TF: Private study sessions

Tribulation Force, pp. 404-406

The invisible, off-stage record-breaking crime wave sweeping the United States in our story, the authors say, provided the pretext for Nicolae Carpathia’s voiding of the American Constitution:

The only positive factor about Buck’s new position was that he now had the means to isolate himself somewhat against the terrible crime wave that had broken all records in North America. Carpathia had used it to sway public opinion and get the populace behind the idea that the North American ambassador to the Global Community should supplant the sitting president. Gerald Fitzhugh and his vice president were now headquartered in the old Executive Office Building in Washington, in charge of enforcing Potentate Carpathia’s global disarmament plan in America.

I’m struggling to make even a little bit of sense out of this nonsense. There’s a nugget of a reasonable idea in there. Mass chaos and an off-the-charts crime wave likely would produce calls for new leadership, and this is the first suggestion we’ve seen of the authors having Nicolae capitalize on post-Event chaos to seize power.

But to pull that off, one has to be the sort of leader people would be clamoring for. A “tough,” iron-fisted law-and-order leader could rise to power in the wake of an anarchic crime wave. A pacifist promoting universal disarmament and platitudinous bomfoggery could not. Nicolae couldn’t ride this crime wave to power. It would, rather, sweep away whatever popular appeal he might have had.

In any case, replacing the American government and the American system of government with the sovereign reign of a lieutenant of the global “potentate” would require a bit more than swaying public opinion. It would require a massive rewrite of America’s Constitution. That would either take a host of complex, difficult-to-pass amendments or one tersely blunt and impossible-to-pass amendment.

This/these amendment/s would have to work its/their way through all 50 state legislatures at a time when those bodies are already struggling to keep pace with the post-Event crises and questions like whether or not funds for now-vacant schools can be used for more police to contend with the crime wave. Some of those legislatures are still probably in the midst of special elections finally being held to replace lawmakers who disappeared in the Event but who could not be legally certified as dead until those legislatures also dealt with the thorny question of whether or not to certify as dead the millions who had disappeared.

So I don’t see this repeal of the Constitution speeding its way to ratification. Particularly not just to pave the way for the weak-on-crime reign of some foreign prince who the authors never even bother naming. The authors have the option of declaring all this a fait accompli by narrative fiat, but that doesn’t mean Nicolae would have the same option.

But even if we conceded all of those impossibilities — which we can’t, what with their being impossible — what sense does it make to put the now deposed president in charge of dismantling his former government? And what on earth is it supposed to mean that someone is “enforcing … disarmament”? I’m picturing the empty-handed agents of the new Disarmament Bureau confronting armed criminals, police and military personnel: “Hand over those weapons or we will be forced to demonstrate the moral superiority of our satyagraha.”

For Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, tyranny is unambiguously evil. True! They’re right about that part. But for LaHaye and Jenkins pacifism is also unambiguously evil. Why? They never explain. But since they believe that all that descends must converge, they imagine that the worst form of tyranny must also be pacifist.

Well, that’s not quite right. They don’t actually imagine this because it’s unimaginable. They just assert it without offering any imaginable explanation for what it’s supposed to mean or how it’s supposed to work.

Buck’s one act of resistance to Carpathia was to ignore the rumors about Fitzhugh plotting with the militia to oppose the Global Community regime by force.

This is not true. Buck’s main act of resistance against his new boss is one of sabotage — producing the shoddiest, least-attractive official OWG news organ ever imagined. That this act of sabotage is unintentional does not diminish its effectiveness.

Buck was all for it …

Also not true. Buck may be abstractly in favor of the intent of this insurrectionist plotting, but he does absolutely nothing to support it. That’s partly because he knows it’s doomed to fail — doomed, in fact, to play into the hands of the Antichrist. Buck knows what’s coming in the near future, and thus he knows what a debacle this will prove to be. He knows that the armed confrontation Fitzhugh’s raiders have planned will end in disaster as a futile waste of people and resources that could be put to much better use later if they were preserved instead of squandered in this way.

Yet he opts not to share this knowledge with Fitzhugh or his fellow plotters. He never tells them about the utter, counterproductive failure he knows will result from their plans. But still, he tells himself, he’s “all for it.”

