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.

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  • aunursa


  • I remember reading something from Jerry Jenkins (in a book on the craft of writing, of all things) in which he laid out his model for character development. You don’t just tell the reader what a character is like, he said. You give context hints that suggest these things to the reader.

    Sound advice, but this being Jerry Jenkins, all it means is that instead of writing “Nicolae is the bad guy,” he instead writes “Boy, Nicolae is sure acting like a bad guy, huh?” over and over again. You know, because you don’t want to give the reader too much credit – he did still buy the third book after having read the first two.

  • I hate these people so much.

  • The last bit — Rayford’s reaction to Carpathia’s talk of “grieving” — calls to mind the response of the Teabaggers and the rest of the deranged Right to Obama’s speech about Newton, in which the father of two young children became visibly emotional when talking about the carnage. It had to be a disingenuous trick. There was simply no way that Obama could be motivated by genuine grief over a tragedy befalling strangers. That would imply he had “human emotions” or something like that.

  • Jon Frater

    “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.”

    And now I’m thinking of  Sigourney Weaver’s character from Galaxy Quest, whose on-screen job it is to explain what Tim Allen and Alan Richman’s characters  want to the ship’s computer:

    “Look, I have only one stupid job on this ship and I’m damn well going to do it!”

    I can absolutely see meta-Chloe freaking out at some point in a similar manner.

  • GeniusLemur

    On the “logistically impenetrable rescue”: good thing Chloe wasn’t hurt badly and the SUV was essentially undamaged. Otherwise, what would a man on foot with no medical training do? Dodged a bullet there. Buck’s really lucky 

  • AnonaMiss

    PMD: Intent is Magic.

  • histrogeek

    Next week, after Nick bathes in the blood of the freshly slaughter innocents, Rayford is inwardly shocked that  Potentate Ozarks left HIS TOWEL ON THE FLOOR.

    Though I suppose that is too much an action. Maybe if he laughed about leaving his towel on the floor that would earn Ray’s silent disapproval.

  • hidden_urchin

    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.

    Insert obvious Batman Begins comment here.

    Moving on…

  • aunursa

    This task of repeating and summarizing is usually done through Chloe. This is Chloe’s main role in the story.

    She’s like Sigourney Weaver’s character in Galaxy Quest, whose job consisted of repeating communications to and from the ship’s computer.

    But Galaxy Quest was a satire.

  • aunursa

    the archbishop, who’d apparently never read Ephesians, was stunned into silence, left bewildered and stammering due to Buck’s mad apologetics skillz.

    Just as the Orthodox Jews, who’d apparently never read Isaiah, were stunned and bewildered when Tsion ben Judah recited the 300 prophecies that proved that Jesus Christ was their Messiah.

  • You know, that role might make sense if there was some sort of animosity or tension between Ray and Buck. As it is, it appears that they’re closer to each other than either one is to Chloe (avoiding the obvious joke here).

    It’s a familiar device – the writer decides he needs The Girl in his story, but can’t think of anything for The Girl to do. She ends up standing around awkwardly, occasionally saying something to remind the reader that she’s still there.

  • aunursa

    You beat me to it.

  • Matri

    Wow, that sounds vaguely… orgasmic.

  • Nathaniel

     Pardon, but could you explain that aside? I’ve seen the movie, and still don’t get it.

  • Tofu_Killer

    I had this weird crossover moment on New Year.

    I was watching the entire Matrix Cycle, and was amused by the technology hole that was plugged in the later movies by avoiding scenes where they leave the Matrix because that would require landline telephones. That rang a bell with similar problems in the Left Behind universe, and I had a glimpse of a world where Nicholae is actually Neo and the Trib Force are the guys in black (Buck is Mr Smith obviously).
    I leave it out there for anyone who wishes to play with the idea.

    On a side note, they have filled the role of Chloe in the Left Behind reboot. I have a sad because it is that much closer to filming.

  • hidden_urchin

    In the movie, Rachel tells Bruce “it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” When she asks Batman who he is later in the movie, he echoes that line allowing her to figure out his identity.  It’s pretty much the opposite of how Fred summarized L&J’s theology.  I figure something is screwy when Batman is more moral than a subset of Christianity.

