Dr. Sarah Hammond on Left Behind

Religious history scholar Sarah Hammond died last Thanksgiving, too soon.

I was not familiar with Dr. Hammond or her work until reading some of the tributes to her posted this week to mark the anniversary of her death. Here was the tribute from Provost Michael Halleran of William & Mary, where Hammond taught. Linn Tonstad remembered Hammond at Religion in American History and Sarah Morice-Brubaker mourned her loss at Religion Dispatches.

Writing at State of Formation this week, Kathryn Rey praises Hammond for “the ethic of critical empathy, which permeates her work”:

The worlds Sarah chose to study were not the ones in which she moved and operated. As an ardent Democrat, a female professor who held authority over men, and a lesbian, she had every reason to study people and events that empowered and vindicated her as a person.

But instead, she devoted herself to the study of evangelical Christian businessmen whose deepest values not only disagreed with hers but called her very personhood into question. Yet she dove into their world carrying no axe to grind, but with the empathy of one who had an abiding affection for those she studied.

That quality can be seen in Hammond’s assessment of the Left Behind series, which she saw as a useful window into the theology and culture of American evangelicalism. The following is a 2001 post by Hammond an academic forum, in which she encouraged her peers to take the series — and its readers — seriously:

Thanks to its Tom Clancy-esque potboiler prose, the series is an accessible gateway into what noninitiates might see as the arcane and remote history of popular premillennialism. Tim LaHaye’s Bob Jones roots and more recent engagement with therapeutic, suburban Protestantism are on full and ambivalent display, offering rich fodder for discussion both of conservative evangelicalism/fundamentalism and of religious readership in general.

Dr. Sarah Hammond, 1977-2011

For list members who haven’t read Left Behind and its successors, the books are techno-thriller versions of every fundamentalist child’s nightmare of being passed over at the Rapture. (In fact, there’s a kids’ series starring teenagers who blew their chance at the age of accountability. They find Jesus when they become Rapture orphans.) Theologically, the books offer the usual fare: pointed jabs at liberal churches whose Christianity consists in nonjudgmental do-gooding (all of whose stiff-necked members keep insisting that Revelation was never meant to be taken literally); philo-/anti-semitic anticipation of the “harvest” of Jewish converts; a strong anti-Catholic streak (a Pope in trouble with the Council of Cardinals for issuing dogmas that sound suspiciously Lutheran gets raptured, and the antiChrist appoints his successor as the head of the one-world religion); stern reminders, in the form of unraptured characters who had seemed like perfect Christians, that “head” religion is not the same as taking Jesus into your heart; elaborate analysis of biblical prophecies, down to identifying the antiChrist from a roster of candidates by his racial lineage. Readings from Paul Boyer’s When Time Shall Be No More or Timothy Weber’s Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming may be useful — Boyer, especially, for the conspiratorial political context, since the antiChrist is based (where else?) at the U.N.

Culturally, Left Behind and its successors are a complicated and canny mix. The authors issue several pre-emptive strikes against the Elmer Gantry vein of mockery. All the main characters are upwardly mobile professionals, two of them Princeton- and Stanford-educated to boot. The New Class credentials are ambiguous. The explicit message is a thumb in the nose to fancy degrees and yuppie self-congratulation: after they’re saved, the characters realize how dumb they were when they thought they were so much smarter than everyone else. Yet LaHaye and Jenkins repeatedly underscore their heroes’ secular success, denying modern Menckens or Lewises any chance to sneer at Bible-thumping bumpkins. In the same vein, the writers are in love with up-to-the-minute technology, a perfect jumping-off point for a classroom challenge to the supposed anti-modernity of “fundamentalism.” To no small extent, these novels — like Clancy’s — are upscale boys’n’toys fantasies.

