NRA: Not of this world

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 125-127, 132

The premise of the entire Left Behind series is right there in the title of the first book: Left Behind. It’s about separation and sorting. The children of God — the real, true Christians of the sort that God finds acceptable — are whisked off to Heaven, and everyone else is left behind.

That everyone else includes all the phony Christians, Jews, believers in every other religion and every nonbeliever. The lot of us will be given one last brief chance to convert to real, true Christianity before we will be killed by Jesus and tortured for all of eternity just as we deserve.

It seems like that should be insulting. The authors, after all, are insisting that we are all utterly wicked and depraved and irredeemably evil. And then on top of that they continually suggest that we’ve all deliberately chosen such wickedness just for the sake of being wicked.

Yet it’s hard to take offense at any of that because whenever they try to describe our alleged wickedness it never actually sounds that bad. None of us likes being called evil, but the word loses its sting once you realize that by “evil” all our accusers actually seem to mean is that we go to the wrong church, or to a synagogue instead of a church, or that we don’t go to church. Or they mean that we prefer peace to war, or that we look favorably on the idea that people in the developing world might not be quite so poor. Or … well, that’s pretty much it.

The authors classify most of the world as evil, but then their definition of evil turns out to be mostly benign. Once in a while they’ll spice it up a bit by suggesting that we’re all marauding criminals, but even then it doesn’t seem like they have much of an idea of what that means either, and they never sustain the idea for very long.

This thin notion of evil gets even stranger on the rare occasions that something actually happens in these books. Every few hundred pages or so there’s an airplane crash, or a bombing. And then, invariably, we’re shown a scene in which all of the “evil” people are scurrying about trying to aid the wounded or to rescue those in danger, while our virtuous heroes pass by, scarcely pausing to notice except perhaps to complain about the way this sudden outbreak of human suffering inconveniences their plans.

Given that, being classified among the evil and the wicked seems nothing at all like an insult. It seems more like a badge of honor.

I think this all flows out of the authors’ misunderstanding of the idea of “worldliness.” For them, to be “worldly” is to be evil. And thus to be good is to avoid “the world” — to shun it lest it’s contaminating contagion of “worldliness” infect them with its evil.

For a sense of what this means, let’s look at two ways of responding to this passage from the book of James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

For LaHaye and Jenkins, the emphasis there is on being “pure and undefiled” and “unstained by the world.” That’s the priority, and thus for them that other bit about “care for orphans and widows” is perilous — touch an orphan or a widow and you risk becoming “stained by the world.” The orphans and widows business thus becomes, in this view, a kind of optional extra credit, something that’s nice to do, but only provided that one has a chance to do so while still ensuring that one keeps pure, undefiled and unstained by their worldliness.

And thus the authors wind up with the ideal of the Christian life presented in this series, that of Irene Steele, by-stander to the world, who spends all of her time sheltered at home or in church, praying and making “knick-knacks” and shielding her undefiled purity until “Jesus comes back to get us before we die.”

The alternative approach is to read James’ words through the lens of his brother. If we consider this same passage in that light — in the light of Jesus’ words, example and commandments — then we read it with a different emphasis. The idea then becomes something more like this:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and thereby to keep oneself unstained by the world.

From this view, James isn’t telling us to keep “undefiled” and also to “care for orphans and widows,” he’s telling us to keep undefiled by means of caring for orphans and widows. “Worldliness,” in other words, means not caring for those in need.

Viewed in that light, Rayford Steele and Buck Williams and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins all seem deeply marked by the stain of the world.

For the authors, then, the whole point of life is to avoid “worldliness” and contamination from “the world.” Or, in other words, the whole point of life is to avoid the world — a view that mutually reinforces the escapist eschatology of Rapture-mania.

Part of what this means is that the authors have steadfastly avoided learning about the world.

And that’s unfortunate for their novel, given that the world is where it’s supposed to take place.

This muddles up the section of Nicolae that we’re looking at today in at least two ways. First it means that we’re reading an attempt to describe a detailed agenda for the world written by two men who have scrupulously avoided learning anything about that world or how it works. And second we’re reading an attempt to describe evil government written by two men who equate evil with “worldly,” and thus have no basis for imagining the possibility of good government.

