L.B.: Mystery Dance

L.B.: Mystery Dance October 12, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 344-346

There’s a new reporter at the top of the heap. While Buck Williams has been running around conducting off-the-record interviews, squelching stories and making random introductions in hotel rooms, CNN’s Dan Bennett has captured the world’s attention with his on-the-spot coverage of the trip-and-fall guys in Jerusalem.

CNN has been replaying Bennett’s report for the past 24 hours, and this story is all that anyone is talking about. The aftermath of the Event, the attempt for a full accounting of the disappeared, the search for the missing children or for an explanation of what happened to them — all such lesser concerns have been pushed off the front page by this gripping saga of two men who fell down and died.

But while the whole world is watching this phenomenal occurrence, only the chosen few, the keepers of the secrets, truly understand what it means. This secret knowledge, this gnosis, gives them power. Others can see those pictures in any magazine, but what’s the use of looking when they don’t know what they mean?

Bruce Barnes is fielding yet another desperate phone call from Rayford Steele, who has called him from an airport lounge at JFK to discuss his anxiety over the evangelistic three-way he has planned with his mistress and daughter:

“Bruce, I need support. I’m going to start becoming obnoxious, I’m afraid. If Chloe wants to laugh or run the other way, I’m going to force her to make a decision. She’ll have to know exactly what she’s doing. She’ll have to face what we’ve found in the Bible and deal with it. I mean, the two preachers in Israel alone are enough to give me the confidence that things are happening exactly the way the Bible said they would.”

Rayford’s newfound resolve seems to have less to do with his daughter’s eternal fate than it does with his own determination to exculpate himself, to fulfill his obligation to “force her” to choose and be done with it. As ever, it’s all about him.

Bruce’s advice for his protege is to watch more television:

“Have you been watching this morning?”

“From a distance here in the terminal. They keep rerunning the attack.”

“Rayford, get to a TV right now. … I’m hanging up, Ray. See what happened to the attackers and see if that doesn’t confirm everything we read about the two witnesses.”

“Bruce –“

“Go, Rayford. And start witnessing yourself with total confidence.”

Rayford does as Bruce suggests and, like the pastor, he is awed that what he sees on CNN does precisely “confirm everything we read about the two witnesses.” It’s another example of Left Behind’s weird fiction-as-confirmation-of-prophecy confusion. The authors tell us that the Bible prophesies specific future events, and then they provide a fictional account of those events unfolding exactly as supposedly foretold. That much would be fine, except that they treat this fictional fulfillment as though it were actual evidence and proof of their claims rather than just an illustration of them.

At one time I would have said that such a form of “argument” was too circular and too delusional to be effective, but then I saw Colin Powell use exactly the same approach in his notorious 2003 presentation at the United Nations. Iraq, Powell claimed, had “mobile chemical weapons labs,” and as proof of this assertion he presented drawings of these hypothetical RVs of Death. Like the readers of Left Behind, America’s punditocracy accepted these fictional representations as actual proof — treating them as though they were photographs taken from real life and not mere question-begging illustrations.

Having witnessed this blatant use of fictional evidence effectively used to convince our “very serious” thinkers about the war, I’m no longer surprised that it also contributed to the triumphalistic popularity of the World’s Worst Books. But just because this weird use of fiction-as-proof is sometimes effective doesn’t mean it’s not circular and delusional.

LaHaye & Jenkins’ use of fictional proof is particularly strange in this instance because the account of events they have created really doesn’t “confirm everything we read about the two witnesses” nor do things happen “exactly the way the Bible said they would.” The biblical passage in question, again, is Revelation 11:1-14, which describes the two witnesses as “clothed in sackcloth” (which Moishe and Eli are not), and unambiguously states that “If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies,” and not “If anyone tries to harm them, their enemies will trip and die from spontaneous heart attacks.”

Rather than Bennett’s report giving Rayford a resurgent confidence in the truth of his literal-to-the-letter prophecies, you’d think this notable lack of devouring flame would reinforce his doubts. Perhaps “fire comes from their mouths” was only meant symbolically, as some kind of metaphor, but, again, “Once you begin heading down that road … everything is up for grabs. You can invent any kind of ‘interpretation’ you want.”

But now CNN was showing what happened next in Jerusalem, after the attacks and after the removal of the bodies of the uncharred, undevoured trip-and-fall guys:

Rayford watched as crowds surged into the area in front of the Wailing Wall to listen to the witnesses. People knelt, weeping, some with their faces on the ground. These were people who had felt the preachers were desecrating the holy place. Now it appeared they were believing what the witnesses said. … The first of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists were being converted to Christ before his eyes.

See? Here again is proof. Cold, hard, fictional evidence that the Jews are wrong and the Christians are right (not all Christians, of course, just the real, true ones who pay particular attention to the prophetic portions). The evidence is right there before your eyes in all those weeping, kneeling Jews bowing at the feet of the witnesses and saying “We were wrong all along, but you, Moishe and Eli and Dr. LaHaye, you were right all along.”

“These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence fictional representations.”

What more proof could anyone need?

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