Boys’n’toys notwithstanding, gender is perhaps the most unresolved issue of all. (It would be great to get a demographic breakdown of the buyers.) LaHaye and Jenkins, building on the LaHaye duo’s pop psych, veer between essentialism and challenges to traditional gender roles that reveal how far feminism has diffused throughout the culture. It’s a Promise Keepers perspective, but that perspective is far from straightforwardly patriarchal. For the men of Left Behind, becoming Christians means getting in touch with their feelings and valuing family more than the rat race. The main female character is tough and assertive, challenges men who patronize her because of her gender, and becomes the CEO of a worldwide Christian co-op designed to evade the mark of the Beast. Sure, she agrees to submit to her husband. But the one time the issue comes up (at least through book 7), she tells him that the plan he wants her to obey is idiotic. He realizes that she’s right and he’s wrong, and doesn’t exercise his headship. Some “submission!” R. Marie Griffith’s, Christel Manning’s, and Brenda Brasher’s work on conservative Christian and Jewish women would be terrific supplements.

That’s perceptive, smart and kind. I’m saddened that we won’t get to read more and learn more from Dr. Hammond.

  • aunursa

    stern reminders, in the form of unraptured characters who had seemed like perfect Christians, that “head” religion is not the same as taking Jesus into your heart
     
    This is why those of us are mistaken who think that L&J’s perspective is that all anyone has to do to become an RTC is simply mouth the “magic words”, i.e. the sinner’s prayer.
     
    From their perspective, it isn’t a matter of simply reciting certain words.  In order to be an RTC, the person must actually believe the prayer that she is praying. She must actully believe that she is a sinner, and must ask Jesus to “come into her heart” and be her lord and savior.  In other words, someone who says something like: “I admit that I’m a sinner.  God, please forgive me.  I ask this in the name of Jesus, who died for my sins.” — but who doesn’t actually believe what she is saying — is not an RTC.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Thanks to its Tom Clancy-esque potboiler prose

    NO.

    L&J do not deserve to breathe the same air as Tom Clancy.

    At least Tom Clancy bothered to do his research and set up well-connected plots in his books.

  • ReverendRef

    In order to be an RTC, the person must actually believe the
    prayer that she is praying. She must actully believe that she is a
    sinner, and must ask Jesus to “come into her heart” and be her lord and
    savior.

    And, in the example you just sighted, she must also be led in that prayer by a man.

    In other words, someone who says something like: “I admit that I’m a
    sinner.  God, please forgive me.  I ask this in the name of Jesus, who
    died for my sins.” — but who doesn’t actually believe what she is
    saying — is not an RTC.

    This is also rather convenient because it’s up to the appropriate RTC authority figure to determine if the person saying the prayer really believes it.  Which is extremely troubling.

    I grew up with a father who was absolutely sure he could determine when you meant the words you said.  When I apologized for something, he would often say, “No, say it again until you mean it.”  Or when I answered a question, he would say something like, “That’s not what you really mean.”

    So I learned at an early age to say nothing until I knew I was absolutely correct, know in advance what he wanted me to say and play his game, or say nothing at all.  That’s probably a major reason why I’m not a great debater, but also may be why I’m a decent official (knowing the rules forward and backward helps).

    And, yeah . . . that was probably way more that I needed to say.

  • ReverendRef

    Oh . . . and my previous post was in reply to aunursa.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Agreed. I no great fan of Tom Clancy, but like you said, his books are well-researched (if too credulous regarding the efficacy for certain weapons systems) and well-plotted. The characters behave in a consistent manner within and from book-to-book, and any change or growth in character explainable and logical.

    None of this is true of the Left Behind books.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Fortunately, I didn’t have parents like that — but I had friends who did and I would sometimes be interrogated (over stupid bullshit like “Who left the door open?” or “Who told you you could cut through the corn field?” or “Why did you put that hot pan on a plastic tablecloth?”) by said parents and would get very confused and upset by such encounters.

  • aunursa

    And, in the example you just sighted, she must also be led in that prayer by a man.