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not referring to the perennial ideological debate between those who favor larger or smaller government in various capacities and roles. What I mean is that government, by definition, must be worldly. It has to be concerned with the world — that’s its job. Filling in potholes, maintaining traffic safety — everything the government does or is supposed to do will be worldly, no matter how mundane. (That’s actually what “mundane” means — “belonging to the world.”) And therefore everything a government does or is supposed to do will be self-evidently wicked.*

Thus here we’re presented with a scene in which the Antichrist — purportedly the worst tyrant in the history of the world — lays out his agenda for global oppression, yet much of it seems either boring or baffling. He proposes some modest taxes and some impossibly ill-defined ones. He wants to build a second Alaskan pipeline. He offers some extremely vague and contradictory ideas about the structure of his new one-world government (tyranny administered via “bloc grants,” apparently).

All of this is, to the authors, self-evidently evil because it’s all so very worldly. But to readers who are better acquainted with the actual world, the few bits of it that make any sense seem unremarkable and unthreatening. The gist of the passage seems to be that Nicolae Carpathia’s one-world government intends to govern.

Toward the end of the chapter, Nicolae does recommend some actual evil policies, which we’ll try to make sense of next week, but let me skip ahead to the last page of the chapter just to look at Rayford’s reaction after listening in on all of the Antichrist’s plans:

All Rayford could do was pray. “Lord,” he said silently, “I wish I was a more willing servant. Is there no other role for me? Could I not be used in some sort of active opposition or judgment against this evil one? I can only trust in your purpose. Keep my loved ones safe until we see you in all your glory.”

Even Rayford Steele is frustrated by the impotent idleness of a faith that consists only of avoiding the contamination of worldliness. Even he wishes he had some “other role” besides that of feckless bystander. Even he wishes his faith demanded something more “active.”

But in the end, he submits to the authors’ will, trusting that it is God’s purpose that he have no purpose. And praying that he and his loved ones stay safe and unsullied until Jesus comes back to get them before they die.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Tip-toe up to the ledge with me and take a moment to appreciate how deep and how far this goes. This is how we wound up with a subculture for which the word “secular” is a synonym for evil rather than just a necessary term for the temporal, mundane realm of the world we live in. This affects and infects a great deal of American politics. OK, careful now, let’s step back from the ledge.

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

    Could I not be used in some sort of active opposition or judgment against this evil one?

    Oh my God, WHAT.

    Rayford, you are like the dude in the joke who kept crying out for Jesus to save him, only to find out that you got sent the boat, three boats, and then a helicopter with a ladder!

    Rayford has had ample chances to be a more “active opposition”. AMPLE!

    And yet he sits like a useless wart on a toad’s ass because L&J have determined that sophomoric pranks like superfast takeoffs are more important than actually sabotaging the Antichrist’s agenda.

  • aunursa

    The Official Left Behind Movie Facebook page

    http://www.facebook.com/leftbehindreboot?fref=ts

     

    We want to know…

    We’ve heard from some of you already, but which actor would
    you cast as Nicolae Carpathia in our Left Behind reboot sequel??

    (179
    responses)

     

    Top vote-getters

    1. Gordon Currie *

    2. Leonardo DiCaprio

    3. Barack Obama

    4. Nicolas Cage

    5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (tie)

    5. Liam Neeson (tie)

     

    * Currie played the role of Nicky in the original Left
    Behind movies.

  • P J Evans

     Rayford (and by extension Ellanjay) seem to think that God calls you to act by doing big flashy things to get your attention. There’s some stuff about that in the Bible, in the parts they don’t read.

  • Jim Roberts

    Because it cannot be repeated enough, I do not like Rayford Steele.

  • Will Hennessy

    “The things of this world are passing away,
    Here tomorrow, but they’re sure not here to stay,
    The things of this world are passing away,
    So lay your treasure above and start to live for Him today…”
    -dcTalk

    Of course, I’m not sure Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins would recognize this as dcTalk’s early-’90s, anti-materialist rant about possessions and their ability to cloud what’s really important (James’ thing about orphans and widows). Example: “And all done for Christ IN THIS WORLD will last.”

    They’d probably just read the above lyrics and have it confirm their view that shit (read: people) here doesn’t matter.

  • SkyknightXi

    It’s probably a matter of how you’re not supposed to do anything beyond maintaining your own purity until you’re EXPLICITLY moved by God to take a more active role. Otherwise, you risk accelerating God’s schedule more than he wanted. Which is somehow a thing of utter monstrosity. No direct action until you get a dream message or the like, I guess.

