NRA: Steppin’ Out With My Baby

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 147-153

Rayford Steele is home alone in his apartment in New Babylon. For just a second, it seems as though he’s about to have a real human emotion:

Rayford thought he had had enough sleep, catching catnaps on his long journey. He had not figured the toll that tension and terror and disgust would exact on his mind and body.

“Tension and terror and disgust” are surprisingly appropriate responses to what he has witnessed over the past 24 hours — hopscotching across America just ahead of the destruction of Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. But we quickly realize that the scope of Rayford’s concern isn’t big enough to include everyone in those cities — or even to include anyone in those cities, not even the young co-pilot whom he had sent off to certain death without any word of warning.

In his and Amanda’s own apartment, as comfortable as air-conditioning could make a place in Iraq, Rayford disrobed to his boxers and sat on the end of his bed. Shoulders slumped, elbows on knees, he exhaled loudly and realized how exhausted he truly was. He had finally heard from home. He knew Amanda was safe, Chloe was on the mend, and Buck — as usual — was on the move. He didn’t know what he thought about this Verna Zee threatening the security of the Tribulation Force’s new safe house (Loretta’s). But he would trust Buck, and God, in that.

Rayford’s circle of concern includes his wife, his daughter and his son-in-law — the four members of the “Tribulation Force” — and that’s it. Even Loretta exists only parenthetically, as the source of something he needs more than as a person. After witnessing the destruction of several major cities, including his own home town, Rayford thinks of only one refugee from that violence, and then only to worry that her finding refuge with Loretta might jeopardize Loretta’s ability to provide a refuge for him.

It seems the only way Rayford is able to acknowledge other people is when he imagines he has some cause to resent them.

Rayford stretched out on his back atop the bedcovers. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. How he’d love to get a peek at the treasure trove of Bruce’s computer archives. But as he drifted off to a sound sleep, he was trying to figure a way to get back to Chicago by Sunday. Surely there had to be some way he could make it to Bruce’s memorial service. He was pleading his case with God as sleep enveloped him.

Getting back to Chicago by Sunday could prove difficult, what with Chicago no longer being there.

By “Chicago,” of course, Rayford really means the Chicago suburbs — which were miraculously unscathed by the non-radioactive nuclear bombs that fell inside the city limits and on O’Hare International Airport (killing an untold number of Rayford’s former colleagues there).

But Rayford desperately wants to attend “Bruce’s memorial service” — the ceremony he and Buck have arranged in honor of their late friend, and only their friend. Bruce was one of dozens killed in the first wave of missile strikes on Chicago, which destroyed the hospital near the church where he had been a patient. Other members of the New Hope Village Church congregation may also have been patients there, or health workers, and it seems unlikely that Bruce would be the only person the congregation would need to memorialize even just from that first attack.

But that attack was quickly followed by the destruction of the airport, and then the all-out assault on the city of Chicago itself. The authors, like their heroes, never seem interested in how many thousands or millions might have been slain or injured in these attacks, but surely it must include so many people — including so many personally and directly beloved by members of NHVC — that the idea of a memorial service focused only on Bruce would have to seem absurd and appalling.

Keep in mind that the authors told us about “a huge aerial attack on the city of Chicago” on page 63. We’re only on page 148. In Chapter 3 they destroyed the city of Chicago and here we are, opening Chapter 8 with Rayford Steele “trying to figure a way to get back to Chicago by Sunday.”

That’s not merely a continuity error. That’s a rejection of the entire principle of continuity.

(I’m trying to do justice to how very, very wrong those two sentences are, but all I can come up with is: “As she drifted off to a sound sleep, Leia was trying to figure a way to get back to Alderaan by Sunday. Surely there had to be some way she could make it to Obi Wan’s memorial service.”)

After a short scene between Buck and Chaim Rosenzweig (which we’ll return to later) Rayford is jolted from his sleep by — what else? — a ringing telephone.

It’s Hattie Durham calling. This provides Jerry Jenkins with a chance to review and rehash Hattie’s history in this chapter the same way he did Chaim and Tsion’s history in the last chapter. First, though, we get one of those unnecessary phone conversation scenes in which characters belabor all the logistical details of when they will next meet to talk in person.

There’s a full page of that here, but here’s the important bit:

“Rayford, I really need to talk to you. Nicolae … said he didn’t have a problem with my talking with you. I know you want to be appropriate and all that. It’s not a date. Let’s just have dinner somewhere where it will be obvious that we’re just old friends talking. Please?”