    I don’t know where you get that idea.  I’ve never seen any indication from L&J that they believe that the prayer must be led by anyone, much less a man.  I can’t remember every one of the Left Behind conversion stories, but one stands out in particular.  In Prequel #1, Irene Steele is proselytized by her friend Jackie.  But when Irene prays the Prayer, she is alone and prays the words from her own heart.

    This is also rather convenient because it’s up to the appropriate RTC authority figure to determine if the person saying the prayer really believes it.

    I haven’t read this anywhere in the LB series, either.  L&J never give the impression that an authority figure can determine if a person is a real RTC.  (The only way they are able to determine that someone is faking it is beginning in Book 4, when a cross appears on the forehead of each RTC that is only visible to other RTCs.)  There very well may be Evangelical authority figures who determine that someone is or isn’t an RTC.  But I don’t recall that idea being taught in Left Behind.

  • Ygorbla

     The problem is that this is never shown in-character.  I find the doctrine of original sin troubling for all sorts of reasons, but at the very least recognizing your capacity for sin does have the potential to help someone behave in a moral fashion.  Do you think the supposedly saved protagonists of Left Behind act like someone who has accepted that they are a sinner?

    It feels like they believe that this supernatural forgiveness actively frees them of any responsibility to think about the way their actions affect others, because, hey, they’re already forgiven for everything, right?  And in that respect it naturally comes off as simply reciting the magic words to everyone but them — someone who actually came to understand their own flaws (and who was a member of just about any other creed) would feel at least some obligation to do something about them, or would at least show some awareness of them.  RTCs in Left Behind either lack this awareness or feel that it’s not important as long as they’ve said the magic words.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Ugh. I had parents who would give me the third fucking degree over the stupidest shit sometimes.

  • Jim Roberts

    So, you agree then that Buck and Ray Ray aren’t actually RTCs? I mean, jsut pride and putting their desires before others alone, they’re way ahead of the pack.

  • rrhersh

     The earlier Clancy books were great fun, so long as you didn’t take them too seriously or expect stuff like character depth.  Then two things happened:  the cold war ended, and Clancy became too popular to edit. 

    The first forced him to drop cold war plots.  The problem then became how to write military fiction when one side has the military budget of the rest of the world combined.  This led him into ever more stupid plot devices.  It also gave him free rein for his racism and wacko politics.  His Russian characters were of the honorable-foe variety.  In Clancy-land, by way of contrast, Muslims are insane and Asians (of any sort) are sexual deviants.  The sole exception was the Asian-American CIA agent raised as a fully acculturated American, such that, as we are repeated assured, he finds any Asian culture inscrutable. 

    His domestic politics became, if such a thing is possible, even worse.  In the earlier books the reader could guess the political affiliation of Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy, but it was beside the point.  When I got to the point of reading that every Sierra Club member is a borderline (at best) mass murderer, I threw in the towel.

    Then there is the matter of editing.  His books grew longer and longer.  Did his plots grow longer or more involved?  No.  Did the character studies?  No.  So what did?  Partly it was irrelevant political screeds.  Partly it was outright repetition.  Some character would muse to himself some observation, taking up two or three pages.  Fifty or a hundred pages later, he would do it again, with the same observation.  I would accuse him of shameless padding if his books weren’t already too long at this point.  My guess is that he wanted to make sure the reader got the point, and there wasn’t any editor at the publisher at this point who could cut it.

    To summarize, comparing the Lost Behind books to early Clancy is clearly unfair, but the later you get in his career the more fair it becomes.

  • aunursa

    Do you think the supposedly saved protagonists of Left Behind act like someone who has accepted that they are a sinner?

    Certainly not.  But that’s a problem with the entire series, in which every character  believes, but acts in discord with his beliefs.  After all, this is a series in which God and Jesus are two of the most evil characters.

    I would never dare to suggest that Jerry Jenkins is capable of fictionalizing how a truly penitent person would act.

