NRA: A whoopee cushion on Hitler’s chair

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 89-92

The main outlines of 20th-century “Bible prophecy” mythology were well-established before Tim LaHaye came along. That mythology is flexible enough to allow each successive storytelling entrepreneur a chance to put their own unique spin on it, but ultimately they need to stick with the established storyline.

LaHaye’s particular contribution was to cram as many Cold-War-era John Birch Society conspiracies as he could into the existing outline. Thus we get LaHaye’s version of the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, who looks like “a young Robert Redford” and embodies the liberal youth culture that LaHaye has been railing against ever since Robert Redford looked like a young Robert Redford. When we first meet Nicolae, he’s all about peace, unity, harmony and all that Aquarian hippie stuff that’s always infuriated LaHaye.

Tribulation Force scientists have developed a new secret weapon in their battle against the villainy of the Antichrist.

But eventually, the prophecy mythology requires that even this supposed pacifist must “rise” to become the Antichrist the plot demands. The hippie-peacenik will have to be transformed into a mass-murdering tyrant and the cruelest, deadliest dictator the world has ever seen. This is a story about the end of the world and the culmination of history. So if the Antichrist is to be the ultimate evil chronologically, he also needs to be the ultimate evil in terms of degree. Otherwise history would seem kind of anticlimactic.

Plus there’s that title — Anti-Christ. Although LaHaye and most other “Bible prophecy scholars” don’t seem very interested in pursuing the idea, that name suggests that the Antichrist is to be a kind of evil mirror-opposite of Christ. So in a sense, if the Antichrist is anything less than the ultimate evil, it would suggest that Christ was something less than the ultimate good. To diminish the Antichrist’s evilness would seem to diminish Christ’s goodness, and they can’t have that.

But this superlative evil creates a challenge for Bible prophecy storytellers. It Godwins the thread. If the Antichrist is to be the greatest monster ever in the history of the world, then he’ll need to be obviously worse than any of the actual usual candidates for that title. It won’t work to have your Antichrist wind up seeming almost as bad as Mao, or nearly as bad as Stalin, or merely “kind of Hitler-y.” He needs to be clearly, emphatically worse than any other possible candidate.

Here in the third book is where LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins finally get around to Nicolae’s first steps toward joining that pantheon of monsters. After spending the first year and a half of the Great Tribulation seeming like not that bad a guy, Nicolae Carpathia has suddenly started nuking population centers and arbitrarily slaughtering millions of people. After claiming only a handful of murders in the first two books, our Antichrist is now starting to accumulate the kind of body count that makes his claim to be the ultimate evil a bit more credible. The authors are starting to build their case that Nicolae is worse than any of the deadly tyrants of history.

This presents two serious challenges for the authors — challenges they hardly seem aware of, let alone capable of facing.

The first problem is that all those actual tyrants whose crimes Nicolae will need to out-do were real people who really killed other real people. It’s a tricky thing to write a novel with an antagonist who appears worse than Hitler, Stalin or Mao without seeming to diminish the gravity and horror of what those actual figures did. It might be possible for a good writer to pull that off, acknowledging and honoring the full horror of the real history while at the same time exceeding it in a fictional setting, but L&J aren’t up to the task.

In their view, such a task is unnecessary, since they don’t regard their story as fiction. Theirs is an account of Bible prophecy — so it’s not a made-up story, just a true story that hasn’t happened yet. Since they believe their fictional story is a future matter of fact, it comes across as matter-of-fact — as glib where it ought to be grave.

They compound this problem. First they insist that Nicolae’s misdeeds are worse than the crimes of any real tyrant from history — which diminishes both those crimes and their real-world victims. And then they further diminish them by insisting that even Nicolae’s atrocities aren’t all that bad, since all the civilians he’s slaughtering are sinners who deserved their fate.

The second problem with making Nicolae out to be Worse Than Hitler is that both Buck Williams and Rayford Steele are working for  Nicolae. If Nicolae is more evil than Hitler, then how is serving as Nicolae’s personal pilot not worse than serving as Hitler’s chauffeur?

Jerry Jenkins seems to realize he’s painted himself into a corner. He sent his heroes off to work as close confidants of the Antichrist mainly as a narrative convenience, justifying their service to Nicolae as a kind of infiltration by the resistance. But if they are double-agents working for the resistance, then at some point Buck and Rayford will need to resist, and the fatalistic logic of prophecy means that resistance is futile — or maybe even forbidden.

The heroes’ complacency toward and their co-operation with the arch-villain has been a problem for Jenkins ever since Buck and Rayford accepted their new jobs, but that problem has gotten far more acute now that Nicolae has begun acting like the Antichrist and perpetrating deadly evil on a massive scale. Increasingly, our heroes just seem to be complicit in monstrous evil.

