NRA: The Old Nature

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 74-89

In 15 pages, Buck Williams is going to have a crisis of conscience.

He will be shocked by his own sinful lapse into unregenerate behavior and will think, with horror, “So, the old nature is still just under the surface.”

That image of “the old nature” comes from St. Paul. Those who are redeemed in Christ, Paul said, would be made anew, transformed into new creatures as part of a new creation. It’s kind of Paul’s earlier version of the “born again” image in John’s Gospel.

This image of a battle between our “old nature” and our reborn, sanctified selves is a favorite in sermons on evangelical piety, and thus this would be a familiar phrase for the born-and-raised evangelical readers Jerry Jenkins is addressing here.

As we’ve noted many times, though, such phrases should not be as familiar to Buck Williams, who was never a church-goer until his post-Rapture conversion. I suppose that here, after the “18 months later” time-skip at the end of the last book, Buck has had time to become more immersed in the culture and jargon of his new evangelical family. But before that time-skip it was always amusing to note how Buck’s recitation of the sinner’s prayer instantaneously imparted to him a comprehensive familiarity with every aspect of evangelical culture, a native-speaker’s flair for its idioms, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the bits of the Bible that the authors read.

Buck’s instant transformation into an evangeliclone isn’t just a silly continuity error or a bit of unrealistic writing. It’s also a missed opportunity — or a rejected opportunity — that reveals something about the authors’ agenda for these books. Showing Buck as someone new to the faith, as someone struggling to understand new ideas, would have been a good way to reach out to readers who were themselves new believers or not-yet believers. But the authors skipped all that, automatically zapping Buck into a fully formed, life-long evangelical Christian — someone just like the readers they have in mind.

This is something that separates the Left Behind series from the rest of the pop-prophecy genre, fiction and non-fiction alike. Read Hal Lindsey or watch the Thief in the Night movies of Donald W. Thompson and you’ll see a desperate effort to evangelize — to reach the unsaved before it’s too late. That effort was often awkwardly over-earnest or unintentionally offensive to the very people they were trying to save, but those writers were, undeniably, trying to save people. They were trying to save you, because they believed that Very Bad Things would happen to you if you did not get saved and they did not want to see Very Bad Things happen to you.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins do want to see Very Bad Things happen to you. They’re disturbingly eager and excited for it. The authors can’t wait until it’s too late for all the sinners. They long to see Jesus start punishing them with earthquakes, locusts and pestilence before ultimately coming back, killing them all, and then bringing them back from the dead just so they can be sent to eternal torture in Hell. This is what those sinners deserve, LaHaye and Jenkins say, because they didn’t listen to LaHaye and Jenkins like they should have.

These books were not written as a plea to the unsaved to get saved before it’s too late. They are written for the already saved readers as a reminder that they are better than those unsaved people. That’s why Buck and Rayford never act, talk or think like new believers. Their conversions in this story were not an attempt to show readers that you, too, can become saved, just like Buck and Rayford. Those conversions, rather, were to show readers that Buck and Rayford, too, could become saved just like us.

And but so, what prompts Buck’s crisis of conscience at the end of these 15 pages? What is it that he does that causes him to recoil at his own behavior, lamenting that “the old nature is still just under the surface”?

He says a swear word.

It’s not clear which one — L&J and Tyndale, of course, did not print the word he says. From the context, though, I’m guessing it was the D-word: Darn it!

Buck dialed the number in the Range Rover. How many dozens of times had he done this now? He knew the routine by heart. … He pressed the phone to his ear. “The mobile customer you have called –” Buck swore and gripped Verna’s phone so tightly he thought it might break. He took a step and pulled his arm back as if to fire the blasted machine into the side of a building. He followed through but hung onto the phone, realizing it would be the stupidest thing he had ever done. He shook his head at the word that had burst from his lips when that cursed recording had come one. So, the old nature is still just under the surface.