  • Tom S

    Dear God, the thought that Left Behind is relatively feminist within its subculture- even unintentionally so- is fucking terrifying

  • ReverendRef

     I don’t know where you get that idea.

    Maybe I’m overly-extrapolating.  But with the prevalence of male domination in those books (i.e. the little women can’t do anything without the male hero), it seems to me that it would be a natural extension of the male headship of the church. 

    Maybe I’m misremembering, but wasn’t there something about Chloe’s conversion when she was led in the prayer by Bruce or Buck something?  But then again, I can’t claim to paying that close of attention to the books, being overwhelmed as I am by the bad writing and bad theology.

    I think my general implication still stands:  The guys make the rules and determine who is RTC and who isn’t, thereby usurping that decision from God.

  • MaryKaye

    All I can say is, if Left Behind shows that strain of Evangelical thought *after* it has been infected by feminism, I would hate to have to deal with it in its uninfected form.  The books’ treatment of women is pretty consistently awful.

  • Carstonio

    I had thought of the LB series as the fiction equivalent of Reginald Barclay’s holodeck programs. But Dr. Hammond’s description as “every fundamentalist child’s nightmare of being passed over at the Rapture” wouldn’t have occurred to me, because I don’t normally think of this type of ego stroking as being driven by fear.

    And I share her confusion over the gender roles in the series. Ellanjay seem to allow their female characters to be assertive only within the context of a marriage. Why do you think they treat Christianity for men as “getting in touch with their feelings and valuing family more than the rat race”? 

  • aunursa

    In the world of LB, they are RTCs.  But in the world of LB, Jerry Jenkins doesn’t have a clue at how bad his heroes are.  As I noted, God and Jesus are two of the most evil characters in the series.  The flaw is that Jerry Jenkins is a horrible writer without an editor, which is a separate issue from what he believes about RTCs.

  • aunursa

    wasn’t there something about Chloe’s conversion when she was led in the prayer by Bruce or Buck something?

    Chloe may have been led by Rayford.  And Rayford was led by the videotape of Vernon Billings.  I don’t recall every conversion, so I can’t recall if there is an example of a woman leading a man in the prayer.  But there is an example of a woman leading a man to accept Jesus.  In the prequels, Abdullah Smith is led to accept Jesus by his wife.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     A coworker of mine used to say about our documentation at an earlier company that it was much like a Tom Clancy novel — extensive, well-researched, plausible, and the most important parts were fiction.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Yet she dove into their world carrying no axe to grind, but with the empathy of one who had an abiding affection for those she studied.

    Not an attitude I understand in the slightest. I respect it, of course – I would never advocate hatred over empathy or rage over understanding. But I just don’t feel any moral compulsion to respect people who view their prexisting privilege as ipso facto justification of its own existence and who make it their life’s mission to prevent anyone else from taking a single step towards enjoying a similar level of privilege. I just can’t do it. And as a white middle-class dude there’s no way I experience as much of their bullshit as she does, even if I am a fellow sexual minority. It’s no secret that we white dudes catch less of the flak from systemic homophobia. And yet I still can’t bring myself to respect homophobes.

    I’m not sure what my point is. Do I feel threatened by this woman’s capacity for empathy? Maybe. But maybe she’s onto something.

  • ReverendRef

     n the prequels, Abdullah Smith is led to accept Jesus by his wife.

    Then I stand corrected.

  • J_Enigma32

    Wow. She was only 34.  That’s saddening indeed, and far, far too soon; I wish her family well.

    As far as Left Behind goes; I think she’s being far too generous:

    “The authors issue several pre-emptive strikes against the Elmer Gantry
    vein of mockery. All the main characters are upwardly mobile
    professionals, two of them Princeton- and Stanford-educated to boot”

    I’ve never read Elmer Gantry, but it’s a satire written by Sinclair Lewis about a high school football player who goes to become a lawyer and ends up getting mistaken for a fundamentalist preacher. Things get worse from there. I don’t see how Ray, Buck and Chloe are all strikes against that. They’re upward mobile, just like Gantry, they’re all cynics, just like Gantry, and when they get mistaken for Christian, things get a lot worse, just like Gantry.

