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L.B.: Today’s Gospel reading

L.B.: Today’s Gospel reading June 25, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 217-218

I refer to Left Behind and its many sequels and prequels as the Worst Books Ever Written because they're so consistently awful in so many different ways: theologically, politically, ethically, stylistically, all presented along with howling errors of continuity, logic and even basic geography. All of which combines to make these books not merely bad, but instructively bad.

The interwoven strands of diverse types of awfulness in Left Behind raise some interesting questions. Does the authors' selfishly apocalyptic politics arise from their self-centeredly apocalyptic theology? Or did they glom onto this peculiar American heresy in an attempt to provide biblical gloss for the laager mentality of their political/ethical views? That's kind of a chicken-and-egg question, but I suspect in this case that causation flows both ways.

Similarly, I suspect the books' horrible, wooden prose is both a cause and a consequence of the authors' stunted theological/ethical outlook. Consider this passage for a minor example:

Rayford couldn't wait to go to New Hope the next morning. He began reading the New Testament, and he scrounged around the house for any books or study guides Irene had collected. Though much of it was still difficult to understand, he found himself so hungry and thirsty for the story of the life of Christ that he read through all four Gospels until it was late and he fell asleep.

Here, as usual, LaHaye and Jenkins neglect to provide any particulars — "around the house," "any books or study guides," "much of it," "all four Gospels," "it was late" — fill in any of those blanks, supply just one or two well-chosen examples or details, and this nebulous paragraph might actually have seemed like the story of a real person.

Rayford, we are told, was "hungry and thirsty" and feasts on the New Testament. When a character is genuinely that hungry, the readers should be able to taste what he's eating. Or at least to identify what he is eating. Surely he must have encountered one or two things in particular in the Gospels that he took time to chew and to savor? But apparently not. It all seems to have been, to him, a tepid, flavorless porridge.

Apparently Rayford plowed through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John without finding anything notable, striking or worthy of remark. No saying or healing or parable or paradox pulled him up short. Nothing in particular made him stop and scratch his head. Nothing in particular confused or puzzled or angered him. Nothing in particular made his heart leap with joy.

I find it hard to believe he really read the same four Gospels I know, let alone that he read them with hunger and thirst. He simply read thems and then falls asleep.

Rayford starts with the Gospels in part because they're the first books one encounters in the New Testament. (Putting Matthew first was one of the debatable editorial choices made in compiling the canon. It's a great book, but kind of a slow starter, hitting the reader with all that genealogy before it gets any real momentum going. I'd have started with John's Gospel instead — there's an evangelist who knows how to hook a reader from the very first sentence.)

But we're told that Rayford also desperately wanted to know "the story of the life of Christ." He would have found a bit of that in the Gospels, as much as there is, but these books are not biographies. We can't tell whether or not Rayford noticed the difference between Gospel and biography. We aren't told what he thought of them at all — only that he finished them and promptly fell asleep.

This again illustrates the nexus of Bad Writing and Bad Theology. L&J don't provide any details, examples or particulars from Rayford's reading of the Gospels because such particulars are the sort of things that good writers provide, and they are not good writers. Such particulars may have made this passage more vivid and lifelike, but they could only be supplied by authors who had, themselves, experienced a vivid and lifelike encounter with the Gospels. That's not something that American evangelical Christianity encourages, opting instead for something more like Rayford's rapid, shallow reading.

For most Christians throughout most of the world and most of history, the Gospels represent the core of the faith. For contemporary American evangelicals, they seem more like something one has to plow through as quickly as possible, without comment or a second thought, before reaching St. Paul's epistles. Paul is, for such readers, much more didactic, much more propositional, and therefore much safer and easier to control.

That word — propositional — was a favorite term of the late Francis Schaeffer, the goateed guru whose influence on American evangelicalism can't be overstated. Schaeffer's writings were a prolonged fretting about what he saw as the decline of Western civilization — something he didn't clearly distinguish from Christianity itself. He traced that decline to, believe it or not, the Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, whom he blamed for the corruption and denial of "propositional truth." Schaeffer never said so explicitly, but all of his complaints about Kierkegaard also seemed to reflect his feelings about the Gospels and about Jesus himself, who preferred parables to propositions.

Those in search of the safety, clarity and tame certainty of Schaeffer's "propositional truth" will always prefer sermons to stories. Thus American evangelicals opt for Proverbs over Psalms and Epistles over Gospels.

The aversion to the Gospels is even stronger in L&J's peculiar subset of American Christianity — premillennial dispensationalism. Most of Jesus' teachings, the PMDs say, do not apply to our current "dispensation," but only to some future time in Christ's millennial (literal) kingdom. Don't worry about the Sermon on the Mount — about turning the other cheek or considering the lilies and the birds of the air — because those don't apply to now or to us. They are, in this "dispensation," irrelevant.

PMDs are thus able to ignore or avoid nearly everything in the Gospels except for a precisely excerpted handful of apocalyptic passages, such as the "woes" of Matthew 24. In citing such passages, however, the PMD must be very careful, lest the reader acquire enough momentum to continue on to the off-limits second half of Christ's apocalyptic sermon in the following chapter, in which he speaks not only of a coming judgment, but of the basis for that judgment. You let people read about the Sheep and the Goats and pretty soon they'll start asking all kinds of awkward questions.

I couldn't help wishing that Rayford Steele had stayed awake just a little bit longer, turning another page to read the first few chapters of the Book of Acts. He is, after all, a new believer about to enter a new community of new believers, so this account of the early church might be instructive. But Rayford and his fellow End Times converts never seem interested in reading about the early Christians and their first-century kibbutz. They only seem interested in the timeline-and-checklist they imagine they find in the book of Revelation. If someone in this new community were to suggest having "everything in common" and "selling their possessions and their goods" in order to give to anyone as he had need they would almost certainly be told that this sounds too much like the Antichrist's agenda.

In the coming pages and chapters, Rayford will ask many questions about the Bible, but none about the four books he has just swallowed without chewing. He read the Gospels and went to sleep without a second thought. Even more than his reciting of the sinner's prayer, this is what makes Rayford Steele an evangelical American Christian.


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121 responses to “L.B.: Today’s Gospel reading”

  1. My favorite of the Gospels is Mark. John’s okay, but Mark is the one I want to read over and over.
    I really can’t imagine anyone, especially someone for whom the material is meaningful for the first time, reading through the Gospels and just falling asleep with no questions, no pondering, no wonderment, no emotion at all. It’s the greatest story ever told, told four ways and he can’t even come up with a single question?

  2. I have a question. I have thought to myself from time to time, “I could write something like that. I could scribble down some LB meanderings and make a million dollars.”
    Now, maybe I could and maybe I couldn’t. But my question is, would that be immoral? Doing little harm, while knowing my writing would be at least giving credence to those who already use evangelical teachings for their own use, would I be wrong to do so?
    On a similar note, are Christians in general morally wrong for being deliberately ignorant? Or for not striving for a more perfect understanding of Jesus? Is not trying a sin?

  3. By the way, when I say “doing little harm,” I mean it in the sense that popular movies use a Christian veneer to tell ghost stories, like The Omen, et al.

  4. > Most of Jesus’ teachings, the PMDs say, do not apply to our current “dispensation,” but only to some future time in Christ’s millennial (literal) kingdom.
    I’m not really certain that’s a common teaching among pre-millenial dispensastionalists. I’ve known a few in my day and I can’t really recall ever having heard that. Maybe one or two said something vaguely like that, but on the whole no. And in fact I’ve heard plenty of pre-millenial dispensationalists teach commands like “Love your enemy” and such, so…

  5. Meh, I don’t think that the Bible is the greatest story ever told. It’s not as bad as LB (face it, nothing is that bad), but it has its share of problems with bad storytelling.
    Oddly enough, I find Thomas Mann’s rendition of the Bible better than the Bible itself. Here’s a man who knows how to make characters come alive.

  6. Y’know, this is pretty similar to what makes the performances of those who have tried to convert me particularly unconvincing. They tell me, “You gotta find Jesus and get saved!” but they give me no narrative hook, no examples to draw me in, no story. At most, they try to scare me with what my “unsaved” status means, but they don’t offer me much in the way of an alternative. What is this “finding Jesus” and why should I find it better than the alternative of remaining unsaved? I get slogans thrown at me, but no compelling narrative. It’s like having a book reviewer tell me “this is really good book!” but be unable to tell me why they think so.
    I’d almost prefer they sat me down and read the Bible at me–if they can’t tell me a story of their own, why not let someone else who obviously can tell a story do the job instead?

  7. “Much of it difficult to understand…” There’s much in the Gospels that is difficult and much that is easy:
    Difficult: Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew vs. Luke, the accounts of Jesus’ Trial, why Jesus in Mark is pretty laconic and Jesus in John will talk your ear off (and heal it back on! Ha! …gonna spend time in purgatory for that one…)
    Easy: “Do not judge,” “Love your neighbor,” “Pray to your Father like this…”

  8. “When a character is genuinely that hungry, the readers should be able to taste what he’s eating.”
    You could go entirely the other way on this: that in the initial satiation, there is no discrimination. The character almost mindlessly devours everything he can find, only later really being aware of what it is he’s been consuming. Think about it: you get inside from a long hard day ploughing or somesuch, and the first drink is gone before you’re even aware you’re drinking. It’s the second one you taste, maybe. The Afrikaans have a saying “hunger is the best gravy” – you don’t taste what you’re eating, only the fact you’re less hungry.

  9. You know, that passage sounds exactly like a Cliffs Notes summary of five or six pages of a real book, although Cliff Notes don’t tend to be so poorly written.

  10. that’s a bigass post i couldn’t be bothered reading all of it, but i realised halfway through – what the heck you doing talking about reading the New Testament when you could be surfing porn on the internet?

