L.B.: The real sin of the Rev. Bruce Barnes

L.B.: The real sin of the Rev. Bruce Barnes February 4, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 195-197

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire —

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

— Edgar Lee Masters, from "Spoon River Anthology"

Rayford Steele's wife, Irene, was snatched away by God because she was a Real True Christian. She had learned to be an RTC at the New Hope Village Church. Looking for answers, Rayford drives to the church to meet with the Rev. Bruce Barnes — one of only a handful from the congregation who were left to live because they were, it turns out, not really Real True Christians.

"How did you miss it?" Rayford asks Barnes. And the now-penitent visitation pastor tells him. Barnes offers a three-page monologue describing a life of hypocrisy and insidious sin. The acts he details are … well, rather unimpressive, actually. The guy may have been a half-assed pastor, but he was scarcely even a quarter-assed sinner.

I told my wife that we tithed to the church, you know, that we gave 10 percent of our income. I hardly ever gave any, except when the plate was passed I might drop in a few bills to make it look good.

I probably shouldn't downplay this too much, since Ananias and Sapphira were punished rather severely for a more extreme case of something similar — but this still seems rather petty. Yes, lying to his wife was wrong. And the hypocrisy of trying to look generous when the offering plate was passed was wrong. But we're also talking about his tithing back to the church the income he just received from the church — which makes the whole thing seem like the way Barnes & Noble promises a 35 percent discount on a 50 percent markup. (And for Judas' sake, haven't these people ever heard of pre-addressed offering and tithing envelopes? With this kind of shoddy bookkeeping you just know somebody on the finance committee was skimming.)

The real sense you get reading this — and reading about all of Barnes' other sins — is of a not-very-imaginative pastor standing in the pulpit, just knowing that his congregants have sin in their hearts, but unable to imagine what that sin might be. LaHaye and Jenkins here are poorly served by their Protestant rejection of the sacrament of confession. You'd never read such a paltry list of sins in a novel by a Catholic priest like Andrew Greeley.

I encouraged people to share their faith, to tell other people how to become Christians. But on my own I never did that.

Here again, the hypocrisy is probably worse than the actual sin of omission. Evangelism is a Christian imperative, but it is not a universal gift, so I'm not completely sure his failure to exercise that gift even is a sin of omission. (And, in the context of this book, Irene is never condemned for not telling her husband and daughter "how to become Christians.")

The real dynamic here, I think, is that when evangelism is reduced to a sales pitch, to telling "other people how to become Christians," then it becomes an awkward, embarrassing, cringe-inducing experience for all involved. The only way to get Christians to engage in this mutually painful form of marketing is to lay on the guilt as thick and heavy as possible. This is part of that guilt trip: Move the product or you're going to Hell.

Barnes goes on to confess that, "I hardly ever read my Bible except when preparing a talk or lesson." He views this as another sin of omission, a failure to carry out another Christian duty. L&J insist that Christians must carry out such duties, and so they include this too in their guilt-trip. But what if Barnes' real failure here is not his failure to carry out his duty, but rather the fact that he seems to view such things as duties to be carried out?

My job was to visit people in their homes and nursing homes and hospitals every day. I was good at it. I encouraged them, smiled at them, talked with them, prayed with them, even read Scripture to them. But I never did that on my own, privately.

We've already discussed that Barnes wasn't good at this — that he shows no hint of awareness of the kind of human suffering one encounters in "homes and nursing homes and hospitals every day." But bracket that for now.

If Barnes really spends his work-week carrying out such a ministry, is it then a sin of omission that he fails to do this same work as a volunteer on his days off? For that to be true, we would have to conclude that all paid ministry is illegitimate. We would have to conclude that those selfish bastards at the local rescue mission don't really care about the poor because, after a long day ladling soup and doing laundry on the clock they don't go and do those same things again on their own, privately.

Fortunately, we're spared having to dwell on the illogic of this confession by Barnes' next statement, in which he seems blissfully unaware that he is refuting his claim to have been good at his job:

I was lazy. I cut corners. When people thought I was out calling, I might be at a movie in another town.

Here, finally, we come to some full-fledged sin. Not just sloth, but also a kind of theft from the offering plate that's far graver than his confessed skimping on the tithe. Barnes is also guilty of being a shoddy craftsman. Being a visitation pastor is his vocation, and failure to seek excellence in one's vocation — as Calvin, Luther and Aquinastotle all taught — is a sin. This latter point doesn't occur to Barnes because it doesn't occur to L&J: witness their own slapdash, lazy, corner-cutting approach to their vocation as novelists.

So far, then, Barnes has confessed to petty avarice, pride and sloth. Throughout most of Christian history, pride has been considered the most serious of the sins. Within American evangelicalism, however, it takes a backseat to what is regarded as the naughtiest of evils:

I was also lustful. I read things I shouldn't have read, looked at magazines that fed my lusts. … I wasn't a rapist or a child molester or an adulterer, though many times I felt unfaithful to my wife because of my lusts.

There it is. In L&J's world, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life aren't enough to make you a really bad person. You've got to have the lust of the flesh. For L&J, nothing says "sinner" like sneaking a peek at Playboy. (Except, perhaps, sneaking a peek at Playgirl — but that's another subject.)

It's also kind of quaint that Barnes looked at actual "magazines." Usually, when writing a book set in the "near future," the authors will look at technological trends and, projecting them forward, try to imagine how such technologies will reshape the world of their novel. Here, as with the advent of cell phones, L&J failed to predict the rise of Internet porn. Predicting the near future is a tricky business, though, so I'll give them a pass (without even speculating on whether they actually failed to foresee this trend or just pretended to).