    “Yet LaHaye and Jenkins repeatedly underscore their heroes’ secular
    success, denying modern Menckens or Lewises any chance to sneer at
    Bible-thumping bumpkins”

    Bumpkins, perhaps not. But heartless, narcissistic, spoiled, sociopathic Bible-thumping morons, yes.

    ” In the same vein, the writers are in love with up-to-the-minute
    technology, a perfect jumping-off point for a classroom challenge to the
    supposed anti-modernity of “fundamentalism.” To no small extent, these
    novels — like Clancy’s — are upscale boys’n’toys fantasies.”

    Only in the prequels, if my understanding is correct. Otherwise, the only tech that gets any love at all is the telephone. That glorious, marvelous, beatific long-distance communication device is almost as important a character in the books as the Antichrist is.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Yeah, their attempts to incorporate cutting-edge technology in the LB series are kind of hilarious. They want to be Clancy, but they don’t have the familiarity with technology or the initiative to actually do any research. So the best we get is satellite phones (hey, notice how popular those have gotten? no?) and fancy airplanes. Oh, and cars that play mini-CDs or something.

  • bekabot

    “The authors issue several pre-emptive strikes against the Elmer Gantry vein of mockery.”
    I don’t quite agree with this.  Or rather: I agree with it on condition that “issues several pre-emptive strikes against” actually means “provides fresh grounds for + deliberately incites”.  Then it comes out okay. 

    “All the main characters are upwardly mobile professionals, two of them Princeton- and Stanford-educated to boot.”

    The main characters in the Left Behind series may present as quasi-yuppies, but scratch ‘em one molecule down and they display their colors as bumpkins to the core.  The entire series is an exercise in extended bumpkinnery: it was written by people who ostentatiously don’t know how the larger world works, and who don’t care how the larger world works, because, in their own minds, they’re the salt of the earth to the extent that such knowledge would prove superfluous.  Lipstick on a pig, so to speak.  They’ve got the Gospel to peddle and the righteous to confirm in their righteousness: are they supposed to give a drat about the precise details of exactly how (and why and when and according to what schedule) their hypothetical incinerated sinners would get incinerated?  What the heck for?  Whaddaya think they’re writing, science fiction?  It’s Nicolae’s job to settle that stuff.  That’s what villains are there for, correct?  Villains are there to deal with the facts.

    (I myself am a bumpkin to the core, and I know whereof I speak.)

    Then too, let’s not forget: old Brother Elmer, in terms of his income stream at least, made it all the way into the upper middle class.  Not bad for a dude framed by God and Nature to live out his life as a coal-heaver.  Brother Elmer wound up as a very prosperous man.  Elmer Gantry may be an extended exercise in atheist mockery but it’s also a novel dedicated to upward mobility and worldly success.  The difference between LaHaye and Jenkins on the one hand, and Lewis and Mencken on the other, is, generally speaking, a difference in tone, an aesthetic difference.  Speaking broadly, LaHaye and Jenkins congratulate what Mencken and Lewis deplore, but they all appear to be talking about the same set of realities.  The difference, again, lies in the variance in opinion as to whether these are realities which deserve to be celebrated or not.  

  • Magic_Cracker

    All excellent points that pretty much explain why I stick to John Le Carre and Graham Greene. If anyone can point me to some good post-Cold War espionage novels, I’d appreciate it.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Also, you’d think he’d be more sympathetic to the Sierra Club, what with their anti-immigrant/nativist faction.

  • Carstonio

    Many years ago I tried reading The Hunt for Red October but gave up after three or four chapters, because I found it boring. Clancy has a big following in my community, especially among service members and retired service members, but I haven’t had any interest in his other books because of the jingoistic ideology Clancy has long represented. I read an interview with him when his fame was first growing, and although he was only his 40s then, he had the same sour grouchiness as an elderly Tea Partyer. 