Rayford warily agrees, then says:

“Hattie, do me a favor. If you agree this shouldn’t look like a date, don’t dress up.”

“Captain Steele,” she said, suddenly formal, “stepping out is the last thing on my mind.”

“Stepping out” has many meanings, but it seems the authors are only aware of the sense of the phrase as sung by Fred Astaire in Easter Parade. I choose to think this is meta-Hattie briefly asserting herself, subtly mocking the middle-aged Rayford by tossing in some antiquated 1940s slang.

The odd thing here is that it would make sense for Rayford to worry that this meeting appear “appropriate and all that” and that it mustn’t “look like a date.” Hattie Durham is the fiancee of the global potentate — a man whose word is law and who annihilates whole cities on a whim. It could be very dangerous for anyone to get the misimpression that you are stepping out with his girlfriend. Rayford should be nervous about this meeting for all the same reasons that Vincent Vega had to be nervous about taking Marsellus Wallace’s wife out to dinner in Pulp Fiction.

Yet none of those very reasonable fears seem to occur to Rayford Steele. He isn’t worried about angering the potentate. He isn’t even worried about providing what could later be a pretext for his disappearance/detention/dismemberment by his boss the Antichrist. (Although, to be fair, the Antichrist of these books doesn’t seem devious and conniving enough for that to be something Rayford would have to worry about. This is disappointing. I prefer my super-villains more on the devious and cunning side.)

No, Rayford wants to be sure that this dinner “shouldn’t look like a date” because he is a married man and he doesn’t want to give any hint of moral impropriety.

And that’s just kind of weird. He doesn’t have to worry about Amanda getting the wrong idea about this non-date dinner meeting, because Amanda presumably knows him and trusts him. And it seems odd that he would worry about setting a bad moral example for the Antichrist.

The sense I get, actually, is that Rayford’s insistence on keeping up appearances here has to do with some idea about not damaging his “Christian witness.” It seems to be an attempt to “abstain from all appearances of evil,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:22 doesn’t actually say, but the KJV-toting authors think it does.

But that, again, is odd because once Rayford and Hattie actually meet, he spends most of their conversation elusively dodging her questions about God and the Antichrist and the whole End Times prophecy business that Rayford and the authors think of as “the gospel.” Rayford takes great pains not to do anything that would damage his “witness,” but he takes even greater pains not to “witness” when he’s given the chance to do so.

This seems like the confused behavior of a man who’s decided that appearing “good” is more important than doing good.


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  • arcseconds

    When you put it like that, it’s actually more than merely claustrophobic — it’s downright creepy!

    I mean, there are certainly people who have very few friends or relations (that they’re on speaking terms with). But it’s unusual enough to warrant at least a mention, although probably some kind of justification if they’re your main characters.

    It’s perhaps not difficult to imagine Rayford being a bit of a loner. Maybe his late wife did the socializing, and he’s realised with her death that they were really her friends, not his.

    But Chloe was very recently a college student, living away from home if memory serves. She’s apparently bright, and personable, and attractive. It’s quite difficult for that to all be true and for her to have no friends!

    It’s also difficult to believe that a hot-shot reporter like Buck doesn’t have friendly rivals in other news agencies that he sees after big press conferences, or sources he’s friendly with, or former interviewees that he struck up a post-interview rapport with, or at least old drinking buddies from hack school who now may have families but might be happy to gas about old times with.

    So what is going on here?

    – this is what L&J’s social life is like, and they think everyone’s is like this? That’s hard to believe, given that they’re rich and kind of movers and shakers in their community.

    – this is what L&J think (maybe know?) that their reader’s social life is like.

    – What’s actually going on here is that Rayford , Buck and Chloe are vulnerable, lonely people who have joined a cult (hence why they only know each other) and most of the story is just complete delusion.

    – They’re actually living in a low-budget Truman show that can’t afford enough actors, or a resource-starved Matrix that can only simulate a handful of fleshed-out characters.
    Any moment now they’ll notice that receptionists and other bit parts are using a small number of stock phrases, and if you play your cards right you can loop back to the beginning of the conversation

    I think it’s most likely, though, that this is yet further proof of the authors’ inability to do decent world creation, and also their almost solipsistic outlook where the only people of any worth in the world are their main characters.