  • flat

    How does he/it do that is one of my favorite questions:

    How does amon take people’s bending away?
    How did harry’ wand destroyed the one from lucius malfoy.
    How did Andy Dufresne managed to disappear from his cell.
    How did Light yamagi managed to make L believe he couldn’t be kira.

    Rayford the question you are asking is why is Nicolae doing that.
    You already know HOW he does it: by nuking everything in sight. 

  • aunursa

    While we were driving from Lake Tahoe to Reno last week, passing through Carson City I saw a sign for HATTIE’S RESTAURANT.  I said to myself, “Curse you, Jerry Jenkins!  Curse you, for making me think of Left Behind whenever I see a name like that … the way United Airlines has ruined Rhapsody in Blue.”

  • flat

    So can you people give me more examples of how did he/she/it do it.

    That would be very nice.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    If only Nicolae had been remorseful, and repented of the bombing and slaughter of millions of innocents. Then he could have said the magic words and been a good guy?

    Is that really reflective of what the authors believe or a caricature?

    Does anyone with more immediate insight into the minds of PMDist fundamentalists want to hazard a guess?

  • Michael Pullmann

    Forget Nicky’s enthusiasm, what about the people who are *sleeping*? Who naps through World War III? How on earth can you possibly catch a few winks when the city you just flew out of has been annihilated by nuclear-but-strangely-not-radioactive weapons?

  • aunursa

    If only Nicolae had been remorseful, and repented of the bombing and slaughter of millions of innocents. Then he could have said the magic words and been a good guy?

    That’s an interesting question.  Nicolae never took the mark of the beast, and he never worshipped the statues of himself.  What if he had repented at the end?  Oh wait, he does repent at the end…

    Nicolae croaked, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who died for the sins of the world and rose again the third day as the Scriptures predicted… I confess that my life was a waste. Worthless. A mistake. I rebelled against the God of the universe, whom I now know loved me.”

    Jesus shook His head and Mac saw a great sadness in His face. “You are responsible for the fate of billions. You and your False Prophet, with whom you shed the blood of the innocents — my followers, the prophets, and My servants who believed in Me — shall be cast alive into the lake of fire.”

    from Glorious Appearing

  • Tofu_Killer

    This is clear grounds for a breach of contract suit, which clears the way for L&J’s triumphant book 13 of the Left Behind series:

    Eternal Lawyering, which, despite being nothing more than verbatim transcripts of the thousand-year court battle, is actually the most engaging volume.

  • aunursa

    That was precisely my response when a Christian once asked me what would the Jewish people do on Judgment Day, how would we respond, if it turned out that Jesus really was the Messiah and Evangelical Christian theology was all true.

    I responded that in that case, the Jewish people would sue God for breach of contract.  And we would demand a neutral third party to serve as judge/arbitrator.

  • GeniusLemur

    Well, they haven’t been up long enough (or working hard enough) to collapse, so I guess there’s nothing for them to do, and they decided to take a nap. If that’s the case, I guess WWWIII’s all over now. After what, 8 hours?

  • GeniusLemur

    Augh! The mental picture of L&J trying to do courtroom drama based on their theology and half-remembered episodes of Perry Mason… It’s ghastly

  • MaryKaye

    It does seem to me that, whether you fixate on faith or on works, “how can I be saved?” is a markedly self-centered approach to religion compared to, say, “how can I know God?” or “how can God be served?” or “how can I do good?” 

    I am not a Christian, though Fred occasionally tempts me, but if I were I think I’d have to take the approach “I will try to do what’s right; my fate is in the hands of God and I trust him to be just and merciful.”  If God is a rules lawyer who will escape perdition, anyway?

    I would be really interested to read an RTC analysis of Milton’s “On My Blindness” (one of my favorite sonnets:  the turn at the last line makes me shiver).  Milton is saying that God gave him gifts and now, due to blindness, he can’t use them.  Someone like Jenkins would, I think, be totally clueless why that would matter.

    (Incidentally, how do sola-fide reasoners deal with the parable of the talents?  What do they think that parable means?  Its face meaning is surely “Use what you have, don’t bury it” and Milton alludes to that in his sonnet.)

  • Vermic

    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, basically a telephone with blonde hair.  The ideal mate for any L&J protagonist!

