L.B.: The Imaginary Liberal

L.B.: The Imaginary Liberal February 29, 2008

Left Behind, pp. 413-415

One of the reasons I consider the Left Behind series to be the World’s Worst Books is that they achieve the precise opposite of what their authors intend.

The authors sought to provide an illustration that would persuade readers of the truth of the coming events supposedly prophesied in their premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the Bible. But their best efforts to portray such events occurring in a “real world” fictional setting have instead served only to illustrate the implausibility and impossibility of those events actually happening in a world that is anything like the one we live in. The only way they are able to conceive of and present a scenario in which such events might occur is to have everyone in their story behave irrationally, inhumanly and inexplicably. The books thus disprove what the authors set out to prove. They illustrate powerfully that the event of PMD prophecies are impossible in the real world. Every page of these books provides evidence that such events could never occur without sweeping fundamental changes in nature and human nature (and in our understanding, such as it is, of the nature of God). These events are not merely supernatural, they are unnatural or even anti-natural. They are impossible.

In the previous post, we explored the possibility that the authors might, on some level, realize this. More than that, really. The authors must, on some level, realize this. And that has to be terrifying. Appreciate how high the stakes are for them here. They have placed themselves into the unenviable position of having everything they believe — about God, the Bible, the meaning of life and their place in the universe — rest upon six impossible things happening before breakfast. Thus when forced to choose between believing in those impossible things and believing in the real world as it presents itself to us all, well, to paraphrase the people of Krikkit, the real world’ll have to go.

Rejecting the real world in favor of the impossible reality of PMD prophecy can’t be easy, even for Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The real world, after all, is where they pick up their mail and do their shopping. They must be at least dimly aware of its stubborn refusal to cease to exist despite its incompatibility with their idiosyncratic interpretation of scripture.

Trying to get inside the authors’ heads to understand how they cope with this stubborn persistence of reality has proved a bit grammatically taxing, forcing me to rely on unwieldy constructs like “chosen to pretend to believe” in an attempt to convey the willful self-deception that it seems they must be employing. The subject of that self-deception in the previous post was the nature and function of the United Nations. Today we’ll examine how that same willfully self-deceptive ignorance shapes their understanding of something much closer to home — their understanding of people like me and, quite possibly, of people like you as well. The authors have chosen to pretend to believe some very unpleasant and demonstrably untrue things about people like us.

We left off as Buck and his Chicago-office colleagues were watching a CNN report on Nicolae Carpathia’s faux-reluctant acceptance of the role of global dictator:

“There is no guarantee, of course, that even member nations will unanimously go along with the move to destroy 90 percent of their military strength and turn over the remaining 10 percent to the U.N. But several ambassadors expressed their confidence ‘in equipping and arming an international peacekeeping body with a thoroughgoing pacifist and committed disarmament activist as its head.'”

A “thoroughgoing pacifist” could never accept the leadership of an armed peacekeeping body. That’s what “pacifist” means. We could, I suppose, imagine some kind of pacifist army of peacekeepers, something like Christian Peacemaker Teams writ large. They could be sent into areas of conflict to march, unarmed, between the guns of opposing forces, where they would likely get mowed down like Jeremy Irons at the end of The Mission, thus achieving a moral victory that would compel the aggressors to rethink their use of violence. Or something. But that’s clearly not what Carpathia has in mind, since his scheme starts with him acquiring an effective global monopoly on military force.

The idea here is so confused that it’s confusing. If everyone is already disarmed, what’s the point of a peacekeeping force? And where, exactly, is there room on First Avenue to park all of those tanks and fighter jets? (As for the latter question, readers should recognize that one of the authors’ unstated misapprehensions about the United Nations is that it has a standing army of its own — an army equipped, trained and employed by the U.N. itself. I’m not sure whether they conceive of this as an all-volunteer force composed of expatriates from throughout the world or whether they imagine it to be staffed by conscripts drafted from among the citizens of U.N.-istan, but I’ve already given this idea more thought than they ever have, so let’s try not to explore this particular absurdity further for now.)

The authors — and thus the CNN reporter, Buck and all the others watching — also don’t seem to realize what this means. They seem to think that Carpathia’s tithe of the world’s weaponry, and the destruction of the rest, would be merely some kind of tax or tribute and not, in fact, the effective surrender and dissolution of every nation that agreed to it. The monopoly on the use of military force is part of the definition of a state. To surrender that to some other entity is to surrender statehood itself. Agreeing to Carpathia’s scheme would involve not just a reduction, but the abandonment of sovereignty. The authors here portray every nation on earth as willing and eager to do this, with only the slightest reservation. That’s not just far-fetched, it’s impossible. It describes a world that is completely unrecognizable.

