L.B.: Everybody loves Rayford

L.B.: Everybody loves Rayford August 12, 2005

Left Behind, pp. 129-133

We left Buck Williams outside of the offices of "Global Weekly," somewhere in midtown Manhattan, miles and miles from midtown Manhattan.

Buck heads inside and meets up with his friends and colleagues for the first time since one third of the world's people disappeared and hundreds of thousands more were killed in various catastrophes involving planes, trains and automobiles. Since that event, Buck had been on his own, but:

He was with people who cared about him. This was his family. He was really, really glad to see them, and it appeared the feeling was mutual.

That second "really" is what sets Jerry Jenkins apart as a novelist. Passages like this make one grateful that he is sharing this gift with others. You, too, can sign up for his "Christian Writers Guild" and you can learn to be a really, really good writer.

They cheered when they saw Buck. These people, the ones he had worked with, fought with, irritated and scooped, now seemed genuinely glad to see him. They could have no idea how he felt. …

These folks have all just experienced the same world-altering 36 hours that Buck did, so you'd think they actually would have an idea of how he felt. We readers, however, can't be sure what is going through Buck's mind as he: "… began to sob, right there in front of his colleagues and competitors."

There ought to be more of this happening in this book, more spontaneous emotional meltdowns. Few lives would be untouched by the disappearances and the ensuing disasters. All the children are gone, all 1.3 billion of them. That means at least that many grieving parents. Most of the planet, at this point, is probably coping with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Random bouts of sobbing should be the new normal.

"It's all right, Bucky," one said. "If this is your first cry, you'll discover it won't be your last. We're all just as scared and stunned and grief-stricken as you are."

That's kind of nice — a humanizing touch for a character who has, so far, showed scarcely a glimmer of human response to the suffering, loss and mayhem around him.

But who was that speaking? One of Buck's nameless, faceless coworkers — the people who cheered when he walked in. There's something a bit creepy about the chorus roles in this book. They surround Buck, offer him cheer, seem genuinely interested in how he is doing and what he has been through. He never reciprocates this concern, and they never seem surprised by that. It's like they know they're just extras and he's the protagonist.

The same odd dynamic is at work on the next page, as Rayford checks in with the office:

Rayford talked himself into calling the Pan-Con Flight Center early in the afternoon. He learned that he was to report in for a Friday flight two days later. "Really?" he said.

"Don't count on actually flying it," he was told. "Not too many flights are expected to be lifting off by then. Certainly none till late tomorrow, and maybe not even then."

If Friday is two days later, then it must be Wednesday, which means, I think, that the disappearances must've occurred late Monday/early Tuesday (depending on timezone). So we finally know what day it is, if not what month.

Another thing we don't know is who it is that Rayford is talking to on the phone. Passive constructions like "he was told" don't even allow us to figure out this person's gender for another two pages (when Rayford hears that "he was tapping computer keys").

But we did learn that a very few commercial flights have been flying again. You know how it is after a big disaster involving multiple crashes closes all the airports. The FAA keeps just about everyone grounded except for private jets for journalists, commercial flights for Stanford students, and members of the bin Laden family. (See, for instance, Snopes' mea culpa.)

The nameless Pan-Con voice helpfully tracks down the travel itinerary of Rayford's daughter Chloe, who apparently took a bus from Palo Alto and is flying home via Salt Lake City, Enid, Okla., and Springfield, Ill.

Rayford asks Peripheral Chorus Guy when he'll be getting back home if his scheduled flight does take off:

"Saturday night."

"Good."

"Why? Got a date?"

"Not funny."

"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, Captain. I forgot who I was talking to."

"You know about my family?"

"Everybody here knows, sir."

PCG must also have a family. Every parent in the entire company has lost their children. And dozens of Pan Continental jets have crashed, taking the lives of pilots and crew. But somehow it is Rayford's loss that is the talk of the office.

"Everybody knows," and everybody cares, about Rayford. They know that he lost his wife — the same wife he couldn't stand to be around, the one he blew off to hit on young flight attendants — and they regard his loss as somehow more special, more important than their own. It's not just that these people are undeveloped extras in the background of somebody else's story — it's that they know they're merely extras in the background, and they enthusiastically embrace this status.

We could just file this under Bad Writing, but it's more than that. The self-centered, sociopathic lack of empathy displayed by Rayford and Buck is held up as model behavior. By implicit example, and sometimes more explicitly, this book is trying to teach its readers that Other People do not matter.