Buck was all for it and had secretly studied the feasibility of producing an anti-Global Community Web site on the Internet. As soon as he could figure out a way to do it without its being traced back to his penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, he would do it.

So after more than a year and a half, this is what the Tribulation Force has accomplished in their task “to stand and fight the enemies of God”: A feasibility study.

I appreciate the idea of an anti-Antichrist “Web site on the Internet.” Buck could become like the Max Headroom or the Eyes Only of the Great Tribulation. But while the idea of an anti-Nicolae outlet has promise, it might not be anywhere as effective or damaging as what Global Community Weekly could become as a sneakily subversive official GC outlet. I wish Buck had spent a bit of time studying the feasibility of what he might accomplish in his current post.

Buck could, for example, use his position as publisher to produce an article supposedly debunking the prophecies he’s learning about from Bruce. The article would be a chance to list them all, purportedly in the interest of dismissing and ridiculing them, but providing only an overconfident and patently inadequate rebuttal. “While it’s true that these so-called prophets accurately foretold the destruction of the Russian Air Force, the Event itself and the rise of the Global Community, all with seemingly stunning precision, experts say this is all just coincidence. Whatever credibility they still pretend to have will be proven fraudulent in the coming months when their predictions of war, famine and a massive earthquake fail to materialize. …” That sort of thing. A veiled warning would be better than no warning at all.

At least Buck had convinced Potentate Carpathia that Buck’s moving to New Babylon would be a mistake. New York was still the world publishing capital, after all. He was already heartbroken that Chloe’s father was being required to relocate to New Babylon. The new city was palatial, but unless a person lived indoors 24 hours a day, the weather in Iraq was unbearable.

Here is something that might have seemed possible or plausible when this book was written in 1996. But it is impossible to believe now.

If you had said to me, in 1996, that with the full concentration of the United Nations and the infusion of several billion dollars it would be possible, in 18 months, to create from scratch a fully functioning, “palatial” modern city in the Iraqi desert, I likely would have agreed that it sounded possible. Several billion dollars, after all, seems like a lot of money, and it would sound like enough to plausibly enable the best and the brightest from every nation on earth to accomplish such a thing.

Now we know different.

After nearly a decade and hundreds of billions of dollars, Baghdad still lacks reliable electricity and water treatment. We now know, from the hard-earned lessons of experience from the American-led misadventure in Iraq, that what LaHaye and Jenkins describe here is beyond implausible. It’s simply impossible.

As a general rule, readers should be charitable toward authors undertaking the very difficult task of describing the “not-so-distant future.” See Dan Meth’s “Futuristic Movie Timeline” or John Pavlus’ “When the Future Expires” for illustrations of how very difficult such prognostication can be.

But I’m less inclined to be charitable toward Tim LaHaye because he does not claim to be making predictions. LaHaye claims that the world of the Left Behind novels is a certainty, prophesied by the very Word of God. That’s not true of every detail of his fictional landscape, and I’m still willing to cut him some slack on those incidental failed predictions. Like LaHaye and Jenkins, I would never have predicted the sudden and revolutionary proliferation of cell phones back in the mid-’90s when the first of these novels were written, but that technological detail isn’t something about which the authors claimed to speak with prophetic authority. (It’s probably also a bit unfair to chide them for writing, in 1996, about “a Web site on the Internet.”)

But the construction of “New Babylon” is something about which the authors claim prophetic certainty. LaHaye is not guessing or offering a speculative interpretation of how his alleged prophecies might unfold. This is something he says with utter certainty will happen much as it is portrayed here. The Antichrist, LaHaye says, will rise and will form a tyrannical one-world government that — absolutely, certainly — will be based on the site of ancient Babylon in the Iraqi desert. This, LaHaye says, is spelled out right there in the prophecies of the Bible.

You can look that up for yourself and find that, yes, the books of Daniel and Revelation do refer to Babylon quite a bit. If you read those books in their entirety, or if you’re at all familiar with the genre of apocalyptic literature, you’ll recognize the device being employed here. Apocalyptic writers who were writing to encourage others living under an oppressive tyrant couldn’t very well go around criticizing that tyrant by name.

Oppressive tyrants tend not to allow that sort of criticism. That’s part of what makes them oppressive tyrants.

