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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  • Well, you certainly wouldn’t want to go *south* on Lake Shore Drive.  You’d end up in one of those :gasp: bad neighborhoods.

    Or worse: Indiana!

  • Yes, I’m just the kind of person who’d love to visit Pripyat in the Ukraine.

    If you are into playing genre-blending games, I might recommend you play S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and its two sequels.  It takes place in a slightly alternate universe version of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where the aftermath of the nuclear disaster unleashed strange spacial warping phenomena  causing mutations and lethal anomalies.  However, these anomalies leave behind strange and previously unknown materials, being very valuable, and this fuels a black-market demand for adventurers who can slip past the cordon, brave the environmental dangers, and bring them back.  

    But the zone is a strange place, where the laws of reality are mutable, and not all is as it seems.  

    To quote TvTropes:

    There are few video games on this page which come close to the level of creeping, grinding dread this game and its sequels inspires. The atmosphere of crushing horror is made far worse by the fact it holds quite old fashioned views about what the average player should be capable of. In other words, it wants you dead. Very dead. Remember those other FPS s where you had limitless supplies of ammo which took up no room in your magic bottomless bag? No. Remember those games where there’d be some guy who would helpfully fill you in on the boss’s weak point before you fought him? No. Remember those games where the people not shooting you spoke the same language as you? Nyet. Remember those games where you didn’t have to eat, where being injured was just a reason to be slightly more cautious, and you could heal by simply walking away and waiting for a bit? No, no, no, no, no. There is no salvation, no Hope Spots in the crumbling, radioactive ruins of the Zone; you will die and you will not understand what happened, except that your end was quick but not quick enough. Around the next corner from your near fatal encounter with an invisible mutant you will find not a safe house but a band of disinterested Ukrainians waiting to kill and loot your slowly bleeding-out meat. It is a game that will hook and hold you even though half the time you wish you WERE dead, such is the level of fear and suffering you are being put through, because just surviving in the Zone feels like a tangible achievement. That is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     “she would take the LSD.”

    “We were halfway to Arlington Heights when the drugs took hold…”

  • I’ve seen that too.

    Also have you seen TV shows like the Tripods (based on the books of the same name) or Revolution (new TV series)? They do a pretty good job showing the rise of a post-apocalyptic society that has largely reverted to agrarian feudalism amidst the ruins of great cities. How quickly plants and animals find roots even amidst large cities is an amazing thing to see. Whole streets becoming grasslands in just a decade; vines blooming up buildings, reclaiming what humans once built.

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

  • Rowen

     There was a show based off of the John Christopher books?!

  • Filthy? Maybe it’s just my interpretation, but someone like buck doesnt get his hands dirty, literally or metaphorically.

    Otherwise, you nailed it.

  • Not that I’m aware. I think it’s more like people in Orange County referring to their home as “the O.C.”

    “Don’t call it that.”

  • aunursa

    someone like buck doesnt get his hands dirty

    Be patient.

  • The BBC made a series in the 1980s. Only Books 1 and 2 ever got aired though.

  • GeniusLemur

    Doesn’t get his hands dirty? Doesn’t touching a GIRL he’s not married to count?

  • AndrewSshi

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

  • phoenix_feather

     Oh.  I did read a few of them, but not that one.  I see what you mean about it not looking like a 12 year old.

  • phoenix_feather

    Your story idea reminded me of the graphic novel “Therefore Repent.”  It’s not quite the same thing, but it’s similar.

    (Someone mentioned it on here a while back, and I freaking loved it!)

  •  The one thing that Life After People lacks which is really interesting to me is that a lot of things follow from the total absence of humanity in their scenario. So we don’t get to see what impact a small number of human survivors would have the decay of civilization.

    For instance, the main thing that causes buildings to deteriorate so quickly is water: basically, once the windows break, the building starts to deteriorate very quickly from water damage. Which means that a human boarding up the windows and patching holes in the roof as they happen could *vastly* extend the lifetime of a modern building. There’s a lot of other things Life After People shows sweeping away the remains of civilization that could be forestalled by a very small number of surviving humans closing all the doors and switching the lights off.

  • One thing I find fascinating is that even when you don’t make a conscious effort to clean your car, for example, just USING it every day seems to stave off the otherwise apparently inevitable presence of critters and plants and such.

    I think it’s because a human getting into and out of a car on a nearly daily basis disturbs the dust and pollen and other things that would otherwise settle and provide sustenance for critters or places for plants to grow.

  • When I was a child, my mom had a Chevy Vega she drove so infrequently that the rotors rusted and a colony of wasps moved into the engine compartment.

  • 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?

  • P J Evans

    How quickly plants and animals find roots even amidst large cities is an amazing thing to see.

    I’m looking forward to finding out if the red-tailed hawks downtown will sit on the supports for the canopy they’re installing over the entrance to the Pershing Square subway entrance (not before time, either). (Someone took down the TV antenna they’d occasionally been using as a perch.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • j_bird

    I think it also has something to do with the fact that the engine warms up and dries things out, thus slowing rust.

  • True, but I was also thinking of the inside of a car, and how I’ve seen mold get on seatbelts of cars that haven’t been used in months, but if the car is used every day, or even every week, the mold doesn’t get a chance.

  • 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!

  • j_bird

    That’s a good point.  

    *is suddenly struck by nagging doubt*

    *goes and makes sure door of unused mini-fridge is open a crack to prevent mold growth*

  • Joshua

    I’d say they look like the undead rising from the grave, which I guess is exactly what they are. It’s the zombie apocalypse and these people have predeclared themselves as quislings!

  • Joshua

    Aaaaaargh! Aaaaaaaaargh! I hate that one.

    Let me rephrase it:

    “I don’t know what Christianity is, and I don’t care to know!”

  • Joshua

    Well, there’s

    Similar theme. And as a result of this google image search, I’d like to say that there are some very disturbing people out there, and many of them do use an anime drawing style.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • PollyAmory

    No question about it, Les Miserables the novel treats religion as almost uniformly a source of goodness in the world. Nuns are only one example. There’s also the priest from whom Valjean steals and who then covers for him and forgives him.

  • Brightie

     Kudos for Gilbert & Sullivan!

  • Brightie

     I have met some more adult-sounding young people… but generally, those are the ones who know good books from bad ones. So the point still stands. :p

  • Brightie

     Maybe if the import was made by somebody whose national language is the same as his own, it doesn’t count?

  • That is actually a pretty logical explanation. After all “Range Rover” doesn’t have a name that sounds recognizably foreign, unlike Volkwagen or Acura.