And while we're on the subject of cataloging sins, let's note that it's a bit disturbing the way Barnes lists rape, child molestation and adultery together without any sense that one of these things is not like the others. He lumps these together as though they are mere points on a spectrum of sexual sins, as though all of these are forms of pleasure, as though no distinction can be made between predation and akrasia.

"I had a real racket going," Barnes was saying, "and I bought into it. Down deep, way down deep, I knew better. I knew it was too good to be true. …"

Here's where he loses me completely. What "racket"? What part of Barnes' miserable, stunted, furtive, hollow existence could possibly be regarded as "too good to be true"?

A reader might have hoped — against all prior evidence to the contrary — that L&J, were attempting something subtle here. Perhaps they intended readers to see Barnes as a sad little man living a life of quiet desperation. But no, they genuinely seem to think that Barnes was enjoying the high life as he took license with the promise of God's forgiveness and pursued the pleasures of the flesh. They seem almost jealous of his sleepwalking, half-dead existence. It's the same jealousy one sees whenever a particularly colorful former sinner stands to give his testimony, and everyone inches forward in the pews to hear again about Brother Jim's wretched past of unbridled womanizing and drunkenness.

What's striking here — and all the more striking because the authors themselves seem not to notice it — is how color-less Barnes' life as a sinner was. It would be wrong even to say he had lived the life of a sinner — he hadn't lived life at all.

This, I would argue, was Bruce Barnes' real sin. And it's far more dangerous, far more soul-killing, than the full-blooded pursuit of pleasure by a Brother Jim, or a Faust, or a Qoholeth. Sin boldly. Better to be a crack addict chasing a counterfeit of the pearl of great price than to be chasing nothing at all.

In my favorite prayer of confession from The Book of Common Prayer, we say, "Too often we carry on our lives as if You did not exist." Bruce Barnes is certainly guilty of that, but he also carried on his life as if he did not exist. He confesses to a litany of petty sins, but not to the sin of pettiness itself — of living a small, numb, meaningless life. That's the kind of sin that breaks God's heart.

Barnes wasn't "left behind" — he stayed behind on his own.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • aunursa

    What’s striking here — and all the more striking because the authors themselves seem not to notice it — is how color-less Barnes’ life as a sinner was. It would be wrong even to say he had lived the life of a sinner — he hadn’t lived life at all.
    In each book in the series, L&J have at least one of the characters relay their conversion story, which includes an acknowledgement of their sinful nature. While most of the sins are as colorless as that of young Barnes, the authors imply that all those unsaved (faux Christians as well as the faithful of other religions) have lower moral character than the raptured.
    Btw, if you mark something up 50% and discount the marked-up price 35%, um, aren’t you losing money?”
    Not at all. While you’re giving a net discount of 2.5%, you’re reaping a huge increase in sales that an advertized 35% discount will bring from naive customers.

  • wintermute

    > While you’re giving a net discount of 2.5%, you’re reaping a huge increase in sales that an advertized 35% discount will bring from naive customers.

  • aunursa

    My mistake. I incorrectly read the 50% markup as being 50% above the previous retail price … not 50% above the cost to the seller.

  • The Old Maid

    In my favorite prayer of confession from The Book of Common Prayer, we say, “Too often we carry on our lives as if You did not exist.” Bruce Barnes is certainly guilty of that, but he also carried on his life as if he did not exist. He confesses to a litany of petty sins, but not to the sin of pettiness itself — of living a small, numb, meaningless life. That’s the kind of sin that breaks God’s heart.
    After a week to mull, I’ve come to the conclusion that Bruce Barnes needs to pick up a copy of The Living Bible translation. It’s a paraphrased version (and therefore scary to some denominations), but sometimes it really cuts to the chase. I don’t have a copy in front of me, so these are best-guessed remembrances of the paraphrased version. Bruce Barnes lives his life as if either of these interpretations does not exist :
    “Can you sin so unspeakably that the heavens shake? If you sin again and again, does it knock God off his throne? Or if you are wonderfully good, is this some great gift to him?”
    (Elihu, the rarely-mentioned fourth friend of Job, laying the smacketh down on Job and his three friends; also the only human of the five not to receive a divine rebuke)
    An observation on the poster’s observation that “is the going-through-the-motions incompetence an evidence that being a pastor was not Bruce Barnes’ vocation” … part of me wants to agree. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, and Barnes is filling a job that a more committed person could have taken. So in a sense the parishioners got cheated in that they didn’t get the kind of visitation pastor they needed/deserved. On the other hand, if Bruce Barnes looked at magazines and fantasized to the point that he felt he was sort-of-cheating on his wife (sort of a Rayford Lite), then we might have to respect that. His wife deserved to be the center of his attention, and he really did expend energy outside the marriage. If Bruce Barnes really was skimming money (in the sense that he spent it somewhere else and covered it up — and what did he spend it on?), and his conscience rebukes him for it, then his conscience may be on to something. (Scripture has an awful lot to say about money.) On the other hand, there is insufficient data to conclude that this man would have lusted less or tithed more — or even dared to truly live, to live a better, “higher” life — if he had chosen another way to earn a living. Vocation requires honest self-examination, but there is also the external-witness aspect. As Paul said in one of his epistles,
    “Never let it be said that Christians are poor workers.”I wonder what Bruce Barnes would say to that.

  • Grumpy

    Re: paltry sins
    Obligatory Simpsons Quote, from “Homer Loves Flanders”:
    Father sheep: What’s wrong, Jeremiah?
    Jeremiah: It’s not fair. My brother Joseph has a sin to confess. I wish I had one too.
    Father sheep: Oh, don’t you see? You do have a sin to confess — the sin of envy.
    [sheep baa their laughter]
    Todd Flanders: It’s all well and good for sheep, but what are we to do?

  • Col Bat Guano

    Next thing you know L&J will write that Barnes took two newspapers out of the box and only paid for one!!! Off to the fiery lake for him!