One common riff used by evangelical speakers involves John 3:16 — the verse made famous by Bannerman. As a reminder of God's love for each of us, the speaker will quote that verse as a fill-in-the-blank, urging the audience to insert their own name: "For God so loved [your name here] that he gave his only begotten son, that [your name here] shall not perish but have everlasting life."

This illustration turns the verse into something like the parable of the Lost Sheep ("ninety and nine all safe in the fold"), which is a valid point, but not the point that John's Gospel is making.

John 3:16 says, "God so loved the world," or literally, "the cosmos." It's not a good idea to substitute yourself for the entire cosmos. Part of what this passage is saying is that God loves the world, so you should love it too. That message is lost if you make it all about you.

If it's all about you, then it doesn't really matter what else or who else God loves. God doesn't even really matter that much, except insofar as you get helped out. You're the hero of this story — God is just Peripheral Chorus Guy writ large, just another one of those faceless chorus members cheering when you walk into the room.

Lest you wonder if "sociopathic" is too strong a term for the self-centeredness of our hero Rayford, here's how this chapter of LB ends:

"Well, I'm sorry for what you're going through, sir, but you can be grateful your daughter didn't get on Pan-Con directly out of Palo Alto. The last one out from there went down last night. No survivors."

"And this was after the disappearances?"

"Just last night. Totally unrelated."

"Wouldn't that have been a kick in the teeth?" Rayford said.

"Indeed."

Rayford doesn't ask which one of his fellow Pan-Con pilots was aboard the doomed flight. He doesn't care because it wasn't him or his immediate family. Neither, "indeed," does PCG. They are both just relieved that Rayford and his family are unaffected by this event. It "would have" been a tragedy if Chloe had been on board. But it was just Other People who died. So no harm, no foul.


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56 responses to “L.B.: Everybody loves Rayford”

  1. This will become more apparent later in the books when the plagues from Heaven wipe out millions upon millions of bystanders, and the True Believers then become invulnerable to the plagues. They start caring even less about others.

  2. As I read these excellent posts I cant help but regard Raymond and Buck as stand-ins/literal egos/avatars for Lahaye and Jenkins as pointed out in earlier post. I have to laugh at how twisted these men are. It is too frightening to contemplate the influence they have. My 5 year old son has better sense of otherness than L and J.

  3. It’s kind of fascinating: In a book so obsessed with the minutiae of travel, we have seen that it costs $1500 to charter a jet from the midwest to the east coast, subway trains are capable of following a “meandering, zig-zag route” from western New Jersey into Manhattan, midtown is miles and miles away from midtown, and now a major international airline flies out of Palo Alto.
    Has anyone considered the possibility that this might actually be surrealism?

  4. Even,
    Good point! I completely missed that, despite being a life-long bay arean. A quick look at Google maps reminds me that Palo Alto sits right between Brisbane and San Jose– two cities with actual international airports. Though to be fair, there _is_ an airport in Palo Alto, and one that would be more likely to handle the small commuter planes (privately owned?) of the sort that Rayford took. Perhaps PanCon simply moved their fleet a bit?

  5. Via Atrios, fine commentary by Sadly, No! on a Kirk Cameron column.
    http://sadlyno.com/archives/001609.html
    Some quotes:
    >>
    Most people in the world are not Christians and their ungodly lifestyles can wear on us day after day.
    Well, the feeling’s mutual, Kirk: most of us aren’t too fond of religious fanatics. The difference is, most of us don’t wish them any harm. More to the point, we don’t subconsciously long for the day when they’re made to suffer for all eternity.

    Have we really done all we can to save those around us who are in danger of being consumed by the wrath that is to come? Have you personally labored so hard for the lost that you have experienced what other Christians have endured—sweat great drops of blood, lived without food, without shelter, been stoned, whipped, left for dead, nailed to a cross, beheaded, burned at the stake, and been viewed as the garbage of society, all to save someone else’s soul?
    Kirk? Not to bring up that annoying “logic” stuff again, but if someone was burned to death or beheaded, do you really think they’d be sitting at their computer and reading your article?
    I personally have not labored that hard.
    I can see that. You still have a head.
    <<

  6. The Surrealist angle might work, if the authors weren’t such moralizing wankers. Surrealistic writing works because the author doesn’t explain anything. Geography becomes flexible, seasons melt and time turns sideways but the characters act as if this is normal and the author doesn’t bother to explain why anything changes. Sure, their are reasons, but they aren’t specified. They’re part of the subtext. L&J, on the other hand, don’t do subtext. They are obsessed with the minitia of explaining, going so far as to discard little things like characterization and plot to better accommodate their message. Left Behind is little more than an overly detailed parable. Though, it’d be much more enjoyable if it were Surrealist or absurdist and that flavor might come thorugh if you just weent through and redacted the travelogue.