  11. I always thought Luke was the most readable of the Gospels even if it was the longest. But John… I can just imagine some Platonic philosopher’s head exploding (figuratively speaking) from reading the first few sentences.

  12. I found an interesting re-interpretation of the sheep and goats parable by searching on google for ‘sheep’ ‘goats’ ‘matthew’. The first link I found talked about spiritual hunger, spiritual thirst, etc., a complete misreading of the parable, but one that I think sits well with American evangelicals, as it allows them to disregard their duty to their fellow man and replace it with a faith that costs them nothing.
    http://www.musicbysunset.com/Parables/45%20The%20Sheep%20and%20the%20Goats%20-%20Matthew.htm
    In other words, I think it entirely plausable that Rayford could sleep-walk his entire way through the gospels, given that with his religious background he is predisposed to interpreting them in the least challenging way and the way that causes the smallest interruption in his lifestyle (which you have to admit is still pretty good, given half the world just up and died).

  13. I found an interesting re-interpretation of the sheep and goats parable by searching on google for ‘sheep’ ‘goats’ ‘matthew’. The first link I found talked about spiritual hunger, spiritual thirst, etc., a complete misreading of the parable, but one that I think sits well with American evangelicals, as it allows them to disregard their duty to their fellow man and replace it with a faith that costs them nothing.
    http://www.musicbysunset.com/Parables/45%20The%20Sheep%20and%20the%20Goats%20-%20Matthew.htm
    In other words, I think it entirely plausable that Rayford could sleep-walk his entire way through the gospels, given that with his religious background he is predisposed to interpreting them in the least challenging way and the way that causes the smallest interruption in his lifestyle (which you have to admit is still pretty good, given half the world just up and died).

  14. I can almost imagine it. Say Rayford had been exhausted but unable to sleep. Then reading the Good News gave him the comfort he needed. He tried to keep going, but—praise Jesus!—he was able to lay down his weary head…

  15. I write passages like that. Just little bits of filler to explain what a character does with an evening in between the interesting bits.
    Should we infer from this that going to New Hope is interesting and reading the Gospels is not?

  16. “You gotta find Jesus and get saved!”
    You betta find Jesus before Jesus finds you. (said ominously)

  17. “You gotta find Jesus and get saved!”
    You betta find Jesus before Jesus finds you. (said ominously)

  18. Most of Jesus’ teachings, the PMDs say, do not apply to our current “dispensation,” but only to some future time in Christ’s millennial (literal) kingdom.
    I have to echo what an earlier commenter said. I attended dispy churches for 18 years and never heard anything of this sort. The moral requirements of the Gospel were never said to not apply in this dispensation–although they were subject to various spiritualizations that took the teeth out of them. Still, saying that the dispensational position puts the Sermon of the Mount in a different dispensation where it can be ignored is false according to all of my experience. If you really have heard this, could you perhaps provide a link to a site or a sermon saying so?

  19. Most of Jesus’ teachings, the PMDs say, do not apply to our current “dispensation,” but only to some future time in Christ’s millennial (literal) kingdom.
    I have to echo what an earlier commenter said. I attended dispy churches for 18 years and never heard anything of this sort. The moral requirements of the Gospel were never said to not apply in this dispensation–although they were subject to various spiritualizations that took the teeth out of them. Still, saying that the dispensational position puts the Sermon of the Mount in a different dispensation where it can be ignored is false according to all of my experience. If you really have heard this, could you perhaps provide a link to a site or a sermon saying so?

  20. It’s especially interesting to consider this now, because I am contemplating (fictionally) what happens when a Christian gives a complete unbeliever (one with no direct knowledge of the gospels or of the rest of the Bible, and no instilled respect for any Abrahamic religion) one or all of the gospels to read.
    I don’t know how my unbeliever will react, but certainly in a more interesting (and interested) way than Rayford Steele…

  21. “They only seem interested in the timeline-and-checklist they imagine they find in the book of Revelation.”
    That and the whole “map-of-the-cross” thing that fundagelicals find in Romans to map out the life of a person from sinner up to his being saved.

  22. It’s not just a dismissal of the gospels, it’s also another example of the “The quality of your spiritual life is determined by how much you read your Bible” philosophy that completely ignores whether that reading in any way informs your actions in the rest of your life.

  23. It’s not just a dismissal of the gospels, it’s also another example of the “The quality of your spiritual life is determined by how much you read your Bible” philosophy that completely ignores whether that reading in any way informs your actions in the rest of your life.

  24. >PMD for JS and Ben
    There’s so much to respond to in Fred’s post. He must have been saving up…
    I had to stop after coming to the PMD characterization. Fred’s point of view and description is technically and historically accurate. Those who hold a strong view of dispensationalism, do characterize much of the teachings of Jesus as inapplicable in our dispensation. But I think most American evangelicals, and the LB guys, have become more “rapturists” than anything else. They’ve dropped the dispensationalist theology that lead to a view of the second coming that included a rapture of the church, and adopted the eschatology intermingled with a vague sense of what Jesus taught.
    As I wrote that paragraph, I realized that in my experience with American evangelicals (and they are my tribe), the real issue is much more general than just their understanding of PMD and the rapture. There is a widespread lack of knowledge of, interest in, and appreciation for basic theological topics, from both a historical and biblical perspective. So it’s no surpise that the idea of the rapture is so detached from an understanding of the dispensations.
    Still, the influence of PMD thinking does have the effects that Fred describes. Is the effort of much of the evangelical church to take care of the poor, the widowed, the homeless? The Berean Bible Society, for example, promotes personal bible study and has done so for 60+ years. But in their statement of faith, is the PMD perspective Fred’s referring to in point #17 of their doctrinal statement:
    “The MYSTERY “Hid in God” was the divine purpose to make of Jew and Gentile a whole new thing, that is, the Church, which is Christ’s Body. The revelation of this Mystery was committed to Paul, and it is in his writings alone that we find the doctrine,
    position, walk and destiny of the Church (Gal. 1:11,12; Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:24-27).”
    – jw

  25. >PMD for JS and Ben
    There’s so much to respond to in Fred’s post. He must have been saving up…
    I had to stop after coming to the PMD characterization. Fred’s point of view and description is technically and historically accurate. Those who hold a strong view of dispensationalism, do characterize much of the teachings of Jesus as inapplicable in our dispensation. But I think most American evangelicals, and the LB guys, have become more “rapturists” than anything else. They’ve dropped the dispensationalist theology that lead to a view of the second coming that included a rapture of the church, and adopted the eschatology intermingled with a vague sense of what Jesus taught.
    As I wrote that paragraph, I realized that in my experience with American evangelicals (and they are my tribe), the real issue is much more general than just their understanding of PMD and the rapture. There is a widespread lack of knowledge of, interest in, and appreciation for basic theological topics, from both a historical and biblical perspective. So it’s no surpise that the idea of the rapture is so detached from an understanding of the dispensations.
    Still, the influence of PMD thinking does have the effects that Fred describes. Is the effort of much of the evangelical church to take care of the poor, the widowed, the homeless? The Berean Bible Society, for example, promotes personal bible study and has done so for 60+ years. But in their statement of faith, is the PMD perspective Fred’s referring to in point #17 of their doctrinal statement:
    “The MYSTERY “Hid in God” was the divine purpose to make of Jew and Gentile a whole new thing, that is, the Church, which is Christ’s Body. The revelation of this Mystery was committed to Paul, and it is in his writings alone that we find the doctrine,
    position, walk and destiny of the Church (Gal. 1:11,12; Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:24-27).”
    – jw

  26. > Psalms and Proverbs
    While I generally agree with your characterizations of American evangelicals, Fred, I’m wondering about the idea that evangelicals prefer Proverbs over Psalms. As you’ve drawn the lines it sounds right. But practically, I’m just not sure. There’s an emotional or spiritual desire that the Psalms, like music, satisfies, and it’s a powerful counter-balance to the desire for didactic thought. I encounter many people who hang on to the “promises” of the Psalms as they face life challenges, or for whom the expressions of the psalmist touch in deep and non-didactic ways.
    My experience has also been that most non-Christians who become believers in the evangelical sense, do so because they actually do encounter the Jesus of the gospels, through their own reading, or because someone has shared their own understanding of him. Once in the fold, though, it’s often on to the epistles.
    – jw

  27. > Psalms and Proverbs
    While I generally agree with your characterizations of American evangelicals, Fred, I’m wondering about the idea that evangelicals prefer Proverbs over Psalms. As you’ve drawn the lines it sounds right. But practically, I’m just not sure. There’s an emotional or spiritual desire that the Psalms, like music, satisfies, and it’s a powerful counter-balance to the desire for didactic thought. I encounter many people who hang on to the “promises” of the Psalms as they face life challenges, or for whom the expressions of the psalmist touch in deep and non-didactic ways.
    My experience has also been that most non-Christians who become believers in the evangelical sense, do so because they actually do encounter the Jesus of the gospels, through their own reading, or because someone has shared their own understanding of him. Once in the fold, though, it’s often on to the epistles.
    – jw

  28. Psalms and Proverbs
    In Thomas Cahill’s The gifts of the Jews he argues that Psalms reflects a pre-exilic relationship with God (more intimate, more mystical) and Proverbs reflects the exiles’ encounter with the “worldly” cynics of the Babylonian empire. Gospel-meets-Paul has some parallels: Paul cites law, gospel, their interactions, but Paul also gives a lot of daily advice. Quite often he’s still a lawyer putting out fires. So a preference for Paul/Proverbs may reflect a desire to appeal to precedent, if you will.
    Rayford certainly reflects a tendency to say, “I read it” and check it off on the List of Things To Do. Apparently Rayford doesn’t have a favorite Gospel, or a favorite parable. Alternately, they might not be his favorites, but none of these gospels/parables/real-life characters stopped him in his tracks. (I’d expect Rayford to get stumped at the Parable of the Sower, myself.) And when Rayford “can’t wait” to get back to New Hope Village Church tomorrow when it opens, it doesn’t quite have the same flavor as the Psalmist singing, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord.'” That’s on Rayford’s to-do list as well.

