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.

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  •  Nonsense! He’s President of the United States–of course he’s an actor. All high-visibility successful politicians are. ;-)

  • Ken

     If all that’s required is that Tim LaHaye know nothing about the country, the Antichrist could arise anywhere.  Including, as these books keep revealing, the U.S.

  • Lunch Meat

    The Brain would be Nicolae. Pinky would be Leon.

  •  I’ve heard “Gary Stu” used. 

  •  Enver’s also got the vague Eastern European thing down too.  He’s a lot less vague about it though. 

    And +1000 to Christina Hendricks as Hattie, the naughty minx!  She’s got “sin” written all over her.  Plus, it’d be nice to see Saffron and Mal get over their “differences”.

  • Beroli

    “Gary Stu” is a male Mary Sue. Not a non-sex-specific “this character is everything I hate” character.

  • Beroli

    “Gary Stu” is a male Mary Sue. Not a non-sex-specific “this character is everything I hate” character.

  • Going to use a fair number of dead people, assume we hopped in a Tardis and grabbed them while still alive or something, because, quite frankly, Zombie Ronald Reagan is too terrible to contemplate.

    Ronald Reagan as Carpathia
    Peter Graves as Rayford
    Peter Sellers as Buck, the President, and Dr Rosenzweig (who is in a wheelchair for a while, it should be noted.)
    I’ll go with the suggestion if Summer Glau as Chloe even though it doesn’t make much sense to me just because… Summer Glau.

    The guy who played Billy Keikeya in Battlestar Galactica for Leon.
    While we’re on Battlestar, Lucy Lawless as Verna because D’Anna Biers could be a convincing reporter and be a jerk when need be.

    Cavil, not Dean Stockwell but Dean Stockwell as Cavil, for Bruce.

    Lorena Gale as Elosha for Loretta.

    To be honest now that I’ve got some Battlestar characters I want to work new-Baltar in somewhere in there.  But I’m not sure where.  Maybe as Tsion if he could do the whole thing with a sort of, “WTF, can’t you find some long time Christian to cling to?  I only converted quite recently you know,” while an angel of the Lord says, “No.  You’ve been chosen so sit down, shut up about how inconvenient this is for you, and start leading the flock God has given you.”

    David Spade (as his receptionist character from SNL) in the role of the unnamed church secretary.

    Kat Dennings, played the female lead’s sidekick in Thor, as Alice.

    And so on.

  • fraser

     Ah. The rationale by which blowing up abortion clinics is godly but Muslims blowing up anything is an act of Satan.

  • Just because it would mess with the fanbase: Don Cheadle or Denzel Washington as Rayford.  I’m thinking Zoe Saldana as Chloe.

  • I forgot to cast Ms. Sensible Shoes herself!

    Gina Torres.

  • fraser

     Also there’s the perennial problem (discussed here and in many other places) that a lot of the Christian fiction readers buy books under the assumption they will not be offended by anything published under that label. If Carpathia kept a harem, that might qualify.

  • fraser

     I didn’t know it wasn’t lifetime and yeah, it does seem like a good idea.

  • j_bird

    As for casting Nicolae, I would say Neil Patrick Harris or Tim Curry, no question.  They can both put the comical/ridiculous spin on evil.  I don’t care if Tim Curry is too old.  A little age discrepancy would be the least of the improbabilities in the books.

  •  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is tied with Liam Neeson?  I… I don’t even know what that means.

  • Lawrence LaPointe

    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.”
    Isn’t that what Dives said in the parable ?“parable

  • Tricksterson

    James SPader or Neil Patrick Harris. Because you just know Satan invented the Bro Code.

  • Tricksterson

    Plus she’s Canadian whom we all know are lackeys of the Devil.

  • Jenny Islander

    While “Mary Sue” has been coopted to mean “she’s female and she’s awesome and females can’t be awesome,” I think the observation that sparked the Mary Sue/Gary Stu thing in the first place is still valid.  If the story has laid down rules as to characterization, things that are and are not possible for people to do in this setting, etc., and suddenly a new character appears and all of the rules bend so as to make him/her look awesome–that’s a Sue/Stu.  If the narrator is constantly going on about the looks/prowess/emotional depth of the character, but the character him/herself doesn’t do anything to back up those assertions, that’s a Sue/Stu.  If the plot screeches to a halt so that people can line up to tell the character how wonderful he/she is–that’s most definitely a Sue/Stu.  If the character never has to struggle for great achievements but gets rewarded anyway, or if he/she is written into terrible danger and then pops right back out without a scratch but with a shiny new medal, or suffers what should be lasting harm but gets to have it erased by some affirmation from the supporting characters, then Mary Sue/Gary Stu is onstage.
    Basically Mary Sue/Gary Stu is what you get when the author forgets that he/she actually has an audience.

  • Beroli

     Okay, none of what you said is untrue, but I wonder why you posted it as a reply to me.

  •  Oh, so L&J were cribbing from the Bible for Rayford’s prayers. What a surprise.

  • I confused my Traegers and thought you meant Kim Coates. He did play the Umbrella CEO in one of the RE movies, though, so there’s precedent.
    Tig from SOA as the Antichrist is a bit of a stretch.

  • Jenny Islander

    Because I keep replying to the wrong people on Disqus.  It’s a curse.

  • Nekouken

    Julian McMahon would be a good choice for the Nicolai of the book: handsome, and unconvingly disingenuous. I’m not a fan; he was given so much to work with on Charmed and was completely unable to hold my interest, and he played Dr. Doom like the Mad Thinker — pretending that’s who he’s supposed to be was the only way I could tolerate him in the otherwise surprisingly enjoyable FF movie.

