Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 63-65
Nicolae Carpathia is flying from Dallas to San Francisco, casually giving orders for the nuclear destruction of dozens of cities and the death of millions of people.
And neither Rayford nor Amanda Steele bothers trying to stop him.
I blame Bruce Barnes for that. For more than a year he had the members of the Tribulation Force studying the book of Revelation. That gave them the schedule for the months ahead, but didn’t suggest anything they could do about it.
They should have been studying the book of Judges. That bloody little text almost reads like a manual for just the sort of guerrilla warfare the Tribulation Force ought to be conducting.
Plan A: Codename Jael.
Amanda offers to serve refreshments to Nicolae and his “ambassadors.”
“Oh my,” she says. “Your cocktails look a bit cloudy. Here, let me stir those some more with this tent-peg I just happen to be carrying.”
If that doesn’t work, then try …
Plan B: Codename Ehud.
Having disabled the locks on the airplane lavatories, Amanda Steele sits patiently, crossing her legs to better conceal the dagger strapped to her right thigh. Eventually, even the Antichrist has to go.
And, if all else fails …
Plan C: Codename Samson.
Rayford Steele sits behind the controls of an airplane at 33,000 feet. The Antichrist is a passenger on that plane, and if he is not stopped, millions of people will be murdered. Rayford grips the wheel like Samson grasping the pillars. …
Nothing at all like that happens in this book, of course.
Rayford maintains his perfect safety record as the Antichrist’s personal pilot, always scrupulously ensuring that Nicolae arrives unharmed at his destination and never giving any thought to any other possibility. It never occurs to Rayford that any landing the Antichrist walks away from is probably not a good landing.
Rayford clandestinely listened in horror as Carpathia announced to his compatriots, “Chicago should be under retaliatory attack, even as we speak. Thank you for your part in this, and for the strategic nonuse of radioactive fallout. I have many loyal employees in that area, and though I expect to lose some in the initial attack, I need not lose any to radiation to make my point.”
We saw something like this earlier when New York City was nuked without “use of radioactive fallout.” I guess this is kind of like Global Weekly. There’s a Time magazine in the Left Behind books, but no Newsweek. Instead of Newsweek, there’s Global Weekly. Similarly in these books, instead of physics, there’s this kind of thing.
Carpathia and his lads decide to turn on the news to watch the destruction of Chicago.
Rayford could remain seated no longer. He didn’t know what he would say or do, if anything, but he simply could not stay in that cockpit, not knowing whether his loved ones were safe. He entered the cabin as the television was coming on, showing the first images from Chicago. Amanda gasped.
She gasped because she is surprised by what is happening in Chicago. She’s looking at the same TV screen as Nicolae is, just a few feet away from him, apparently, but somehow she didn’t hear any of what he and his ambassadors were saying.
Jerry Jenkins keeps drawing our attention to this, but he never seems to notice it himself. Amanda never hears a word that Nicolae says from a few feet away, so Jenkins keeps having Rayford pop out of the cockpit to give her updates on what he’s overheard. This is doubly annoying. Not only can readers not form any reasonable image of where Amanda might be sitting, but then we also have to read everything Nicolae says twice — once when he says it, and then again when Rayford relays it to Amanda.
That’s some ground-breaking bad writing right there. In this scene, Jenkins mixes it in with a more conventional staple of bad novels — the omniscient and omnipresent news camera. Who is filming the destruction of Chicago? Maybe in addition to the “no radiation” setting, Nicolae’s nuclear bombs come with a special “no damage to journalists and cameras” setting.
“Would you go to Chicago for me?” Rayford whispered.
“If you think I would be safe.”
“There’s no radiation.”
“How do you know that?”
They’re whispering, again, because Nicolae is sitting very close by and if they didn’t whisper then he could hear what they’re saying.
Rayford wants Amanda to catch a flight out of San Francisco after they land. It will have to be a flight leaving immediately, of course, because after Rayford’s plane takes off again, San Francisco is next on the list of cities to be destroyed.
“If you can’t get an immediate flight, and I mean before this plane leaves the ground again, you must reboard the Condor. Do you understand?”
“I understand, but why?”
“I can’t tell you now. Just get an immediate flight to Milwaukee. …”
I’m sure that booking a spur-of-the-moment “immediate flight to Milwaukee” won’t be a problem, since so far World War III has mostly been unfolding east of the Mississippi and why would that interfere with flights out of San Francisco?
Following the news from Chicago, the cable news channel broke for a commercial, and Rayford approached Carpathia.
Here’s a sentence that no human being will ever speak: “More breaking news on the destruction of Chicago, New York, Washington and London, but first, a word from our sponsors.”
“Sir, may I have a moment?”
“Certainly, Captain. Awful news out of Chicago, is it not?”
“Yes, sir, it is. In fact, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Humans don’t talk like this after big disasters. Rayford and Nicolae were both just looking at the same TV screen showing nothing but devastation where the third-largest city in America had once stood. Millions of people have just been killed.
And here they are chatting about it politely, making small talk. That little exchange is the sort of thing two people might say after, for example, Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.
“Awful news out of Chicago.”
“Yes, sir, it is. If Alou had only caught that ball …”
“You know I have family in that area.”
“Yes, and I hope they are all safe,” Carpathia said.
Rayford wanted to kill him where he sat. He knew full well the man was the Antichrist …
At last. Finally.
Nicolae has just killed millions of people. He’s about to kill millions more if he isn’t stopped. And Rayford can stop him.