  29. With the first commenter, I’d vote for Mark as the first gospel (which it was, of course, chronologically). And if you know the world of the 1st century, I think Mark’s first sentence is even more of a hook than John’s:
    “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Messiah.”
    In Greek, the word gospel is euaggelion (glad tidings), which Mark’s readers/hearers would have known as “a victory proclamation by the emperor”. In fact, GW’s “mission accomplished” stunt is the exact equivalent of “gospel” in the sense Mark’s audience would have understood the word. So Mark’s first sentence is deeply subversive, striking directly at the authority of the emperor. In effect: “that’s not the kind of good news you need to hear, this is.”
    For those interested in the subversive nature of Mark’s gospel, I recommend highly the book “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus,” by Ched Myers. (Yes, Ched.) I think it’s a life-changing book, and I’m only a few chapters into it!

  30. Duane, my Jesus forgives your Jesus for scaring the bejeezus out of… oh, nevermind. ;)
    (apologies to Mr. Scalzi)

  31. Duane, my Jesus forgives your Jesus for scaring the bejeezus out of… oh, nevermind. ;)
    (apologies to Mr. Scalzi)

  32. Ya know what else is scary? The current issue of Writer’s Digest contains this article:
    “WRITE BETTER
    Beyond Basic Blunders
    by Jerry B. Jenkins
    Exclusive advice on avoiding the not-so-obvious errors that plague many stories.”
    I weep for the young writers of America.
    (And yes, the author bio makes clear that it’s THAT Jerry B. Jenkins.)

  33. Newsflash: Gospels can be “Left Behind”

    Wow. That was a strain of Christianity of which I was completely unaware. It makes sense though. Maybe they think the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply under this dispensation, either: perhaps the Founding Fathers were referring to some future nation w…

  34. Such particulars may have made this passage more vivid and lifelike, but they could only be supplied by authors who had, themselves, experienced a vivid and lifelike encounter with the Gospels.
    I disagree. A good writer can fake up a description for anything, whether it’s a transcendental experience or a brutal beating or the skyline of an alien world or a principled Republican elected official… well, okay, there are limits to all things.
    Buy yeah, the fact that L&J describe what should be a spiritual awakening that would propel the entire series from here on out as being of no greater interest than the fact that a character had eggs and toast before heading off to work has little to do with the fact that they have no faith, only religion. Rather, it has to do with the fact that they are the epitome of gods-awful writing.

  35. Yeah, Fred is right. Adding little details, however irrelevant, really helps flesh out a character, even if only on the subliminal level. “Joe had lunch” is fine, but “Joe went to the corner deli, and got his usual turkey on rye, hold the mayo” lets us identify with Joe as a person.
    Inicidentally, this is why I don’t think the NT is a very good piece of writing. What was Jesus’ favorite food (bread and fish, maybe) ? Did he ever make small talk ? What was his donkey’s name ? We don’t know, and thus Jesus looks more like the author’s mouthpiece than a real person. Maybe that was the original intent, I don’t know.
    This is why I prefer Thomas Mann, or even Richard Bach, to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

  36. Yeah, Fred is right. Adding little details, however irrelevant, really helps flesh out a character, even if only on the subliminal level. “Joe had lunch” is fine, but “Joe went to the corner deli, and got his usual turkey on rye, hold the mayo” lets us identify with Joe as a person.
    Inicidentally, this is why I don’t think the NT is a very good piece of writing. What was Jesus’ favorite food (bread and fish, maybe) ? Did he ever make small talk ? What was his donkey’s name ? We don’t know, and thus Jesus looks more like the author’s mouthpiece than a real person. Maybe that was the original intent, I don’t know.
    This is why I prefer Thomas Mann, or even Richard Bach, to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

  37. It’s a tad unrealistic to expect to find modern novelistic conventions in a 2,000 year old piece of literature.
    Jesus might look like an author’s mouthpiece except that he’s essentially the same for every writer who portrays him. Unlike, say, Socrates, Plato’s mouthpiece, who appears different for each writer who portrays him.

  38. Ya know what else is scary? The current issue of Writer’s Digest contains this article:
    “WRITE BETTER
    Beyond Basic Blunders
    by Jerry B. Jenkins
    Exclusive advice on avoiding the not-so-obvious errors that plague many stories.”
    I weep for the young writers of America.
    (And yes, the author bio makes clear that it’s THAT Jerry B. Jenkins.)
    Hey, the PMDs are right, the end IS nigh.

  39. I disagree. A good writer can fake up a description for anything, whether it’s a transcendental experience or a brutal beating or the skyline of an alien world or a principled Republican elected official.
    And an excellent writer makes the description so good and vivid that the reader feels like they have actually experienced the beating, or seen the alien skyline, or met the character. There are relatively few excellent writers–and LaHaye and Jenkins are about as far from that level as my eight year old is.

  40. Garnet wrote:
    I disagree. A good writer can fake up a description for anything, whether it’s a transcendental experience or a brutal beating or the skyline of an alien world or a principled Republican elected official.
    Actually, I disagree here. There is only so much even the best writer can make up. Every writer will have a very hard time to describe convincingly experiences he or she lacks. Sometimes with otherwise very talented (often young) writers some points of the story lack depth, because the writer hadn’t yet lived through similar emotions.
    Anyway, a writer with some empathy and talent should be able to describe e.g. the point of view of the bad guy in his story convincingly in the context of the story. However, what the writer considers to be good or bad in his/her own worldview tends to end up as the guideline of the behavior of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters in the story. Even if a writer prefers more realistic ‘grey’ characters, he/she can’t completely hide their own moral and philosophic background. (For a truely excellent writer’s point of view on the question see Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung.’)
    Thus, we can be reasonably sure that what they describe Rayford doing is indeed their idea of how a newly converted Christian would act. And that suggests that their idea of such a situation is weird indeed. It has me wonder, too, if they have never lived through a similar situation or if their bad writing style is motivated by an attempt to hide and conceal their own feelings and experiences from the readers.
    My limited experience as a writer tells me that actually pouring my own experiences into my writing is an intensely intimate and energy consuming process, which reveals part of my soul to whomever is reading my work. Considering the little effort the writers took in geographic details or in tyinh up lose ends, which could have been done without much emotional engagement, it is likely that they purposefully shied away from investing any kind of emotional energy into their work.

  41. I think we are overanalyzing this. (Yeah, yeah. I know.) J&L aren’t trying to show a conversion in process, especially since their target audience is already converted. They’re trying to get through this silly character bit so they can return the reader to the riveting plot.
    Think! How long has it been since Rayford last used the telephone? We can’t linger on silly details like the power of the Sermon on the Mount, or how the phrase “Love your enemies” should strike the first-time believer to the core. There are Jewish bankers to consider, and this young upstart in Romania, and Rayford must learn to use email. Honestly, Fred, where are your priorities?

  42. Speaking of Rayford using the phone, have you read Jenkins’ guide to better writing? He actually does mention that.
    Here is another problematic phone scene, from an unpublished manuscript:
    The tinny ring echoed through the dark house. The shiny white receiver waited on the stone countertop. Another outburst. Chester, handsome, dark-haired, and taller than normal, craned his neck to look at the ringing reminder of his loneliness. After the phone’s third cry for attention, Chester stood up and strode purposefully toward the kitchen. His long legs were encased in brown corduroys, which swished in the silence as he moved toward the phone. Ring four. He knew the machine would click on if he didn’t move quickly. He plucked the receiver delicately from the cradle with his bronzed hand and said in warm, resonant tones, “Hello. Chester here.”
    “Hi, Chester. It’s Mary.”
    You get the idea. Here’s my version:
    Late that night, Mary phoned.
    You know what? I like the “wrong” paragraph better. Sure, it could use some work, because the information in it is just thrown in without any order, but it is BY FAR BETTER than the Jenkins piece, where you can just SEE him drooling to get to yet another phone conversation.
    I mean, the “wrong paragraph” lets us get a feel for the house, Chester and even hints at his state of mind at the time of the call. I’d also advise a push of the Enter button here and there, but that’s it.

  43. Speaking of Rayford using the phone, have you read Jenkins’ guide to better writing? He actually does mention that.
    Here is another problematic phone scene, from an unpublished manuscript:
    The tinny ring echoed through the dark house. The shiny white receiver waited on the stone countertop. Another outburst. Chester, handsome, dark-haired, and taller than normal, craned his neck to look at the ringing reminder of his loneliness. After the phone’s third cry for attention, Chester stood up and strode purposefully toward the kitchen. His long legs were encased in brown corduroys, which swished in the silence as he moved toward the phone. Ring four. He knew the machine would click on if he didn’t move quickly. He plucked the receiver delicately from the cradle with his bronzed hand and said in warm, resonant tones, “Hello. Chester here.”
    “Hi, Chester. It’s Mary.”
    You get the idea. Here’s my version:
    Late that night, Mary phoned.
    You know what? I like the “wrong” paragraph better. Sure, it could use some work, because the information in it is just thrown in without any order, but it is BY FAR BETTER than the Jenkins piece, where you can just SEE him drooling to get to yet another phone conversation.
    I mean, the “wrong paragraph” lets us get a feel for the house, Chester and even hints at his state of mind at the time of the call. I’d also advise a push of the Enter button here and there, but that’s it.

  44. I’m currently re-reading the Gospel of Luke for probably the third or fourth time in my life and I have been so often struck by how completely weird parts of it are. I’ve been in a fairly evangelical Christian context for 20+ years, and I love that parts of Jesus’ ministry still leave me scratching my head and asking, “what the hell does that mean?” That Rayford could just blow by the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13), or the parables of the shrewd manager and the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) without having to pause and puzzle out the meanings of those parables at all is totally unbelievable.