  7. Ah, another LB. At last my Friday is complete. Thanks, Fred, and congrats on keeping so well to your commitment to regular updates. I’m a little worried though, that if this keeps up you’re going to have to change the name of your blog. This sort of consistency is dangerously unslackerish.

  8. It is my sincere wish that should I ever walk into a used Christian book store I’ll find scores of LB books in like new condition.
    Leaving behind (p.i.) the heretical theology, this is just hideous writing.

  9. Wait — there are few commercial flights flying since Evaporation Day, but one of them that did get off the ground, crashed?? For no reason???
    A kick in the teeth, indeed.

  10. Great title for this weeks’ update.
    There’s something to Buck’s observation that his co-workers are “people who cared about him. This was his family. He was really, really glad to see them, and it appeared the feeling was mutual.”
    Although the parallels aren’t totally accurate (obviously Buck wasn’t an evangelical Christian, or at least not the right kind), isn’t this the kind of line they feed folks they’re proselytizing? “Forget about your parents and their institutional church, we’re you’re real family. You need ‘less religion and more Jesus'”.

  11. I personally have not labored that hard.
    Maybe if Kirk had labored harder, he’d be acting in something other than direct-to-video Jack Chick tracts.

  12. Fred, I really, really seem to like what you wrote here.
    I just want to stress that the authors are remarkably cautious in their description of the Other People: “…it appeared the feeling was mutual.” And “These people…now seemed genuinely glad to see him.” There is an emotional distance in this phrasing, perhaps even a suspicion that the Other People cannot be trusted nor taken at face value.

  13. VKW: there’s a deep fear of emotions running through these books. “If this is your first cry” I’m sure the authors meant in Bucky’s whole life this is his first cry, or at least since the un-manly days of childhood (thus the diminutive form of a nickname.) Emotions are things to do battle with, to push down unless it is the Love of Jesus, that one is ok to express. But where’s the fear of Jesus, the anger of Jesus, the amusement of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus??? L&H are strangly silent on that last one.

  14. There is a certain kind of man, the kind who usually demands to have a “little woman” to take care of his food, his clothing, his cleaning, his children. He has a world that revolves around him and he cultivates that in all the things he can. Want to bet that LaHaye and Jenkins are that kind?

  15. Do they actually do the name substition thing with John 3:16? That’s stunning.
    Of course L&H don’t care about the people in the rest of the ensemble— they’ve been left behind because they didn’t say the words. They’re the enemy.

  16. Thank you for putting your finger on the most irritating question of the pushy evangelicals, “Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?” It always sound like someone is claiming they have their hands on Jesus. Jesus saved everyone in the world, so yeah I’m part of that, but empasizing the “personal” seems a little creepy. Like it wouldn’t matter if Jesus left off everyone else so long as I gots mine.

  17. Very good point, Chris. Speaking of which – can anybody explain to me what the evangelicals really mean (or think they mean) when they talk about Jesus being their “personal savior”?
    Re matt: I think the fact that Rayford and Buck seem to stand for LaHaye and Jenkins is most likely due to the fact that these “novels” are written in less than a month without any serious editing (or thought). Since it is quite likely that none of them is even remotely familiar with any decent literary works they can’t even plagiarize anybody. So naturally all the horrible, horrible (oh boy, did I really write that?) stuff they write comes directly from their heads. Having sorta kinda read some of the LB “novels” I now suspect that these books say a whole lot more about Jenkins and LaHaye than about anything else.