Not even Carpathia himself is portrayed here as recognizing that he has just been given the keys and pink slips to every nation on the planet:

The CNN anchor continued, “Among other developments today, there are rumors of the organization of groups …”

This isn’t intended as a parody of CNN’s shabby journalism. The CNN report here is simply an expository device and it’s thus supposed to be a realistic presentation of the sort of thing one might actually hear a news anchor say. In a novel with a journalist-protagonist readers deserve something better than a headline or lead-in such as “Rumors of the organization of groups.” Anyway …

The CNN anchor continued, “Among other developments today, there are rumors of the organization of groups espousing one world government. Carpathia was asked if he aspired to a position of leadership in such an organization.”

Just to clarify, “such an organization” there does not refer to its grammatical antecedent — “groups espousing one world government” — but to the OWG itself. So Carpathia, who has just been named head of the United Nations, which has just been reconfigured as one world government, is being asked here if he “aspired” to lead one world government. So Nicolae, now that you’re global sovereign, world caesar and commander-in-chief of planet earth, do you also “aspire” to become international prime minister?

Carpathia looked directly into the network pool camera and with moist eyes and thick voice said, “I am overwhelmed to have been asked to serve as secretary-general of the United Nations. I aspire to nothing else. While the idea of one world government resonates deep within me, I can say only that there are many more qualified candidates to lead such a venture. It would be my privilege to serve in any way I am asked, and while I do not see myself in the leadership role, I will commit the resources of the United Nations to such an effort, if asked.”

Of course he aspires to nothing else. There’s nothing else left to aspire to. The authors intend Carpathia’s moist and thick response to come across as a humble alternative to a “Today, Berlin … tomorrow, the world!” statement, but what it really amounts to is something more like “Today, the world! and tomorrow … well, ‘the world’ about covers it already, I guess. So tomorrow just more of the same.”

For no apparent reason other than the End Times Checklist, Carpathia’s conditions for his reluctant acceptance of global dictatorship also included a peace treaty with Israel:

“Also coming out of today’s meetings was the announcement of a seven-year pact between U.N. members and Israel, guaranteeing its borders and promising peace. In exchange, Israel will allow the U.N. to selectively franchise the use of the fertilizer formula, developed by Nobel prizewinner Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig, which makes desert sands tillable and has made Israel a top exporter.”

When peace in the Middle East is presented as an afterthought, then you know the U.N. has had a very busy morning. This achievement would have seemed more impressive, though, if we hadn’t already been informed that Israel had achieved peace with all of its neighbors and secure, guaranteed borders before the events of this book even took place. Here again is LB’s description of Israel’s status, from a flashback set a year before The Event, on Page 8:

The prosperity brought about by the miracle formula changed the course of history for Israel. Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors. Free trade and liberal passage allowed all who loved the nation to have access to it.

Buck’s account of the harmless nuclear assault on Israel also lists the West Bank cities of Jericho and Bethlehem as part of that nation. So an expanded Israel is already at peace with its neighbors. The checkpoints and occupations are a thing of the past, and now the entire world will be voluntarily and completely disarming. So it’s not really clear why Israel needs a new peace treaty or, for that matter, how Israel could enter into a treaty with “U.N. members” when it is, itself, a member nation of the U.N. As such, of course, Israel is also among the nations that has just agreed to hand over its arms to Nicolae, making this treaty something akin to a treaty between Caesar and Rome. But whether it makes any sense or not, it’s in the checklist, so it has to happen.

(We covered the odd notion of prosperity-through-agriculture way back — see “Weird Science” — but let me just note here that making sand “tillable” isn’t really that impressive. A bit of a nitpick, I suppose, but a helpful reminder to young writers that the thesaurus is not always your friend.)

So now we’ve got one world army, without objection. And One World Government, without objection

Have I also mentioned that Carpathia’s conditions include one world religion?

A reporter asked Carpathia if that included plans for one world religion. … His response: “I can think of little, more encouraging than the religions of the world finally cooperating. Some of the worst examples of discord and infighting have been between groups whose overall mission is love among people. Every devotee of pure religion should welcome this potential. The day of hatred is past. Lovers of humankind are uniting.”

Again, the authors imagine and portray this as occurring with no objection — Sunni and Shia, Hindu and Buddhist, Sunni and Buddhist, Shia and Hindu, all embracing in one moist and thick global group hug. The authors don’t portray this as something difficult that must, somehow, be achieved in order for their prophecy to be fulfilled. They portray this as something their prophecy says must occur, and thus as something that will happen unremarkably and almost instantly. The problem here is not merely that of an unconvincing portrayal of the transition from Point A to Point B, but of the off-handed juxtaposition of Point A and anti-matter Point A.

Oh, and language.

There will also be one world language.

This idea is also enthusiastically embraced without the slightest opposition or concern for the vast and impossible logistics involved. Which language will survive and which 6,799 or so will be criminalized and euthanized? Don’t worry about such trivial details. Who could possibly concern themselves with such questions?

So OK then, here are Buck Williams and his colleagues, sitting in the offices of the dear disintegrated Lucinda Williams. They have just learned that their country has effectively been disbanded/subsumed into the OWG, that their religion or lack thereof will need to be brought into line with an as-yet-undescribed new global belief system, and that their magazine may soon need to be produced exclusively in French or Urdu or, for all they know, Romanian.