We’ve just skipped over 15 pages — some of which involves Rayford scenes that we’ll come back to later — so let’s go back and see how Buck wound up here, on the sidewalk, cursing at this betrayal by the very device he has always loved and served.

Buck is racing towards Chicago in a borrowed car, desperately searching for his wife who was trying to flee the city but crashed as the bombs began to fall.

Verna Zee’s car was a junky old import. It was rattly and drafty, a four-cylinder automatic. In short, it was a dog. Buck decided to test its limits and reimburse Verna later, if necessary.

Pride, St. Paul warned, is a mark of our old nature.

Much of the pages that follow give us another taste of Jenkins’ approach to writing an exciting car-chase scene, which is to portray it as just like commuting, except faster:

What he didn’t know was whether she would take Lake Shore Drive (which locals referred to as the LSD) or the Kennedy. This was more her bailiwick than his, but his question soon became moot. Chicago was in flames, and most of the drivers of cars that clogged the Kennedy in both directions stood on the pavement gaping at the holocaust.

If you’re wondering how there’s anything left to gape at, and anyone left to do the gaping, it’s because in these books nuclear bombs are apparently rather small and not radioactive (they seem a lot like conventional bombs, except, somehow, nuclear).

The next several pages give us scene after scene of Buck trying to make his way through disaster-area traffic. Throughout all of this, he is again portrayed as an aggressive driver, constantly on the lookout for ways to outsmart and outmaneuver anyone who gets in his way. The highway is a jungle, and Buck is determined to be king of the jungle:

When he whipped Verna’s little pile of junk onto the shoulder, he found he wasn’t alone. Traffic laws and civility went out the window at a time like this. …

The biggest jam-ups came at the bridge overpasses where the shoulders ended and those fighting to go around stalled traffic had to take turns picking their way through. Angry motorists rightfully tried to block their paths. Buck couldn’t blame them. He would have done the same in their places.

Buck left the expressway and picked his way though side streets for more than an hour until reaching Evanston. By the time he got to Sheridan Road along the lake, he found it barricaded but not guarded.

… He had bounced over a couple of curbs and couldn’t avoid smashing one traffic barrier where Sheridan Road jogged to meet Lakeshore Drive. All along the Drive he saw cars off the road, emergency vehicles with lights flashing, and disaster relief specialists trying to flag him down. He floored Verna Zee’s little car, and no one dared step in front of him. He had most of the lanes open all the way down the Drive, but he heard people shouting, “Stop! Road closed!”

Nowhere is Buck’s selfish, aggressive dickishness behind the wheel ever portrayed as anything other than a positive — as evidence that he’s a take-charge, can-do man’s man. Neither he nor the authors seems to realize that their concept of a manly man is almost indistinguishable from St. Paul’s portrait of the self-centered “old man” of our old nature. They view his aggression as justified here because he’s in an emergency — he’s trying to find his wife. It never registers for Buck or the authors that, with Chicago “in flames,” everyone else is in an emergency too. They don’t even seem to grasp that those “emergency vehicles with lights flashing” might be in an emergency, or that by interfering with “disaster relief specialists” Buck is probably interfering with disaster relief.

In post-disaster Chicago, Buck is basically like Billy Zane in Titanic, racing to shoulder his way into a lifeboat before somebody else claims the seat. But here the authors expect us to be cheering for Billy Zane.

The barricade that shut down Lake Shore Drive and the exit looked like something from the set of Les Miserables. Squad cars, ambulances, fire trucks, construction and traffic horses, caution lights, you name it, were stretched across the entire area, manned by a busy force of emergency workers. Buck came to a screeching halt, swerving and sliding about 50 feet before his right front tire blew.

The thing about coming to a “screeching halt” — apart from the cliché — is that once one arrives at a halt, one ought to be halted, and not sliding another 50 feet, blowing a tire, and spinning around into a crowd of “emergency workers.” But eventually, Buck comes to an actual halt and finds himself in trouble with a policewoman:

She thrust her weapon through the window and pressed it to his temple. “Both hands where I can see ’em, scumbag!”

