Originally posted September 14, 2007.
Read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. This post is also part of the ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, available on Amazon for just $2.99. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available.
Left Behind, pp. 328-332
Rayford and Chloe arrived in New York just after noon on Wednesday …
It’s only eight and a half days after The Event and everything is back to normal. Rayford and Chloe, air traffic and airports, and New York City itself. And it’s not a post-traumatic “normal” — people aren’t soldiering on, forcing themselves to rebuild a new normal out of the ashes, unmanageable emotions still roiling just below the surface in a world forever changed, forever divided into Before and After. They’re simply back to normal, as though The Event never happened, as though there were still 6 billion of us and not, suddenly and inexplicably, only 4 billion.
I know I’m repeating this point, but this is insurmountably wrong, and the wrongness of it suffuses every page of Left Behind.
Imagine if, instead of Darby’s Rapture, the book had begun with something similar but slightly less world-changing: Instead of all the Real True Christians and the innocent children being instantaneously whisked away to nowhere, leaving their clothing behind in neat little piles, imagine that the clothing had disappeared, leaving behind half a billion born-againers in their birthday suits and simultaneously undressing every child on the planet.
Even if “only” that were what had happened, it would still take a long time before everything was back to normal. A week after the Great Unclothing you still wouldn’t be able to take a nice, normal flight to New York. People would be demanding explanations from the government, the media, scientists, academics, and Oprah, turning away from the old symbols of authority and seeking new ones who could explain what happened. There would be riots, violent scapegoating, the founding of new religions. If two or three days passed without a credible official explanation supported by plausible evidence, then many would see the G.U. as a sign from God or the gods, interpreting this sign in a multitude of contradictory, but inflexibly urgent, ways. Millions would be paralyzed by the fear that It Might Happen Again, cocooning themselves away in their homes, forming survivalist cells or falling prey to a flourishing wave of hucksterism. There would be violence, upheaval, new laws and lawlessness, revolution. Old institutions would collapse and new ones would arise to replace them. The aftershocks would continue for months and the landscape would be forever altered.
LaHaye and Jenkins claim to describe something exponentially more traumatizing and world-altering. Yet in their story none of this happens. All the old institutions remain intact, the parking garages are cleared and people go on about their business, unchanged and unaffected. Even if you accept the idea of the Rapture and you believe that something like what L&J claim is going to happen someday in the future, you have to conclude that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have no idea what such an event would really mean. Even for premillennial dispensationalist prophecy believers, in other words, Tim LaHaye is an inept, inadequate and untrustworthy guide.
So please forgive the repetition here, but I’m still having a hard time getting past sentences like this one, glibly informing us that “Rayford and Chloe arrive in New York just after noon on Wednesday …” without thinking all of this and hurling this contentedly shallow, inhuman book across the room.
And but so anyway, I’ve retrieved the book, so where were we?
Rayford and Chloe arrived in New York just after noon on Wednesday and went directly to the Pan-Con Club to wait for Hattie Durham.
Apart from the fire-breathing prophets and multi-headed beasts that a supposedly literal retelling of the events of Revelation would seem to promise, the thing I’ve been most looking forward to in this part of the book is this ill-conceived gathering. The just-converted Rayford Steele is eager to share his newfound faith, and since the friendless pilot only knows two people — his daughter and his pseudo-mistress — he decides that the three of them should get together to talk about it. Compounding the exquisite awkwardness of such a conversation is Rayford’s mutated, post-apocalyptic variation of the gospel. His message is not “Jesus loves you,” or “your sins are forgiven,” but rather, “The Day of Judgment is at hand, the seas will boil, the skies will fall and the moon will turn to blood.” When the authors eventually arrange for this conversation to occur, they will also contrive to have Buck Williams present, thus finally bringing together their respective Mary Sue avatars and uniting the book’s parallel threads.
Sadly, we’ll have to wait another 30+ pages before this happens. In these pages, instead, we get our final glimpse of Chloe before her brain is completely addled and she is replaced by her pod-person replicant. Chloe still has the sense, here, to explain to her dad that he really shouldn’t expect Hattie to show up for a chaperoned religious lecture, and that he should stop pretending he’s so superior to her.
Rayford felt awful. Chloe was right. Why should he think less of Hattie just because she seemed dim at times? That hadn’t bothered him when he had seen her only as a physical diversion.
That’s not quite accurate. The diverting thrill Rayford fed on in his weird affair with Hattie had never been remotely physical. She was, as the very first sentence of the book told us, “a woman he had never touched” despite months or years of the two of them working, traveling, eating and drinking together in private. The first, and only, time they ever touched was when Hattie sat on his lap in the helicopter evacuating their self-preserving skins from the wreckage-strewn airport, and Rayford’s only response to this physical contact was revulsion. The man is deeply uncomfortable in his own skin. Between Rayford’s impotent loathing of the flesh and the vision of a saltpetered, sexless utopia in the final book of this series, you really have to wonder about where the authors are coming from.
Chloe explains why she wouldn’t show up if she were in Hattie’s shoes:
“You’re going to tell her you no longer have feelings for her, but that now you care about her eternal soul.”
“You make that sound cheap.”
“Why should it impress her that you care about her soul when she thinks you used to be interested in her as a person?”
“That’s just it, Chloe. I wasn’t ever interested in her as a person.”
This confession is misleading. The implication here is that she wasn’t a “person” to him, merely some kind of sex object. But, again, she was never a sex object. Rayford doesn’t seem to have any sexual appetite, just a need for control. He used Hattie to feed that need, and in that sense it’s true that he was never “interested in her as a person,” but he should stop pretending this was some kind of sexual affair. And in any case, he should stop talking to his daughter about all of it, because it’s making me really uncomfortable.