  • In that scene, it was even acknowledged that standing by could have been, in that particular situation, the right thing to do in those conditions. (You know, the entire planet being destroyed otherwise.) But, it was still doing nothing to stop suffering when something was, however costly and however ineffective it might have been, an option.
    It didn’t even have to be immoral in order to be something for which redemption was needed… and that was good and just.
    Of course, for someone who sees God’s commands as the ultimate get-out-of-compassion-free card, that kind of reasoning wouldn’t penetrate.

  • Hth

    I would totally join the Church of Trevor.

  • arcseconds

    Perhaps what is going on here is not so much that the speaker was really worried about suddenly finding himself doing the underpants charleston in a shuttle bus, but rather saw an opportunity to show how Holy! he is.

  • Hth

    I really had no idea that you even can play Dungeons & Dragons without Mountain Dew. I find this an oddly fascinating concept.

  • She actually wanted Heidi Tandy’s signal boosting, and it was Heidi and especially her fanpoodles (mainly the vile and fascinating MsScribe) who shat all over the sick mother. I don’t know how involved CC was in that — I think she actually posted a link when asked, and sort of kept out of it.

  • Nick

    “That’s not merely a continuity error. That’s a rejection of the entire principle of continuity.”

    On the contrary, I’d say it’s one of the few times these books have displayed any real sense of continuity. It’s been well-established by now that nuclear bombs in the LB-verse do not actually destroy cities, or apparently much of anything else.

  • Oh, there are plenty of other carbonated and sweet caffeinated beverages one can drink while playing D&D. Yes, they sometimes drank caffeinated soda, it was not technically against their prohibitions on coffee and tea, and they were not so uptight as to make a fuss over something like that.

    At least one of them said he did not drink coffee not necessarily because of the prohibition, but because he could not stand the smell.

    Incidentally, we played 2nd Edition AD&D instead of the then-new 3rd Edition because that is how we roll (THAC0.)

  • SisterCoyote

    See, to me, it’s just about infinite.

  • Pauline

    Indeed, not all missionaries are created equal, so to speak. There’s some very progressive stuff coming from missionaries who’ve been out there for years, gotten deeply and respectfully assimilated into their new cultures, and given a lot of thought to the mistakes of missionaries in the past (especially the colonial period.) Progressive stuff which incidentally I was taught at a very conservative Bible college (and which did provide quite a contrast.) The idea of translating the Bible, not only into local languages but into the languages of very small minorities (even if those people also speak the dominant local language)–for the express purpose of showing minority cultures that God loves them in particular and does not require them to assimilate to the dominant local (often colonial-based) culture–is not an uncommon or radical idea in contemporary missionary circles. In fact the great majority of Christians I’ve met who have a clue about the missionary scene are entirely sold on the idea. The organizations actually doing this translating are also pioneering the progressive, common-sense, but surprisingly uncommon notion that children should learn first literacy in their mother-tongues rather than in a less-familiar language such as Spanish or English, as well.

    This is not to say that culturally insensitive missionaries don’t exist–boy do they, and they stand out, too. Luckily they (often, not always) tend not to last long. But I just would love it if people realized that the missionary standing behind the Ugly American missionary is wincing and grinding his teeth just as much as the rest of us!

  • “Enjoy it while it lasts. One day you’ll have to stand in front of the lord and face the consequences for your sins. And you better believe there will be consequences…”

    They make that sound like a bad thing. I would rather live having supported those things and facing judgement than to die never having supported them out of timid fear of perdition. To quote Captain Picard, “If we’re to be damned, let’s be damned for who we really are.”

    I would rather die and be judged defiant, on the terms I choose. In that way I affirm myself as free.

  • Our “hero,” Michael Murphy, also helpfully provides the reasons why people don’t believe: they’ve had inattentive fathers or “a bad religious experience” or “some moral issues.” (All these from Book 3, The Europa Conspiracy.)

    Ah yes, what TvTropes calls the “Hollywood Atheist“. As one troper on its entry for Left Behind observed, those seem to be the only kind of atheists in that ‘verse if only because in that ‘verse critical thinking seems to not exist.

  • *Sings* “Disqus hates me, this I know, for the Slactivist commentors tell me so. Formatting errors to it belong, they are minor and it is wrong.”

  • … oh no… oh no… God no!

    I just had the most horrible image pop into my head. I cannot bare this alone, you will all share my burden…

    A burlesque show, where a dancer comes out dressed as Jesus and… well… you can guess where it goes from there.