  • Ethics Gradient

    Of course they have to concentrate on Nicolae’s feelings about the genocide, rather than the actual deaths; they have some heavy-duty slaughter  lined up for the returned Christ in the later books, and it would be rather inconvenient if the death toll itself was the problem.

    On the bright side for Chloe, conveying messages between her husband and father makes her a human telephone, which is surely a highly respected position in the LaHaye and Jenkins universe.

  • …I guess WWWIII’s all over now. After what, 8 hours?

    Tom Lehrer, “So Long, Mom”:
    I’ll be back when the war is over,
    An hour and a half from now!

  • Suhail Akbar

    It’s a trap!

    “Yessss!” Carpathia howled. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

    The temptation to do more of Joyce’s Ulysses Left Behindified is strong.

    I was watching the entire Matrix Cycle, […] That rang a bell with similar problems in the Left Behind universe, and I had a glimpse of a world where Nicholae is actually Neo and the Trib Force are the guys in black (Buck is Mr Smith obviously).

    The rapture was obviously several of the servers of The Matrix going offline.  The place all the youngun’s are plugged into, RTC central, when the connection between those people and the rest of the Matrix was severed to all of those inside The Matrix they appeared to disappear.

    Or perhaps it was intentional, to test out a new upgraded matrix, the machines call it “Heaven” and have based it on the beliefs of a certain sect of the plugged in people.

  • I think this has seeped into consumerist culture, in the form of “attitude.” You may not be Cool, but you can buy the right objects and look “cool.”

  • reynard61

    “The bombs are dropped, and then the book ends with this line…”‘Yessss!’ Carpathia howled. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!'”
    That reminds me of an old Vietnam War-era political cartoon that had President Nixon sitting in an easy chair, beer in hand, watching two TV sets — one showing a football game, the other showing B-52s bombing an enemy target — while he’s screaming at both, “HIT ‘EM AGAIN! HIT ‘EM AGAIN! HARDER!!!

  • Dogfacedboy

    Rayford Jenkins may have a point.  When my cat bites my hand with her razor-sharp teeth, it’s not so much the pain and bloodshed she’s inflicting that upsets me  but rather that enthusiastic glint in her eye as she’s doing it. 

  • This insistence on saying Nicolae is a bad guy and saying that the Tribbles are good guys really jars when it is so obvious how petty Rayford’s thoughts are about the AntiChrist.

    I mean, Rayford shouldn’t be playing phone tag! He should be simmering in his own conflicted feelings over how he can rationalize staying alive and not offing the AntiChrist – trying to figure out how to get the best revenge – doing SOMETHING even vaguely Action Hero-y.

    As for faith vs. works, LaHaye endorses it in one of his nonfiction books, incidentally.

    The above extract is from his Revelation Unveiled book.

    The snark Fred makes about people who think if they memorize a list of talking points that the scales will fall from the eyes of the talk-ee and thus the talker gets the powerup and wins the game really points up how L&J, as much as they claim these books are for nonbelievers as much as believers, are really aiming their books at a hard-core, right-wing Christian audience already preconditioned to believe in the End Times due to the previous works of Scofield, Lindsey and so on.

    L&J make no effort to flesh out the internal conflicts of their nominally secular/atheist Left Behind-ees, or to flesh out the grasping way they slowly come to understand the deeper layers and meanings that their faiths have for each of them. For a couple of guys who are part of the whole “It’s a personal relationship!” dogma, they do little to differentiate Rayford’s “personal relationship” from Buck’s, for example. Personal relationships IRL aren’t uniform by definition. I don’t relate to my father the same way my mother does, for example.

    Further on talking points – as I said re: the Trib Force movie, while the actor who plays Tsion ben Judah has a rather believable sense of awe about his “discoveries”, the fact remains that Jewish and Christian debaters regarding the Messiah have literally debated this matter for centuries. It will not be resolved by reciting a laundry list and it is an insult to the intelligence of a Jewish person that they should be so casually regarded as just needing a few silver-bullet armor piercing rhetorical questions.

  • LL

    This weird ethical outlook has a disastrous effect on lots of things. Lots of people seem to think now that “intent” matters more than what actually happened. Thus if you claim to not have INTENDED to harm someone (because, for example, throwing a baby against a wall is something that’s normally fun for the whole family*), then that’s it, all better. You didn’t mean to hurt anybody, therefore, let’s move on. 