    As to how the world got equated with evil…Well, there ARE the passages which speak of Satanel as the ruler and spirit of this world. But given that the main text I remember this being from is the Apocalypse of St. John, the “world” was probably understood more as the Roman Imperium. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the dimensions of the New Jerusalem make an area that could rather cozily contain the whole of the Imperium at the time. In other words, one was supposed to stay away from the callousness that Rome was at least tacitly endorsing. Beyond that…Unwitting influence of the more anti-physical-world strands of Gnosticism?

  • Jon Frater

    “Part of what this means is that the authors have steadfastly avoided learning about the world.”

    Betcha five bucks that they know how bank accounts work.

  • John Small Berries

    Could I not be used in some sort of active opposition or judgment against this evil one? I can only trust in your purpose.

    Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? “This evil one” is carrying out God’s purpose, so to actively oppose the Antichrist is to actively oppose God.

  • aunursa

    Could I not be used in some sort of active opposition or judgment against this evil one?

    The irony is that in Book #6, Assassinss, when Rayford does seek to act in the role of being Nicolae’s divinely-predicted executioner, he is considered to be acting in sin — contrary to the will of God.

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

    For a religion some of whose sects make a huge freaking deal over how supposedly humans are actually elevated above the angels because we were programmed with the real-deal version 1.0 of FreeWill.Exe instead of the beta release, the folks who trumpet human free will as an important component of willingly coming to God and in doing so, acting in accordance with the basic rules God set out for living, sure seem to find convenient excuses for inaction in the face of gross injustice in front of their fucking faces.

  • hidden_urchin

    …making ” knick-knacks”…

    Now I want to know what Irene’s Etsy page would look like.

    In any case, if avoiding the world and the people in it is the author’s idea of good then sign me up for Hell. I really can’t say this enough.

  • BC

    “. . . touch an orphan or a widow and you risk becoming ‘stained by the world.’ The orphans and widows business thus becomes, in this view, a kind of optional extra credit, something that’s nice to do, but only provided that one has a chance to do so while still ensuring that one keeps pure, undefiled and unstained by their worldliness.”  Yeah – but then, they also object to the government doing the “orphans and widows business” and so their view is that no one should be doing anything for orphans and widows or any other poor people.  Jesus is spinning so fast he could energize the planet if we only had some way to get a wire to him.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    And as much as Rayford is like the dude in the joke, he is also like the Sheriff of Nottingham The Adventures of Robin Hood, hiding under a table as his men fight Robin Hood:

    “Such impudence, sire!  If I could only reach him!”

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Oh, and Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 216 pages

  • hidden_urchin

    Tell me about it. Here’s what I imagine:

    Rayford: ” God, why did you not give me a more active role in fighting the Anti-Christ?”

    God: ” Dude, I told you to take a job as his pilot so you could fly his plane into the ground . Why else would you have been there?

  • LL

    Yeah, I pretty much accept the label of “sinner” or “heretic” or, certainly, “secular” with equanimity now. Consider the source, as my mother used to say to me when I was in school and encountering mean people. It didn’t help so much then, but it does help  now. It’s amusing to me now when people consider these insults. 

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    This is really tangential, but prompted by the post title (and this ties into your truly damning condemnation of evangelical attitudes toward Creation yesterday)…
     
    I’m not gonna knock the language of  ”worldliness.” Call me a Johannine fanboy, but I love that rhetoric of “the world,” enough that I want to live it. I grok that we aren’t to be of the world, even as we’re in it over our heads. And I get why, too. It’s right there in the unread followup to John 3:16. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.That’s the beauty of the Johannine NT. We’re called from the world so we can live in-and-out the story of its salvation. In the world, but not of it, but for it, in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake.And that’s the horror of the World’s Worst Books. That every Friday we witness anew L&J forsaking that. Believing, and assuming, and proclaiming that to be Christian is to be in the world, but not of it – but against it. Not to save, but to condemn.

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    “And that’s the horror of the World’s Worst Books. That every Friday we witness anew L&J forsaking that. Believing, and assuming, and proclaiming that to be Christian is to be in the world, but not of it – but AGAINST it. Not to save, but to condemn.”

    That was a separate paragraph. No idea why it didn’t format thus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    (tyranny administered via “bloc grants,” apparently)

    You really need to either correct that to “block grants”, or put a “[sic]” after it, so we know if it’s really that bad.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Barack Obama.  Wow, they really just can’t help themselves, can they?

    Liam Neeson would no doubt rock the role.  Though I’m thinking Ralph Fiennes or Rob Lowe or (if I had a time machine) Robert Wagner ca. 1968.