    “Glorious Appearing” indeed. o.O

  • “Cautious optimism” is warranted, I will grant… but given how big an assbite they got from their recent screw ups, they might just make it a little better.

  • Mrs Grimble

    Never mind the archaic use of “stepping put” – what made me boggle was the line “Rayford disrobed to his boxers”.

    First of all, why keep his underpants on when he’s relaxing in his own bedroom in a hot, sticky climate? And why not simply say “Rayford stripped off his clothes” without any mention of underwear?

    OK, maybe there’s a genuine worry that the use of the ‘s’ word might bring to mind the other kind of stripper; but ‘disrobed’ seems a very poor substitute. It make me, at least, think that Rayford is slipping out of a…well, a robe. And is now posing coyly in his undies.

  • ngotts

    I’m pretty sure they didn’t make their goal

    You can be as sure of that as you can of anything empirical, I’d say. The Sentinelese people resist any contact with outsiders, their language is unknown, and their island is treated as completely off-limits to anyone else by the Indian authorities. I guess according to some theologies, they are protecting us all from the end of the world!

  • ngotts

    Bushmen’s language

    Which one?

    It’s worth noting that some of those referred to as “Bushmen” consider the term insulting, although reportedly, others prefer it to any other. The basic problem is that the people so referred to had no tradition of a common identity at all.

  • christopher_y

    Which one? Bushmen/San/Basarwa (pick a name, they’re all pejorative) speak a whole family of different languages. I hope your friends used the appropriate one for the people they were visiting.

  • ngotts

    “Supposed to be about” according to whom? The evidence that Jesus intended his message (whatever it was) for anyone but Jews is extremely thin.

  • christopher_y

    Some might read “steppin’ out” and think Irving Berlin; but me, I’m going to have that damn Joe Jackson song stuck in my head all day

    Nah. Memphis Slim FTW.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Maybe the target audience would be deeply, deeply shocked by the possibility of CallMeCaptain sitting around with his naughty bits out, and LaJenkins needed to make it absolutely totally crystal clear that he would never do such a thing?

  • And, if Christian Talk Radio is to be believed, they don’t think real atheists (as in, people who don’t believe in any gods) exist. Because Jesus has stamped his really real self on every human heart, you see. So anyone who “denies” him really just hates him because they just love sinning so much. Tsion Ben-Jewishguy states this outright, at one point.


  • Amaryllis

    Having stayed up far too late last night to finish it, I can kind of see what you mean. I know there are people who think that the post-1960 sections are unnecessary to the story, and object to the final chapters especially.

    But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a shaggy-dog story. There’s a point in there.Anyway, I didn’t feel let down by the end of the book.

    Or, do you remember one of Adah’s last lines? “My colleagues accuse me of cynicism, but I am simply a victim of poetry.” I’ve been accused, here as in other places, of woolly-minded mysticalness. But I’m simply a victim of poetry, and the language in this book kept me fascinated from first to last.

  • ngotts

    He certainly started out that way. But going by Bare Faced Messiah (not “Bald-Faced” BTW, Russell Miller’s British), I think he got sucked into his own whirlpool of lies by the end. A fitting punishment, if so.

  • JoshuaS

    If I remember correctly, Rayford is the only human to still be alive for the Second Coming, right? Even Buck died. Who else made it to the end?

  • Heh, I can share in that feeling. But yes, that very last page and a half where a certain someone makes an appearance again, that irritated me. It’s almost as though the whole book was set up to make the supernatural seem like an absurd concept, and then Guess who?!

    It also bothered me that Adah got “fixed.” !saw ehs yaw eht tsuj reh dekil I

  • Makabit

    I didn’t mind the final words from Ruth May…it was clear from the beginning that Orleanna is speaking to someone, and it becomes clear who it is after a time. My objection is that the final section is essentially a white American woman’s romantic fantasy about marrying a hot African revolutionary, and thereby being absolved of whiteness and Americanicity. I can relate to it as a fantasy, but it’s kind of cheesy, does not match the literary quality of the rest of the book, and there are some issues around race and sex that I think are iffy.

  • Makabit

    I’m also not a fan of the fixing of Adah.

  • themunck

    Maybe Ray is just more comftable in his boxers than naked? I know I am, almost no matter how warm and humid it gets.

