L.B.: The Last Temptation of Buck

L.B.: The Last Temptation of Buck June 15, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 292-298 (round 1)

"You are in deep trouble, my friend," Nicolae Carpathia says to Buck Williams. "And I want to help you if I can." So it seems we have come to the Big Temptation Scene.

I'm a bit disappointed, then, that Rosenzweig's suite at the Plaza Hotel was not established as a "penthouse." It ought to be.

The touchstone here is the temptation of Jesus, which we read about in Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 4:1-11). Jesus is taken into the wilderness, and then to the highest point of the temple, and then finally to the top of a "very high mountain" from which he could see all the world spread out below. It's a compact, powerful description of the meaning of temptation. Christian writers usually tap into the depth and resonance of this familiar archetype by alluding to this story when writing their own Big Temptation Scene. The absence of any such allusion here, then, is kind of jarring. I kept waiting for Carpathia to point out the window at all the splendor of the kingdoms of the world below and to tell Buck that all this could be his. But it never happens.

It's hard to say for sure whether or not LaHaye and Jenkins are even aware that this is the Big Temptation Scene. There are some indications that this is what they intend, such as when Buck hesitates to respond to Carpathia's offer, "his mind black with depression as if he were losing his soul before his very eyes." But mainly, throughout this section of Left Behind, the authors and their protagonist seem more concerned with saving his neck than with saving his soul. Buck hasn't been led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he has knocked at the devil's door in the hopes of brokering a deal.

That's why I think Buck's soul is at stake here. Perhaps not his soul in the sense that L&J think of it (an abstract, Cartesian entity detached and distinct from one's body and whatever actions it may take), but his soul as a reporter. This is what Carpathia asks for in exchange for saving Buck's life and Buck, as we read before, "was willing to try anything" to ensure he escaped unharmed. Here is the crux of the crossroads exchange:

"You believe they will kill you?"

"They killed Burton and they killed Tompkins. I'm much more dangerous to them with my potential readership."

"If this plot is as you and your friends say it is, Cameron, writing about these people, exposing them, will not protect you."

"I know. Maybe I should do it anyway. I don't see any way out."

"I can make this go away for you."

Buck's mind was suddenly reeling. This was what he had wanted …

Buck (we'll still call him Buck, even though Carpathia has switched to calling him "Cameron" all of a sudden) finally remembers that he's a writer with a vast "potential readership." He has the platform, and therefore the power, to expose the conspiracy. But with his next breath, he shows that he doesn't deserve such a platform. "Maybe I should do it anyway," he says.

Maybe? You can expose these people, take them down, Carpathia tells him, but they'll still probably kill you. That's Buck's cue. His next line shouldn't contain the word "maybe," unless it's "Maybe, but they can't kill the truth," or "Maybe, but that won't save them …" Then Buck would triumphantly reveal the cell phone he's kept hidden, which has allowed Marge Potter to record every detail of what Carpathia has said about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran.* That is how this scene would play out if Buck were really the hero-reporter the authors want us to believe he is. That is how the scene would play if Buck were either a hero or a reporter. But since he is neither, that's not how the scene plays out here.

"Sir, I need your help," Buck says. "But I am a journalist first. I can't be bought or bargained with."

And then, for the next four pages, Buck haggles over his price. (We'll get into the details of the bargain he strikes in a later passage.)

Buck's entire conversation with Carpathia here appears to be off the record. Just as the after-midnight phone call from the president doesn't seem to have struck the GIRAT as newsworthy, so too it doesn't seem that he intends to write anything about what he learns in his long conversation with the soon-to-be Antichrist about the inner workings of the international conspiracy led by Stonagal. That's probably just as well since, even after several pages of exposition-like stuff, neither Buck nor the reader has any clearer understanding of what it is that the conspirators are conspiring to do.

What we do learn is this: Through the judicious application of lots and lots of money, Stonagal is arranging to have his henchman Todd-Cothran acquire a seat on a reconfigured U.N. Security Council and to have Carpathia himself, whom he regards as a loyal pawn, appointed as secretary-general of the United Nations.

To you, sitting there in the real world, this may not seem like the most nefarious scheme. How much influence could a pair of compromised diplomats really have? But to appreciate the meaning of this, you need to remember that L&J don't think of the U.N. as a diplomatic forum for the nations of the world. They think of it as a kind of global government. The secretary-general is, to them, a kind of world overlord. (They seem to think the word "general" in that title entails military rank.)

We've already discussed this quite a bit, but there's one more ramification of this weird, planetary federation idea that we haven't yet explored. L&J, like most of their readers, live in America. They glance at the news, they have at least a vague notion of world affairs. So they surely have noticed on some level that neither their day-to-day lives nor the policies and practices of their government are in any way influenced by the latest proclamations from the global throne of Ban Ki-Moon.

You might think this would cause them to re-evaluate their misunderstanding of the role and function of the United Nations, but that's not how they interpret this. They interpret this, rather, as evidence that the United States is uniquely able — due to our nuclear arsenal, our Second Amendment, and our ruggedly unilateral commander in chief — to maintain its sovereignty while every other country is subject to the global rule of the secretary-general. If not for our nukes, our guns, and a president willing to use them, then they believe we would be subject to global serfdom under the thumb of the U.N., just like our unfortunate neighbors in Canada and those effete Europeans are.

Lest you think I'm overstating, consider that LaHaye wasn't merely a member of the John Birch Society, he spoke at training sessions for them. (Here's the John Birch site on the United Nations.) Or consider LaHaye's own words, written in 1992 in his book No Fear of the Storm (as quoted in Michael Standaert's Skipping Towards Armageddon):

I myself have been a 45-year student of the satanically inspired centuries-old conspiracy to use government, education and media to destroy every vestige of Christianity within our society and establish a new world order. Having read at least 50 books on the Illuminati, I am convinced that it exists and can be blamed for many of man's inhumane actions against his fellow man during the past 200 years.

This is why the details of Stonagal's conspiracy are never really explained. For LaHaye, such details do not need to be explained. All that is necessary is some dark allusion to the Illuminati — or to international bankers, the U.N., Rockefellers and/or The Jews — followed by a knowing look. Say no more, say no more, know what I mean, ay?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Alternate version: Buck triumphantly points to the still-flashing speaker light on the desk phone. President Fitzhugh is still on the line and he's heard every word. If this scene comes near the end of the movie, then Fitz is a good guy and we have a happy ending president ex machina. If the scene is toward the beginning of the movie, then Fitz should be a villain in league with the conspirators, revealing that Buck is in even more trouble than he thought. This act would end with Buck's thrilling escape across the rooftops of New York.

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