Not-yet-saved Chloe accuses her father of caring about Hattie’s “soul,” but not about Hattie “as a person.” Rayford doesn’t disagree with Hattie’s premise — that “souls” and “persons” are different things — he just thinks his unredeemed daughter has it backwards. If she understood, as he does, that souls trump persons, then she would agree that he needed to talk to Chloe about saving hers.
Chloe continues to try to explain Hattie’s point of view:
“You were so circumspect and so careful, she thought you were better than most men, who would just come right out and hit on her. …”
So Chloe joins her father and the authors in the weird delusion that it was somehow virtuous, respectful and decent of Rayford to string Hattie along, keeping her in limbo instead of pursuing an actual relationship with her and/or just trying to get her into bed. I’m too repulsed by this to expend the energy it would take to unpack all that’s wrong with this notion, so let me just say that Don Juan, the archetype of indiscriminate and incontinent passion, was a better man than Rayford Steele.
“… She probably understands that you’re not in any state of mind to start a new relationship. But it can’t make her day to be sent away like it was just as much her fault.”
“It was, though.”
“No, it wasn’t, Dad. She was available. You shouldn’t have been, but you were giving signals like you were. In this day and age, that made you fair game.”
One and a half cheers for Chloe for not letting Rayford get away with blaming Hattie for his little control games, but I’m really hoping, for her sake, that Chloe didn’t say things like “in this day and age” when she was talking to her classmates in the freshman dorm at Stanford. That phrase — which makes Chloe sound more like Rayford’s great aunt than his daughter — appears here because the authors, like many American evangelicals, think of marital infidelity as a recent modern invention that came into being sometime after Engel v. Vitale and the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan.
“She’s still hurt, probably mad,” Chloe says:
“What makes you think she’s going to be receptive to your heaven pitch?”
“It’s not a pitch! Anyway, doesn’t it prove I care about her in a genuine way now?”
Chloe went and got a soft drink. When she returned and sat next to her father, she put a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all,” she said. “I know you’re more than twice my age, but let me give you an idea how a woman thinks, especially someone like Hattie, OK?”
Jerry B. Jenkins sat at a computer and typed these words: “Let me give you an idea how a woman thinks.” And then — inexplicably, unforgivably — he kept writing. If ever the seas were going to boil, the skies were going to fall and the moon was going to turn to blood, it should have happened then. After 330 pages of sexless machismo, misogyny and madonna/whore stereotypes, Jenkins now announces, in the voice of his madonna-in-training ingenue, that he will now enlighten us as to “How a Woman Thinks.”
It’s almost impressive how quickly this goes wrong. I expected what followed to be condescending and demeaning, but the next four words of the very same sentence are “especially someone like Hattie.” What follows after is Chloe’s attempt to get her father to look at things from the perspective of a woman, which is to say the perspective of an irreligious homewrecker:
“Does she have any religious background?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You never asked? She never said?”
“Neither of us ever gave it much thought.”
“You never complained to her about Mom’s obsession, like you sometimes did with me?”
“Come to think of it, I did. Of course, I was trying to use that to prove that your mother and I were not communicating.”
Rayford sounds detached and clinical when describing his former self because he (and the authors) think of this former self as a wholly different person. This whole section of the book is unusual for portraying Rayford in a less-than-flattering light, but note that the only faults the authors can find in their hero are the consequences of the actions of this other, former self.
“But Hattie didn’t say anything about her own thoughts about God?”
Rayford tried to remember. “You know, I think she did say something supportive, or maybe sympathetic, about your mom.”
“That makes sense. Even if she had wanted to come between you, she might have wanted to be sure you were the one putting the wedge between yourself and Mom, not her.”
It doesn’t occur to Rayford to wonder why his daughter seems to have given so much thought to the psychology of dating a married man. It’s kind of interesting that Jenkins seems to have given this a bit of thought as well.
“What I’m getting at is that you can’t expect someone who is not even a church person to give a rip about heaven and God and all that. I’m having trouble dealing with it, and I love you and know it’s become the most important thing in your life. You can’t assume she has any interest, especially if it comes to her as a sort of a consolation prize.”
“For losing your attention.”
“But my attention is purer now, more genuine!”
“To you, maybe. To her this is going to be much less attractive than the possibility of having someone who might love her and be there for her.”
“That’s what God will do for her.”
It’s easy here to get distracted by the Jesus-as-Barry-White imagery, but as laughable as that is, it’s not as strange as Rayford’s apparent notion that since God loves and cares for Hattie, he doesn’t have to.
“So, what if she does show up? Should I not talk to her about it?”
“I don’t know. If she shows, that might mean she’s still hoping there’s a chance with you. Is there?”
“Then you owe it to her to make that clear. But don’t be so emphatic, and don’t choose that time to try to sell her on –“
“Stop talking about my faith as something I’m trying to sell or pitch.”
“Sorry. I’m just trying to reflect how it’s going to sound to her.”
That’s twice here that Rayford has insisted his sales pitch isn’t a sales pitch. This is clearly a criticism that the authors have heard and are anticipating, yet they don’t respond to it other than to say, “Stop talking” like that. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to explain why this criticism isn’t valid, the perfect chance for them to explain how their understanding of sharing the gospel is different than something they are trying to sell or pitch. But they don’t explain what this difference is.
You have to wonder whether they can.