L.B.: The Talking Dog

L.B.: The Talking Dog August 22, 2008

Left Behind, 459-461

“Thank you gentlemen,” Nicolae Carpathia says, after mind-whammying a room full of dignitaries into thinking that the double-homicide they all just saw him commit was actually a suicide/murder committed by one of his victims.

“While Ms. Durham phones security, I will be polling you for your version of what happened here.”

This doesn’t seem like a smart move on Nicolae’s part.

Imagine, for example, that you have gone to see a carnival show just off the Midway at the County Fair. It was billed as a Talking Dog Act, so you went in with a skeptical attitude, expecting some kind of bad ventriloquism. Instead, you find yourself amazed by what you have just seen: a Labrador retriever reciting the Gettysburg Address. You’re ready to jump out of your chair, to go tell everyone you know that they’ve got to come see this dog. It can really freakin’ talk.

But the show isn’t over yet. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” the M.C. says, “I will be polling you for your version of what happened here.”

And as you’re sitting there, trying to figure out why anyone might do such a thing, the M.C. begins working his way through the audience, one by one, asking each person to tell him what they just saw. And then you hear each person in turn repeating the same key words, almost reciting the same description of that amazing talking dog. It wouldn’t take too long before you began to suspect, and then to realize and accept, the truth: This wasn’t a Talking Dog Act at all, but rather a Hypnotist Act, and you all fell for it.

Similarly, Nicolae’s one-by-one “polling” here would also have to seem suspiciously odd to everyone in the conference room. They might have fully accepted the false version of events that Nicolae implanted in their minds, but now, watching him scurrying around the room double-checking with everyone, they’d have to start to wonder why he’s so worried that they all get their story straight.

Buck Williams has a unique vantage point for watching this unfold. He’s there in the room, but he’s got divine immunity from the mojo. Watching as Nicolae polls the others, Buck ought to be wondering what this means. Is Nicolae double-checking because he’s not fully certain that his mind-whammy worked? Or is this one-by-one questioning itself the final part of the whammying process, like some kind of sealer-coat? Either way, Buck could be learning something here about the Antichrist’s powers and how they function. Being Buck, of course, he doesn’t wonder about any of that.

Meanwhile Hattie, as instructed, has gone to “phone security.” This also seems odd in that “security” is already there. The security guard, I suppose, can’t phone his colleagues himself because he has to wait for his turn to be “polled” by Nicolae. Hattie, being a weak and impressionable woman, doesn’t need to get polled:

Hattie ran to the phone and could barely make herself understood in her hysteria. “Come quick! There’s been a suicide and two men are dead! It was awful! Hurry!”

And then it’s on with a page and a half of the one-by-one polling. The point of this slowly around the table business is to ratchet up the suspense as Buck worries what to say when Nicolae gets to him:

Buck’s body felt like lead, knowing that Carpathia would eventually get to him and that he was the only one in the room not under Nicolae’s hypnotic power. But what if Buck said so? Would he be killed next? Of course he would! He had to be. Could he lie? Should he?

He prayed desperately as Carpathia moved from man to man, making certain they had all seen what he wanted them to see and that they were sincerely convinced of it.

I can’t imagine that either God or the Devil is pleased with the lack of faith displayed by their respective minions here. Nicolae seemed so confident a moment ago when he was sticking the gun into Stonagal’s ear, but now he has to double- and triple-check, like he doesn’t believe he’s really the supernatural Prince of Lies. For his part, Buck seems to have forgotten that he once stood at ground zero, watching a nuclear war explode harmlessly over his head. Now he’s petrified by the prospect of having to speak to a no-longer-armed Carpathia.

Silence, God seemed to impress upon Buck’s heart. Not a word!

Buck was so grateful to feel the presence of God in the midst of this evil and mayhem that he was moved to tears. When Carpathia got to him Buck’s cheeks were wet and he could not speak. He shook his head and held up a hand. “Awful, was it not, Cameron? The suicide that took Mr. Todd-Cothran with it?”