So apocalyptic writers refer to past tyrants as symbols of the contemporary regime. Pharaoh was the go-to reference for the Israelites in the Bible up until their conquest and exile. After that, it’s usually Babylon. The book of Daniel uses Babylon as a stand-in for Antiochus Epiphanes. The book of Daniel Revelation uses Babylon as one of many elliptical references to Rome.

Tim LaHaye, however, takes a different approach to reading apocalyptic literature. For LaHaye, such writings are never about the world in which they were written, but only about a future world that none of the writers or any of their imagined readers would ever see. So for LaHaye, every biblical reference to “Babylon” means only that — the ancient city in what is now Iraq. Thus, he says, the site of that ancient city will be rebuilt — rapidly — into the “palatial” city of New Babylon, just exactly as described here in Tribulation Force.

Due to what we now know about building cities from scratch in the Iraqi desert, I’m prepared to close the file on this one. This is a false prophecy. It will not happen as Tim LaHaye predicts. It cannot happen as Tim LaHaye predicts. Tim LaHaye is simply wrong and his prophecy is not true.

That’s not unusual. Self-proclaimed prophets like LaHaye don’t have an impressive track record in predicting what the future holds. For all of the difficulty illustrated in the links above, science fiction writers and satirists have proven much more reliable prognosticators than people like LaHaye. Those writers look at what is and extrapolate what may be by following the trajectory as far as they can imagine. In doing so, both science fiction writers and satirists portray plausible futures that can teach us a great deal about the world we live in now.

So-called prophets like LaHaye, on the other hand, aren’t at all interested in the world we live in now. They’re not extrapolating from what is known, but rather asserting What Shall Be based on claims of special revelation.

That revelation turns out, in retrospect, not to be so special. When the words of such seers clash with the words of the satirists, you’re better off betting on the satirists.

Buck provides an update for the Rayford/Amanda ‘shippers:

Buck had been thrilled at how Rayford and Amanda White had taken to each other. That took pressure off Buck and Chloe, wondering about the future, worrying about leaving her father alone if they were ever to marry. …

And then Jenkins provides some unintentional catnip for the Buck/Bruce slash ‘shippers:

Buck missed Bruce more than he thought possible. Buck tried to see him every time he got back to Chicago to see Chloe. Anytime Bruce came through New York or they happened to run into each other in a foreign city, Bruce tried to make the time for a private study session.

Alas, those private study sessions are doomed to end in tragedy. But for those readers most concerned with the chaste soap opera of Tribulation Force romance, the final chapters of this book will be rewarding. There’s plenty of juicy details about hand-holding and even — gasp! — kissing as the romantic subplots become more of a preoccupation in these final pages than that whole End-of-the-World tangent.

Bruce was fast becoming one of the leading prophecy scholars among new believers. The year or year and a half of peace, he said, was fast coming to a close. Once the next three horsemen of the Apocalypse appeared, 17 more judgments would come in rapid succession, leading to the glorious appearing of Christ seven years from the signing of the covenant between Israel and the Antichrist.

Bruce had become famous, even popular. But many believers were growing tired of his dire warnings.

This complaint with followers’ fatigue with “his dire warnings” makes sense only once you realize that this isn’t really about Bruce. These new believers know what’s coming and desperately want to be as prepared as possible, so they would be eating up every detail Bruce could share with them about the “17 more judgments” about to hit them “in rapid succession.” They would be begging him for dire warnings.

But this passage is really about Tim LaHaye. Here, yet again, he indulges in one of his favorite poses — that of the brave, misunderstood Cassandra. LaHaye savors imagining himself as the beleaguered “prophet without honor” who speaks the truth even when people don’t want to hear it. Just because he has become “famous, even popular,” doesn’t mean he isn’t still being persecuted for his bold truth-telling.

This is one more instance of what has become a familiar refrain in these books: “You’ll see. One day soon you’ll realize that I was right and you were wrong and everybody who didn’t listen to me is gonna be really sorry but it’ll be too late and you shoulda listened to me when you had the chance, smartypants!”

I’ve struggled to describe that in a way that doesn’t make it seem juvenile, but that’s difficult because it is juvenile. “You’ll see and then you’ll be sorry,” just can’t be described in any way as a mature or healthy sentiment, but it’s one of the central themes of these books.

(P.S.: Post-posting fixes on the page numbers, Daniel/Revelation error. Thanks.)

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