Are you picturing Angie Dickinson in the 1970s TV show Police Woman? Because even if you’re not, I’m pretty sure Jerry Jenkins was when he wrote that bit of dialogue.

We’re still several pages away from Buck’s self-flagellation for saying a naughty word. In the course of those pages (which we’ll get to in a future post) he continues to be self-centered, threatening, rude, short-tempered, impatient, unkind and spiteful toward several emergency personnel and to Verna and Loretta over the phone.

Buck does not chastise himself for any of that. Nor do the authors at any point or in any way suggest that any of that is less than exemplary Christian behavior. It’s simply Buck being a manly man, just like Jesus.

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  • Newbiedoobiedoo

    Oog, I watched “Left Behind: World at War” on Bounce TV recently. It ends where Book 2 ends. I’ve heard that the book-writers weren’t too pleased with the film-writing and would reboot the series if they could. Some obvious changes:

    *FilmAmanda looks wholesomely blonde. We don’t actually know what Amanda looks like except that FilmAmanda doesn’t quite look like a person who would wears furs and the fine jewelry BookRayford brought from Paris. (I was picturing Joan Collins playing SavedAmanda, fwiw.)

    *Also, FilmAmanda doesn’t look fifty-plus, except in Hollywood. She’s supposed to be about 10 years older than Rayford, maybe a little less.

    *FilmHattie threatens the FilmSteeles repeatedly.

    *FilmAmanda figures out that this is because FilmHattie is scared. FilmNick doesn’t know that FilmHattie is pregnant, and she figures he’s going to be not amused.

    *FilmAmanda invites FilmHattie to flee with them to safety right from the start. FIlmHattie tears up and says she can’t leave him.

    *FilmWidow is a major player. FilmWidow is Eric Miller’s widow. (Remember him? AllVersionsCam pointed AllVersionsNick in his direction, and Nick killed him. FilmWidow, whose name is Carolyn, goes Trib Force on FilmNick, gets a job as his aide, and works with FilmPOTUS, Mr. Britain, and Mr. Egypt to take down FilmNick.

    *FilmPOTUS tries to kill FilmNick.

    *Twice.

    *The first time with a porcelain gun (think the stuff you use to fix your teeth). The bullets sail through FilmNick as if he isn’t there, killing one of his lackeys.

    *FilmNick doesn’t like this, so he tosses FilmPOTUS out of a skyscraper window.

    *FilmJesus (we presume) saves FilmPOTUS’s life before FilmPOTUS is officially Saved. After FilmPOTUS does his “Die Hard” impression by landing on a car, he shakes his head and runs away from the car he landed on. FilmNick snarls that that’s not possible.

    *FilmNick convinces Mr. Britain and Mr. Egypt that FilmPOTUS has betrayed them. For this betrayal, FilmWidow considers shooting him.

    *FilmNick has done this by nuking the three American cities of the novels. FilmNick also has 97 (count ’em, ninety-seven) other nukes standing by, but apparently he needs Mr. China and Mr. Russia to launch them.

    *FilmPOTUS, having had a very bad day, decides that FilmCam is not his friend. He abducts FilmCam, bonds and bag over head and all that.

    *FilmPOTUS tells FilmCam that if FilmCam doesn’t “deny Jesus Christ” right now, FilmPOTUS is going to shoot him dead right now. FilmPOTUS even makes the little clicking noise you make when you’re aiming the gun.

    *FilmCam refuses to deny Jesus Christ. FilmCam uses the words, “No, I will not deny Christ. I am a Christian.” Repeat: FilmCam uses the word No and Christian.

    *FilmPOTUS lets him go. FilmCam witnesses to FilmPOTUS.

    *Twice.

    *It takes the second time. FilmPOTUS is saved.

    *FilmPOTUS is in the burning Oval Office when he gets saved. FilmCam got a feeling that he should go there and deliver his second witnessing.

    *FilmWorld is getting sick with an inexplicable plague. FilmCam shows FilmPOTUS a verse in the Bible predicting pestilence.