Jenkins acknowledged this problem for Buck in the passage we looked at last week, where Buck reassured himself, and readers, that he had tried really hard to use his position as publisher of Global Weekly for good, but:

As much as he tried … everything seemed to come out with the spin of the master deceiver. … Buck just hated the idea that he himself was being used to spread propaganda and lies.

Acknowledging the problem isn’t the same thing as fixing the problem, though. As much as Buck may dislike that he is “being used” to support Nicolae’s slaughter of millions of people, neither Buck nor the authors seems to consider withdrawing that support.

That sets us up for this next scene with Rayford Steele. He goes beyond Buck’s tepid reluctance to take bold action against the Antichrist.

Or, rather, to take what the authors think of as bold action against the Antichrist. Jenkins seems to think this addresses the problem of his heroes’ complicity. I think it makes it worse, but I’ll let you decide.

Having learned that Amanda has safely departed from San Francisco, Rayford is ready to take off, allowing Nicole to destroy the city as soon as they leave. As he taxies Nicole’s plane down the runway, a flight attendant ducks into the cockpit:

“Captain,” she said as he lifted the headphone from his right ear, “not everyone is seated and buckled in.”

“Well, I’m not going to stop,” he said. “Can’t you handle it?”

“The offending party, sir, is Mr. Carpathia himself.”

You can probably see where this is going.

“I don’t have jurisdiction over him,” Rayford said. “And neither do you.”

“Federal Aviation Administration rules require that –”

“In case you haven’t noticed, ‘federal anything’ means nothing anymore. Everything is global. And Carpathia is above global. If he doesn’t want to sit down, he can stand. I’ve made my announcement, and you have given your instructions, right?”

“Right.”

“Then you go get strapped in and let the potentate worry about himself.”

Rayford’s remark there that “Everything is global” is the most explicit statement so far that Nicolae’s one-world government really has superseded every other authority. That doesn’t explain why there still seem to be armed Chicago police officers, like the one who pulled a gun on Buck just 10 pages ago. But even if Jenkins is wildly inconsistent in portraying the monolithic global structure of the OWG, it’s helpful here to realize that this is what the context is supposed to be in our story.

Rayford could have begun gradually and slowly picked up enough speed to go airborne. But everybody enjoyed a powerful takeoff once in a while, right? He throttled up and took off down the runway with such speed and power that he and [copilot] McCullum were driven back into their seats.

“Yeehah!” McCullum cried. “Ride ’em cowboy!”

Rayford … couldn’t resist pressing that intercom button again and hearing what he might have done to Carpathia. In his mind’s eye he pictured the man somersaulting all the way to the back of the plane, and he only wished there was a back door he could open from the cockpit.

“Oh, my goodness!” he heard over the intercom. “Potentate, are you all right?”

Rayford heard movement, as if others were trying to unstrap themselves to help Carpathia, but with the plane still hurtling down the runway, those people would be pinned in their seats by centrifugal force.

“I am all right,” Carpathia insisted. “It is my own fault. I will be fine.”

If you’re writing a scene in which your hero is engaged in some woefully inadequate act of petty rebellion, it’s best not to undermine even that meager deed by having him daydream an exaggerated effect beforehand.

Nicolae, apparently, did not somersault all the way down the aisle.

He fell down.

And then he got back up. He’s fine.

That is the end result of the first and thus far only act of resistance undertaken by any member of the Tribulation Force.

In just the past several hours of this story, Nicolae Carpathia has killed millions of people in London, New York, Washington, Chicago and Dallas. Immediately following this scene, he will kill millions more in San Francisco and Oakland.

Rayford Steele has done nothing to interfere with this slaughter. He will do nothing to warn any of the people who just assisted him at the San Francisco airport. Rayford is a first-hand witness, a bystander, as Nicolae sends forth a wave of death meant to signify that he is worse than Hitler, Stalin or Mao.

And Rayford’s response — his only response — is to accelerate sharply, causing Nicolae to fall over in the aisle of the airplane.

Secretly, he hoped Carpathia had been leaning against one of the seats at the time of the initial thrust. That would have spun him around and nearly flipped him over. Probably my last chance to inflict any justice.

“Justice.”

The greatest monster in the history of the world, the epitome of evil, and this is Rayford’s idea of “justice.” He flies Nicolae to safety so that millions can be killed in Chicago, assists in the global broadcast of the Antichrist’s propaganda, then ferries him away from San Francisco so that everyone in that city, too, can be killed.

But he made Nicolae fall down, without injury. And that’s “justice.”

The more I read about Rayford Steele, the more I think that Nicolae Carpathia will, at most, only seem like the second-most loathesome monster in the history of the world.

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