  18. Fred,
    Thanks for these acerbic critiques – it’s so fascinatingly bad! BTW – I like how Kirk Cameron’s website provides you with the Christian or Non-Christian navigation options. Non-Christians get the “save your soul” speech; Christians get the “go convert your loved ones” angle. In both cases slickly produced; in both cases VERY annoying…
    Perhaps too obviously terrible to be commented upon, but the dialogue in these books is just atrocious:
    “Saturday night.”
    “Good.”
    “Why? Got a date?”
    “Not funny.”
    “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry, Captain. I forgot who I was talking to.”
    “You know about my family?”
    “Everybody here knows, sir.”
    Who the hell would be making a joke like that at a time like this? Wouldn’t everyone be barely holding it together – 1/3 of the people on Earth are GONE! Planes falling out of the sky, cars and trains wrecked, global commerce ruined – who’d be cracking a lame joke like that??? Here is more realistic dialogue:
    “What?? (glazed look) oh uh maybe Saturday…”
    “Good.”
    “What?? Oh God why??!!” (pulling his hair and gnashing his teeth — trying to use biblical terminology)
    “Not funny.” (condescending look)
    “I..oh no no no no no……. my family….” (face buried in hands)
    “You know about my family?” (clueless self-absorbed head tilt)
    “What am I going to do??!!” (stumbles away)

  19. clearly they’re basing their novelistic ethics on Redshirt Moral Philosophy, or, Are You A Hero Or An Extra? How To Guarantee You Won’t Be An Anonymous Unperson Destined To Be Eaten By A Random Slime Monster!

  20. VKW: “There is an emotional distance in this phrasing, perhaps even a suspicion that the Other People cannot be trusted nor taken at face value.”
    In total fairness, using qualifiers to describe how Other People see Our Heroes is a way of limiting the POV. In a third-person limited, we might be privy to the protagonist’s thoughts, but Other People are closed off to us. In that case, it would be better to say, “These people seemed *to Buck* to be glad to see him.”
    Not having read the books (doing so vicariously only here), I’m still unclear exactly what sort of narration they use. If it’s totally omniscient, Other People shouldn’t “seem” or “appear,” because the narrator should know for a fact. However, if the narrator does indeed know what Other People are thinking, then saying that they “seem” to be one way certainly implies that they actually *are* some other way.

  21. Grumpy is right about limiting the POV, but a *good* writer still doesn’t say the observed characters “seemed” or “appeared” glad (or whatever), but instead says they smiled or did something else that indicates how they feel, or just writes good enough dialogue that the reader gets the characters’ feelings from that.

  22. the whole “and everyone was aware that they were extras” phenomenon is a normal occurance among the Mary sue and Self-insert genres (the term for when a, usually fanfiction, writer makes the main character of their story into a thinly disguised form of themselves, who is enevitably super powered and invincible and everybody wants to sleep with them), It’s kind of telling about the culture it is attached to when the vanguard of it’s professional literature is below par even for amateur fiction.

  23. The ‘personal savior’ bit is a reflection of evangelical commitment to substantive conversion. It’s also a result of Christian adaptation to post-Enlightenment individualism. It basically goes like this: we no longer convert en masse, or declare our allegiances on the basis of family or group affiliation. Personal choice is the gateway to heartfelt commitment, so evangelicals appeal directly to the individual to make a choice to both believe in Jesus and follow his life and teachings. Over time, of course, that has devolved in many cases into a sappy sentimental spiritual experience that may or may not have lasting impact on a person’s character, although ideally it’s supposed to. Evangelical conversion is accompanied by an intellectual and emotional shift
    I’d say more, but since you’re all just PCG’s in my own fantasy world, I can safely disregard what matters to the rest of you. Ah, the formative power of good literature…

  24. Sorry, that should have been, “Evangelical conversion is accompanied by an intellectual and emotional shift precipitated by a climactic, and often cataclysmic, conversion experience.” Apparently I learned my editing skills from L&J as well.

  25. bulbul wrote “can anybody explain to me what the evangelicals really mean (or think they mean) when they talk about Jesus being their “personal savior”?”
    I think the terminology is meant to indicate that they have the sense that they have a relationship with Jesus that feels similar to the sort of relationship they have with a close family member or friend as opposed to someone they’ve heard of, but never met.
    If they’re asking you if you “have a personal relationship with Jesus” what they usually mean is:
    1. Have you asked God to forgive your sins?
    2. Have you asked that Jesus “come into your heart”, that is, guide you in your life and keep you from sinning.”?
    3. Do you have the sense that Jesus is a real person who wants to be in relationship with you?
    James Alison wrote a book that I particularly like called “Knowing Jesus”. In it, he analyzes the question “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” and tries to figure out what it could actually mean. I think many evangelicals (usually with good intentions) use it as a way of figuring out one’s “saved status”. Unfortunately, it turns into a shibboleth that makes the questioner think they’re the ones separating the sheep from the goats. Alison does a remarkable job of showing how the question can actually mean something, but doesn’t mean what most evangelicals think they mean by it.