  • Lila

    I have run into the attitude you describe, but oddly enough, in an entirely secular context.
    I work with a dog rescue organization, and my fellow dog rescuers and I frequently get asked: How can you waste all that time, money etc. on DOGS when there are PEOPLE desperately in need of help?
    To which my answer is threefold:
    1. I do, in fact, spend a fair amount of time and money helping people. (Indeed, some of what we do in dog rescue can be seen as helping people–we not infrequently find homes for dogs whose owners are desperately ill or have suddenly become homeless, e.g. in Hurricane Katrina.)
    2. Dog rescue is a hobby. I don’t do it instead of saving the world, I do it instead of going on cruises.
    3. I truly admire you, my critical friend, for devoting your entire life and income (beyond what is needed for minimal food, shelter, clothing and medical care) to those less fortunate than you. I can only suggest that the time you spend walking around criticising others for not doing likewise could perhaps be put to use serving the poor.

  • John H.

    Lila, you could also respond to your friend by reminding them that there is a universe of suffering out there, and there is always someone worse off to help. You could waste your life searching for the worst-off person in need of aid — better to help what you can see, and do what you can, when you can. If *everyone* did that, the results would be much better than if everyone helped only the worst-off.
    Further, by your friend’s logic, NO animal would be deserving of help until ALL humans were free of suffering. That is not how empathy works.

  • The Old Maid

    A fifth reason for Lila’s good deed: it doesn’t just help good people who need shelter for their animals; I’m guessing it can stop dangerous people as well. There is a theory that people who hurt animals move up to hurting humans if they learned that there were no serious consequences the last time they hurt a living creature. So if they escalate until forcibly stopped, it benefits both animals and humans (and possibly society as a whole) to stop them right from the start.
    There’s also the fact that God created the animals so if God values them then shouldn’t we value them as well.
    “Bruce Barnes”? I still can’t get over these people’s names.
    The women’s names are a little better; although still unusual, they tend to be chosen to illuminate character. (Although I’m scratching my head at “Leah Rose” and “Hannah Palemoon.”) The ones that most readily come to mind are Rayford Steele’s wives. Wife #2 is Amanda White, a good woman who missed the rapture by a few hours. (Irene witnessed to her; Amanda was impressed with her but decided to sleep on it. Two hours later her family was gone.) Amanda is about as white-hat as can be. (Get it? “White Steel” … possibly a reference to “the sword of the Spirit.” Alternately, it could be simply coincidence.) Amanda is terrible with names, though, so she nicknames Irene “Iron Steele.” And compared to the vacillating Rayford and Chloe, they can be steely in comparison.

  • Skyknight

    Missed by…scant…HOURS?!

    Shouldn’t she have undergone the spiritual transformation by then? I would think that the declaration of faith would be its result, not its trigger! {sigh} Needing to say “the words”…is this fellowship with God, or sorcery?
    Wait, never mind. Somewhere in “The Regime”, Irene tells Rayford that she’s trying to commit to memory as much Scripture as possibly PRECISELY to give the Satan that much less ability to go after her. This is kind of like how some spiritual thrillers, like Peretti’s “This Present Darkness”, suggest that saying “I rebuke you in Jesus’s name!” is guaranteed to drive off demons and [some of] their influence. Yes, this is sounding a LOT like sorcery…

  • Skyknight

    Side note (why can’t Typepad have an edit button…?)…
    From skimming, I notice that a big part of the symptoms of humanity’s ethical collapse after the rapture is supposed to be a marked increase in blatant sexual imagery in the media (e.g. the vast majority of television channels being sex elementals). And yet…lust is far from being the most serious vice. The formulation in the medieval era, I understand, was as follows:
    Gluttony (these two were the least serious, but which was stronger was debatable; I’m going by Dante here)
    Sloth (i.e. main vice of Barnes)
    Pride (original Latin is “superbia”, so probably specifically the “puffing up” variety)
    Wouldn’t lots of ostentation (q.v. avarice, envy, pride) work better than unbridled lust to depict total corruption?

  • Beth

    Wouldn’t lots of ostentation (q.v. avarice, envy, pride) work better than unbridled lust to depict total corruption?
    What are you, some kind of commie!?! Avarice, envy, and pride may be deadly sins, but they’re also great for the economy.

  • none

    The women’s names are a little better; although still unusual, they tend to be chosen to illuminate character.
    Don’t forget: Chaim Rosensweig, Tsion ben-Judah, David Hassid. The Jewish characters have VERY Jewish names. I guess cause they’re all Israeli. Are there any non-Israeli Jewish characters in Left Behind? Maybe they don’t exist … all the Jews have moved to the expanded Israel.

  • Skyknight

    And Hannah Palemoon (emphasis on the family name) for the signal Amerindian. {sigh} Would it have been THAT hard for LaHaye and Jenkins to research out an actual Cherokee/Sioux/Crow/etc. name, using the original language? (And no, I didn’t check to see what Hannah’s lineage was.)