Rayford must stop him. He must, at least, try to stop him. This is not optional. Millions of lives are at stake. For us to accept that Rayford is any kind of hero, we need to see Rayford trying to stop Nicolae. If he doesn’t do something, right now, then everyone in San Francisco will die.
Rayford has to try to stop Nicolae right here, right now.
But he doesn’t do that.
Rayford wanted to kill him where he sat. He knew full well the man was the Antichrist, and he also knew that this very person would be assassinated one day and be resurrected from the dead by Satan himself. Rayford had never dreamed he might be an agent in that assassination, but at that instant he would have applied for the job. He fought for composure. Whoever killed this man would be merely a pawn in a huge cosmic game. The assassination and resurrection would only make Carpathia more powerful and satanic than ever.
I can scarcely begin to list the many ways this is just horrifically wrong. Without a trace of irony or self-awareness, Rayford Steele just thought this: “Whoever killed this man would be merely a pawn in a huge cosmic game.” Astonishing.
Let me try to break this down a bit.
1. Jenkins finally gives an answer to the question readers have been asking ever since we first realized, back in Book 1, that Nicolae is the Antichrist: Why doesn’t Rayford/Buck just kill him?
But Jenkins’ answer doesn’t work. It’s not a convincing answer in general,* and it’s an utterly unconvincing answer here in this specific situation.
Here, right at this moment, it doesn’t matter if Nicolae will eventually “be resurrected from the dead by Satan himself.” Right at this moment, the only thing that matters is that every living thing in San Francisco will die if Rayford doesn’t act. If stopping Nicolae here only means that Undead Nicolae will be coming back later to try again, then Rayford can try to deal with that later.
Right now, his urgent concern shouldn’t be that complicated. It’s like one of those hypothetical questions from an ethics textbook — the kind so narrowly constructed that even Gandhi, Dorothy Day and John Howard Yoder would respond, “Well, in that case, I would kill the guy …”**
2. The idea that the Antichrist will “be assassinated one day and be resurrected from the dead by Satan himself” is based on Tim LaHaye’s “literal” interpretation of Revelation 13:1-3:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast.
This same opaque passage was popular back in the 1980s when “Bible prophecy scholars” were proclaiming Mikhail Gorbachev as the most likely candidate for Antichrist. They saw it as a reference to the port-wine stain birthmark on Gorbachev’s forehead. (Yes, really.)
Even within the tiny world of premillennial dispensationalist End Times mania, this passage has many different interpretations. Rayford and his friends only ever considered one of those — that of the Rev. Billings and of Tim LaHaye. And they’re so confident that this one view must be right they’re willing to sit idly by as millions of people die.
3. Rayford Steele knows that he is already a mere “pawn in a huge cosmic game.” As the personal pilot and a key assistant to the Antichrist, he seems to be Nicolae’s pawn, but he thinks of himself as a pawn for God.
But that doesn’t really matter. The way this cosmic game works, both sides are up to the same thing. Nicolae wants to slaughter millions of people and God wants to slaughter millions of people. And after all, in this game, the Antichrist is simply playing out his divinely appointed role in God’s great plan. So is Satan, for that matter.
Serve the Antichrist or serve Satan and you’re really just serving God, ultimately. And vice versa. That’s the game.
You may think that calling this a “huge cosmic game” is a devastating critique of the authors’ religious ideology, but it’s a phrase they use here themselves. And they use it proudly.
For LaHaye and Jenkins, it’s all just a game, but it is God’s game. If the Antichrist wants to kill millions of people, then God must want those people dead. And if God wants them dead, then it would be wrong to try to save them.
Rayford, of course, does not try to save them. He is a mere pawn in this huge cosmic game, but not the sort of pawn that does anything to interfere.
He asks Nicolae for permission for Amanda to fly to Milwaukee.
“I would really feel a lot better if she could be there with them to help as needed.”
“As you wish,” Carpathia said, and it was all Rayford could do not to breathe a huge sigh of relief in the man’s face.
Forget about Rayford going out in a blaze of glory like Samson. Forget about him lifting a finger to warn anyone in San Francisco of the unholy death about to rain down on them all. Rayford can’t worry about that right now, because he’s using every ounce of strength and courage he has to avoid looking relieved.
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* So now we know that the Antichrist is prophesied to be assassinated, after which Satan will bring him back from the dead, more powerful than ever. And it seems the Tribulation Force can’t do anything to change that.
OK. But they could at least try to make the devil work for it. If Satan plans on resurrecting the Antichrist, then let him have to sift Nicolae’s ashes out of the other ashes with which his scattered remains have been mixed before being buried in hundreds of separate parcels on six continents, all on holy ground. Why make it easy for him?
** My undergrad ethics professor seemed to enjoy my efforts to strain such hypotheticals to the breaking point:
“I’m a lousy shot, I’d probably just end up killing one of those poor kids.”
“Mistah Clock,” he’d say in that accent of his. “You ah an excellent shot. A world-class mocksman. You nevah miss.”
“Then I shoot the red wire on the bomb’s detonator, defusing the bomb and allowing the children to escape.”
“Ah, Mistah Clock, but the red wire is directly ova his hot. To shoot the wire you’ll have to kill the terrorist.”
[Ten minutes later, after several more implausible scenarios are ruled out.]
“Well, in that case, I guess I would kill the guy.”
He was really amazing at constructing those hypotheticals so that any other option became impossible. In one semester of his class, I think I killed more hypothetical Nazis than Aldo Raine.