    Gaaah! I just defending this piece of trash!
    I feel dirty :(


  • They set themselves up on the sort-of quad on my college campus, which everyone with a liberal arts major or who teaches a liberal arts class must walk by multiple times a day. It’s small, so they were only about 10 feet away (if that) from anyone passing them. They also set themselves up outside the biggest government office in Tampa, so I had to get by them for jury duty. It seems to be the same group of people, and from comparing notes with others, they especially have it in for pale women with brown hair who don’t wear makeup.

    And I think it’s horrific that it’s completely legal to create a hostile working environment for students, professors, security guards, lawyers, judges, etc., all in the name of “free speech”.

  • Did she say that, even though she spread her last name about everywhere? Not surprised, considering Heidi threatened to sue everyone for everything.

  • Yes, but — oh gods I’m defending Cassandra Clare, wtf. I should make this clear: I hate plagiarism with the passion of 10,000 suns. I think CC’s an awful human being and showed herself to be one even without the plagiarism. Okay, that out of the way.

    The Draco Trilogy’s plot elements seem to be completely made up in Cassandra Clare’s own little brain. Which makes the shoehorning of the plagiarized parts even weirder and more obvious. And even if plot elements were copied, that’s derivative, but it’s not plagiarism so long as the words aren’t copied.

    There’s no question that CC benefits from having that huge fandom presence, and that the fandom presence benefited from plagiarism, and that therefore she is benefiting from plagiarism. But I think right now, in her published works, she’s using her own words.

  • I’m generally happier when I have no hope for something and turn out to be pleasantly surprised by it not being as bad as I thought it would be. Especially when it comes to games, and especially when it comes to EA. The only big gaming company I trust to always produce quality is Atlus. Not gonna let any other game company break my heart again (looking at you, Bioware and Squaresoft).

  • Why? Elaborate, please.

  • Makabit

    Yeah. Also, honestly, Hitchens didn’t have the humor or generosity toward humanity that Fred’s got. These books would have just annoyed him, and he wouldn’t have understood the nuances of what’s wrong with them as well.

    I’ve actually learned a lot about Protestant practice and theology by reading this decon.

  • esmerelda_ogg


  • Lorehead

    A lot of things come out in anonymous comments on the Internet.

  • Simon

    Destroy the city, but leave the suburbs… do the authors have something against cities or inner cities?

  • Lori

    That’s a rhetorical question, right?

  • Lori

    Maybe Rayford is a Never Nude

  • Lori

    In fairness, this is really common in fiction. It’s not good, but it’s a problem shared by plenty of better writers than Jerry Jenkins*. It can be difficult to say, or even imply, that the main characters have relationships with people who aren’t also significant characters in the story. If you’re not careful you either end up with a cast of thousands feel or you create confusion because readers expect that person you just mentioned to be important later and then they aren’t (sort of a Chekov’s Gun effect, for characters instead of things).

    *I see it all the time in romance novels. There are a couple versions that make me especially irritated. First there’s the family saga/series where those who “marry in” have no friends or relations of their own so that they can be conveniently totally absorbed by the focused-on family. The other is the story where there’s some Big Misunderstanding because either or both halves of the couple does something totally stupid because they don’t have any friends to talk to. Many a very bad book could have been cut in half by the addition of a Get A Grip Friend.

  • Lori

    Are there any good authors who have made the jump from fanfic to non-fan publication? It seems like the only time you hear about someone who got their start in fic the books are freaking awful.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Define terms. Anne B. Walsh is good (which I am saying as her reader, not as her friend), but she hasn’t exactly hit the big time.

  • Daniel

    Brains look a lot like another part of the male anatomy. Obviously women don’t have to worry, because they have neither. It says a lot for the antichrist that where God is quite happy to impregnate a virgin engaged to another man, Satan’s minion is apparently a one woman guy. Just to play devil’s advocate, so to speak…

  • Daniel

    Neil Gaiman got it right with Lucifer Morningstar- DAVID BOWIE. Where fundies wear a “wwjd” wristband, Satan wears a “wwbd” band. The answer is always right.

  • P J Evans

    Diane Duane, I think. Susan R Mathews – I know I met hers first as fanfic. Doyle and Macdonald started out that way – the earliest versions of their ‘Star Pilot’s Grave’ were fanfic. (And Star Wars fanfic, at that.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Seanan McGuire writes fanfiction. So does Naomi Novik. I don’t know if either started as a fanficcer, though.