L.B.: Late-night phone calls

L.B.: Late-night phone calls June 8, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 288-292

Rayford Steele is regretting his bizarre behavior on the phone with Hattie Durham.

If only he'd been more suave or more subtle in his seduction proselytizing, "She'd have been none the wiser and he could have eased into his real reason for inviting her to dinner." And then two sentences later: "His real motive, even for talking with Hattie, was to communicate to Chloe."

There's something odd, and maybe a little creepy, about Rayford's notion of evangelism. It seems to involve a lot of making sure that his "real" motives and reasons are kept hidden so that others are "none the wiser." Kind of the Amway approach.

Rayford can't sleep, so even though it's after midnight he calls up the Rev. Bruce Barnes to vent. Here's another inadvertent bit of realism: Even when 99 percent of the congregation has been raptured, the pastor is still going to have to deal with phone calls in the middle of the night from the remaining 1 percent.

"It's really hard when it's your own daughter."

"I can imagine," Bruce said.

"No, you can't," Rayford said.

Rayford hangs up, and since he's no longer on the phone, we return to Buck & Nicky.

It's well after 1 a.m. in Chaim Rosenzweig's "beautiful suite of rooms" at the Plaza. "You do not mind my calling you Buck, do you?" Carpathia says. "They call you that because you buck the traditions and the trends and the conventions."

This repeats, nearly verbatim, the explanation of Buck's nickname from way back on page 6. He's the Dirty Harry of journalism, the renegade maverick who plays by his own rules, etc. In the intervening 280+ pages we've seen little evidence to support this characterization. Ignoring his deadline for the cover story on a global cataclysm might technically count as "bucking" journalistic convention, I suppose, in the same way that his craven willingness to drop his story in order to save his own hide bucks the conventions of "crusading journalist" stories, but I doubt that's what the authors had in mind.

Buck and Carpathia begin their late-night conversation in this hotel room and it reads like, well, like a late-night conversation in a hotel room:

"It is amazing, is it not, that all those different international meetings right here in New York over the next few weeks are all about the worldwide cooperation in which I am interested?"

"It is," Buck said. "And I've been assigned to cover them."

"Then we will be getting to know each other better."

"I look forward to that, sir. I was most moved at the U.N. today."

"Thank you."

"And Dr. Rosenzweig has told me so much about you."

"As he has told me much about you."

There was a knock at the door. Carpathia looked pained. "I had hoped we would not be disturbed."

Phew. Was it getting hot in there, or was it just me?

The interruption occurred because the president of the United States is on the phone, calling for Carpathia. The president apparently spent his day the same way everyone else did — watching CSPAN coverage of Nicolae's U.N. speech and then watching the Nightline interview. And at 1:30 in the morning, he decided to call the Romanian president. Carpathia puts him on speaker:

"Mr. Carpathia, this is Fitz. Gerald Fitzhugh."

"Mr. President, I am honored to hear from you."

"Well, hey, it's good to have you here!"

"I appreciated your note of congratulations on my presidency, sir, and your immediate recognition of my administration."

"Boy, that was a heckuva thing, how you took over there. I wasn't sure what had happened at first, but I don't suppose you were either."

"That is exactly right. I am still getting used to it."

"Well, take it from a guy who's been in the saddle for six years. You don't ever get used to it. You just develop calluses in the right places, if you know what I mean."

When introducing the president as a character in a work of fiction you have to decide whether or not to base the character on a real-life person. LaHaye & Jenkins opted not to — probably due to the fact that in order for him to still be in office their president would have to have missed the rapture. Even so, it's interesting that they did not base "President Fitzhugh" on the man who was in office in 1995, Bill Clinton. Even though Clinton is a church-going, Bible-quoting Southern Baptist married to a church-going, Bible-quoting United Methodist, I'm pretty sure L&J wouldn't consider either of them to be genuine, rapture-eligible Real True Chrisitians.

"Fitz" isn't based on Clinton, or on any of his immediate predecessors. But with his desperation to project an air of cowboy manliness and his folksy pretension ("that was a heckuva thing") he does almost seem to foreshadow the man who succeeded Clinton.

We get a few more paragraphs of Fitz's backslappin' bonhomie — "I want you to spend a night or two here with me and Wilma. … Right here at the White House" — and the president signs off.

Buck was only a little less overcome than Carpathia and Rosenzweig. He had long since lost his awe of U.S. presidents, especially this one, who insisted on being called Fitz. He had done a Newsmaker of the Year piece on Fitzhugh — Buck's first, Fitz's second. On the other hand, it wasn't every day that the president called the room in which you sat.

It may seem strange that this is the first, and only, mention of the American president in this book. The Fitzhugh administration's response to The Event and its aftermath are never discussed. Nor is there any mention of the American president's reaction to the divine obliteration of the entire Russian arsenal and air force, which also occurred during Fitz's time "in the saddle."

The problem here, for L&J, is that the PMD End Times master plan has very little to say about America's role in the final days. This is the source of endless hand-wringing on the part of Bible "prophecy" enthusiasts. Variations of "What does the Bible say about America's role in the End Times?" are among the most frequently asked questions at LeftBehind.com.

Their answer, such as it is, seems to be that America's only role is maintain loyal support for Israel (the political state, not the people). Just like God, they say, we must stand by Israel, ensuring that it prospers right up until the end of the world (at which point, of course, it will be utterly destroyed because, you know, they're Jews and not RTCs).

One byproduct of this answer is the unlikely alliance of America's Christian right with the most hawkish Israeli factions. CBS News' Bob Simon provides a good rundown of this dynamic in his report, "Zion's Christian Soldiers."

Simon, unfortunately, repeats unchallenged L&J's indefensible claim that their complex and selectively allegorical interpretive scheme is based on reading the Bible "literally." He characterizes the plot of Left Behind as "ripped from the pages of the Bible." It's nothing of the sort. The authors, instead, have ripped up the pages of the Bible and then reassembled some of the pieces to form an arbitrary, convoluted and internally inconsistent timeline.

Apart from that regrettable lapse, Simon's report is an excellent summary of how the World's Worst Books are influencing American foreign policy, and of why America's rapture maniacs may not really be the best "best friends" for Israel to rely on. On the latter point, Simon quotes Gershom Gorenberg:

“The Jews die or convert. As a Jew, I can’t feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario,” says Gershom Gorenberg, who knows that scenario well.

Gorenberg is the author of The End of Days, a book about those Christian evangelicals who choose to read the Bible literally. “They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us.”

“If you listen to the drama they’re describing, essentially it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act.”

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