  26. I have a question…
    In this column, I’ve frequently heard Left Behind referred to as “Evangelical porn”. Clearly that doesn’t mean porn in the sense that I’m used to, but until I started reading here I’d never encountered the term used this way. (Well, perhaps once or twice.) I have gotten a general sense of what’s meant by it, but can someone give me a more precise definition? Mostly, I’m wondering what makes this column not “porn for Left-Behind-haters”–cause I have so much fun reading it and I don’t want to stop. *grin*

  27. Mabus, in a typical porn movie there is 2 minutes of lame plot, followed by 20 minutes of “action”, another 2 minutes of lame plot, 20 minutes of “action”, etc. No one watches such films for the plot, only the action. Although to be fair, some porn films are reasonably well plotted, but they are the exception, not the rule.
    LB follows the same basic model. The plot of the hero getting from point A to point B is merely filler between the “action” of the sinners being horribly punished, or the unbelievers being made to look like fools for ever questioning the reader’s faith. It’s how evangelicals get off (since regular porn is denied to them) by watching the horrid things that happen to those they believe beneath them.

  28. Mabus: I always thought that porn, in the extended sense used here, is just stuff whose main purpose is to feed your fantasies. Sometimes the fantasies are sexual or romantic (back in the days when feminists were wondering where all the porn for women corresponding to porn for men was, I always thought the answer was: in the Harlequin Romance rack, of course.) Sometimes, fantasies of revenge or domination or whatever. But it’s the sense that the characters are either a fantasy version of you or incidental to some fantasy or other, but under no circumstances actual three-dimensional characters, that’s the giveaway.

  29. One common riff used by evangelical speakers involves John 3:16 — the verse made famous by Bannerman. As a reminder of God’s love for each of us, the speaker will quote that verse as a fill-in-the-blank, urging the audience to insert their own name: “For God so loved [your name here] that he gave his only begotten son, that [your name here] shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
    John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world,” or literally, “the cosmos.” It’s not a good idea to substitute yourself for the entire cosmos. Part of what this passage is saying is that God loves the world, so you should love it too. That message is lost if you make it all about you.
    For some reason, the second interpretation is much more comforting to me than the first.
    As someone who read far too much as a child, I’ve thought a lot about the main characters and the, in gaming parlance, NPCs of the world. I realized that I am an NPC, and that’s fine with me. Because, see, NPCs have choices. Where the hero has to suffer and save the world and live happily ever after, the NPC can do whatever he likes. He can pursue happiness, or he can choose not to. If he doesn’t save the world or do anything big and spectacular, that’s not a failure. He can be perfectly happy without it.
    Anyway. Back to the point. This reminds me of the parable about God watching the fall of every sparrow. That seems to make a pretty clear statement: God loves the NPCs. The unimportant people, the non-Rayfords. Funny, how easily this comes to the mind of somebody who hasn’t had any formal religious study since Sunday school, and yet L&J seem to have forgotten it out of hand. Or dismissed it as unimportant, which is much scarier.
    Another thing it reminds me of is Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods (excellent book, by the way). There’s a bit about how a shepherd with one hundred sheep went off to search for a lost one, which, the narrative mentions, would seem odd, until you realize that this is precisely why he is able to have so many sheep. Now, I’m not sure if this is a conscious element, but it occurs to me that this offhand comment makes a sharp point about the idea of gods who care personally for only, say, one or two of their many sheep. Funny, how with a good author, the unconscious things actually support the broader themes.

  30. Can anybody with a copy of LB to hand chase back to find the answer to the question “How _come_ everybody at PanCon knows about Rayford’s family?” This is the first time (isn’t it?) he’s got on to PanCon, and he doesn’t chat about it with them; nobody’s come to Rayford’s home, and if they had the mere absence of his wife and child wouldn’t establish their loss, given the other confusion; nobody from the airline has rung him at home — how does anybody, let alone everybody, know?
    Today, of course, the answer would be email. but the LB future doesn’t seem to have any.

