every vote that she got.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy_who agrees books do furnish a room

    One columnist at the LA Times worked it out that Whitman spent about 50 dollars for every vote that she got.
    In 1980 John Connally campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination. When he dropped out of the race he had managed to get only a single delegate after having spent 11 million dollars.
    In current dollars that is about 30 million per delegate.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/redwoodr Redwood

    Forget 1980 – remember 2008? Rudy Giuliani? 50 million for one delegate.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy_who agrees books do furnish a room

    @Redwood: Forget 1980 – remember 2008? Rudy Giuliani?
    Oh, I had forgotten about Rudy — when I was in grad school we used to talk about Connally as the canonical example of wasted monetary resources in American politics. Amazing that someone topped him.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    Mink : Will Wildman: Interestingly, the Smallville RPG has that mechanic. You have a number of ‘values’ — truth, justice
    What, no American Way points? I’m disappointed. :(

  • 3ducksinamansuit

    lalouve said:
    “Women seem to come in two varieties to Rayford: the wicked and boring, and the virtuous and boring. The latter you marry, the former you have weird quasi-platonic affairs with. Yuck.”
    dont forget “private necking sessions” at christmas parties

  • http://itsthetalkback.blogspot.com muteKi

    Hey, to be fair to Rayford, if he doesn’t want to have improprietous intercourse, then the attitude he’s holding is the surest way to prevent it.
    I mean, what lady would want to touch a guy like that with even a 10-foot pole? :P

  • http://earcandleproductions.blogspot.com J Neo Marvin

    in England, we would use ‘lie of the land’, and ‘the lay of the land’ would be … well, someone like Hattie, stunning in her youthful beauty.
    Interesting, so when Mark E. Smith of the Fall sang “Where’s the lay of the la-a-a-a-and, my son?”, he was actually saying “nudge nudge, wink wink”?

  • michael w.

    I have read some of the books. I gotta tell you, thinking of the antichrist being anything like nicolae carpathia makes me chuckle. The real antichrist will make carpathia( even at his scariest ) look like a kindergarten boy in a recess argument.