    It’s not all that surprising that people find this attractive as a world view. This way, you get to do whatever you want, regardless of the consequence to others, then not even all that convincingly tell people that you’re so stupid you don’t understand how cause and effect work and ta-da, no more blame. God forgives anything, and who are the rest of us to think we know better than God? 
    * A real-world example from sometime back. A guy threw a baby against a wall, killing the baby, and his lawyer’s defense was that the guy didn’t mean to kill the baby. 

  • How do you free the baby from Jareth the Goblin King?

    How do you defeat Darth Vader? 

    How does the Republic fall?

    How can River move and fight like that?

    How does Buffy defeat a god?

  • Fusina

     Whereas, if you think about it, cats own nothing, and they are the coolest people* around. Or so I assume they think, based entirely on the way they sashay around the house and sleep anywhere they want, and if you happen to be sitting there, well, make a lap, they are moving in.

    *Cats are people. I don’t care that they are technically animals, I’d rather hang with Nero the furry rat bastard than some people–even at his nastiest, he is nicer–or at least, more direct.

  • I figure something is screwy when Batman is more moral than a subset of Christianity.

    Hmm….nope.  Sounds right to me.

  • Fusina

    Speaking of RTCs, just got my (RTC) brother’s annual Christmas letter. It has been over a year since we last communicated, and his annual letter is generally full of how awesome his family is and how many soccer games they had per weekend (five kids playing soccer, their high game count one weekend was 18 games–possibly their image of god is one in a black and white striped shirt?). Have been thinking about a Christmas letter that I could send that would cause consternation–so far, have come up with calling it a winter Solstice letter, and starting with our celebration on the 21st of the rebirth of the sun.

    I think I would be okay with the letter if there was a personal note written on the bottom or back, but the only things hand written are our names and theirs. Gosh, I didn’t know you cared.

  • Turcano

    This is where I was going with this installment; the fact that these characters worship a god who is the mass-slaughterer par excellence causes problems if that’s what you take the Antichrist to task for, so this is the easiest way to invent a distinction between the two.  After all, if you have a sad while you’re melting millions of people instead of laughing like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, obviously it can’t be held against you.

    I wonder why they didn’t try that line of reasoning at Nuremberg.

  • Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 238 pages

  • I read that book just before critiquing Twas the Night Before.  (Shameless blog plug, but trust me, it’s relevant.)

    Jenkins explains that a writer should show, not tell, and that’s all well and good, but then he decides that he can show what a character is like by having a secondary character tell us.

    Jenkins: I wanted to get across that the heroine is a Pollyanna type who falls in love with a cynical Doubting Thomas.

    Secondary Character: Boy, you sure are like Pollyanna.  It’s so strange that you’ve fallen in love with a cynical guy like Tom Douten.

  • Todd Sweeney

    Dangit, Jon, you beat me to it.

  • Damanoid

    Okay, I admit that I am too dim to suss this out by myself.  Is the T-shirt illustration supposed to be a typesetting joke, or is it intended seriously and just printed in a tremendously annoying typeface?

  • tatortotcassie

    Oh, by all things holy . . . I have now  lost a good deal of respect for Stephen King. 

    And for that matter, Writer’s Digest as well.  But I gave up on them years ago.

  • More relevant than you think, as it was that post that made me think of it.

    Stuff like that, where the writer isn’t self-aware at all, always troubles me a little. If Jenkins can be aware of the principles of writing and at the same time ignorant of how he breaks them, couldn’t that also be true of anyone? Food for thought.

  • Damanoid

    I wonder if it would be possible to harness this anti-works attitude for good?  Like, suppose somebody writes a series of LB-like Rapture books that are suitably judgmental and smug, but also emphasizes the futility of works over faith to the point where voting is regarded as a betrayal of God’s plan? 

    This should actually make everybody feel better.  Progressive politics would gain traction, which will make progressives happy; while Real True Christians would see this as further evidence that the Rapture is imminent and all those unbelievers will soon be roasted by God, which will make the RTC’s happy.

    Would such a deception necessarily be a sin, per se?  Could it not be viewed more as a parable that those with good hearts can understand?  What if the writer of the series felt really bad about it afterward, in that characteristic kind of guilty liberal way?

  • fraser

     Using it in commercials? I don’t watch as much TV as I used to.