  45. I have the feeling Jenkins wrote the “wrong” version as well, only he spent the most time on the name “I need a manly name here…Ray! nope already used it…Buck!..no…Bruce!..dang it! I’ve used all the good ones…Stone!…nah he’s that liberal reporter…Think man think!!…a man…what’s a man?…a man has a beard, strong arms, calloused hands from working hard with manly tools, sweat beading on his forehead and steel blue eyes that you could lose yousel…Steady Jerry! Remember what you learned at that retreat, push it down…ok…ok…arms…hair chest…Chester!!!”

  46. With Stephen King’s penchant for interesting detail in describing a character’s environment, I have the feeling TL’s and JJ’s heads would explode after a couple pages of “Bag of Bones” or “Insomnia”.
    Then again, they would probably explode just as a matter of course after reading some good Stephen King narrative…

  47. I’m wondering if LaHaye tries to understand the four gospels together as some kind of gestalt. That is, their details aren’t as important as their overarching theme (i.e. worthiness of Jesus to be regarded as divine).
    As to Jenkins…Couldn’t he come up with a middle ground between the overly-long and the overly-brief? Who’s he using for exemplar authors (besides himself)? If we have no one before 1960 or so, we have a problem…

  48. …he scrounged around the house for any books or study guides Irene had collected…
    Geez, I hope his didn’t find this one.

  49. …he scrounged around the house for any books or study guides Irene had collected…
    Geez, I hope his didn’t find this one.

  50. But we’re told that Rayford also desperately wanted to know “the story of the life of Christ.”
    The whole Evangelical “saved” thing seems bass-ackwards. Wouldn’t you want to learn everything you could about Jesus first and then make an informed decision about becoming a follower or not? The context-less trip down Romans Road has the sinner uttering magic words to escape an eternity of suffering after this lifetime. Jesus taught about a lifetime of suffering for others for an eternal reward.

  51. I don’t know how my unbeliever will react, but certainly in a more interesting (and interested) way than Rayford Steele…
    I’m not exactly such an unbeliever, having read the books of Moses before the Gospels, and having read parts of the Gospels as part of a bible study group (sorry, don’t know the denomination). Nonetheless, I am an unbeliever, and my exposure to the practices of Christianity is still pretty superficial, so my responses may shed some light.
    First off, I approached the Gospels with considerable skepticism. Now I am not just an unbeliever, but a strong atheist, and as a result my attitude was/is undoubtedly a bit hostile to the truth of the Gospels. (It doesn’t help that so many “Christian” “spokepeople” (hah) are evil). But I find it unlikely that any unbeliever is going to accept the authority of the Gospels right off. (This is part of what makes Chick Tracts so silly). At best the unbeliever is going to start out treating the Gospels as a hypothetical.
    However, the unbeliever may not necessarily read the Gospels as strictly fiction: I never did. I really can’t speak to this point though, as my interpretation of the Gospels is coloured by my knowledge that they are not eyewitness accounts (as they seem), but rather synthesized from n-th hand retellings and earlier written accounts, now lost.
    My attitude would undoubtedly be a bit different if I had witnessed a miracle (as Rayford did), or experienced an epiphany. But I have not, and I assume that is the case you are interested in. Onwards to the highlights that struck me in the gospels:
    Matt 13: Lots interesting here. An answer to the problem of evil. Reference to the devil (As I understand it a late development in the Abrahamic religions, so probably not something a virginal reader would notice). And I identify with “they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”.
    Matt 6: Notable for the admonishment against public prayer, something that also rubs me the wrong way. Also notable for the lord’s prayer being an example, and an admonishment against “vain repetitions”. In my junior school we were required to recite the lord’s prayer every morning as if it was some magic incantation. In later years I saw this as disrespectful to that prayer, emphasizing the surface over the content. And reciting it made me a hypocrite, though I did not think of it at the time. This chapter really speaks to that.
    The prayer itself did not make as big an exception on me; though the line “And forgive us our tresspasses, as we forgive those that tresspass against us.” sticks in my head. (So much so, that is how I remember it, despite the language being slightly different in my copy of the KJV.). However, there is a slightly unsavoury aspect of quid-pro-quo to this chapter. Eph. 2:8,9 addresses this, but I’ve never read that far, as I find the rantings of Paul a big turn-off despite the occasional sensible things he says.
    Matt 12, and the Gospels in general: The law should not be a cudgel.
    Matt 12:33 “… for the tree is known by his fruit.”. This really resonates with me, for it is close to something I believe strongly. And that is the worth/goodness of a person is not in the incidentals of what they believe (what religion they are, etc.), but in their values and what they do (their fruit). I recall running across this theme a number of times, though no other verses come to mind offhand.
    John 3: This one sticks in my mind only because it was one of the chapters covered in a bible study I attended for a while. See, while the Pharisees may be the “bad guys” of the bible, but Nicodemus struck me as entirely reasonable though sceptical. Not so to the bible study. It is also one of the sections where Jesus seems to be making very little sense.
    Mark 12:29-31: The philosophy of Jesus summed up in two lines. And a pretty good philosophy too. “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” does nothing for me, but I’m really down with “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Amen to that! Incidentally, the “with all thy mind” is really easy to miss if it’s not pointed out, but is a great response to the anti-intellectualism unfortunately common in some parts of Christendom.
    The sermon on the mount: The philosophy of Jesus fleshed out. A great deal to note here too, but I’ll note only one point: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” In other words, Jesus is a Jew, and expects his followers to follow Jewish law. (And secular law too, though that’s elsewhere). Thus his teachings should be read as an amplification and clarification of the law. But this is notably inconsistent with other parts of the Gospel where Jesus declares parts of the law no longer applicable. I’m thinking in particular of animal sacrifices no longer being appropriate. (I’m running out of time, so I’m going to stop looking up verses). Kicking the money changers out of the temple is part of this (they were part of the animal sacrifice “economy”), though this point will be lost on anyone not familiar with the religious practices of the time.
    Only believers go to heaven. Guess YHWH is still a jealous god. Bummer. This teaching doesn’t seem particularly consistent with the rest of what Jesus says, except for some of the weird, “mystical” stuff.
    The parable of the good Samaritan. Although, a close reading will reveal this is not instruction on how one should behave, but on how one should choose who counts as one’s neighbours.

  52. Plus, I could just see Jenskins salivating at the chance to write yet another telephone conversation. THAT’S why he thinks “later, Mary phoned” is good writing. Because it gets you to the juicy part, which is TELEPHONES!

  53. Plus, I could just see Jenskins salivating at the chance to write yet another telephone conversation. THAT’S why he thinks “later, Mary phoned” is good writing. Because it gets you to the juicy part, which is TELEPHONES!

  54. Question: What “duty to their fellow man” do evangelicals in particular neglect?

  55. I wonder if Jenkins has been reading these articles? His “problematic phone scene”, frankly, reminds me of Spider Robinson’s essay, “Rah, Rah, R.A.H.!”, in which he defends his idol, Robert Heinlein, by setting up strawman versions of various criticisms of Heinlein’s writing and knocking them down. An example:
    “Heinlein doesn’t describe his protagonists physically.” After I have rattled off from memory extensive physical descriptions of Lazarus and Dora and Minerva Long, Scar Gordon, Jubal Harshaw and Eunice Branca, complainers of this type usually add, “unless the mechanics of the story require it.” Thus amended, I’ll chop it—as evidence of the subtlety of Heinlein’s genius. A maximum number of his readers can identify with his characters.
    What these types are usually complaining about is the absence of any poetry about physical appearance, stuff like, “Questing eyes like dwarf hazelnuts brooded above a strong yet amiable nose, from which depended twin parentheses framing a mouth like a pink Eskimo Pie. Magenta was his weskit, and his hair was the color of mild abstraction on a winter’s morning in Antigonish.” In Heinlein’s brand of fiction, a picture is seldom worth a thousand words—least of all a portrait.
    But I have to admit that Alexei Panshin put his finger on the fly in the ointment on p. 128 of Heinlein in Dimension: “. . . while the reader doesn’t notice the lack of description while he reads, afterwards individual characters aren’t likely to stand out in the mind.” In other words, if you leave anything to the reader’s imagination, you’ve lost better than half the critics right there. Which may be the best thing to do with them.
    As I said, setting up a strawman, and then answering it rather than the real arguments. No, Spider, if I say “Heinlein doesn’t offer enough description of his characters,” I’m not saying I want endless pointless blather about “hair the color of mild abstraction on a winter’s morning” — I’m saying that when I finished Rocket Ship Galileo your idol had offered me no way to tell Art from Ross from Morrie. And no, Jerry, if I say, “Jenkins expends too much time on telephone conversations and not enough on action,” I’m not saying I want endless pointless blather about the hero’s corduroy trousers and his bronzed hand reaching for the polished white receiver — I’m saying that I want the characters to do something besides talk on the damn phone.

  56. I think it would be insane to expect an average American unbeliever (assuming any still exist) to pick up the Bible and start reading it, without having any idea whatsoever about what it says. I think that everyone in America is, by now, familiar with the general outline of the Bible, even if they haven’t read it.
    Think of the Bible as the latest Superman movie. The trailers for it are everywhere. You may not have seen it, but you have the general idea. Clark Kent is really Superman, he is going to fly around, block some bullets with his chest, shoot some lasers out of his eyes, and save the world from Lex Luthor. Oh, and he has the hots for Louis Lane.
    Similarly, I think everyone knows what the Bible contains. Jesus is really the Messiah; he is going to walk around, heal some people, turn water into wine, preach about loving everybody, and save us from our sins. Oh, and he’s getting crucified at the end.
    True, my description of the Superman movie is fairly distorted and light on details, just like my description of the Bible. But still, this is what most people expect. The Crucifixion would not be a surprise to anybody. This is why I am so amused by Jehova’s Witness clones that come to my door, asking, “Have you heard the good news ?” The story is 2000 years old. It’s not news. It’s not even olds. It’s more like ancients.

