NRA: Feeling bad

Nicolae: Rise of Antichrist; pp. 108-110

Chapter 5 wraps up with a short return to the Antichrist’s airplane, during which the authors display two of their favorite bad habits.

Rayford Steele is piloting “Global Community One” across the Pacific, ferrying Nicolae Carpathia home to his global capital in New Babylon after a successful day of mass-murder and destruction. As soon as the plane took off from San Francisco, Rayford heard Nicolae give the order to nuke that city, killing millions of people there just as he had earlier ordered the death of millions more in New York, London, Washington, Chicago and several other cities.

How can he do that? Rayford wondered. Bruce said the Antichrist would not be indwelt by Satan himself until halfway into the Tribulation, but surely this man is the embodiment of evil.

This moral revulsion seems entirely appropriate, given what Nicolae had just ordered done. But Rayford isn’t responding to Nicolae’s evil deeds, he’s responding to Nicolae’s evil attitude.

Here’s the bit from just before the paragraph quoted above:

As [Rayford] walked back through the main cabin to watch one of the televisions in the back of the plane, everyone except Carpathia ignored him. Some dozed and some were being attended to by the flight crew, who were clearing trays and finding blankets and pillows.

Carpathia nodded and smiled and waved to Rayford.

How can he do that? Rayford wondered. …

It’s not the mass-slaughter that really bothers Rayford, it’s Nicolae’s enthusiasm for it. This is a recurring theme throughout this book:

Carpathia seemed excited, high. … “In all the excitement, you understand. …”

The excitement, Rayford thought. Somehow World War III seems more than excitement.

Carpathia’s eyes were ablaze, and he rubbed his hands together, as if thrilled with what was going on. …

… It seemed to Rayford that Carpathia was having trouble manufacturing a look of pain. … Rayford wondered if anyone other than those who believed Carpathia was Antichrist himself would have interpreted Carpathia’s look as one of satisfaction, almost glee. (pp. 13-15)

Carpathia turned in his seat to face them. He had that fighting-a-grin look Rayford found so maddening in light of the situation. (pg. 19)

This grinning, hand-rubbing, glee is partly just over-the-top writing. It’s Jenkins’ attempt to portray evil by imitating a clichéd caricature of supervillainy gleaned from half-remembered comic books and James Bond films. (I’d bet Jenkins thought about giving Nicolae a waxed mustache, just so he could have him twirl it while cackling maniacally.)

But I also think there’s more to it than that. I think this ties in with the authors’ warped understanding of sola fide, in which salvation “by faith, not works” leads to the idea that “works” are somehow the opposite of faith.

We saw that spelled out explicitly back in Tribulation Force during Buck’s theological debate with Cardinal Peter Mathews, the Ohio archbishop who would go on to become the wicked pope of Nicolae’s one-world religion. Buck recited Ephesians 2:8-9 (but never verse 10) and the archbishop, who’d apparently never read Ephesians, was stunned into silence, left bewildered and stammering due to Buck’s mad apologetics skillz.*

This twisted soteriology of faith-versus-works tends to produce an equally twisted ethics in which what one does never matters, only what one feels or thinks about it. Intent becomes the only morally significant variable.

This is true in these books for “good” characters as well as for the villain. That’s why our heroes are excused for co-operating with Nicolae’s slaughter. They may have obediently carried out his every command, but their thoughts and feelings were disloyal.

This weird ethical outlook has a disastrous effect on Jenkins’ storytelling. When deeds don’t matter, then events don’t matter either. And thus events tend to lose not just their moral significance, but their significance to the plot and to character.

That’s why Jenkins never dwells on the aftermath of Nicolae’s murderous destruction. Instead of showing us the consequences of his cruelty, he tries to show us that Nicolae has a cruel attitude. So we don’t see the death and destruction in San Francisco — or even in Chicago, which seemed mostly OK as Buck ran through its undamaged streets — because those don’t matter as much as the fact that Nicolae is smiling cheerily afterwards on the plane.

This habit of cutting away from actions and consequences to dwell on attitudes and intent undercuts the gravity of Nicolae’s evil deeds. It makes them seem unreal.