  31. Incidentally, Amazon seems to have LB listed as second-hand for the price of $0.01. That also seems odd. The profit margin cannot be large.

  32. “The nameless Pan-Con voice helpfully tracks down the travel itinerary of Rayford’s daughter Chloe, who apparently took a bus from Palo Alto and is flying home via Salt Lake City, Enid, Okla., and Springfield, Ill.”
    Don’t you Americans have privacy laws?
    Perhaps all the privacy commissioners have been raptured along with (one imagines) the censors, the prison wardens, and some at least of the small-town police, and everybody (while still going to work) is revelling in crime and debauchery. Probably pocketing free staples, too.
    After all, the baddies/goodies ratio has just gone up sharply.

  33. Now there’s an interesting point. If all the good, law-abiding, and law-enforcing people have been culled out of the population, wouldn’t you have one hell of a crime wave on your hands? Not to mention all the people taking advantage of the resultant chaos.
    Of course, this assumes that the prerequisite for being raptured is being a good person, instead of tee-totaling and following the precisely right branch of Christianity or whatever.

  34. Incidentally, Amazon seems to have LB listed as second-hand for the price of $0.01.
    I guess that no matter how horrible a book is, some people just can’t bear to throw it away. It also means there are a lot of copies of LB in used book stores–most of the second-hand sellers on Amazon are small used book stores. If it weren’t for the shipping costs it would be worth the $0.01 to buy several hundred copies of the thing and use them for firewood or mulch or something…anything to get them off the market permanently. I actually threw away a copy of Purpose Driven Life yesterday for that very reason.
    Don’t you Americans have privacy laws?
    We don’t (for travel at any rate) anymore, although we did at the time LB was written. PCG was obviously doing Ray a huge favor, but how he could figure out her bus schedule from the airline’s computer is beyond me. He isn’t, after all, a travel agent.
    —-
    Brief OT diversion
    Even with how horrible these novels appear to be, how could anyone think that Kirk Cameron, whose Mike Seaver-dom has been totally ingrained in the minds of my generation, could ever be realistic as a seasoned, battle-hardened, ace reporter??? Cub reporter, maybe…

  35. Dunno, I’ve been picturing Buck as looking more like John Candy. No, wait, that’s Uncle Buck…

  36. Can anyone tell me if the later books have incorporated the technology of today? Or did this not-too-distant-future stop somewhere in the 90’s? And if they have incorporated today’s tech how can they explain the technological advancements (did they even bother too)?
    How can rapture prone evangelicals explain that the world is getting better all the time? Sure it seems worse because we have more news and such, but the average person works less today than he did 50 years ago, lives longer today than he did 50 years ago, has a bigger house — etc. I mean I don’t know of anyone that died of diphtheria. We’ve killed off great plagues like polio and small pox. All in all I feel we’re doing pretty well for ourselves.
    Sure places like the red light district of Calcutta aren’t so nice, but they’ve never been nice. But the people living there today have a better chance than ever of making it out of that life because we’re aware that they need help and we help them. I see a world that is only getting better, where fewer people starve because we have a good chance of getting to them when famine hits and better technology to save them when we get there. I don’t see a world spiraling out of control with violence and hatred.
    I could understand that kind of thinking in post war Europe where people were starving to death and there seem to be no hope in sight. But what happened? Oh yea a massive effort to feed the starving people and it all worked out alright.

  37. Grumpy, I think you’re right about the POV, but that makes it even worse. Think about it. You’ve just been on a long and arduous trip through the wilds of Manhattan and finally made it “home” to a place where the people are like family to you . When they see you, they burst into spontaneous cheers at your safe return. Now, I’m pretty cynical myself, but I think at that point I’d be willing to go out on a limb and decide they really were genuinely glad to see me. Writing (badly) from 3rd person POV, the text would go something like this: “Beth got a lump in her throat. These were the people she had fought with and competed with for so long. But there could be no doubt. They were genuinely glad to see her.”
    How is it that Buck, faced with that outpouring of emotion and in a rather emotional state himself, can still distance himself that way? Perhaps if he suffered from extreme social phobia (“Ok, they seem glad to see me, but nobody could possibly really like me, so they’re probably just cheering to make me feel good.”), but it’s hard to imagine that he could have ever become the world’s greatest reporter with a handicap like that. The only other possibility I can come up with is the one Fred touched on, that Buck has sociopathic tendancies. Such a person would never fully relinquish the emotional distance between himself and others, and faced with a situation fraught with so much feeling, would retreat behind “seemed to” in order to maintain it.