  57. As far as Heinlein goes, I should point out that _Rocket Ship Galileo_ was the first, and in many ways, the weakest of the “juvenile” novels with which he made much of his name.
    Juan Rico is Filipino, but we only find out about that in a throwaway comment toward the end of the story (it’s where Rico mentions that his family idolizes Magsaysay, a great Filipino hero) and the hero of _Tunnel in the Sky_ is black…but _it wasn’t important to the story,_ so unless you’re reading _real_ closely, you don’t notice it.

  58. Oh, and he’s getting crucified at the end.
    No, he’s going to rise again at the end. I’m not a believer, but I think I can see the difference.

  59. Oh, and he’s getting crucified at the end.
    No, he’s going to rise again at the end. I’m not a believer, but I think I can see the difference.

  60. I only discovered that Eunice Branca, the dead heroine of Time Enough For Love, is supposed to be black, after I’d read it I-don’t-know-how-many-times – and with the utmost care and attention, because when I was in my early teens, it fascinated me. I discussed it with a friend who was also a fan of the book, and we agreed that while there were hints, Eunice’s skin color was never explicitly stated – unless one took her announcement that “I’m free and over 21” to be a statement that she was black, rather than just omitting the white clause because the racism inherent in it was distasteful, then forgotten. One of the viewpoint characters in Beyond This Horizon is also not white, though I’m damned if I can remember which – I recall the two men having a discussion about nail varnish, and one of them saying “I’m too dark for it, I’m afraid” – but I can’t remember if it was the Heinleinic hero or the beta male who was too dark for it.
    That Juan Rico is not North American, as Heinlein undoubtedly expected his readers to assume, is something that he also intended his readers to notice and be surprised by. On the whole, Heinlein’s carefully disguised references to the race of his characters in his earlier novels, I strongly suspect came from his assumption that his publishers would make difficulties if he was explicit about having black characters who were central to the plot. (Samuel R. Delany notes this as an issue in the 1960s: I think we can be sure it would have been a problem in the 1940s and 1950s.)
    Heinlein tended to write his characters in stereotypes and disliked giving physical details. You could argue the same about Tolkien, but while I have no clear idea of what Scar Gordon looked like, I know exactly what Aragorn looks like – and so strongly that while I enjoy how Viggo Mortensen played the role, and found him perfectly acceptable as Aragorn in the movies, he in no way affected my mental image of what Aragorn looks like. Tolkien knew how to describe a person so that he lives in my memory as an individual: Heinlein didn’t.

  61. Woah, I got a wee bit carried away there, sorry. And in the years I’ve first read them (not in one sitting!) I’ve acquired a smattering of knowledge of early Christian and first century Jewish history and read them many times since, so my reactions are not those of an innocent. (And I knew the very basics of Christian mythology going in). Still my reactions rather back up Fred Clark’s point that it’s hard to read the gospels without finding anything notable.

  62. Bugmaster: “Everyone knows” what the Bible says, and “everyone” is wrong. A few examples off the top of my head:
    Everyone knows that Noah took 2 of every kind of animal on the Ark. (Genesis 7:1-3–seven pairs of every kind of clean animal and seven pairs of every kind of bird)
    Everyone knows that three kings came to visit the baby Jesus, bringing gifts. (Matthew 2:1-12–they are not called kings and their number is not mentioned)
    Everyone knows that God created man first, then made woman from Adam’s rib. (Genesis 1:26-27–man and woman are created together, both in God’s image, and both are given dominion over the earth. The other story is there too, of course, in Ch.2, but “everyone” hasn’t heard this one.)
    My point is that although American culture is permeated with Biblical imagery, anyone reading the Bible for the first time is in for some major surprises.

  63. Similarly, I think everyone knows what the Bible contains. Jesus is really the Messiah; he is going to walk around, heal some people, turn water into wine, preach about loving everybody, and save us from our sins. Oh, and he’s getting crucified at the end.
    Oh man. That’s like saying “Moby Dick” is that book about the white whale. Comments like these always make me wonder whether those who made them have actually READ the damn book. So, umm, Bugmaster… Have you?

  64. Similarly, I think everyone knows what the Bible contains. Jesus is really the Messiah; he is going to walk around, heal some people, turn water into wine, preach about loving everybody, and save us from our sins. Oh, and he’s getting crucified at the end.
    Oh man. That’s like saying “Moby Dick” is that book about the white whale. Comments like these always make me wonder whether those who made them have actually READ the damn book. So, umm, Bugmaster… Have you?

  65. Never mind about what Rayford’s reading – what is he eating?
    How many days has it been since Irene disappeared? If was a Real Christian Woman (TM), she’ll have done all the shopping, cooking, housework and so on. I may have missed something, but has our hero done any food shopping, or cooked himself a meal yet?
    Of course,Irene may well have laid in six months supply of frozen meals (just in case of..), but I doubt she also laid in six months supply of ironed shirts, clean socks and fresh-laundered undewear as well. Since there’s no mention of Ray doing any laundry, we have to assume that his clothing is not at its best by now.
    This shows once again just how bad at writing L&J are. They could have devoted at least a chapter to the poignant situation of a man suddenly deprived of the wife who, though not particularly loved, has taken care of all the household stuff for twenty years. They could have him trying to operate the washing machine; looking at the shelves of cleaning products in the utility room and wondering what she used each one for; going through the household accounts working out which bills should be paid and when; wandering around a grocery store for the first time in years…. Even simply writing about him feeling hungry, looking into the refrigerator and being surprised at finding stuff going off would have been something.
    But no, they had to stick to their script and have Ray feeling spritually unfed, opening the Bible and finding Jesus. Fine – but after satisfying his spiritual hunger, has he got anything for breakfast?

  66. Sophia8 —
    Ah, but now we know exactly how Jenkins would have written that: “Rayford did the laundry and bought groceries.”
    Or to be more precise and keeping with The Natural Order of Things: “Chloe arrived to do the laundry and make dinner.”
    (Please note that if either turns out to be an exact quote from the books, I and every other unpublished writer in the country are going to descend upon his house and pelt him with our thesauri. Unabridged!)

  67. Bulbul: Oh man. That’s like saying “Moby Dick” is that book about the white whale. Comments like these always make me wonder whether those who made them have actually READ the damn book. So, umm, Bugmaster… Have you?
    For better or for worse, Bugmasters capsule of the gospels is pretty much what a non-believer with little background in Christianity would take home if they were to pick them up and read them… basically the same as what you or I would take home from Snorre, the Sagas, the Aenid, or Homer, if we were to approach them as casual reading and didn’t have any particular reason to set them up above any other similarly ancient story.
    In fact, compared to many of the other ancient stories, the gospels come out as a bit repetative (did they really need four versions?), inconsistant (Why is Matts Jesus a Jew, but Johns Jesus clearly preaching to the gentiles?), and lets face it, a bit lacking in tension, buildup, and way to damn preachy (compare it to Beowulf or the Icelandic Sagas, for example… or even parts of the OT). Its only because of its importance to a major religion that the gospels are held in such high regard and not as an ancient curiosity.

  68. Bulbul: Oh man. That’s like saying “Moby Dick” is that book about the white whale. Comments like these always make me wonder whether those who made them have actually READ the damn book. So, umm, Bugmaster… Have you?
    For better or for worse, Bugmasters capsule of the gospels is pretty much what a non-believer with little background in Christianity would take home if they were to pick them up and read them… basically the same as what you or I would take home from Snorre, the Sagas, the Aenid, or Homer, if we were to approach them as casual reading and didn’t have any particular reason to set them up above any other similarly ancient story.
    In fact, compared to many of the other ancient stories, the gospels come out as a bit repetative (did they really need four versions?), inconsistant (Why is Matts Jesus a Jew, but Johns Jesus clearly preaching to the gentiles?), and lets face it, a bit lacking in tension, buildup, and way to damn preachy (compare it to Beowulf or the Icelandic Sagas, for example… or even parts of the OT). Its only because of its importance to a major religion that the gospels are held in such high regard and not as an ancient curiosity.

  69. BugHunter (any relation? :o):
    For better or for worse, Bugmasters capsule of the gospels
    Not to nitpick, but his introduction to the passage I quoted was “Similarly, I think everyone knows what the Bible contains.” And he even got the gospels wrong, see e.g. chris’ remark.
    basically the same as what you or I would take home from Snorre, the Sagas, the Aenid, or Homer
    Not to nitpick, but Snorri – and btw, it’s Mr. Sturluson to you, buddy -, which Sagas? and the Aeneid.
    And I have to wonder what your definition of “casual reading” is. Does it mean “I don’t really care what I’m reading as long as I’m reading?” Because that’s no reading at all, that’s just turning pages. If all you take away from the Illiad is that is was a story about some dudes who got into war over some chick, you’ve wasted your time. If “Moby Dick” is just the story of the whale and the captain to you, you’ve wasted your time. You might as well read the articles in Playboy. Or go back to school and learn stuff about literature.
    And funny you should mention Beowulf and Snorri’s Edda, since they were both influenced by the Bible.
    Its only because of its importance to a major religion that the gospels are held in such high regard
    Well, duh!
    And on a related note: wasn’t GIRAT the one who did his own laundry?