The other bad habit on display here at the end of chapter 5 arises from the way the story is told from the point of view of its two protagonists. That’s a useful approach, since giving us two characters’ perspectives covers twice as much ground. It lets readers see one set of developments in one location through one character’s eyes, and then another set of developments in another location from the other character’s point of view.

Jenkins seems to think of this as a problem. We readers may be up-to-speed on what has been happening in both locations, but his dual protagonists don’t know what the other one has been up to. So Jenkins makes sure to keep each of them informed of what the other has seen or done. That wouldn’t be so bad in itself, except that he usually includes these scenes in the book — meaning that we get to read everything that happens twice, once when it occurs to Buck or to Rayford, and then again when the other is told about it.

This task of repeating and summarizing is usually done through Chloe. This is Chloe’s main role in the story. Given that the authors haven’t figured out what else to do with her, we could even say that this is what Chloe is for. She conveys messages between her husband and her father.

So yes, the main female character we’ve encountered so far is defined primarily as a daughter and a wife and she serves primarily in a kind of secretarial role in the narrative.

Thus after reading all about Chloe’s car-crash and her logistically impenetrable rescue by Buck, we return to Rayford, whose “universal cell phone” is ringing. It’s Chloe. She’s calling to tell him about all that stuff we just read about in the preceding pages.

This phone conversation is mercifully brief after Rayford cuts it short. He seems genuinely relieved to learn that his daughter and son-in-law survived the attack on Chicago, but he can’t talk long — he has some important eavesdropping to do:

“I got that message you left at The Drake,” she said. “If I had taken the time to go to our room, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

“And Buck’s OK?”

“He’s fine. He’s late returning a call to you-know-who, so he’s trying to do that right now.”

“Let me excuse myself, then,” Rayford said. “I’ll get back to you.”

And with that, he hangs up on his daughter and rushes back to the cockpit and his little eavesdropping device.

Yes, it’s come to that — one of our point-of-view protagonists is now eavesdropping on the other one.

“I am curious about coverage,” Carpathia was saying. “What is happening there in Chicago? Yes — yes — devastation, I understand — yes. Yes, a tragedy –”

Sickening, Rayford thought.

… “Well,” Carpathia was saying, “of course I am grieving.”

And once again Rayford is repulsed. Not by the unseen “devastation” of Chicago, but by Nicolae’s insincerity.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* That scene is a variation of the central fantasy animating much of what is mislabeled as “apologetics” in the evangelical subculture. Buy my book, the apologetics expert promises, memorize a few simple arguments from it, and then every conversation with doubters and heathens will go just exactly like Buck’s debate with the archbishop. Every opponent (you don’t have neighbors, just “opponents”) will be stunned into slack-jawed awe at your intellectual superiority.

When, of course, none of those conversations go according to this fantasy script — because no such conversation has ever occurred — the apologetics expert always offers the same explanation: You’re doing it wrong. You need to buy another book.

  • aunursa

    “When I started writing Left Behind, Buck Williams wasn’t even a part of it. It was strictly the story on the airplane with Rayford and Hattie. When I got further into the manuscript, I realized I needed another character to be in places where Rayford couldn’t be and to tell a different part of the story.”

    Behind the Scenes of the Left Behind Series with Jerry Jenkins.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    One of the best points about the “Intent is not Magic” thing I’ve seen was in this post http://cnlester.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/holier-than-thou/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Amazing. The more he explains himself, the less sense he makes. A better author might have had one character be the ‘inside man’, seeing the parts of the story that are right near the Antichrist, and have the other character on the ground struggling to survive and showing the Apocalypse from the view of the vast majority of people.

     Instead, Jenkins chose two inside-men who take turns either watching Nicolae and telling the other what they saw Nicolae doing — it’s like doubling the word count without actually increasing the amount of content.Buck and Rayford could have easily been consolidated into a single character without losing anything in terms of plot or theme development. 

  • aunursa

    and have the other character on the ground struggling to survive and showing the Apocalypse from the view of the vast majority of people
    I imagine that was going to be Rayford’s role … until Jenkins suddenly changed his mind early in Book #2.

  • vsm

    It’s not the job of the oppressed group to dismantle oppression? People really say that? If so, do they actually mean Gandhi should have sat on his butt until the British realized colonialism was wrong?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Not all by ourselves. Or themselves, as the case may be.