  38. Chris — LB has laptops and cell phones, so it must have e-mail and messaging. You see it later.

  39. Thank you J. and Manalive, I am definitely checking out the book you mentioned.
    As for the porn thing, Umberto Eco wrote a wonderful piece on how to tell whether a work of art, such as a film, is pornographic or not. After months of careful research (insert your own joke here) he postulated that in a porn movie, everything is all about the action. But since your basic human can’t take 100 minutes of straight sex, the creators must put in something else as separators. Phone conversations, long drives and alike work best. So according to Umberto Eco, the basic rule of thumb is: if in the movie a ride from point A to point B takes as long as it would in real life and the movie contains sex, it is a porn movie. Now pick up your copy of any volume of LB and try looking. I opened volume 10 on some description of some weapon. Yup, the glove fits.
    Check out the whole essay, anything by Eco is worth reading. I would provide the exact bibliographical data, but most of my books are packed up, so sorry :o)
    Thank you Dahne for bringing up Pratchett’s “Small gods”! This book or even the last page are more christian than the whole of LB. Please read it, if you get the chance!

  40. Hi! I mentioned your blog in a post of mine on Left Behind. I didn’t reference a specific post, but your series. Looks like you’re doing a great job!
    Blessings,

  41. To me, porn is something where *one thing* is the only thing that is really important. For regular “porn”, it’s sex. For LB, it’s evangelical tub- thumping.
    A lot of things come under this heading. Kung Fu movies are violence/revenge porn. Soap operas are relationship porn.
    Also, most porn (of all kinds) is in the Bad Art category. Bad art tells you how you should respond, rather than letting you find your own reactions.

  42. Left Behind… Again

    [Edited 8/13/2005: Apparently, some one named Fred Clark is doing a much slower, more meticulous job on Left Behind than I did. My condolences to him.]
    So, I finished the

  43. In Left Behind the Rapture happens in February.
    There is a reference to baseball spring training, and there is an indication that the miracle of the Russian military catastrophe happened in December fourteen months earlier.
    It’s been awhile since I read this book. Is there any mention of snow in Chicago or New York?

  44. Then there’s “bloodporn,” which has a plot only to hang acts of lovingly-described violence upon.
    “LB: Glorious Ascending” sounds damnably close to that, to me.

  45. On the personal relationship thing:
    I’m just what L&J would consider a cultist in the satanic Roman Catholic Church, but it’s my impression that when Evangelicals speak of a “personal relationship” they’re emphasizing a belief in a “personal God”. This is a distinction with a more “impersonal” God as life-force, brahman, energy, etc. The idea is that God is a specific, personal being, with a particular interest in each and every individual.
    The belief regarding a “personal relationship” with a “personal savior”, btw, is pretty mainstream Christian belief.
    Ultimately, however, lacking a defined teaching magisterium, I suspect for Evangelicals the phrase means whatever the individual believer thinks it means. That could be anything from “yay, Jesus, you’re my pal!”, to “less religion, more Jesus” to a simple identifying title (like mobsters refer to their “friends”).

  46. Finally caught up on all of Fred’s LB critiques – can’t wait for the next!
    I was bothered by the choice of Easton, PA for Buck’s connection to the NYC region, since I grew up in Philadelphia and know the area fairly well. Now, when I was a kid growing up, I played this baseball board game called All Star Baseball. Being the only kid I knew who was into it, I made up my own pretend league that I played alone (it really wasn’t THAT pathetic of a life).
    I placed teams by looking at a map of NJ, PA, and DE – then just used the biggest names within the general tri-state geographic region. I had teams playing in such big “cities” as Milford DE, and Salem, NJ. I can only guess that this is what L&J think of as “research” – pull out a map of the northeast U.S. and pick a mid-sized name that wasn’t near NYC but was within a reasonable seeming distance.
    Interestingly, Easton is almost directly west of NYC, with PA Route 22 and interstate highway 287 connecting them. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Buck drive or take the bus? No – that would detract from describing how the more important railroad system had been disrupted. I mean, rail is the key to America’s industrial might.
    Hmm – considering that might be how L&J think, maybe they did do their homework regarding Easton PA rail lines. Apparently in 1889 Easton was connected to NYC by no less than THREE rail lines! Could it be that LB takes place in an alternate universe – one where these rail lines still exist? No – that would be assuming they had imaginations….
    OK assuming Easton can reasonably be considered some type of ground tramsportation gateway to the East Coast, what about it’s status for air travel? A simple WWW search reveals there is the Easton airport that might fit L&J’s description of a private airfield that charter pilots would use while the rest of the country is grounded. Forget the fact that, with all these pilot disappearances and plane wrecks, the FAA would be grounding every flight until the nature of the situation was clear – chalk it up to pre-9/11 logic.
    So we have some evidence to suggest that one could go from the midwest to Easton and then on to NYC in the manner that Buck manages to concoct (given some major suspension of disbelief). The choice of Easton is legit in L&J’s odd geographic sensibility – though there is a far better choice of towns not far from Easton on the map, one that for this book would have been a deliciously ironic choice. I am perplexed that L&J did not choose to use that town instead of Easton.
    What town you ask? Bethlehem PA of course!

