L.B.: Holy spirits

L.B.: Holy spirits May 20, 2005

Left Behind, pp. 97-98

Chapter 6 of Left Behind begins with a promising sentence:

It had been years since Rayford Steele had been drunk.

It's about time that somebody reacted to the horrifying opening pages of this story with the wholly appropriate and reasonable (if not necessarily constructive) response of drinking himself into a stupor. When Jenkins writes, "If ever there was a moment that called for a stiff drink, this was it," I'm inclined to agree.

I really don't like Rayford Steele. He's a kinky control freak and an egomaniac without a shred of empathy. But still, you've got to feel for him. He's had an epically rough day, capped off by the discovery that his wife and son are dead/raptured. The guy deserves a drink or four.

It also seems to me that somebody like Rayford might benefit from getting sloppy drunk for once. I don't want to suggest that drinking to excess is a good thing, but the guy is such a tightly wound bundle of repression that it might do him some good to cut loose. Anything to get him outside of himself, outside of the fake self-concept he's constructed that prevents him from ever knowing or seeing anything truthful about himself or others.

Unfortunately for Rayford, it's LaHaye and Jenkins tending bar. And poor Rayford, being Rayford, can't even have a lousy drink without posturing for his internal camera:

He reached behind the empty cake cover in the highest cabinet over the sink and pulled down a half-finished fifth of whiskey. His inclination, knowing no one he cared about would ever see, was to tip it straight up and guzzle. But even at a time like this there were conventions and manners. Guzzling booze from the bottle was simply not his style.

Rayford poured three inches into a wide crystal glass and threw it back like a veteran. That was about as out of character as he could find comfortable. The stuff hit the back of his throat and burned all the way down, giving him a chill that made him shudder and groan. What an idiot! he thought. And on an empty stomach, too.

He was already getting a buzz when he replaced the bottle, then thought better of it. He slipped it into the garbage under the sink. … He wasn't going to cash in his maturity because of what had happened.

L&J aren't good at describing the unsaved — by which they mean anyone outside of their particular little sectarian subculture. You get the feeling, reading their descriptions of such people, that they've never actually met any. The details are always just a bit off, a bit unnatural. It's like watching a bad actor who has never touched a cigarette trying to portray a chain-smoker. Or like listening to some tragically unhip youth minister operating under the mistaken impression that he's "down with young people, yo."

But the clearest evidence that L&J don't understand outsiders is the way they portray insiders. We're supposed to like and admire Irene, but the more we read of her, the more repellant this prissy, passive-aggressive woman becomes.

Irene … had become a teetotaler during the last few years. She insisted [Rayford] hide any hard stuff if he had to have it in the house at all.

Irene had become a teetotaler because abstaining from alcohol is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. No, wait, that's Islam.

Allow me to explain for those unfamiliar with the American evangelical subculture. Evangelicals read the Bible literally. Thus whenever the Bible says "wine" they read this as "nonalcoholic grape juice" — unless the passage seems to say something negative about wine, in which case they read it to mean "wine."

Some examples: Ephesians 5:18 says "Do not get drunk on wine [Greek: oinos], which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." For evangelicals, the word "wine" here refers to wine, which is evil. But in the second chapter of John's Gospel, when Jesus changes some 30 gallons of water into "wine" [oinos] that's really just nonalcoholic grape juice — because what's a wedding feast without at least 30 gallons of nonalcoholic grape juice?

Once you realize that this is the sort of thing evangelicals mean by reading the Bible "literally" then it becomes easier to understand why L&J consider their convoluted, cut-and-paste, ignore-and-exaggerate hermeneutic to be a "literal" reading of what the Bible teaches about the End of Days.

In any case, as a born-again, Rapture-awaitin' Christian, Irene is a teetotaler. And just because she's the submissive subordinate of the manly head of her house doesn't mean she can't pester him about his occasional, ceremonial and elaborately mannered drinking.

She didn't want Raymie even knowing his daddy still drank.

"That's dishonest," Rayford had countered.

"It's prudent," she said. "He doesn't know everything, and he doesn't have to know everything."

"How does that jibe with your insistence that we be totally truthful?"

"Telling the whole truth doesn't always mean telling everything you know. You tell your crew you're taking a bathroom break, but you don't go into detail about what you're doing in there, do you?" …

He had found her point hard to argue …

I imagine Rayford thinking during that argument that maybe she was right. Maybe he didn't have to tell his son everything, and maybe he shouldn't have told young Raymie about all the details of the "private necking session he enjoyed at a company Christmas party … [as] Irene has stayed home, uncomfortably past her ninth month carrying their surprise tagalong son, Ray Jr."

(That's from back on page 3. I've never quite figure out how "Ray Jr." gets "Raymie" out of Rayford. Shouldn't he be "Rayfie"? Or is his name Raymond? In which case he' wouldn't really be Ray Jr., would he?)

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