Buck could not speak and wouldn’t have if he could. “You cared for and respected them both, Cameron, because you were unaware that they tried to have you killed in London.” And Carpathia moved on to the guard.

So Buck is verklempt in the Spirit and thereby saved (pretty much the same thing that happens at some revival meetings). He escapes his dramatic confrontation with the enemy by crying wordlessly.

That dramatic confrontation fizzles in part because the authors weren’t as concerned with Buck’s question, “Would he be killed next?” as they were with the ones that followed it, “Could he lie? Should he?” The real dramatic tension in this scene, as far as the authors were concerned, had to do with the ethical dilemma of whether it’s ever OK to lie, even to the Antichrist, even to save your own life or the lives of others.* The answer, as this scene demonstrates, is No. (A tearful silence that has the effect of deceiving Nicolae, however, is OK, so apparently lies of omission don’t count.)

And then suddenly the cops arrive. I think. It’s hard to say for sure, since Jenkins keeps interchangeably referring to them as “security.” That’s not a word we Americans usually use to refer to police officers, but here’s Jenkins:

… security rushed into the room. Everyone talked at once as Carpathia retreated to a corner, sobbing over the loss of his friends. A plainclothesman asked questions …

That plainclothesman is later confirmed to be a “detective sergeant” in the NYPD.

I’m not really certain how jurisdiction works at U.N. headquarters — a place that’s both part of New York City and yet also international territory. Jenkins doesn’t seem sure how that jurisdiction works either and, unfortunately for him, he’s the one writing this scene. Rather than doing any research into who would actually respond to this situation — U.N. officials? New York’s finest? the FBI? Blackwater? — he just mumbles and fudges his way through, seeming to treat the U.N. as just another routine crime scene in an episode of Law and Order.

Then again, Jenkins didn’t really have to research exactly how such jurisdictional matters are handled at the actual United Nations in the actual world we live in, because his story isn’t set in this world. His story starts with a hastily rendered version of this world, but then he blows this world to smithereens. Twice. First there was The Event — the disappearance of two billion people leaving behind a mystified, traumatized and childless planet. Then — almost as sudden — there was the offhanded creation of a One World Government and the imposition of a single currency, language and religion on all the world’s people.

Maybe that explains the interchangeable use of “police” and “security” here — the U.N./OWG security force has already merged with the NYPD as part of Nicolae Carpathia’s global army. But if that’s the case, why does the god-emperor of all the world need to bother with the fake sobbing, putting on a show to keep the cops off his trail?

Buck departs just as the police arrive, but before he goes, let’s just consider the scenario we’re faced with here on page 461: A shot rings out at U.N. headquarters. Two powerful men are found dead in an apparent, if logistically unlikely, suicide/murder. A New York City detective arrives …

That ought to be a great story. I’d want to read that story. It promises mystery, excitement and international intrigue.

Yet in the hands of LaHaye and Jenkins, this scenario produces none of these. They’ve accomplished something truly remarkable here. By adding the Antichrist and the End of the World into the mix, they’ve made their story less interesting than it otherwise might have been.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* To appreciate the full dynamic here one needs to understand the role that the phrase “situational ethics” plays in the evangelical subculture of L&J’s target audience. Situational ethics is a frequently invoked but vaguely defined bogeyman, entailing roughly the opposite of “moral absolutes” (which is itself a frequently invoked by vaguely defined concept). To believe in situational ethics, in this subculture, entails believing that there isn’t really any such thing as right or wrong, true or false. It means being groundless, godless and “relativistic” (a closely related bogeyman). Having Buck lie to the Antichrist would seem to the authors to be an endorsement of “situational ethics” and therefore the equivalent of saying that there is no God and the Bible is nothing more than a collection of fairy tales, etc., etc. L&J are likely remembering the controversy that surrounded The Hiding Place. That movie told the true story of a family of righteous gentiles in occupied Holland who — gasp! — sometimes lied to the Nazis to protect the Jews they were rescuing. OMG! Situational ethics!