  70. BugHunter (any relation? :o):
    For better or for worse, Bugmasters capsule of the gospels
    Not to nitpick, but his introduction to the passage I quoted was “Similarly, I think everyone knows what the Bible contains.” And he even got the gospels wrong, see e.g. chris’ remark.
    basically the same as what you or I would take home from Snorre, the Sagas, the Aenid, or Homer
    Not to nitpick, but Snorri – and btw, it’s Mr. Sturluson to you, buddy -, which Sagas? and the Aeneid.
    And I have to wonder what your definition of “casual reading” is. Does it mean “I don’t really care what I’m reading as long as I’m reading?” Because that’s no reading at all, that’s just turning pages. If all you take away from the Illiad is that is was a story about some dudes who got into war over some chick, you’ve wasted your time. If “Moby Dick” is just the story of the whale and the captain to you, you’ve wasted your time. You might as well read the articles in Playboy. Or go back to school and learn stuff about literature.
    And funny you should mention Beowulf and Snorri’s Edda, since they were both influenced by the Bible.
    Its only because of its importance to a major religion that the gospels are held in such high regard
    Well, duh!
    And on a related note: wasn’t GIRAT the one who did his own laundry?

  71. Well, not to nitpick, but its Snorre in Scandinavia, the sagas I refer to are the Icelandic Sagas, and the source text for both Beowulf and Snorre predate the arrival of Christianity in Europe… Snorre is quite explicit in this, in that he frequently has to explain details to his Christian readers that Norse readers would take for granted.
    As for what someone takes away from a story, it all depends upon what they are looking for, their cultural background, and their reason for picking up the story in the first place. For many its entertainment, and if they come away with something deeper, thats great… thats the first role of a story after all. Do you think that Beowulf was recited in crowded lodgehouses because tenth century Danish warriors moonlighted as literature critics? Or because they saw in themselves a bit of Beowulf and they craved his glory and his fame? Its a tale of adventure, much like the lord of the rings (no surprise there, since Tolkien was heavily influenced by Beowulf) and meant in the first instance to be read as such. Only an english lit professor who has never walked through virgin forests or watched longships slip silently through the fjords could ever whine that that someone is not taking it *seriously* enough and tell those warriors to go read Maxim or Playboy, or go back to school and have all of the interest in reading driven out of them by long self-important lessons on how to measure the worth of a story on some exacting scale or the deeper meaning of the heroes hangnail.
    …which in the end is why the gospels make such uninteresting reading to the non-christian… as a story they are pretty skimpy and hardly original. They are merely preachy, and contradictory in their preachiness at that. They are not entertaining, and thus fail at the first purpose of any story.

  72. …or to be more precise, Snorre in Norway, Snorri in Sweden, and I’ve seen both in the UK.

  73. …or to be more precise, Snorre in Norway, Snorri in Sweden, and I’ve seen both in the UK.

  74. …well, it seems to be Snorri in iceland as well. That would give Denmark the deciding vote….

  75. …well, it seems to be Snorri in iceland as well. That would give Denmark the deciding vote….

  76. So this is what I hate about nitpickers… if you can’t attack the substance of an argument, wander about the edges of it and stab at its most inconsequential spots.
    Which is another way of saying, Snorri in iceland, Snorre everywhere else, and he would NEVER have been called ‘Mr. Sturluson’ (son of Sturla).
    Now, back to the substance of my post please?

  77. So this is what I hate about nitpickers… if you can’t attack the substance of an argument, wander about the edges of it and stab at its most inconsequential spots.
    Which is another way of saying, Snorri in iceland, Snorre everywhere else, and he would NEVER have been called ‘Mr. Sturluson’ (son of Sturla).
    Now, back to the substance of my post please?

  78. That was exactly my point. When a person who’s never read Moby Dick before picks up the book, he might be surprised at the emotional misery in it (I know I was). He would [i]not[/i] be surprised about the white whale. However, LB authors and Jehova’s Witnesses (and Jack Chick, as someone pointed out) assume that the infidels have no idea at all what the Good Book says at all. I find this silly.

  79. That was exactly my point. When a person who’s never read Moby Dick before picks up the book, he might be surprised at the emotional misery in it (I know I was). He would [i]not[/i] be surprised about the white whale. However, LB authors and Jehova’s Witnesses (and Jack Chick, as someone pointed out) assume that the infidels have no idea at all what the Good Book says at all. I find this silly.

  80. Just a remark: Snorri is the standard English transcription, IIRC the Old Norse form is Snorri in the Nominative and Snorra in the Genitive/Accusative. Snorre is the modern Norwegian form.
    Only an english lit professor who has never walked through virgin forests or watched longships slip silently through the fjords
    To quote the Second Doctor in “The Tomb of the Cybermen”: Does it really show? :o)
    Do you think that Beowulf was recited in crowded lodgehouses because tenth century Danish warriors moonlighted as literature critics?
    No, I don’t and I did not say that. What I objected to was your interpretation of the magnificent works of literature as just stories about some folk who did something.
    For many its entertainment, and if they come away with something deeper, thats great… thats the first role of a story after all.
    There is much more to literature than that, especially as far as great works of mythology are concerned. Works like Beowulf were meant not only to entertain, in fact many would argue that the entertainment part was secondary. They were works of history and propaganda alike, designed to instill the listeners with pride for their tribe/nation/city/country and loyalty to their king/leader. The very first words of Beowulf show this better than any essay could.
    long self-important lessons on how to measure the worth of a story on some exacting scale or the deeper meaning of the heroes hangnail.
    I have always been an enemy to the Pritchards of this world and their scales. The only thing I dislike more are shallow readers.
    Besides, the very foundation of your logic is flawed: the Gospels are not works of mythology. They are not even biographies. As someone said, they were not written for the unbelievers to convert them, let alone entertain them. They were composed to record the memories of those who walked with Jesus, those who were THERE. That is the reason they may be unteresting to read for a non-believer. But to deduce from this that the Gospels are less of a literature than the Aeneid or the Odyssey really shows a lack of understanding of literature as a whole. I really don’t want to go into the “what is art and what is not” debate right now, though in case anyone is interested in my position, I attribute the same high artistic value to Dostoyevsky’s writings, first four seasons of Babylon 5 and Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch”. But that’s how this debate got started – Fred pointed out that it is inconceivable for someone in Rayford’s position and state of mind to read the gospels and not pause to think about what he/she had read. No real person would do that, no real (as in living, not Real(TM)) Christian, no matter how lapsed, could do that. Failing to see that is what makes L&J such bad writers and dare I say such bad people.

  81. Just a remark: Snorri is the standard English transcription, IIRC the Old Norse form is Snorri in the Nominative and Snorra in the Genitive/Accusative. Snorre is the modern Norwegian form.
    Only an english lit professor who has never walked through virgin forests or watched longships slip silently through the fjords
    To quote the Second Doctor in “The Tomb of the Cybermen”: Does it really show? :o)
    Do you think that Beowulf was recited in crowded lodgehouses because tenth century Danish warriors moonlighted as literature critics?
    No, I don’t and I did not say that. What I objected to was your interpretation of the magnificent works of literature as just stories about some folk who did something.
    For many its entertainment, and if they come away with something deeper, thats great… thats the first role of a story after all.
    There is much more to literature than that, especially as far as great works of mythology are concerned. Works like Beowulf were meant not only to entertain, in fact many would argue that the entertainment part was secondary. They were works of history and propaganda alike, designed to instill the listeners with pride for their tribe/nation/city/country and loyalty to their king/leader. The very first words of Beowulf show this better than any essay could.
    long self-important lessons on how to measure the worth of a story on some exacting scale or the deeper meaning of the heroes hangnail.
    I have always been an enemy to the Pritchards of this world and their scales. The only thing I dislike more are shallow readers.
    Besides, the very foundation of your logic is flawed: the Gospels are not works of mythology. They are not even biographies. As someone said, they were not written for the unbelievers to convert them, let alone entertain them. They were composed to record the memories of those who walked with Jesus, those who were THERE. That is the reason they may be unteresting to read for a non-believer. But to deduce from this that the Gospels are less of a literature than the Aeneid or the Odyssey really shows a lack of understanding of literature as a whole. I really don’t want to go into the “what is art and what is not” debate right now, though in case anyone is interested in my position, I attribute the same high artistic value to Dostoyevsky’s writings, first four seasons of Babylon 5 and Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch”. But that’s how this debate got started – Fred pointed out that it is inconceivable for someone in Rayford’s position and state of mind to read the gospels and not pause to think about what he/she had read. No real person would do that, no real (as in living, not Real(TM)) Christian, no matter how lapsed, could do that. Failing to see that is what makes L&J such bad writers and dare I say such bad people.

  82. However, LB authors and Jehova’s Witnesses (and Jack Chick, as someone pointed out) assume that the infidels have no idea at all what the Good Book says at all. I find this silly.
    100% there with you. Only I do not find this silly, I find it rather disturbing.

  83. the Gospels are not works of mythology
    Now there’s a point of debate.
    Bring it on.

  84. Erick: I take it you’re a fan of Spider’s? You quote him almost exactly (he called RSG “the first and weakest of Heinlein’s juveniles”). Where is Rod Walker described as black? I know that the narrator of The Cat Who Walked Through Walls is black (mentioned only a few pages from the book’s end, in what I thought was a cheap “ha-ha, you thought he was white but he wasn’t!” move). But all too often, RAH gives no description at all. Kip Russell — skinny or strongly built? Good-looking or ugly? Pimples? Really dreadful hair? We never know. I concede, none of these points are essential to the plot, but any one of them might have made it easier for the reader to understand how it feels to be Kip. Heinlein isn’t interested in that. He’s only interested in how it thinks to be Kip. (Did you notice that in Friday, three reasonably important characters — Ian, Janet, and Georges — get collectively about one percent of the description accorded to the food they serve? Ian’s tall, strongly built, and “the sort of blond you expect to find in SAS rather than ANZAC”. Georges is tall and “dark-haired”, Janet merely “tall”. Friday’s first breakfast with them got more description than that, and I’d hardly argue that the mention of “light and fluffy mild Cheddar omelettes garnished with well-drained bacon” is “important to the story”. Personally I suspect that at the time RAH wrote Friday he’d been placed on a restrictive diet.)
    Sophia8, MerlinMissy: I think there’s already been a mention of Rayford and Chloe fixing “a healthful mixture of fruits and vegetables” for their first meal on their own. No doubt Rayford-alone did something similar and similarly vague. Certainly nobody who’s on the verge of becoming A Good Born-Again Christian would resort to prying a couple of frozen-solid hot dogs out of a package and microwaving them, or making a supper of cheese, potato chips, and half a package of bologna.