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Read Stieg Larsson or something. I’m not saying his books are particularly good, but if there are American-written political thrillers that don’t loudly glorify and celebrate American empire, I haven’t found them.

  • VMink

    I don’t think it’s a cut and dry ‘nightmare’ versus ‘desire.’  It’s a totality of fear that something is going to happen, versus the almost cathartic release that comes from seeing it come to fruition (because now you can fight it and not fear it, without being held back by the useful idiots,) the relief that there are no more monsters in the closet because they’ve all come out, and the school-age smugness of being able to say “See, I was right!” even as you’re being martyred.

    The term I’ve seen used for looking at this scenario with this kind of mindset is “wet nightmare.”  Because the Birchers will be overjoyed to be proven Right After All, since then they can say “I told you so!” to the effete Ivory Tower liberals (if there are any left alive) as they unpack their guns and get ready to fight for America.  WOLVERINES!  Then they can go on to rebuild the country the way God intended.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that, though.  But in general… yeah, ‘wet nightmare.’

  • Carstonio

    The word bumpkin is not appropriate because it means “all rural people are stupid.” The deliberate ignorance shown by the LB characters knows no region.

  • fraser

     I recently read Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s an amazing book but I’m honestly not sure how much a post-Cold War reader would get from it. Even as someone who lived through the era, it felt at time almost as alien as the world of Avatar.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And don’t forget all-wheel-drive AND four-wheel-drive. ‘Cause product placement rocks.

  • fraser

     I don’t think I’ve ever seen a recent American spy thriller that was as cynical about such things as LeCarre was.

  • flat

    I believe that faith and infrastructure have something in common: they need maintenance if you want them to function properly.

    You have to pay taxes for infrastructure, and as a christian I believe Jesus payed for us at the cross.

  • bekabot

    Well…when I use the word “bumpkin”, I’m referring to a mental type, not to a specific geographical location.  There are cosmopolitans in trailer parks and there are bumpkins in big cities.  You’re right about ignorance (especially the kind which is deliberately embraced) knowing no region.  Bumpkins are dumb, sure, but their stupidity is due not to the circumstances of their birth but to their vision of the world.  True provinciality is an attitude and not a zip code.  

    Short version: I’m certain that we basically agree, and that vocabulary is something about which we need not argue.  (JMO.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

     But like Clancy, L&J are not in love with characters, but with technology.  Consider how much time Clancy spends on the failure of a helicopter engine; then compare it to the amount of time he spends in  building the character of a character.  L&J are much the same–their characters are merely paper stand-ins to decorate around the machinery (or in this case, theology).

    There’s a world of difference between an author whose characters are cardboard and one whose characters are inhabitable.  Clancy, L, & J all fit into the first category, unfortunately. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    I’ve read SWCIFTC … great book, and I too wonder what the young’uns (i.e., those who didn’t grow up during the Cold War) can understand why everyone in that book was so tense and paranoid. I like to think so because a major feature of La Carre’s Cold War novels is the how the trauma of WWII affected the older generation of spies who are now (in the “now” of the books) in the upper echelons of their intelligence organizations and I seem to understand that that the trauma is affecting their thoughts, feelings and actions in non-rational way if not understanding what the trauma feels like, sicne I never experienced it.

    Have you read The Looking Glass War? It too is quite excellent.

  • Deborah Moore

    Very true (about actually believing and not merely reciting the words), but still only a start so far as I can tell.  Our host often says RTC’s see it all as a matter of intelectually assenting to certain propositions, but that in itself is just “head religion.”  You have to believe it in your heart.

    But can any of you former RTC’s explain to a thorough-going never RTC what that means.  You have to repent of your sins.  What sins?  I always get the impression that not being an RTC is at the top of the list.  You have to take Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  But what does that mean?  I think it means more than just having a dramatic conversion experience, but also experiencing God/Jesus as a regular presence in your life, praying and expecting (and feeling) guidance, seeing the hand of God in that parking space and so forth. 