  • J

    And Hannah Palemoon…for the signal Amerindian. {sigh} Would it have been THAT hard for LaHaye and Jenkins to research out an actual Cherokee/Sioux/Crow/etc. name…
    Could anything be more laughable than an Anglo author trying to make up names for non-Anglo characters? Even Anglo authors other than L&H seem to have an inborn knack for making up truly laughable names. It’s like deer who instinctively freeze in headlights: An urge toward doom. A white guy is sitting down with his pencil and paper and thinking, “Hmm, I need an ethnic character. What should the name be…?”
    1.) Native American: Attach an old-timey-sounding Anglo name to an nature-adjective/nature-noun combination (“Jebediah Red Hawk”, “Elizabeth Blue Pony”)
    2.) Russian (or any Slav, really): A clownlike combination of v’s, sh’s, ir’s, ich’s and ov’s. Must be intrinsically hard to sight-read and pronounce. (“Vladisovomir Sashakov Androsirovichokovomir”)
    3.) Chinese: Two to four syllables that jangle like a handful of keys. Make sure to ignore declension so it looks “right” and makes Anglo readers think they know how to pronounce it, even though they actually don’t. When in doubt, sprinkle “Ling”‘s and “Wang”‘s liberally about.
    4.) Vietnamese: Similar to Chinese, just make sure the syllables end in an’s or at’s. And do NOT, under any circumstances, bother to do the 5 minutes of basic research it would take to learn how many names a typical Vietnamese person bears.
    5.) Spanish: Remember that all Spanish names end in “ez” and you’ll be fine. Oh and make sure to give Latins exactly two names; just like us Anglos, Latin women completely drop their maiden names when they get married, right?

  • Skyknight

    There’s also, in LaHaye’s own work, Ming Toy for a Chinese character.

    That’s certainly the first I’ve heard of an “oy” being used in any sort of romanization of Chinese. Not to mention that I’m not even sure if Ming is a Chinese given name (and THEN there’s the fact that the Ming dynasts weren’t even of Chinese lineage…).
    {sigh} They should just use an on-line random name generator and be done with it. That probably isn’t going to help with Amerindian names, though. Unless there ARE generators that work with the actual languages in question, that is (this sort of thing is a particular nuisance with novels set in the 19th-century west–romances, standard westerns, etc.).
    By the way, you forgot Polish. You probably want to do such things as end all masculine given names with -slaw {wishes he knew how to get the hatch mark through the “l” on a Macintosh}, all feminine given names with -slawa, and all family names with -ski. That last one changes on whether the bearer is male or female? Outside of America, it usually only accrues to higher-born families anyway? What are you talking about?
    As for your sample names sets…
    1. I’m not going to make the attempt. I don’t know the full nature of ANY Amerindian language (not even Wampanoag, and I live in Eastern Massachusetts. So that should tell you how adept I’d be with any other such tongue).
    2. Gerasim Fyodorov Kozachuk {hopes he remembers the spelling of the family name properly}
    3. Zhao Waiho (I probably loused SOMETHING up. I only found the components in a phone book anyway, so I don’t even have declension marks. {sigh} Where’s a good on-line hanzi dictionary, for making sure the components of the given name make sense together?)
    4. Phanh Minh Ngoc (There isn’t usually a FOURTH part to the name, is there? Three, I’m sure about…)
    5. Alicia Gutierrez de Coronado ({sigh} I think I’ll check an on-line Spanish phone book, next time)

  • Mabus

    Missed by…scant…HOURS?!
    Shouldn’t she have undergone the spiritual transformation by then? I would think that the declaration of faith would be its result, not its trigger! {sigh} Needing to say “the words”…is this fellowship with God, or sorcery?
    Heh….it’s always interesting when I come across people who think of salvation as a transformation rather than a transaction.
    I think the common metaphor where I grew up was of immigration. An immigrant might come to the country, live here all his life, discard every element of his native culture and replace it with white-bread America–but if he has a green card till the day he dies, he’s still not an American citizen. For that he has to fill out his paperwork and swear his oath.
    I don’t know what you think of that as a metaphor for salvation, but it’s not that uncommonly used, and it’s certainly how we humans (or at least we Americans) handle a lot of things.

  • Merlin Missy

    Skyknight —
    Not to drift too far OT, but Ming is a common Chinese given name. It means “light,” and the character for it is a representation of the sun and the moon together. (It’s very pretty!)

  • dr ngo

    As long as we’re into nitpickery, it should be _Gerard_ Manley Hopkins, not Gerald. (The original reference had the “Gerard” right, but omitted the “e” in “Manley”; a comment corrected the latter, but then got the former wrong.)
    As long as we’re into C.S. Lewis, clearly many of you have read more of his work, read more widely, and read more deeply than I. But how many of you have actually played Screwtape (in Dear Wormwood)? And won an acting prize for it??
    I rest my case. Whatever it may be.

  • Dan

    Re: Names
    Lets not forget their impressive ability to capture authenticity in the names of people from the Middle East: my favourite has to be Abdullah SMITH, who is from Jordan. Apparently he is a member of the ancient Hashemite clan of Smith (“you are from the Es-Salt Smiths?”, “No, the Amman Smiths” …)
    And we must also include our friendly Iraqi smuggler, whom everyone calls Albie, since he is from Al Basrah (Al B, get it?!)
    But even worse than the names, most of which are somewhat plausible (there are actually Cameron Williamses, Chaim Rosenzweigs and David Hassids running around), is the way that everyone talks in Southern-sitcom-Amerenglish, no matter that they’re Chinese, Romanian, Italian, Israeli, Arab, etc. First time I read “Tribulation Force” I nearly lost it laughing when an Israeli rabbi starts talking about “what I call the jealousy factor”. The Antichrist himself comments on a jet with “talk about huge!”, while his deputy opines that “the fear factor has worked well”. You’d better be up on your ABC and CBS, or you’ll have no idea what anyone’s talking about.

    BTW, for anyone interested, LaHaye has just published another series of novels: “Babylon rising”; it’s pure Indiana Jones. That is, if Indy was rude and incompetent, and spent his time following clues left by a psychotic relic collector named Methuselah, trying to convince the govt that evangelicals aren’t terrorists (!!!!!), and escaping the constant murder attempts of an only marginally more competant international assasin called (wait for it) Talon (who, incidentally, has two trained hawks who are adept at killing people!) LaHaye has got to be the only adventure writer who can make Matthew Riley’s “Seven Deadly Wonders” seem like Shakespeare.