How do you suppose they receive this news?

They’re thrilled. Ecstatic. This is exactly what they’ve been waiting for all of their lives.

Smooth, Buck thought, his mind reeling. As commentators and [former?] world leaders endorsed one world currency, one language, and even the largesse of Carpathia expressing his support for the rebuilding of the temple in Israel, the staff of Global Weekly’s Chicago bureau seemed in a mood to party. “This is the first time in years I’ve felt optimistic about society,” one reporter said.

Another added, “This has to be the first time I’ve smiled since the disappearances. We’re supposed to be objective and cynical, but how can you not like this? It’ll take years to effect all this stuff, but someday, somewhere down the line, we’re going to see world peace. No more weapons, no more wars, no more border disputes or bigotry based on language or religion. Whew! Who’d have believed it would come to this?”

Please note here what does not happen in this newsroom full of reporters. No one jumps up, scurrying back to their desks to get as much of this into print as possible before their next edition goes to press. They should be scrambling to the phones, shouting like Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, “Tear out the whole front page! … The whole front page, never mind the Chinese earthquake! … What? Leave the rooster story alone. That’s human interest.” But of course they’re not because this is Global Weekly: “We won’t tell anyone.”

The reaction here to Carpathia’s announcement is mystifying. Faced with the surrender of country, conscience and culture everyone is “in a mood to party.” The Panzers are rolling into Warsaw and the people are responding like it’s V-E Day. And it’s not just here in the GW offices that this madness occurs. This is how the entire country and the entire world receives this news.

It’s flabbergastingly unreal. Unimaginable. Impossible. (I’m using that word a lot today.) But it makes perfect sense if you understand LaHaye & Jenkins’ concept of the Imaginary Liberal.

Forget what you know about actual liberals (including, of course, what you know about yourself if you should happen to be a liberal). There are no actual liberals in this book, only Imaginary Liberals. In the authors’ view, this is also true of the world.

It’s possible that you’re reading this with some relief because you do not consider yourself a liberal. If so, I should clarify. Are you a Real True Christian of the sort that you can be confident that you would be Rapture-qualified and not among those left behind? If not, then you’re a liberal. And by that I mean that you are, to the authors, an Imaginary Liberal. These are the only two categories that exist.

And if apart from the RTCs the world is populated by Imaginary Liberals, then this passage is a model of objective realism. This is exactly how a world of Imaginary Liberals would respond to an announcement like this.

Imaginary Liberals are awful people. They hate America and they hate God.

Even the ones who claim to believe in some other non-RTC religion hate the RTC God specifically, they’ve just pretended to latch onto that other religion, which they know isn’t real, as a convenient vehicle for expressing that hatred. Thus the abolition of all religion, seeing it subsumed it into one ill-defined, featureless global porridge is exactly what they’re hoping for. (Carpathia spoke of “cooperation” among religions, but the authors know that, for Imaginary Liberals, that’s really just a code word for the annihilation of all individuality and its absorption into a collectivist whole.)

Even the ones who claim to love some other country really just hate America, specifically, and they’ve just pretended to latch onto that other nationalism, which they know isn’t real, as a convenient vehicle for expressing that hatred too. Thus the abolition of all nations — including the delicious elimination of America itself — is also exactly what they’re hoping for.

Awful, awful people those Imaginary Liberals.

And the authors think you’re one of them. Those ridiculous reporters swooning and gushing over Carpathia’s moist and thick tyranny are the authors’ stand-ins for you and me. This is how they imagine we would respond if we heard just such an announcement. This is what they imagine we want to see happen. The authors don’t realize that the Imaginary Liberal is imaginary. They think they’re real and they’re everywhere.

This is obviously a bit more troubling than some of the authors’ other delusional beliefs. Tim LaHaye’s delirious fantasies about the form and function of the United Nations may have some influence over his politics and the political beliefs of his 50 million or so readers/followers, but those beliefs are directly shaped by this idea of the Imaginary Liberal.

Believing in the Imaginary Liberal, like believing in anything else that is demonstrably unreal, requires a great deal of effort. That effort, again, can never be wholly unconscious. Some part of the self must always be vigilantly attempting to explain why the abundant evidence against that belief doesn’t matter while also attempting to explain why the utter lack of evidence for that belief doesn’t matter. Thus, again, the lie must constantly be reinforced or reconstructed. And thus, again, this active effort to persuade oneself inevitably persists as a nagging reminder that oneself still needs persuading.

Which brings us back to the tortured grammar of trying to convey this multi-layered self-deception: The Imaginary Liberal is something in which the authors have “chosen to pretend to believe.” That’s not quite the same thing as actually believing, mind you, but it’s close enough for them to not-quite-comfortably convince themselves that this passage provides an accurate portrayal of Nicolae’s rise to power and the enthusiastic reception they have chosen to pretend to believe it would receive.

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