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  • Hawker Hurricane

    “My intense interest in Star Wars/Care Bears slash fiction? (Note: that last one was a lie, or rather, a “fiction.”)
    The sad/scary thing is there probably really is Star Wars/Care Bears slash fiction out there somewhere. (No, I’m NOT going to go looking.)”
    Well, there is NOW, thank you very much!

  • SchrodingersDuck

    However Buck convinces him that motives aren’t important in such matters.
    But didn’t Buck – and the omniscient narrator – contradict this a few pages ago with the disdainful way it described Buck “just praying in the foxhole with everyone else”, and the line “There was only one reason to make the transaction, he decided — if he truly believed he could be forgiven and become one of God’s people.”.
    Also, a tad OT, but I accidentally caught a reality show called “Make Me A Christian” – at least as much as I could before flinging the remote at the screen. The premise is that your typical “heathens” – a lesbian, a biker, a Muslim, a lapdancer, a working mum – are sent to live with a fundamentalist minister who shouts at them for three weeks about what sinful lives they lead. The show is actually British, but the minister – Rev. George Hargreaves – would not be out of place on Rapture Ready, holding views that range from the depressing but commonplace (“criminalize homosexuality and deport offenders to developing nations”) to the bizarre (“the Welsh flag is Satanic”). Just to add the surreality of it, Hargreaves was also the song-writer behind the gay anthems “So Macho” and “Crusin’“.
    The worst part is that it portrayed both sides awfully. Hargreaves apparently has a lot of influence over the production, which portrays all the atheist/agnostic/non-Christian participants as vile sinful hypocrites (we get reminders that participant who identifies as lesbian “occasionally sleeps with men”, as if this whole lesbianism/bisexuality thing is a just a façade she puts on to annoy Christians), but at the same time, portrays Hargreaves as the voice of reason and, above all, a typical Christian – a more accurate title might have been “Make Me A Fundie”.
    Thankfully, it seems I’m not alone in this opinion.

  • I thought it was Billy Joel in Only The Good Die Young.
    Years ago, a Catholic friend told me that he found the song patently offensive.

    *thinks about it, since I wasn’t Catholic when I first heard it*
    Nah. But then I don’t think everything about my religion has to be deadly serious; if we’ve got some ideas that are mock-worthy, then mock away. (Hand to heart, Tonio, I think you’re a fundamentalist magnet. You could probably find a fundamentalist Unitarian.)
    I’m not seeing a “thou shalt not lie” in the Ten Commandments. I’m seeing a “thou shalt not bear false witness”, which is a particular kind of lie that causes harm to the subject of that lie. Not that I’m arguing against a policy of truth, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep over lying to the bad guys.
    Re Columbine: Personally I’d prefer a story in which (assuming the answer had any affect on the outcome at all, which I doubt) someone’s faith saved them over one where their faith got them killed. First one demonstrates the power of God, second one doesn’t.

  • And Bucky can’t hide behind “Diplomatic Immunity”, he’s a U.S. citizen, a reporter even. Buck-o should be having a wonderful arguement with a NYPD officer about ‘contacting his paper with this story NOW!’ while the officer tries to get the basic info and more out of him.

    Now I’m seeing Buck trying to slip unnoticed out the door:
    LENNIE BRISCOE: Wow, you’re sure in a hurry to leave the scene of a crime.
    BUCK: My name’s Cameron Williams, I’m a reporter with Global Weekly.
    REY CURTIS: Uh huh. Right now, you’re a witness.
    BUCK: I have to get back to my office to submit this story!
    BRISCOE: And the sooner you give us your whole story, the sooner you can get out of here and give it to your editors.
    CURTIS (sarcasm): Hey, take it easy, Lennie! This is the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time! He must really be a hurry to meet his deadline.
    BRISCOE: Seeing as how Global Weekly hasn’t published an issue in almost a month.
    BUCK: Look, let me just give you my card and you can get in touch with me at this number, okay?
    BRISCOE: You know, it’s a funny thing about cops. We tend to become really, really interested in anybody we see running away from a dead body.
    CURTIS: And the harder they run, the more interested we get.
    (Oh, Jerry Orbach, we still miss you so much … )
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
    About the “Once saved, always saved” question: I’ve been told that if you fall away, not only are you not Saved, but you never really were. Because if you’re really Saved, it’s impossible to stop believing. Which to me suggests that a lot of people are running around absolutely certain they’re Saved when really they’re not. (Now I’m imagining God telling someone, just before dropping him into the Pit, “You see, if you’d lived long enough you would have caught Teh Ghey and backslid, so you were never really Saved. So down you go … ”)
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    I think that at least some of what freaks moral absolutists out about “The Hiding Place” is not merely that the family lied, but that they deliberately trained themselves to be accomplished, instinctive liars.