  • AnonymousSam

     

    For them, to be “worldly” is to be evil. And thus to be good is to avoid “the world” — to shun it lest it’s contaminating contagion of “worldliness” infect them with its evil.

    To quote my favoritest Christian in the whoooole wiiiiide worrrld…

    Christianity is NOT A FRIENDLY FAITH.  It is exclusive, hostile, incompatible with all other beliefs.  This is because it is the Truth, and the other faiths are the counterfeits. …   I am thankful my mind has not been filled with the progressive, anti-Christ crap pumped out by our illustrious public education system, the trash streaming constantly out of Hollywood and the pop music industry, pornography, the impurity and immodesty encouraged by the fashion industry, literature that does not edify, alcohol and mind-altering drugs, etc. etc. etc.  I have been exceedingly selective in what I allow in my eye and ear gates, because what goes in will come out.

  • aunursa

    Ralph Fiennes received a vote or two.

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

    Boy oh boy, that guy sure talks a lot about the stuff he doesn’t like.

    I don’t go around complaining constantly about the fact that I can’t stand macaroni+cheese. If I did, someone would probably have the natural reaction of asking me why I’m spending so much time on that and considering me a bit wonky into the bargain.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Replacing overt White supremicism with some other claim to being above the biosphere does seem to be the main appeal of this theology.  Only “They” eat, fuck & die etc. 

    The male supremacy is, of course, still perfectly overt, though the porn-named alpha-males who don’t do anything are more surrealistic than offensive. 

  • Darkrose

    Now I want to know what Irene’s Etsy page would look like. 

    Probably like something from here.

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

    Somehow I suspect they’d be more gushingly Christian-themed than Southern-themed.

  • Lunch Meat

    I am thankful my mind has not been filled with … alcohol and mind-altering drugs, etc. etc. etc.  I have been exceedingly selective in what I allow in my eye and ear gates, because what goes in will come out.

    You’re doing alcohol wrong.

  • AnonymousSam

    This was actually our good friend, Ginny Bain Allen.

  • Hth

     Holy moly, a world of Yes.  I might actually see this movie if Liam Neeson were playing Nicolae.

    Rob Lowe would be interesting in a whole different way.  Now I’m imagining Evil Chris Traeger.

    He would LITERALLY end the world.

  • Darkrose

    Liam would be awesome as always, but sadly, I think he’s really too old.

    Jason Isaacs, on the other hand, would be brilliant. They’d have to keep building new sets every day because he’d chew the scenery down to the last piece of drywall. 

    That said, I’m not sure the filmmakers would necessarily want an actor who often talks about how being Jewish has informed his life and work to play the Antichrist.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    When I first read the poll, I thought the top name was Tim Currie; I could have gotten behind that…

    I think LeHay and his ilk suffer from conflating religion and ethics. Some religions have ethical rules, but not all religions provide a framework for a system of ethics beyond those rules. This gets to be a problem with the authoritarian types, who love following rules, and love having an authority they can impose upon others. The same rational that LeHay & co. use for biblical command (“The Bible is the literal word of God!!1!”) prohibits them from expanding the list of rules that they derive from the Bible.* 

    The net result of all of this is “X is good because God said so”, and “Y is bad because God said so”, with no underlying rationale. As a consequence, because they don’t understand what makes something good, they have no understanding of what “evil” really is. Unsurprisingly, sections of these books describing “evil” are about as moving as reading attempts at erotica by 12-year-olds. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Who is remarkably unfamiliar with the bible, it seema.

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

    Do they even know Barack Obama isn’t an actor? :O

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I don’t go around complaining constantly about the fact that I can’t stand macaroni+cheese. If I did, someone would probably have the natural reaction of asking me why I’m spending so much time on that and considering me a bit wonky into the bargain.

    And yet fundamentalists all over the U.S. are talking about how awful homosexuality is, non-stop…

  • Lunch Meat

    Is there any chance we can reboot the Left Behind reboot and get Joss Whedon to direct it? I’m picturing Nathan Fillion as Rayford, Neil Patrick Harris as Nicolae, Summer Glau as Chloe, Sean Maher as Buck…

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    I suspect LaHaye has people to handle those things for him, actually.

  • flat

    So which movie am I going to watch: left behind or Rapturepalooza.

    I saw the trailer and how Jesus got shot down by a laser, and despite jesus getting shot down by a laser is not supported by my faith.
    However I had to think about the chairface carpatia article here on slacktivist.
    So my question is: how many of the ideas of Rapturepalooza are based on the articles Fred wrote for slacktivist?