  • Skyknight

    Assassin? From what I skimmed, I thought Talon was part of the Anunnaki council of seven high diabolists. Not exactly a killer-for-hire, since he won’t be hiring himself out.
    {quiet chuckle} I’ve been debating internally whether I should do a companion lancing of either “The Rising” and “The Regime”, or the Babylon Rising series. However, being (a) an agnostic, and (b) someone who doubtlessly has less theological understanding than Fred, I’m not sure how well I’d do…

  • Skyknight

    …? There should have been strike-through for “Anunnaki”…

  • Brandi

    Abdullah Smith sounds like he’s supposed to be a Black Muslim/Nation of Islam character. Any evidence that he is, or that he may have originally been written that way and changed?

  • Dan

    I wish. Nah, he’s an actual Jordanian Arab, apparently from the liberal, pro-West technocrat class. Actually, he doesn’t even seem to know much about Islam per se (in common with every other ‘Muslim’ character in the series), let alone Farrakhan’s freaky version. But I can’t hold it against him (Abdullah, I mean) since he can’t know any more about anything than his author.

  • Dan

    Oh, and re Talon
    No, he wasn’t one of the Council, they just employed him and threatened him a lot when he failed all the time (although he did rack up quite an impressive body count of redshirts along the way).
    But he didn’t just kill people, oh no. His first major assignment was to paint “J316” in huge letters across the UN building one night, and frame the evangelical community, thus making the FBI believe that evangelicals were a more serious terrorist threat to the world than al-Q (again, WTF!!!?). LaHaye obviously forgot that evangelicals already dominate the executive and legislature, making such a charge enormously unlikely.

  • cjmr

    Ah, but did they dominate the executive and legislative offices when he was (very quickly and sloppily) writing the thing?

  • Dan

    Well, according to Amazon, the first book was published in 2003.

  • J

    “…thus making the FBI believe that evangelicals were a more serious terrorist threat to the world than al-Q”
    ‘Cause the FBI and every other gun-toting, anti-drug “security” agency in our government isn’t absolutely riddled with evangies, right?

  • The Old Maid

    Don’t forget: Chaim Rosensweig, Tsion ben-Judah, David Hassid. The Jewish characters have VERY Jewish names. I guess cause they’re all Israeli.
    Well, the men’s names tend to show their ethnicity, which is not the same as illuminating character.
    Using names as a shorthand for character illumination is always a potential trap for a writer. Tolkien used to go for it and take his chances. (For example, the long-time reader could tell which characters were Elves, and even identify which race of Elves [e.g. High, Deep, Sylvan]. If we can guess a given Elf’s ethnicity, we might [rightly or wrongly] deduce certain things about his upbringing and his society’s values. But that doesn’t guarantee that the specific Elf will never stray from his culture. Technically many of the Elves we actually met were misfits, which is why they didn’t stay home. That appeared less often in the Hobbits, but it existed.)
    Obviously this doesn’t work with real people, except possibly in the cultures that cause the individual to earn (or, alternately, deserve) his name. Maybe Tsion, Chaim and David have Jewish-sounding names. (I forgot about the good daughter “Naomi Tiberias.”) But does that predict their personalities? Maybe if we knew in advance that Tsion is Orthodox, we could make a handful of educated guesses about his values. But that still won’t tell us much about his personal tastes and feelings.
    (And it won’t necessarily tell us that Tsion will make some very hot-button statements on vol. 2 pages 332-333.)
    Now Irene and Amanda’s names do suggest personal tastes and feelings. As we get to know them better, we find that the educated guesses we made about them have proven to be correct. Amanda comments that “Irene” sounded like an old-lady name. “I remember thinking that Irene sounded more like a name of someone many years older than your wife. She was about forty, right?” (v. 2 p. 410) (Note that Amanda is about fifty as she says this.) And compared to each other, they do seem to live the credo “you’re only as old as you feel.” Irene sounds prim, sounds old-school, sounds like a homebody, and so she turns out to be. “Amanda,” though not a trendy name, is more modern and the character’s portrayal reflects this. Her name means “worthy of being loved” and Rayford treats her much better than he did Irene. She’s a more elegant dresser; she hugs and kisses people; she’s much quicker with a compliment. She wears an occasional fur and streaks her hair. She identifies herself as “an executive” who is “not the sort to impose on others,” that is, she doesn’t feel she has anything to prove. Her latest venture involved doing business with the garment industry. (Chloe, who is used to Irene’s reserved manner, jokingly asks her father what planet Amanda is from … Chloe also makes faces at her father behind Amanda’s back, trying to get Rayford to laugh. Chloe seems less mature in vol. 2 than in 1. But I digress.)
    >Are there any non-Israeli Jewish characters in “Left Behind”? Maybe they don’t exist … all the Jews have moved to the expanded Israel.
    Oh, they exist. The “two witnesses” Moses and Elijah scold ethnic-Israel-living-in-national-Israel by invoking the rapturist prophecy that 144,000 Jews will convert to rapturist Christianity. (In these novels’ interpretation, the 144,000 are the number of preachers, not the total numbers of Jews who come out of the great tribulation right with God.) But what the two witnesses say is, “Do not wonder why so few of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are from Israel! Israel remains largely unbelieving and will soon suffer for it!”
    Having said that, you’re right that the specific Israeli Jews named get most of the attention. The (mostly-diaspora) Jewish evangelists are … well, not cannon fodder, but they’re not the stars. Their role is absolutely crucial to the rapturist interpretation, but they tend to be treated as a group. (As far as I can tell, when the Jews reject the Antichrist, the “camps” where said Jews go don’t seem to specify whether they contain more Returned or Diaspora.)
    But yes, what’s in a name? They are one tool to bring characters to life, but they lead to certain consequences.
    1. They can overshadow real people who share a character’s name. Although people might not mind sharing a name with a protagonist, odds are someone wouldn’t be too thrilled to have the same name as the Antichrist. Naming him something peculiar and impossible offers some small protection. However it also rusns the risk of being wooden, at best.
    2. An overshadowing name can distract us in other ways. When we hear the name “Damien,” do we think of a priest who dedicated his life to comfort Hawaii’s lepers (and died with them), or do we think of a 70s movie villain? Which one deserves to be remembered?
    3. There are perfectly good works of fiction with characters named John and Mary. (There also are plenty of bad works.) If you give your character a distinctive name, you can create a sense of community among readers. When we join a literary conversation, we instantly recognize Aslan and Tumnus, Gandalf and Frodo. As much as readers have tweaked Rayford’s nose for his distinctive name, it does transform him into a universally recognized figure in literature. There will only be one Rayford.
    4. Then again, when you give a character a distinctive name, the reader expects a story that is worthy, a story that can live up to the name. Not everyone can write for Aslan, Tumnus, Gandalf or Frodo.
    I’m not sure where all this was going, except that names are tricky things and not altogether reliable as a predictor of character.