    I was remembering the scene where Corrie goes to the police station, since it’s now forbidden for civilians to own radios, and turns in one of the family’s two radios. When she’s asked if this is the only radio they have, without hesitating she says “Yes”. And then afterward, when she’s outside, she starts to shake: “Not because for the first time in my life I had told a conscious lie. But because it had been so dreadfully easy.”

  • Anonymous

    Jon, in reply to aunursa: But from an absolutist position, intent is irrelevant. Whether an untruth was told with the intent of educating/entertaining or to deceive doesn’t change the fact that an untruth has been told. If it’s absolutely wrong to tell an untruth, there is no difference.
    I guess an absolutist who’s good at it (getting all normal human empathy and imagination out probably requires some practise) would fail a turing test.

  • inge

    @ 4:00 pm was me.

  • Dash

    I may be giving Joel too much credit, but I don’t think the song is ragging on Catholicism or Catholic girls. It seems to be making fun of the guy who is trying desperately to get a girl to sleep with him. The song runs through pretty much every excuse a teenage boy can make: “you [insert group] girls wait much too late” (I particularly like the assumption of sociological expertise on the part of the speaker in that one): “your mother . . . never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me?” (so see, all those people who are telling you not to sleep with me are hypocrites anyway, so why are you paying attention to ANYTHING they say?); and, finally, in desperation, “I might as well be the one.” Well, not quite finally–there is the refrain, “only the good die young.”
    No, I definitely don’t think he’s making fun of Catholics. He’s probably making fun of the kind of guys he hung out with in school, and quite possibly of his younger self.

  • Ecks

    The reason he therefore has to think of Jesus as the Supreme Potente is because that way he can truthfully state yes and not set the detector off (if it’s actually possible to cheat lie detectors like this, I have no idea).
    Nope. Because there’s no such thing as a lie detector. True we have polygraphs, which detect pulse rates and skin conductance (which goes up when you sweat) that are sensitive to swings in physiological arousal – and true that most people get a little kick of arousal when they tell a lie, especailly when they are hooked up to a machine that they are told is reading their thoughts for deception… But not everybody does, and we get little jolts of arousal from other things too – like pinching ourselves, or being asked “Did you kill Bob Jones,” knowing that you’ll be put in prison if they don’t believe you when you tell the truth. All of which is why “lie detectors” are not allowed in courts any more.

    On the topic of columbine and other such mass killings, my brother has read up on such things and his claim is that the solution is to train people to rush the shooter. That way the shooter only has time to kill one or two people before being taken out. Apparently it’s the only thing that has historically worked. If people just hide under tables (the natural response) the killer(s) can wander around killing and reloading at will.

    L&J evidentally haven’t heard of all those experiments where people tend to do the wrong thing in a psychological experiment – give an incorrect answer to an easy question,
    Well, maybe they have. Inducing people to state something out loud (especially if you get them to do it without them feeling they’ve been absolutely FORCED to do it) tends to sway them towards believing it. The classic experiment is you get students to write an essay in favor of increasing tuition (which is counter attitudinal for most students), and if they feel like they had a choice in this (“well you can write pro or con, whichever you like, but it would really help us out if you could write pro. We already have too many con’s”) then you tend to get attitude shift. Yaaaay cognitive dissonance. Also, by having everyone state out loud that they saw the same thing, it creates some social pressure to comply, some of which will disappear when they leave the room, but some won’t – as in even if you had a shred of doubt to start with, hearing that everyone else saw this might make you disbelieve your own eyes. See the Solomon Asch conformity experiment.
    So if you are imputing any psychological sophistication to L&J at all [brief pause to recover from laughing], it would seem that Nick-o doesn’t fully trust his mojo, and is trying to do some cheap tricks to back it up.