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

    It’s more nuanced than that. It’s that there are oppressors who will never give in, even when presented with the clearest, simplest set of facts ever in the history of education.

    And then there are oppressors who only need the slightest of nudges, and they’ll walk away from oppressive stances.

    And there, where engagement between oppressors and oppressed, is where a possible mutual push and pull is in the cards.

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

    Caprica meets Left Behind:

    Joseph Adama as Rayford Steele
    Ben Stark as Buck Williams
    Evelyn as Amanda Steele
    Tamara as Chloe Steele

    Andreas Phaulkon as Nicolae Carpathia
    Jordan Duram as Leon Fortunato
    Clarice Willow as Hattie Durham

    Daniel Greystone as David Hassid
    Zoe Greystone as Chang Wong

    It’s harder to figure out the exact analogs for other characters, though.

    Samuel Adama could be Mac McCullum, maybe.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

     Yes, I mentioned that attitude to someone and they said much the same thing. I couldn’t agree with you and them more

  • vsm

    That’s a smart way of doing politics, though it doesn’t seem to be how cnlester understood the objection. Then again, I can’t find anyone else using the phrase or anything like it with a quick search, so I’m not sure how big a problem it is.

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

    Yes, people do actually say that. 

    No, that’s not what they mean.

    If we agree that something is not my job, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong for me to do it. It might simply mean it’s wrong for everyone else to sit on their butts waiting for me to do it.

  • vsm

    I’m still not entirely sure what it’s supposed to mean. Is it “ending oppression is not the duty of the oppressed, but it is or should be the duty of oppressors (and/or the privileged)”, “ending oppression is not only up to the oppressed”, “ending oppression is literally not the job of the oppressed, so they shouldn’t be expected to treat it like it was”, or something else?

    Sorry if I come off as a smartass or an idiot. I simply don’t get this.

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

    Regarding intent: yes. It often does matter.

    As with so many other things, the phrase has now been misused often by bullies that the meaning has become sadly muddled. “Intent is not magic” is supposed to apply to people who don’t apologize for hurting you, because they’re good people and they didn’t mean to hurt you, so you should shut up about your pain. Sadly, this happens all the time, metaphorically speaking. If you step on someone’s foot and they say “ow” and you don’t apologize, you’re a jerk. But if you step on someone’s foot and they say “ow” and you say, “I’m so sorry, are you all right, can I help you get better?” and they respond, “no how dare you step on my foot you evil, evil pile of #$%#^(* and furthermore you are a #)$%*# intent is not magic you #)$%(!”, then the person who was stepped on is being a jerk.

    When I threw out my back, I was in the hospital next to a woman whose son-in-law had punched her. She was not in nearly as much physical pain as me, and the physical repercussions for her likely disappeared entirely in a few weeks, whereas mine will likely be with me for the rest of my life. But my back went out because it went out — no one caused it. She was in that hospital because someone close to her chose to punch her. I would not have changed places with her for anything.

  • PatBannon

    Often, as has been said, people fail to distinguish between “Intent is not magic” and “Intent does not matter.” The first is true, the second, less so. Like most binary thinking locks (“Intent is everything!”/”Intent has no effect!”), constructing it in a one extreme/other extreme sense prevents a person from even possibly being right.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     do they actually mean Gandhi should have sat on his butt until the British realized colonialism was wrong?

    That’s sort of what Gandhi actually did….

  • vsm

    I seem to recall a good amount marching as well.

  • renniejoy

     Yes!

    And somehow context gets left out of sooo many discussions…

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Lliira – I don’t really have anything to add except “Yes, this is what I was trying to say, but you made it clearer! Thank you.”

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

     I understand it to mean that when I find myself blaming the oppressed for their oppression, I’ve taken a wrong turn, and should back up and try again.

    For example, when someone is assaulted and I find myself saying “Well, they really ought not have said that/worn that/acted that way/been in that place,” I’ve taken a wrong turn. 

  • vsm

     Thanks for the clarification. I still think it’s not a very good slogan, on account of how easy it is to misunderstand it, but at least I now know what it’s supposed to mean.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Oh God, that article (and the one it linked to, “Liberal bullying”) brought up familiar territory!

  • Turcano

    I like to refer to it as Tumblritis.


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