  • MaryKaye

    Frankly, I would expect Barack Obama to do a decent or even excellent Nicolae.  He is a good orator and can project earnestness and sincerity, which Nicolae really needs.  No acting background, but politics might substitute.  (We know acting experience can substitute for political experience….)  Of course it would not be a career-furthering role….

    As a dark horse for the role, how about Schwarzenegger?  He can be kind of wooden, but that worked great for the Terminator, and it might work for Nicolae–this person isn’t real, isn’t speaking his own words, he’s a puppet moved by a malignant force.  Arnold might be able to pull that off.  And his physical presence would help add some much-needed scariness.

    (Should it be scary that Disqus knows how to spell “Schwarzenegger” but not “Disqus”?  Or just absurd?)

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

    Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease.

    Sean Maher as Buck. He’s actually cute and looks like the kind of guy who you just know has probably not only done real news reporting, but has an aw-shucks way about him that draws the ladies. :)

    And Nathan Fillion as Rayford? The Arc Words for this series would be “I aim to misbehave”.

    For Chloe? While Summer Glau as action-lady!River  Tam would naturally translate, I would probably vote for Krista Bridges, who played Ivy the first time. ( http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0108765/ )

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

    Erm, are you sure it’s not your browser doing the spell-checking?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I have to wonder if a lack of “worldliness” in its more original idealization was similar to the Buddhist ideology of rejecting attachment.  In the case of the later, the intention is to leave this temporal existence via spiritual self-enlightenment, which requires abandonment to our temporal existence (in the reincarnation theology it is our attachment which keeps drawing us back to be reborn.)  

    The lack of attachment could be used to justify coldness and aloofness, not caring about the world.  However, it is also pared with a theology of mindfulness, the idea that we must be aware of the consequences of our actions and avoid spreading unnecessary suffering through those actions.  Making a choice to not help others in need is, in a way, spreading unnecessary suffering because the action being taken (walking away) does not mitigate that suffering.  

    The more positive view of the lack of worldly attachment is to not be too fixated on ideas of temporal gain, and conversely not be too worried about the potential of temporal loss.  To be happy, to be free of suffering, one needs to manage one’s desires so one is content with what one has, and one does not suffer from the fear of losing that which one has.  On the other hand, suffering for its own sake should be avoided, and no one should be expected to suffer for being unattached.  A person still needs to eat, for example, even if they would rather not be attached to the desire for food.  

  • Magic_Cracker

    Too bad Kirk Camercon isn’t gunning for the slot. I would pay cash money to see him in the role of Nicolae

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Do you need to worry about career-furthering roles after being elected US President for the second time?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I wonder if we are seeing some of this desire to reject “worldly” concepts in some of the politicians supported by the religious right when they promote policies based less on their pragmatic considerations and more on what kind of “message” they send.  

    For example, comprehensive sex education and subsidized access to birth control would be a pragmatic means of controlling reproduction, allowing families to build up more stable assets, give greater opportunities to their children, and reduce the total number of abortions performed.  However, in practice most of their policies are things which try to shame women for abortion while limiting young people’s access to solid information about sexuality so that they can “send a message” that sex and abortion are both bad.  

    Normally, I am content to live and let live, but despite the little regard they give to “the world” we have to inhabit that world with them, and what they do there affects me and those I care about, if only indirectly.  I wish they would stop feeling like they need to screw over this world to show their eagerness to get to the next.  

  • Leum

    Mary, that’s your browser’s spellcheck, not Disqus’.

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

    Barack Obama may need something to do after he retires, even with his pension. :) I wouldn’t mind seeing him act as “The President” in TV shows; he certainly looks Presidential. :)

  • flat

    I believe the short definition for what You just wrote is: letting somebody/something go because of love.

  • dj_pomegranate

    “This is *literally* going to be the worst tax season yet!”

  • TheBrett

     I know, right?

    For hell’s sake, Rayford, you can crash the damn plane!

  • Vermic

    Do they even know Barack Obama isn’t an actor?

    Oh, isn’t he?  He’s been “playing” a non-Muslim, non-Marxist, natural-born American citizen his whole career!

    *drops mic, moonwalks off stage*

    But seriously, it’s fun to remember that the LB fans who picked Obama already think he’s secretly the devil, so what they’re asking is to see the Antichrist playing a politician playing the Antichrist.  Which is kind of cool in a meta way.  Like Victor/Victoria but with Satan.


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