    I’m on board with that casting, but only if the movie treats Nicky the way Fred does.

  • Yeah, like L or J or Rayford would think of praying for safety of family without a hint from the Bible.

  • Glorious Appearing is a special kind of failtastic lack of imaginativeness for L&J so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at their refusal to create original prayers.

  • misanthropy_jones

    this could be cage’s chance to go all-out, alec guinness in kind hearts and coronets.

    have him play every major role. it would be totally cage-tastic!

  • Edo

    Seconding that recommend; Richard Foster can’t be recommended highly enough. (And in a rare on-topic digression, Celebration has a truly splendid footnote somewhere: “No effort will be made here to refute the heresy in Dispensationalism that the Sermon on the Mount applies to a future age rather than today.” That line alone is worth the price of the book.)

  • I may be alone in this, but I say scrap all the A-list actors and make a TRUE adaptation of the book. Show every phone call, every cab ride, and every bit of mundane minutia with a cast recruited directly from homeschoolers and megachurches. Watch the RTCs wading through the wreckage-strewn tarmac, discussing logistics and complaining about long lines while kicking away the outstretched hands of the wounded and dying. Watch Rayford roll his eyes on the phone with a frantic Hattie, before telling her that doctors want people to get sick because it makes them money. Show Buck getting all his news from CNN and Chloe spending most of her time in vacant-eyed standby mode until the plot demands her.

  • Oh lord, the audience would be catatonic before the first hour of the movie :O

  • Metallo is a character very well-suited to being introduced early in a series and then getting the supervillain upgrade in a later film. Same with Emil Hamilton (though I was overall rather peeved when it turned out he was Ruin).

  • Definitely. As I envision, it would be less ‘entertainment’ and more avant-garde political art. Perhaps it would also make the RTCs think twice about the series they claim to love.

    I may need a Kickstarter for the project.

  • aunursa

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt is about the same age as Nicolae in the book.  Liam Neeson is nearly 30 years older, but some fans would prefer him.

  • I would cast Liam Neeson as Jonathan Stonagal.

    Then, in the little power struggle between Stonagal and Carpathia at the end of the first book (the one where Carpathia tries to force Stonagal to his knees with his mind control, and Stonagal says, “No, screw you.”) Except, in a twist, Stonagal wins.

    It wouldn’t even be that much of a divergence from the actual book. In the scene I’m talking about, Carpathia’s mind mojo doesn’t work on Stonagal. He tells Stonagal to kneel before him and Stonagal refuses several times, and Carpathia has to point a gun at him to get him to comply. What would have happened if Neeson!Stonagal had drawn his own gun first and gotten the drop on him, or used his own Force powers mind mojo against him? Or, you know, what if his bodyguards ran in and shot Carpathia in the back?

    They’re already monkeying with the premise of the books, by making the entire movie about the Rapture without including the other 9/10ths of the book anyway. They can change the sequels too. Throw the jaded Left Behind bashers a bone this time, maybe!

  • “Nicolae, you already have all my money. There is nothing else you could want from me. But what I do have, and you don’t, is a certain set of skills….”

  • Rae

    Yeah, and also “Any time the main character has more than one of his interests or personal history line up with the author’s” or “the main character looks like the author (used to) and is portrayed as very good-looking” or “minor attractive characters of the protagonist’s preferred gender are falling madly in love with him/her”
    And, for all that “Mary Sue” brings up mental images of female characters and Bella Swan, if you look in any action/thriller/crime books on the NYT bestseller list at any given time (Douglas Preston and Clive Cussler spring to mind) the male protagonists of those most definitely seem like a Gary Stu. 

  • Lorehead

    Barack Obama should do it, on condition that his cut go to the ACLU.

  • Tricksterson

    OOr some other demonic instrument of his choice.  Better yet, Planned Parenthood.

  • Randall M

    The solution is obvious.  Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, with a variety of body suits (not all fat) and some makeup, should play all the characters between them.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “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.”

    I’m reminded of Winston Churchill: “If Germany should declare war on Hell, I should give a favorable reference to the Devil.”

  • Even he wishes he had some “other role” besides that of feckless bystander. Even he wishes his faith demanded something more “active.”

    This isn’t exactly out of character for either Rayford or Buck – they’ve spent half the last two books daydreaming about what they coulda woulda shoulda done, if only God would hold up a big neon sign telling them to get off their duffs and DO something.

  • VMink

    My gods, Tim Currie as Nicolae? I would so wait for the movie’s release with barely-held antici…


  • VMink

    I read that and, alas, all I could think of was a line that began with ‘Yo dawg….’

    I admit, I think the only way I could watch Left Behind in a theater is if it took itself about as seriously as Kentucky Fried Movie or Manos II: Jazz Hands of Fate.

  • VMink

    Middle-Earth’s Got Talent?

  • ohiolibrarian

     Now, I’m seeing the entire Left Behind series with Tim Curry in character from Rocky Horror ….

    I LIKE it!

  • aunursa

    On the Facebook page they’re now asking fans to select music for the movie.
    So I’m eagerly awaiting Left Behind – The Musical.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I think Ray-Ray would feel more comfortable touring the cathedral and
    eating in their restaurant than doing anything with or for the poor.

    You can tell he’s a COMPASSIONATE person because he drives by the poor, not over them.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I know logically that it’s not possible that every single person who posts on that board is smoking crack, and yet….

    “They call religion ‘the opiate of the people’, but it’s worse than that.  It’s more like the crack cocaine.” – Hellpope Huey of the Church of the SubGenius.

  • Nicestep

     No Christoph Waltz?

  • J Neo Marvin

    Aubrey Plaza would a make a great Meta-Chloe.