    Any guidance on what RTC’s mean by all this?

  • EllieMurasaki

    True provinciality is an attitude and not a zip code.
    Short version: I’m certain that we basically agree, and that vocabulary is something about which we need not argue.

    Except that the word ‘provinciality’, once stripped of the insinuation that being country folks causes ignorance, doesn’t actually mean jack shit. That’s where the ‘ignorance’ definition of ‘provinciality’ comes from, the belief that country folks are dumbshits as a rule. (I’m not so sure about ‘bumpkin’, its etymology is something else entirely, but if people are sure that its meaning of ‘stupid’ is related to its meaning of ‘country folks’ then the word’s probably best avoided.) In fact this whole discussion sounds remarkably like the one about ‘lame’, which, insist to general-your heart’s content that the word has nothing to do with physical disability, but its meaning of ‘defective’ or ‘not up to standards’ or whatever comes from its meaning of ‘having a physical disability’ and the implication that people with physical disabilities are defective.
    Vocabulary is important. Words mean things. Words don’t mean different things just because you don’t want them to mean the things they mean.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Indeed. Le Carre seems to have much firmer grasp on the nature of power and how it affects people, as well as how personal traumas can affect one’s public service. The only American writer who comes close is Travanian with his “Sanctionnovels, which were written as parody (of such “espionage” novels as the Killmaster series and satire (of U.S. political, corporate, and bureaucratic corruptions/incompetence), but sadly read “straight” by most readers.

  • Deborah Moore

    George W Bush being your classic example.  He was a prominant politician’s son and a Yale graduate, and people who knew him assure us that he was highly intelligent.  But he didn’t want to learn anything new for fear that it might challenge his preconceptions.  Or, as someone put it, he wasn’t innately stupid, he had to work at it.

  • GeniusLemur

    I have to disagree with you there. L&J are in love with their characters. That’s why the entire book TF was one long stretch of how wonderful L & J, I mean Ray & Buck are and how they should have these prestigious jobs at the right hand of the antichrist. Compare that to the pathetic naievity that peeks through every time L&J start talking about technology, even when they’re obviously trying to be cutting edge. Remember the tech guy? Remember how he only did computers on the side, and his day job was (*fanfare*) installing telephones?

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

    But they love them as characters, not as people; as their own creation, but not as animate beings.  I think that’s the difference between L&J and the god they presume to serve.

  • GeniusLemur

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with Fred, too. Basically all the analysis after “Culturally, Left Behind and its successors” is almost comically wrong. Especially in the idea that L&J built it this way deliberately. I think everyone who’s been reading Fred’s analysis can say with certainty that L&J spent about .5 nanoseconds working out the major plot points. And less for the minor ones.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Well, I can only speak from the persective of a (former) conservative Southern Baptist, but Southern Baptist theology, such as it is, is centered around original sin and the five solae of the original Protestant Reformation, especially sola gratia and sola fide. The more common Southern Baptist term for the latter two is “unconditional salvation.”

    One of the doctrines of Southern Baptist theology that is relatively distinctive – in that it’s not universal among Protestant denominations – is that salvation is irreversible. So yes, you can be born again, then murder someone, and still go to heaven. Because per the “unconditional salvation” bit, the good or evil of your works never had anything to do with it in the first place. It’s important to note that, per this doctrine, Southern Baptist theology does not hold that an individual must seek forgiveness from God for every single sinful act committed. However, it does generally hold that anyone with Jesus in their heart will always desire to seek forgiveness for a sinful act. More to the point, the Lord’s Prayer style “forgive me my trespasses” is usually regarded as sufficient, in that you desire forgiveness for your overall sinful tendencies rather than specific actions. Confession, as in most Protestant denominations, is not regarded as spiritually necessary, although “accountability” among Christians is often encouraged as a deterrent against temptation.