  47. Incidentally, Amazon seems to have LB listed as second-hand for the price of $0.01. …
    Several years ago, my father became ill, and the well-meaning people at our church collectively gave him about a half dozen copies. My mother-in-law, a teacher at a parochial elementry school, has received a number of copies of the various volumes as gifts from students/parents over the years.
    Given the “These books are a great way to witness to non-believers!” mindset the LB target audience, I’m sure countless copies have been give to heathen family members and co-workers over the past 10 years, and, hey, you gotta get rid of them somehow. Given that supposedly ~10 million copies of these things have sold, it’s comforting to think that a good percentage of them sit on peoples’ bookshelves, untouched and unread.

  48. These books are horrible. Too many similarities to Atlas Shrugged and the Turner Diaries. All dream about mass murder of people they don’t like. Fantasy books about total victory over any and all perceived enemies. The Left Behind books make God into the Satan. I read the last part of Glorious Appearing, a truly horrible book. There is nothing redeemable about it.
    Chronicles of Indestructible Life

  49. For those interested in the REAL original eschatology of the early Christians, there’s no better book than “The Hope of the Early Church- A handbook of Patristic Esxhatology” by Brian E. Daley S.J. published by Cambridge University Press and now out in paperback.
    It examines the views of Christian theologians on the “last days” as well as the final judgement, the reality of hell, the entrance into etenal life, salvation, divinization etc; etc; from the first century to Gregory the Great in the sixth century.
    Absolutely no mention of the “rapture” whatsoever in those writers, none, nada, not even in the index.
    Now, I know many evangelicals will simply counter that those Christians were wrong, despite them knowing Scripture just as well or better than evangelicals, ( remember, they spoke Greek and Latin and many knew a bit of Hebrew to boot.
    Of course, the early Christians weren’t right. They had to wait until Darby, ( ignorant of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and the early Patristic writers), came along to straighten them out. Amazing what results ignorance can bring.

  50. It’s interesting that the fundigelicals who refuse to believe in biological evolution hold theological beliefs that they admit “evolved” after the earliest Church got it so wrong.

  51. What’s amazing is that this post brilliantly explains the appeal Bush has for fundigelicals (good word!) Rayford and Steele are both incapable of real human emotion or connection. Bush can’t stop his vacation for 20 minutes to talk to a grieving mother–he has to “get on with his life” to go bicycling. They are birds of a feather, aren’t they? No wonder the audience for both is the same.

  52. You know, you’ve actually convinced me to pick up a dusty, basement-stored copy of Left Behind that we got from a friend to see how bad it is, Fred.
    It’s actually damn entertaining, and I’d reccomend it to anyone looking for a good laugh. Despite the bad writing, bad plot, and bad characters it’s not too hard to get through–I just picked up where we left off and read through two chapters after it–nine and ten, I think.
    All I can say is I can’t _wait_ until Fred reaches the Chole-Rayford meeting and discussion. That has to be the worst movtivation piece I’ve ever read, and the hypocritical parts of Rayford are downright hilarious when you remember earlier talk…and how normal people would react.

  53. Just a quick correction. If you read the Parable of the Lost Sheep carefully, the shepherd doesn’t leave 99 “safe in the fold,” although that’s the way the old hymn wrote it, and has become the most common mental image. In the actual parable, the shepherd leaves the 99 out in the open to go recklessly in search of the lost one. It’s a much more interesting picture that way.