  85. You hit the nail on the head. I proposed we read the gospels in my Bible study. Every one voted for Paul.

  86. Oh, yes, I’m a fan of Spider’s—at least some of the time. I don’t think that Rod’s race is ever explicitly stated in the book, but it was mentioned in one of the commentaries on Heinlein I read some years ago. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do off the top of my head—it’s late at night here and the libraries are closed.

  87. “A healthful mixture of fruit and vegetables”??? Are Ray and Chloe raw-food vegans, then? Have L&J ever tried eating a meal of “fruit and vegetables”? Shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoe, sliced radish, that salad stuff with diced potato in it – if you regard tomatoes as fruit, that would count, I suppose But I’m thinking that an all-American hero like Rayford Steele would prefer to chow down on something more substantial.

  88. The right and wrong paragraph’s from Axiomatic’s comment are a great example of what’s wrong with Jenkin’s writing. There is something to be said for economical writing, but the “right” paragraph is just too little. I’d also disagree with the commenter who said a good writer can “fake” an experience. But then good writers are also good observers. When I first started reading Fred’s deconstruction of LB, I was reading Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vainities. While I found Wolfe’s style a little irritating and the book itself pretty unpleasant, he really has an eye for the little details. One I recall is “the girl with the brown lipstick.” And Sherman’s interior monologue where he tries to figure out how he will pay his bills if he loses his job is a great insight into the character and the funniest two pages in the book. To make believable dialogue, you have to listen to real people talking and talk to lots of people yourself. I really think the problem with Jenkins is that he isn’t an observer and he doesn’t interact with anyone outside his small circle.

  89. The right and wrong paragraph’s from Axiomatic’s comment are a great example of what’s wrong with Jenkin’s writing. There is something to be said for economical writing, but the “right” paragraph is just too little. I’d also disagree with the commenter who said a good writer can “fake” an experience. But then good writers are also good observers. When I first started reading Fred’s deconstruction of LB, I was reading Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vainities. While I found Wolfe’s style a little irritating and the book itself pretty unpleasant, he really has an eye for the little details. One I recall is “the girl with the brown lipstick.” And Sherman’s interior monologue where he tries to figure out how he will pay his bills if he loses his job is a great insight into the character and the funniest two pages in the book. To make believable dialogue, you have to listen to real people talking and talk to lots of people yourself. I really think the problem with Jenkins is that he isn’t an observer and he doesn’t interact with anyone outside his small circle.

  90. (Putting Matthew first was one of the debatable editorial choices made in compiling the canon. It’s a great book, but kind of a slow starter, hitting the reader with all that genealogy before it gets any real momentum going. I’d have started with John’s Gospel instead — there’s an evangelist who knows how to hook a reader from the very first sentence.)
    It’s not often I disagree with you completely, Fred, but I sure do here. This proves that you’re a journalist and not a storyteller. Journalists worry about burying the lede, but storytellers need to build to a climax.
    John is the climax of the four Gospels: the most poetic, the most difficult, the most stirring, the most in need of interpretation. It *has* to be the anchor, the final leg. And Matthew really has to be the first: it’s the most pedantic, the most useful as a teaching tool, and that boring geneological table makes the strongest connection with the existing Hebrew canon. Matthew provides the best bridge from the “Old Testament” to the Gospels, which is why it’s the traditional starter Gospel.

  91. I read parts of the latest book, ‘Rapture’, and noticed one thing in particular. Irene is in Heaven (sorry for spoiling it!), and is enjoying it quite a bit. Among the good things are the transcendance of human limitations, for both body and mind. She has access to much knowledge.
    But she never asks one question that’d be first in my mind – “Why? Why did You do all of this?”.

  92. Matthew provides the best bridge from the “Old Testament” to the Gospels, which is why it’s the traditional starter Gospel.
    … which also makes sense seeing that at least some portions of Matthew’s Gospel seem have a Hebrew Vorlage (though jury is still out on that one) and the structure of Matthew and its narrative strategies closely mirror the relevant parts of the Old Testament (citations available upon request).
    My compliments to you, dear Doctor, for expressing so eloquently what I’ve been trying to put my finger on for the past few hours :o)

  93. Matthew provides the best bridge from the “Old Testament” to the Gospels, which is why it’s the traditional starter Gospel.
    … which also makes sense seeing that at least some portions of Matthew’s Gospel seem have a Hebrew Vorlage (though jury is still out on that one) and the structure of Matthew and its narrative strategies closely mirror the relevant parts of the Old Testament (citations available upon request).
    My compliments to you, dear Doctor, for expressing so eloquently what I’ve been trying to put my finger on for the past few hours :o)

  94. Really, I don’t know how anyone could actually read all four Gospels in one night. Perhaps if you were a lawyer, accustomed to spending hours in a row reading dense documents. It’s not that the Gospels are particularly long, but I doubt I ever read much more than 10-15 verses before I have to stop and ponder something. And even if I did get through an entire Gospel in one night and moved on to the next one, the thoughts of, “Hey, wait, this is different than the previous book…” would start coming to me immediately.
    The evangelical approach to the Bible reminds me of the old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” An Evangelical can typically quote an astonishing number of individual Bible verses, but hardly any of them can actually tell you what the Bible says.

  95. Really, I don’t know how anyone could actually read all four Gospels in one night. Perhaps if you were a lawyer, accustomed to spending hours in a row reading dense documents. It’s not that the Gospels are particularly long, but I doubt I ever read much more than 10-15 verses before I have to stop and ponder something. And even if I did get through an entire Gospel in one night and moved on to the next one, the thoughts of, “Hey, wait, this is different than the previous book…” would start coming to me immediately.
    The evangelical approach to the Bible reminds me of the old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” An Evangelical can typically quote an astonishing number of individual Bible verses, but hardly any of them can actually tell you what the Bible says.

  96. Thanks for some quotes from the LB series, I’d never wanted to buy any of them (or touch them) but was wondering what they were like. I suppose that I’m not very shocked to find out that they are poorly written.

  97. “A healthful mixture of fruit and vegetables”??? Are Ray and Chloe raw-food vegans, then?
    Yummy food’s a gift. Ecclesiates says so. :-)
    I’d say let it slide unless the authors do it again. Keeping in mind that some elements in L.B. are gnostic, Paul clashed swords with gnosticism even back as a young’un. His rant against “people who preach against marriage and eating meat” comes from that struggle. Gnostics believed that humans were a divine spark trapped in evil, disgusting Matter. Eating meat involved eating a more concentrated dose of evil, disgusting Matter, since the animal itself ate Matter while it lived. The lower the product on the food chain, the lesser the pollution/contamination. (They didn’t like marriage, either, since married people tended to — oh, horrors! — touch each other and bring more divine-spark humans into the world where they would be slimed by bodies of evil, disgusting Matter. As gnosticism didn’t die out for centuries, it seemed that preaching against marriage didn’t put a crimp in their population, much.)
    Basically, if L.B. does it again, think gnostics. If it’s just the once, it’s more “Afterschool Special”/Adam West’s Batman insisting that he will not take Robin out to fight crime until Robin buckles his seat belt.
    Oh, and lisa, welcome to the marathon. Newbie prayers are *extra powerful* for those who’ve read the rest of it.

  98. Mark 12:29-31: The philosophy of Jesus summed up in two lines. And a pretty good philosophy too. “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” does nothing for me…
    That’s part of the standard Jewish prayer (the “Hear, O Israel” part is the single most important prayer a person is supposed to know).
    I suppose I might have to read the Gospels again myself. Last time I did, I realized I liked some of Christ’s teachings (“Be nice to people” resonates in any language, from any prophet), but the man (word chosen advisedly) was weird.

  99. Mark 12:29-31: The philosophy of Jesus summed up in two lines. And a pretty good philosophy too. “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” does nothing for me…
    That’s part of the standard Jewish prayer (the “Hear, O Israel” part is the single most important prayer a person is supposed to know).
    I suppose I might have to read the Gospels again myself. Last time I did, I realized I liked some of Christ’s teachings (“Be nice to people” resonates in any language, from any prophet), but the man (word chosen advisedly) was weird.

  100. Andy wrote: “I don’t know how anyone could actually read all four Gospels in one night”.
    To give L&J more credit than they probably deserve, that kind of binge-reading *does* happen when a person falls in love with a book, a writer, an idea, a genre — but the quality of that reading experience is best expressed by Jane Austen (as so many things are):
    She read with an eagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before her eyes.
    (from Pride and Prejudice). And you also spend the next day at least wandering around in a kind of word-drunk daze, as your brain tries to process all the new information.
    If L&J were actually interested in writing about a conversion experience they do have material to work with. It’s an open question whether they themselves have ever had any such feelings, or whether they are just incapable of conveying them. As Fred has been showing all along, they are presenting the heady wine of religion as some pretty watery vinegar.

  101. Andy wrote: “I don’t know how anyone could actually read all four Gospels in one night”.
    To give L&J more credit than they probably deserve, that kind of binge-reading *does* happen when a person falls in love with a book, a writer, an idea, a genre — but the quality of that reading experience is best expressed by Jane Austen (as so many things are):
    She read with an eagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before her eyes.
    (from Pride and Prejudice). And you also spend the next day at least wandering around in a kind of word-drunk daze, as your brain tries to process all the new information.
    If L&J were actually interested in writing about a conversion experience they do have material to work with. It’s an open question whether they themselves have ever had any such feelings, or whether they are just incapable of conveying them. As Fred has been showing all along, they are presenting the heady wine of religion as some pretty watery vinegar.