    The idea that’s supposed to make all this work is that accepting Jesus’ salvation is a transformative act that, while not erasing your sinful nature (that doesn’t happen until you rise from the grave), will nonetheless make you feel compelled to imitate Jesus. That’s sort of the loophole that gets around the “but what if I get saved and then murder a bunch of children and never ask forgiveness?” question. In theory, someone truly born again wouldn’t murder a bunch of children. In practice? Well, you know how that goes.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Not to mention that Clancy is a hypocrite on par with both L&J combined in that he’s written op-ed pieces criticizing violent video games while collecting tall dollars off the Rainbow Six franchise. 

  • GeniusLemur

    Yes, but he was basically a Yale graduate because he was a prominant politician’s son. And whatever people who knew him might say, it was pretty obvious to many people from the get-go that he didn’t have a clue about anything.

    George W Bush was studiously incurious, surrounded by yes-men who wouldn’t challenge him, and, as you mentioned, unwilling to learn anything. But he was never smart, or anything close.

  • hagsrus

     He ain’t dead yet!

  • Münchner Kindl

    About accepting that you’re a sinner: We saw this in an earlier LB book (2nd?) and more explictly in the movie, when Ray talks to  one colleague (in the movie he convinces him away from suicide.)

    It’s the tired, dumb old Chick-Tract line of reasoning that everybody is a sinner because, once you’re older than a few months, you will have lied, you will at some point have taken something that you don’t own (or underpaid, or used a bus without paying the fare); esp. using  Jesus’ explanations in one of the evangelions where “you already break marriage if you have lustful thoughts, you already committ murder if you call a fellow human a bastard”, the standards are so unbelievably high that every human is a sinner.

    In Chick Tracts, this convinces the convert to break down in tears and pray the sinners prayer, after which they will never have to wrestle with temptation again.*

    In Left Behind, Fred has often pointed out the problem that since Haye and Jenkins are writing for RTCs, they can’t imagine and don’t want to shock their readers by letting the characters commit “real” sins before conversion, so Bruce comes off as boring (and missing the point of where his real faults were – Fred called him the worst visiting pastor ever), and Ray, instead of being a standard guy who betrays his marriage during a troublesome time, instead comes off worse with his power play and feeling proud for not touching Hattie.

    But because none of the Characters are able to see the real issues (as the authors are unable), they keep on being jerks after conversion, only with smugness and pride added on top, because as RTCs they can no longer do wrong.

    And from the many articles and real-life quotes from RTCs that Fred has linked to, we know the stuff that RTCs consider sin – sex – so as long as you avoid the forbidden part of the two-box category, you can be a callous jerk and not sin.

    * In Real life, people would of course point out that intent and scope play a part – trying to be a good person for most of the time is not the same thing as being an unremittent jerk without empathy who as CEO embezzles millions or fires hundreds of thousands; a politican who cuts benefits or denies assistance; a murder of innocents etc.

    And in Real Life, we’ve often heard the testimonies of Fred and other people who grew up in RTC/ Fundie/ Evangelical circles, of re-re-re-re-dedicating your life. Because most people can’t make themselves so simple-minded to be like 5-year olds where the Holy Ghost takes up permanent residence in your heart and you never feel tempted again and feel the presence of God.
    In History, great mystics tell of how they worked at having visions for decades and not getting one.
    Human minds are simply not made to be in a constant high or special state, so telling people that they will feel God’s presence from now on when they likely won’t sets most followers up for disappointment, constant doubt (which is a good tool for manipulation) and re-re-re… dedication.
    Often, however, the disappointment and doubt turns not only to depression, but also to people leaving the faith altogether (Similar to how the idiotic and wrong yes/no decision of “bible = true/ Evolution  = wrong” leads many people to leave the faith once they discover reality, which could be avoided to break people’s hearts unneccessary just to get power over them).

  • GeniusLemur

    No, but his administration is over, and he’s become irrelevant. That’s why all the “was”s.


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