    *Unfortunately it’s the Christians getting sick, not the FilmNickFollowers. Turns out that FilmNick has anthraxed all the Bibles.

    *This only applies to new Bibles in the Bible-printing factories or stores or whatever. Since FilmCam is carrying a used Bible (either FilmIrene or FilmBruce’s), FilmCam doesn’t get sick.

    *The dying FilmBruce tells everyone to have Holy Communion, particularly the dying FilmChloe. FilmBruce doesn’t partake (too sick?). Also, I don’t remember seeing the Body (the bread of the field), only the Blood (the fruit of the vine).

    *FilmChloe feels herself recovering only seconds after partaking of the Blood. “It’s the red wine! That’s the antidote!”

    *Since the mysterious illness is killing mostly FilmChristians, they presumably aren’t taking Communion.

    *Since none of the book characters take Communion, they presumably would have died. If they had gotten sick, if the Bibles had been anthraxed, which they weren’t.

    *FilmPOTUS decides to try to kill FilmNick a second time. He does a “Captain Sheridan at Zha’ha’dum” and has missiles lock on his telephone. The building blows up real good, killing the saved FilmPOTUS.

    *FilmNick walks out through the flames, looking annoyed and pleased at the same time. End of film.

    And things that were not in the books but are consistent with them:

    *In her wedding vows, FilmAmanda calls her husband “Captain Rayford Steele” in the I-name-do-take-thee-Name-to-be-my-wedded-etc. sentence.

    *FilmCam wants to go do something reckless; the Steeles calm him down by holding his hands and praying with him. When they pray their first sentence to God to guide FilmCam, his phone rings.

    Ch-ch-changes …

  • AndrewSshi

     My point was more just that it’s mighty suspicious that the Sex Loving Prostitute always seems to come up and post on these discussions. The first, second, or fifth time, sure, I’d be willing to believe that. But eventually, I begin to suspect that whoever’s posting, it’s not a sex loving prostitute.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, that’s fair.

  • Makabit

    I know some women in sex work who are independent gals who run their own business and seem to like their work well enough. But I agree with Andrew that that is rather different from the “I love sex work because I just love having sex so muuuch, and I can get money for it! I’d do it for free! Giggle giggle!”

    I’ve never heard that out of a real person’s mouth. It’s something fantasy prostitutes say.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Er… most women do have sex for free. So I am confused by your example.

  • Makabit

    Er… most women do have sex for free. So I am confused by your example.

    True. However, the speaker is supposed to be a sex worker who is insisting that her great enjoyment of having sex with her clients is her primary motivation for engaging in such,with the money just being a delightful extra. Tee hee.

    I suppose that it’s possible this woman does exist somewhere out there, but I suspect that the majority of (voluntary and fairly happy) sex workers talk like the women I know who do sex work. They may just love sex,but they do sex work because it’s a living, because they believe it’s helping people, because it has a flexible schedule, because they believe society should be more sex-positive…they do not tell this common online fantasy story of “And then I found out guys would PAY me for it, I mean, OMG, how funny is that!”

    I think the woman telling that story online is not a sex worker, and probably not a woman either.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Ah, I get it now. I have seen sex workers say things like, “I just got a full-body massage and received oral sex, and I got paid for it, I love my job,” but that’s different.

  • Daughter

    Buck’s lack of recognition of his general assholery as sin, but feeling convicted about swearing, reminds  me of the book, My Life Without God, the autobiography/conversion story of William Murry, Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s son, who is now an evangelical minister. I came to a different conclusion about the author than I think he intended: what I read was a story of multi-generational abuse and rebellion against abusive parents that played itself out in switching from theism to atheism and back.

    Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s religious father was extremely abusive, and she became an atheist dedicated to stripping religion from pubic life in reaction to him. She in turn was abusive to her son William, who became a Christian as an adult, declaring, “There has to be a God, because I’ve already lived through hell.”