  102. Bulbul: Besides, the very foundation of your logic is flawed: the Gospels are not works of mythology. They are not even biographies. As someone said, they were not written for the unbelievers to convert them, let alone entertain them. They were composed to record the memories of those who walked with Jesus, those who were THERE.
    That claim is itself part of the Christian mythology around the gospels. We actually have no idea if any of the gospels were even written within the living memory of any of the people who were alive when Jesus died. In one of the gospels, John, the writer claims to have been there: but textual evidence indicates that this is in fact the last-written gospel of the four.
    The gospels are, in fact – whatever Christians want to believe – a fascinating example of myth, legend, and philosophy. You’re right that they’re not biography, though: we have no idea if any of the various biographical details claimed for Jesus, from when/where he was born to how he died, are actually accurate. There’s no evidence for any person named in the gospels actually existing outside of the gospels, not even, in point of fact, for Pontius Pilate’s existence – and you’d think that the existence of a governor of Judaea would be a matter of record.

  103. Oops – I forgot Herod and his family. They’re named in the gospels and they definitely existed.(I discount “Caesar”, though – that could be any of the Emperors in the first century BCE/CE.)

  104. There’s no evidence for any person named in the gospels actually existing outside of the gospels, not even, in point of fact, for Pontius Pilate’s existence – and you’d think that the existence of a governor of Judaea would be a matter of record.
    Not true at all. Josephus talks about Pilate a good deal, and he’s also mentioned by Tacitus, Philo of Alexandria, and at least one surviving inscription. (Pilate’s Wikipedia entry is a thorough summary). Josephus also talks about John the Baptist and James the brother (cousin in Catholic tradition) of Jesus, who was the leader of the Jerusalem congregation in the years after the Crucifixion.

  105. I meant evidence, Doctor – I don’t consider the writings of Josephus or Philo of Alexandria to be evidence. (The famous “inscription” is dubious – wishful thinking.) There’s no reference to a Pontius Pilate as governor of Judaea in any official record: Josephus was writing decades after the fact, and quite possibly (the earliest date for the compilation of Mark is AD 50) using the same sources/stories.
    It’s possible there was a governor of Judaea called Pontius Pilate, who just happened to fall out of the official records. It’s possible there was a Nazarene Jew called Jesus who was trying to reform Judaism. It’s even possible that Jesus was executed by the Roman governor. My point is: we don’t know. We never will, short of a time machine. If a Christian has faith that three days after Jesus died, he was resurrected in the body, walked and ate and talked with his friends for 40 days, and then went to Heaven, why should it matter that there is no historical evidence for any detail of the story one way or the other?

  106. I don’t consider the writings of Josephus or Philo of Alexandria to be evidence
    But Tacitus also mentions Pilate — is he “evidence”?
    Your standards of what counts as “evidence” are hyper-restrictive, given that we’re talking about a period two thousand years ago. I’m not saying we have to believe every word of Josephus or Philo as, ah, “gospel truth”, but they didn’t write out of nowhere. Josephus’ “Jewish Wars” clearly isn’t fiction in the whole-cloth way “The Lord of the Rings” is fiction. The question is, is it more like “The DaVinci Code” (any resemblence to historical events is purely coincidental), Gore Vidal’s “Burr” (a mostly-plausible but fictionalized account), or is it like Churchill’s “The Second World War” (first- and second-hand account arranged to make the author look as good as possible)?
    I’ve also been persuaded by Donald Akenson (Surpassing Wonder), among others, that there’s no good evidence for *any* of the Gospels as we know them to have been written down before 69 CE. The only Christian source we have from the period before the Temple was destroyed is Paul.

  107. Josephus’ “Jewish Wars” clearly isn’t fiction in the whole-cloth way “The Lord of the Rings” is fiction. The question is, is it more like “The DaVinci Code” (any resemblence to historical events is purely coincidental), Gore Vidal’s “Burr” (a mostly-plausible but fictionalized account), or is it like Churchill’s “The Second World War” (first- and second-hand account arranged to make the author look as good as possible)?
    Or is it like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae? Or Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland? In both those instances, we can check the version of history given against other sources, and we know that they got some very basic stuff completely wrong. If we didn’t have those other sources, would we just take it as read that they got it right?
    “Sources” proving that the gospels are in any way historically accurate all tend to be kind of circular.

  108. “Sources” proving that the gospels are in any way historically accurate all tend to be kind of circular.
    This is a needless overgeneralization, untrue, and a distraction from your main point. The gospels are on quite flimsy enough ground without leaping to say that absolutely *nothing* in them has an historical basis. Josephus, for instance, wrote about events much closer to his time than Holinshed or Geoffrey did, including events in which he had personally participated. That doesn’t mean that everything he says is true by modern historical standards, just that he (like Philo or Tacitus) had a POV which is itself historical evidence. And his evidence about early Christianity is particularly valuable because he was *not* Christian, so he mentioned the people who seemed to him to be important — that is, John the Baptist and James.
    Saying “the evidence is very good that John the Baptist was a real, historical person” is not at all the same as saying that “John the Baptist was just as he is depicted in the Gospels, and [most important] his relationship to Jesus was subservient, just as depicted in the Gospels.”
    I do not “believe” in John the Baptist in a religious sense, but yeah, I think he probably existed, and saying that there is absolutely no evidence for his existence is incorrect.

  109. The fruits-and-veggies reference was in the entry from last October 15, at http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2005/10/lb_leap_of_proo.html: “Late in the day, Friday, Rayford and Chloe reluctantly agreed they should eat, and they worked together in the kitchen, rustling up a healthy mixture of fruits and vegetables.” In response to which Fred snarks:
    The cataclysm that shut down transportation and communication systems apparently did not interfere with the magical delivery systems that cause fresh food and clean water to appear, ex nihilo, in our suburban American homes.
    He also refers to it as their “sullen meal of wilted lettuce”. Probably by now Rayford has resorted to potato chips and microwaved hot dogs. If such things even exist in Irene’s kitchen.

  110. I don’t know whether anyone’s yet linked to this article:
    “Ministry says Armageddon is near”
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/061906dnmetendtime.159937b.html
    A raging war will soon incinerate a third of the world’s population.
    “Two billion people will die,” said Mr. Baxter, whose fiery oration Saturday in Garland connected a homeland security measure, the Real ID Act of 2005, with Satan’s plan to enslave humanity.
    A mushroom cloud appeared on a monitor. And Mr. Baxter said something unexpected.
    “Can I pause for just a moment to tell you all something hilarious?”
    Mr. Baxter explained how he had asked his wife to read the manuscript of a novel he had written in which Chinese missiles destroy Dallas. His wife objected, though, and demanded that Dallas be spared, so Mr. Baxter sent the nukes to Houston.
    It seemed an odd joke, given that most of Mr. Baxter’s listeners expect nuclear holocaust, yet the audience still laughed. That, said several listeners, is the key to understanding Mr. Baxter and his thousands of followers.
    “Will there be suffering? Yes,” said Roger Thornhill of McKinney, who went to the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, MaryAnn.
    “But I’m not afraid, for me or my daughter, because I don’t think the end is really the end. I just live the best that I can and leave the rest to the Lord.”

  111. I don’t know whether anyone’s yet linked to this article:
    “Ministry says Armageddon is near”
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/061906dnmetendtime.159937b.html
    A raging war will soon incinerate a third of the world’s population.
    “Two billion people will die,” said Mr. Baxter, whose fiery oration Saturday in Garland connected a homeland security measure, the Real ID Act of 2005, with Satan’s plan to enslave humanity.
    A mushroom cloud appeared on a monitor. And Mr. Baxter said something unexpected.
    “Can I pause for just a moment to tell you all something hilarious?”
    Mr. Baxter explained how he had asked his wife to read the manuscript of a novel he had written in which Chinese missiles destroy Dallas. His wife objected, though, and demanded that Dallas be spared, so Mr. Baxter sent the nukes to Houston.
    It seemed an odd joke, given that most of Mr. Baxter’s listeners expect nuclear holocaust, yet the audience still laughed. That, said several listeners, is the key to understanding Mr. Baxter and his thousands of followers.
    “Will there be suffering? Yes,” said Roger Thornhill of McKinney, who went to the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, MaryAnn.
    “But I’m not afraid, for me or my daughter, because I don’t think the end is really the end. I just live the best that I can and leave the rest to the Lord.”

  112. I would not consider Left Behind to be the worst books ever written.
    I reserve that title for Salem Kirban’s 666, the Eye of Argon of Christian apocalyptic fiction.
    Similarly, I suspect the books’ horrible, wooden prose is both a cause and a consequence of the authors’ stunted theological/ethical outlook.
    Or they’re just bad fiction writers. (I was going to say “inexperienced”, but after — what is it — 16+ books!!!, they closed off that excuse.)
    However, I suspect a lot of it is due to a fundamental structural problem with the subject matter. Any Christian Apocalyptic fiction is going to be event-driven, with the events of the plot (defined by John Nelson Darby, Hal Lindsay, et al) set in stone. In an event-driven story, the other three elements of storytelling (setting, characters, and theme) tend to be secondary, supporting the events that are the core of the story.
    However, End Time Prophecy fiction is beyond event-driven. It’s “running the scenario on rails”, with no deviations possible from the detailed choreography of Rapture/Tribulation/Antichrist/Tribulation/Plagues/Tribulation/Armageddon/Second Coming. Every event has been predestined in detail, therefore the characters have nothing to do except watch it go down as-predestined, periodically breaking the fourth wall with idiot conversation about how such-and-such event fulfilled such-and-such verse in Revelation. That does not herald good writing.