  • J

    “And compared to each other, they do seem to live the credo “you’re only as old as you feel.” Irene sounds prim, sounds old-school, sounds like a homebody, and so she turns out to be. “Amanda,” though not a trendy name, is more modern and the character’s portrayal reflects this…”
    Here’s an aside: A lot of American parents I know are giving their kids’ names without a lot of thought for how easy or hard it will be to bear that name once one gets older. The classic example is naming girls “Amy”–not “Amanda” with “Amy” for short, but “A” “M” “Y”, full-stop, on the birth certificate. “Amy” works pretty well for an infant, a child, a pre-teen, even a teenager. It would connote a fun-loving, Peter-Pan-type, in a twenty-something . . . and then it would begin to wear a bit thin. “Grandma Amy?” that’s just weird.
    But don’t think I’m being discriminatory toward girls: The plague of “Matt”–again not “Matthew” but just “Matt”–is pretty awful too. Matt begins to sound stupid and juvenile before the kid even gets to college. There’s something passive-aggressive, blunt, and stupid about “Matt”.
    Oh and my name sucks, too, which is why I’ll forever be “J” to you good people.

  • none

    Argh. I was going to mention that. I have visions of nursing homes filled with 80-year-old patients named Tiffany, Britney, and Madonna, and the only widower on the floor is named Justin. (There used to be an Elvis, but he’s gone.)
    There’s a belief among some Christian denominations that the name on your baptismal certificate is the name recorded on the divine roll call at the end of history. What a thing, to go through eternity, with a name like Lexus. I read once about a pastors telling the parents No, I won’t do that to the baby, You Change It, but that’s rare.

  • The Old Maid

    Well, that and forgetting to even sign my own username.

  • Somewhat

    Grandma Amy?” that’s just weird.
    J., that’s a generational thing. Ask your grandchildren what they think – “Amy” will be a seriously old-fashioned name to them. “Diana” sounded pretty weird as a name for a princess 25 years ago, but we’ve got used to that one too.

  • cjmr

    Since all the Amys are only now having kids, we’re probably about 20 years away from ‘Grandma Amy’. And Grandma Jennifer, Grandma Stephanie, Grandma Christine and Grandma Michelle sound just as strange to me as Grandma Amy–having gone to school with lots of girls with those names–but Grandma Karen and Grandma Kathy probably sounded strange to the last generation, yet there are lots of them now..

  • Mabus

    Aw, “Grandma Amy” isn’t all that bad. At least “Amy” is a familiar name. Many of the elderly people in my area have names that have been out of use so long they sound bizarre. Some are still occasionally used–I have met one or two girls named “Lois”, like my grandmother, and heard of a handful of younger women called that. Others have fallen out of use entirely, and still others must have been peculiar even when they were given. One aged friend of the family is named “Leviathan” (pronounced “Lev-AH-than”); I don’t think there’s a “Behemoth” in the area, but I csan’t be sure.

  • cjmr’s husband

    I knew “Beth” had to be short for something else…

  • Dan

    “the good daughter Naomi Tiberias.”
    Oh yes, I’d forgotten about her. At least she has a non-cringeworthy name. But something I found really weird was the matter of her Israeli ‘customs’. In the final book, she and a Chinese boy called Chang (of course) pursue a romance of sorts, wherein she’s constantly telling him that certain things are against her culture: eg, entering his house alone, holding hands, etc. Fair enough, the book reveals she comes from a strict Orthodox background, probably Haredi. But this setup is immediately destroyed when (in the same passage) she allows him to escort her around isolated places without a chaperone, drink water from her cupped hands, and run his fingers through her hair (!!!!). What kind of Haredi code of etiquette is that?
    And her father’s no better. When Chang first meets him all seems ok, leaving aside a really, really lame joke (“do you like my lake?” – he’s Mr. Tiberias, get it? ho ho ho. Never mind that Lake Tiberias is miles to the north, and there’s another lake almost right in front of them at the time. No wonder Chang just gives the guy a vacant stare), he announces to the young man that wearing a hat in the presence of one’s elders is “rude in just about every culture”. All well and good, except that the ‘hat’ he’s wearing is almost certainly a kippa, which is the one thing that a Haredi would never insist another remove as a sign of respect.