    However, after his conversion, he seems only to regret having lived his early life without faith, having been the plaintiff in the Supreme Court decision outlawing official school prayer, and to some extent, his alcoholism. Yet never once in the book does he express remorse for abusing his own wife (who later divorces him) and children, nor does he do anything to make amends for it. In fact, he continues to be a jerk toward them, and even describes slapping his teenage daughter in the face post-conversion.

    Not surprisingly, that teenage daughter declared herself an atheist and went to work for Grandma’s organization (she was the young woman who was later kidnapped and killed with her grandmother).

  • AndrewSshi

     That’s… the saddest thing I’ve read in this set of comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    So, the old nature is still just under the surface.

    I don’t recall Buck going around using naughty words before he Got Saved, so how is this his “old nature” anyway?

  • Kadh2000

    Late thought to the party…

    Of course the locals call it “LSD”, thus it can be said that the people of Chicago said things like, “Let’s take LSD!” all the time.  Well, saying that’s only one step away from trying LSD for real.  Thus Chicago had to be destroyed and it’s alright to not feel sorry for it.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Late to the party, I know. But this week’s entry showcases the two parallel tracks of awfulness these books are known for: bad writing, and bad theology. I’ll look at the bad theology in another post. Right now, I want to rant about Bad Writing!

    Others have snarked quite well on bailiwick and “which the locals referred to as” and whatnot. I’d like to point out the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Buck pretending to throw a phone into a wall is horribly, horrible bad writing.

    In good writing, a character may lash out in anger, gripping a handle of something until it breaks off, or pounding a fist against a coffee table and accidentally punching through it. In good writing, these scenes do a few things things. First, these acts of anger are born of frustration; our protagonist is unable to act despite their efforts, and they’re lashing out as a result. These are acts of characters who are or at least feel helpless. These acts are often (but not always) a surprise to the characters themselves; they reveal that the character is trying to deny even to themselves their helplessness, and the explosion of anger is a reveal of weakness to both the character and the audience. 

    Scenes like these reveal a deeper understanding of storytelling; yes our heroes should be strong and powerful, but if we, the audience, are to root for them, they need to be vulnerable, capable of failing. We need to see them struggle with their fears the way we struggle with ours; helping us identify with their weakness lets us share in their triumph. 

    A description of Verna’s car being too small for Buck, a section talking about how it barely crests 55 with the pedal down, Buck trying to jump a curb and getting sparks and scraping sounds, these could all work with a little comedy relief to show how dis-empowered he is, to ground his frustration a little. 

    Given the relationship between Jenkins and his protagonists, it’s no surprise he botches this. Buck Williams is always in control, always in command! If he throws a phone in rage, it’s because the phone is failing him, Buck McAwesome!

  • WalterC

    One of the less-noticeable but still jarringly stupid aspects of this week’s “N:RA” — the policewoman who sticks her gun through the window of Buck’s car to press it against Buck’s head. No police officer, no one with weapons training, no one who has ever even so much as held a gun before would ever do this.

    Not only is it obviously dangerous, it doesn’t even feel comfortable; she has to practically be leaning against Buck’s car, her arm fully extended over his driver-side window to do this. For what? His tires have already burst, he obviously can’t move, and she already has the drop on him. 

  • James Schumacher

    Alright I admit, there was one aspect of this section I rather liked: Verna Zee’s Car.

    That little car is a “ratty and drafty four cylinder dog”, yet Buck thrashes it to the point of no-return in this section and it just keeps going. A car like that is exactly the sort of car that breaks down the moment you need it most, but the VZC doesn’t: it senses Bucks urgency and keeps going until he blows a tire through his own stupid actions.

    Given that Verna could definately afford better (she’was almost the head of the chicago office, after all), I’m going go ahead to assume she has some sentimental attachment to the car: probably it was her first car, and she’s kept it running with spit, grit and duct tape ever since.

    That car is certainly a more likable character than it’s driver. I want to write a Right Behind story from the POV of the VZC.


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