NRA: A lesson for the ladies

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 153-156

It’s Hattie Durham’s turn in the spotlight. Here in the middle of the third book of this series, the authors are taking time to reintroduce several of their peripheral characters, reviewing and revisiting their roles and histories in multi-page flashbacks.

Hattie’s Official Character Summary in these pages comes through the point-of-view of Rayford Steele, which echoes back to how we originally met her, through Rayford’s eyes, in the opening sentences of the first book:

Rayford Steele’s mind was on a woman he had never touched. With his fully loaded 747 on autopilot above the Atlantic en route to a 6 a.m. landing at Heathrow, Rayford had pushed from his mind thoughts of his family.

Over spring break he would spend time with his wife and 12-year-old son. Their daughter would be home from college, too. But for now, with his first officer fighting sleep, Rayford imagined Hattie Durham’s smile and looked forward to their next meeting.

Hattie was Rayford’s senior flight attendant. …

She was, from the opening page, defined by her relationship to Rayford and by her effect on Rayford. But this is never reciprocal. “Hattie was Rayford’s senior flight attendant,” but Rayford is not Hattie’s pilot. The possessives, like Hattie, belong only to him. Hattie is portrayed as the temptress distracting Rayford from his family, but he is not portrayed as the married man stringing her along.

For a brief instant in that first book it seemed like this might lead to something interesting. During the initial panic of the Rapture, we meet Hattie again from Buck Williams’ point of view and she’s nothing like the home-wrecking hussy Rayford described. Buck actually seems impressed with her as she struggles to maintain order and her composure in the face of a disturbing, bewildering crisis.

It seemed like the authors might be signaling that Rayford’s perception of Hattie was unreliable — distorted, unfair. It seemed that maybe they were suggesting that there was more to this woman than what the narcissistic pilot was able to see.

Alas, though, it soon became clear that such subtleties are not part of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ approach to storytelling. In their view, it was Buck who was mistaken about Hattie when he first met her. He couldn’t understand her, the authors suggest, because he did not yet know Rayford, and Hattie is defined by Rayford. She is “Rayford’s.”

The multi-page reintroduction and review of Hattie’s story here could have been a chance to shift away from this awful, reductionist portrayal of Hattie Durham. LaHaye and Jenkins might have softened that a bit in the retelling, or suggested perhaps that both Rayford and Hattie have grown since we first met them at the beginning of the story. But instead the authors double down, reinforcing the worst aspects of their Hattie-hatred by repeating it all in concentrated form. Once again we see that she is defined by Rayford Steele. She is the “other woman,” and nothing more.

The scene starts with what I think is meant to be a piece of advice for godly married men. Rayford wakes up in his New Babylon palace quarters and prepares to meet Hattie for dinner:

He certainly didn’t intend to stay out long with Hattie Durham. He dressed casually, just barely presentable enough for a place like Global Bistro, where Hattie and Nicolae were often seen.

As a good Christian married man, it is imperative that Rayford not create the wrong impression for Hattie or for anyone else who may be watching. By appearing “just barely presentable,” he clearly signals his disdain for her so no one gets the wrong idea and Rayford doesn’t jeopardize his good Christian witness. It’s fine that the entire world knows him to be a loyal servant of the Antichrist, but he can’t have anyone suspecting he might be an adulterer.

Due to his eavesdropping on the plane, Rayford knows Hattie is no longer officially the “personal assistant” of the Antichrist/potentate, and he assumes this demotion is what she wants to talk with him about:

He would have to let her play the story out with all her characteristic emotion and angst.

Re-encountering the condescension and contemptuousness toward Hattie in this section, my initial thought was that someone should have reminded LaHaye and Jenkins that women would be reading their book too.

Women, after all, make up a big chunk of the audience for Christian-brand fiction. Just from a marketing perspective, it seems like a bad idea to alienate so many potential readers with dismissive caricatures. Most of this section has the awkward tone of those “you know how women are” jokes told at men’s prayer breakfasts — the kind of thing some men say about women when they’re sure that no women are listening. So why didn’t the authors realize that women are listening to this passage?

But then it hit me. The authors haven’t forgotten about their women readers. This passage is intended for those readers. It’s directed toward them. This whole survey and summary of Hattie’s history is meant to be a lesson for the ladies.

He would have to let her play the story out with all her characteristic emotion and angst. He didn’t mind. He owed her that much. He still felt guilty about where she was, both geographically and in her life. It didn’t seem that long ago that she had been the object of his lust.

Rayford had never acted on it, of course, but it was Hattie whom he was thinking of the night of the Rapture. How could he have been so deaf, so blind, so out of touch with reality? A successful professional man, married more than 20 years with a college-age daughter and a 12-year-old son, daydreaming about his senior flight attendant and justifying it because his wife had been on a religious kick! He shook his head. Irene, the lovely little woman he had for so long taken for granted …

Write this down ladies. These are your options: Hattie or Irene. You can be an “object of lust” or you can be a “lovely little woman.” You can be a wanton floozy working for a living and leading good men astray, or you can be a mother and a homemaker who has her priorities straight.

Hattie was 15 years his junior, and she was a knockout. Though they had enjoyed dinner together a few times and drinks several times, and despite the silent language of the body and the eyes, Rayford had never so much as touched her. It had not been beyond Hattie to grab his arm as she brushed past him or even to put her hands on his shoulders when speaking to him in the cockpit, but Rayford had somehow kept from letting things go further.

Remember, ladies: No touching! Irene was allowed to touch Rayford, but that was only because she was prepared to bear his children.

The responsibility to ensure that no touching occurs is entirely yours, ladies. That’s why the authors can say that Rayford never touched Hattie even when she touched him. And why Rayford’s “necking session” at an office Christmas party doesn’t count against his spotless record and his claim that he “of course” had “never acted” in response to the wiles of these seductresses. (If Rayford had groped Hattie, you get the sense the authors would have described it by saying, “It had not been beyond Hattie to press her breast into his outstretched hand as she brushed past him.”)

Rayford reminisces a bit more about the awkward dinner at which he had attempted to convert Hattie to the Rapture Gospel after awkwardly attempting to apologize — and to demand/receive an apology from her — for their prolonged non-affair of “the silent language of the body and the eyes.”

And here is the final lesson for you ladies: If any untoward touching, glances or body language occurs, you must forgive without qualification and you must apologize for your role in provoking it. And you should probably also apologize to the man you’re forgiving for allowing him to place himself in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for your forgiveness.

Rayford and the authors again lament Hattie’s failure to embrace the One True Gospel as it was presented to her in Rayford’s “earnest and focused” proselytizing. And they again attribute her rejection of this gospel to her willful hardness of heart and not to the horrifying context of having to sit through a passive-aggressive sermon from a creepy old married guy.

Less than two years later, Hattie was the personal assistant and lover of Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist. Rayford, Buck, and Chloe were believers in Christ.

So let that be a lesson to you all.

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