    “Tsion will make some very hot-button statements”
    And on a similar note, re Tsion’s mission:
    First of all, what kind of a first name is Tsion anyway? I acknowledge that they may be people with such a name out there, but I have never in my life met or heard/read about a Jew, Israeli or otherwise, named Tsion. For crying out loud, its the name of a mountain, or collectively of Israel or the Zionist movement/utopia. (Mind you, the propensity to name people after mountains doesn’t just appear here. Nicolae Carpathia anyone? When I asked a Romanian friend of mine about NC as a name, he looked at me like I was crazy then burst out laughing.)
    Secondly, the beginning of Tsion’s involvement in LB and the Trib Force and the end of days was his commissioning by the Israeli govt to do a study into all the sacred Jewish texts, as well as those of other religions, to determine once and for all what characteristics the Messiah would have, how they would recognise him, and when he would appear.
    All I can say to this is, unless Shas or some other Orthodox party somehow massively increases its Knesset representation and takes over the govt, there is absolutely Buckley’s chance of any Israeli govt initiating something this provocative (and these novels are supposed to be set up so that its “these events could occur at any moment” premise holds true). The govt has no interest in inflaming religious sensibilities any more than it is. It already has enough trouble trying to prevent ultra-right Jewish (and Christian) groups demolishing or damaging the Dome of the Rock to rebuild the Temple. This would be just the sort of thing they’d go out of their way to keep off the agenda.
    Secondly, what did they expect the conclusion to be? LB clearly suggests that the govt (and whole population) expected a specific answer, and anxiously waited to find out the Messiah. This of course would be true if the whole country were datim (‘religious’) and accepted Tsion’s credentials (he’d have to be one of the Chief Rabbis), but of course the country and govt is dominated by secular Israelis, who are largely unconcerned with the identity of the Messiah, and would take umbrage at some Orthodox rabbi telling them who they had to obey.
    All this ignores the fact that there are dozens and dozens of different theories as to the Messiah’s identity, mission, characteristics, etc. Rabbis have for two thousand years argued about this, and come to wildly different conclusions. Why should this rabbi, no matter how wise and knowledgeable, come to find the definitive answer?
    Plus, if Tsion did name an actual person, the govt would then be under enormous pressure from the religious establishment to abdicate in favour of this man’s kingly imperium. What govt would willingly commit such suicide? Actually, NC himself was the only one who actually grasped this concept. During Tsion’s broadcast he yells, “I know what he’s going to do – he’s going to say he’s the Messiah [and declare himself king]!”
    {Incidentally, did Tsion actually do any research at all? In his speech, all he does is quote the NT and Alfred Edersheim, a job taking all of half an hour to do. Maybe he took the job on a lark and just bummed around the whole time, congratulating himself on what a big grant the govt had foolishly given him?)
    The long and short of all this is: What kind of Israelis are these? Like none I’ve ever come across. And one could forgive this if LaHaye was just a Bible Belt country bumpkin who didn’t know any better; but he’s not. For years now he’s met with (certain) Jewish leaders, and visited and led tour groups through Israel, meeting with plenty of Israelis along the way. A man like this should KNOW stuff like the Jordan river is just a puddle, and can’t support thriving river traffic (Buck at one point takes a midnight cruise along the Jordan), and KNOW that Galilee is a place that still exists!! Gaaah!
    {Sorry, that was not really in relation to anything, it just felt good getting it off my chest.}

    “Jewish evangelists are … well, not cannon fodder, but they’re not the stars. Their role is absolutely crucial to the rapturist interpretation, but they tend to be treated as a group.”
    Exactly. They are supposedly the prime movers in the tribulation, yet they are only ever alluded to, and never mentioned by name or specific achievements. The whole action centres around Buckford Stud and his Southern cronies. {Sigh.}

  • Mabus

    Oh….I had to be at Wal-Mart lately (It’s the only place I can find the non-slip shoes I need for work around here), and I was browsing through the books there. The Regime is now out, telling the story of how little Nicky rises to power in Romania.
    I mention this because, incidentally, we learn that Abdullah “Smith” does have an actual Arabic name after all. “Smith” is apparently a nickname given him by fellow pilots who (surprise, surprise) cannot pronounce his real one. Odd how we just now found this out, no?

  • The Old Maid

    Something about the “transaction” line has been jogging at me. (And it’s not just the fact that it’s one of Rayford’s catchphrases. Volume 4: Rayford worries that Hattie may have died — again? she almost-dies a lot in this series — and sincerely hopes she got saved in time. “Was it possible that someone onboard her plane could have helped her to make the transaction?”)
    No, it’s the fact that there’s something unexplored in the way that the characters Loretta (see previous post/discussion, “God’s battered wife”) and Amanda failed to “make the transaction” in time to (to borrow a great phrase) “book a reservation on the rapturemobile.” And we chew on it because, truly, the novels attempt to explain how to get saved without explaining why two sincere women simply didn’t make the cut. Or at least, the novels fail to satisfy a lot of the posters here as to what, exactly, these women did wrong.
    At one point Amanda says that her old church was a “dead” church, yet she was uncomfortable with New Hope, the new one. She went to New Hope to please her family, but neither her family nor her new church really spoke to her. Only Irene struck her as “real.” Amanda didn’t dislike what New Hope was offering, so much as that she liked what Irene was offering. (Wait for it.) Amanda decided to sleep on it; you know the rest. Simultaneously, we are aware of Loretta, a character who has always made New Hope her spiritual home and clearly felt “at home.” Put together, these two characters remind me of the revival-tent challenge: “So you go to church? You ought to go to church. But you can no more become a Christian by going to church than you can become an automobile by sleeping in your garage!”
    (I’ve had door-to-doors ask me to come to their church. Sometimes they are not satisfied to hear that I attend one but it’s not theirs. “But can you go to heaven from there?” I get asked. There is a legitimate tension between “needing to attend a church that feeds us spiritually” and “needing to be right with God for oneself, and if you’re not, simply moving to another building isn’t enough.” The door-to-doors I am thinking of right now are a family group who reconciled the tension by repeating their premise that switching to their church is the best move on both fronts.)
    Amanda had mourned her family and adjusted to post-rapture life long before the audience met her. If she was as “shattered” as Loretta, we never saw it. Instead we meet a confident (and saved) woman who testifies to Rayford and Chloe with a wry amusement and gentle self-deprecation that sounds a little like, “Silly me. I can’t believe I fluffed up on that. I’ll know better next time.”
    Loretta was surrounded by her faith. She grew up in it and was/is as sincere as she ever knew how to be. The novels make plain that no one could tell she wasn’t right with God by looking at her, including her. As far as everyone could tell, she was saved, even Super Saved, a role model. Yet for some reason she didn’t make the cut.
    Here’s what keeps coming up in the discussion: Amanda and Loretta didn’t Say The Words. Bruce Barnes specifically says that Loretta never actually accepted Christ for herself.
    Wait a minute. What do people think baptism, confirmation, and vows of church membership are about? What do people think partaking of the holy feast is all about? Don’t we “say the words” in some form as part of these rituals? In fact, don’t we say them again and again?
    Granted, different denominations use slightly different phrases, but the pattern should be approximately the same. Sin is bad. We’ve all done it. God rejects sin. We who choose God choose as God chooses, that is to reject sin. We accept who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ did to justify us and release us from the wages of sin, which is death. We promise to follow God through Christ and to support the body of Christ with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. We believe in the things taught in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed and the Bible.
    Was Amanda ever baptized? confirmed? a church member? We don’t know. (A coveted No-Prize to the first poster who can cite a post-rapture character getting water-baptized.) But we do know that Loretta was widely known as “a spiritual giant.”
    We also know that Bruce Barnes was widely known as the visitation pastor, whether or not he was good at it. It would be reasonable to conclude that these latter two have been baptized/baptized-and-confirmed, and that they made some sort of declaration of faith (such as taking a vow) at some time.
    This means that either there’s something hugely wrong with their baptism/confirmation/membership/swearing-in-as-pastor … because the alternative is that there is something very petty wrong with it. (“Petty” as in, “you didn’t Say The Words because you said you and The Words include thou. You’re out.”)
    So is it possible that there was something hugely wrong with their sacraments?
    Remember that these novels don’t draw on one unified denominational body. Rapturists can use peer pressure (sales being a form of peer pressure), but there isn’t a magisterium, or a principal’s office. Rapturism may draw on the Puritans for, say, gender role and the isolation/gated-city mentality, but it can also draw upon the northern Calvinists for a taste of predestination, or on the Anabaptists for its views on baptism, and so forth.
    (I am reminded of a megachurch preacher Frederick KC Price who commented on baptism, “You can go into the water a devil and just come out a wet devil.” In this scenario the Christian can still believe in “One baptism” in keeping with the Nicene Creed … it’s just that the baptism has to be a “real” one. This is distinct from the old pre-Nicene internal battles over whether a fallen Christian had to get rebaptized to be allowed back into the community of faith. In that scenario, the first one was real but forfeited.)
    In the Anabaptist tradition, it was argued that minors should not be baptized because baptism is a conscious choice to reject sin and choose God through Christ, which leads to being “born again” (baptism in the Holy Spirit). Therefore the Anabaptists rebaptized their members who had been baptized as children. In effect, this action suggested that other denominations did not have the authority to baptize children; otherwise, the rebaptism would be a violation of the Nicene Creed. (“We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.) So the Anabaptist tradition appears in L.B. in the rapture of the children. (They were unable to give consent to their own baptism — whether they were baptized or not — so they get a free pass. Otherwise they would have had no way out of judgment.)
    How this ties into Loretta’s story is this: either Loretta was baptized as a child (her parents taking vows on her behalf; in effect, claiming this child for God), and Loretta was confirmed as a teenager/adult, when she would have made a declaration of faith for herself … or Loretta was baptized as a teenager/adult and made a declaration of faith for herself. Either way, she made a declaration of faith for herself.
    Why doesn’t it count?
    Well, she could have been faking. Bruce Barnes is proof of that. But did she fake her baptism, her confirmation, her promises at church membership, and every holy feast from which she had partaken, for her whole life?
    Now it certainly is possible (outside of L.B.) for someone to actually be a fake. Revelation specifically mentions a church that contained real true believers who have since become “lukewarm” almost to the point of falling away. But L.B. proposes a variant of Christianity in which it isn’t possible to fall away. There are only two categories of people: the once-saved-forever-saved, and the never-saved. Loretta is publicly identified as a never-saved, and is publicly humiliated.
    Y’know why this bothers us? Really, why it bothers us?
    It bothers us because Loretta has a lot in common with Paul’s youngest apprentice/”son” Timothy. Paul tells us plainly (2 Tim. 3:15) that “from childhood” Timothy had been belonged to the Christian faith; “from childhood” he had been surrounded by it. He grew up in it and continued in it all his life. Timothy never had a Damascus-road experience. He never had a Mountain-top experience. He never got the Assurance (the feeling of solidity of one’s salvation that hits you like a board) that is so common in the L.B. novels. Certainly, Assurance is real. (For example, the Methodists commemorate the day John Wesley felt it. They call the day Aldersgate Day.) But it’s also fairly rare. Timothy was nourished and nurtured in faith by his mother and grandmother. He would have been baptized/baptized-and-confirmed, then would have made more declarations of faith when he became a missionary. He did the daily plain plodding of faith with no fireworks, only a lifetime of committment.
    The novels trouble us because they haven’t convincingly shown us what Timothy did that Loretta didn’t do. The novels state that Loretta “drifted along and never actually accepted Christ for herself”, but the novels haven’t satisfied posters that Loretta didn’t “say the words” any differently than Timothy would have done.

  • Kenji

    Haha, “Aquinastotle”!
    } kenji