    My anti-christ mojo efficacy test would be easier than Judith’s whole crayon thing, I’d just silently mind whammy each of them with a different word, then see if they use it in their answer to an innocuous question (eg. Bob gets “Darn”. “Bob, what do you think of this plan?” “Darned if I know.” Pass!).

    Scots English may be supposedly mutually intelligible with SBE, but very few of the Americans there could understand a word they were saying
    Yes, but I’ve met plenty of Americans who literally can’t understand when someone from Birmingham talks. And I’ve met Brits who can barely understand a word when listening to people from rural Newfoundland talk. It’s a slippery slope, and even more so for trying to understand natural language being spoken quickly.

    In which case, the rabbits in Watership Down would be a hell of a lot smarter than he is–not to mention cleverer, more erudite,
    Yes, probably which is what makes them wicked creatures. Don’t you know it’s wrong to use your intellect to build walls to keep God out. That’s also why education is also ungodly (except from approved bible colleges naturally).

    The person preferring hell to heaven is Aucassin
    I thought it was Billy Joel in Only The Good Die Young.

    And, of course, most authoritatively by ArchBishop Edmund

    Hm. People who believe in the “never lie to save a life” thing must throw *terrible* surprise parties.

  • Abelardus

    Well, not quite finally–there is the refrain, “only the good die young.”
    Scare tactics? Maybe he think she’s so innocent as to believe that if you wait long enough you’ll die earlier. That’s probably not it.

  • Ecks

    I may be giving Joel too much credit, but I don’t think the song is ragging on Catholicism or Catholic girls.
    I saw him interviewed once and he said that he grew up with so many catholics that it was only rather late in childhood that he discovered he wasn’t one.
    Anyway, it’s rock song about a guy trying to talk a girl into bed… Like most other rock songs. Anyone trying to read in a deep socio-religious critique of the universe is looking way too hard.

  • Abelardus

    Anyone trying to read in a deep socio-religious critique of the universe is looking way too hard.
    Although personally I like songs that are, among other things, a long list of references — e.g. Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” and The Mamas and the Papas’ “Creeque Alley.” Fortunately these are beautiful songs even without the references. Any deep message takes a back seat to good art.

  • Amaryllis

    The person preferring hell to heaven is Aucassin
    I thought it was Billy Joel in Only The Good Die Young.

    Hmm.
    Only the Good Die Young: serious seduction attempt with mild anti-Catholic overtones, or parody of seduction songs?
    Aucassin and Nicolette: serious courtly romance with mild anti-religious moments, or parody of courtly-romance genre?
    To some questions, there may never be an answer. And I truly think this blog is the only place it would occur to me to even ask those particular questions together.
    “the Welsh flag is Satanic”
    What, because of the dragon? So I suppose he doesn’t subscribe to the “dragons were really dinosaurs, and dinosaurs were our friends” school of thought?

  • cjmr

    I may be giving Joel too much credit, but I don’t think the song is ragging on Catholicism or Catholic girls.
    Me trying to sing the lyrics to “Only the Good Die Young” in my head was not working so I actually went and looked them up. The chorus and one verse are about the guy, sure, but the rest of the verses could be read as a critique of the Catholic Church’s treatment of girls/young women pre-Vatican II. Whether that was actually Joel’s motive is up for question. I don’t think he was making fun of Catholic girls, though.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    As for the Billy Joel song, “Only The Good Die Young,” he said in a radio interview that he didn’t understand why some Catholics were so upset with the song. He joked that if the song had said, “Catholic girls start much too EARLY,” then they might have had a right to get upset!

  • 1982_Cygni

    I am sorry about my comment in which I mentioned Watership Down. I have Asperger’s, which makes L&J’s bad writing of events even harder for me to understand. I thought that God’s response to Buck was something to the effect of the “Run, Luke!” Luke heard from Obi-Wan in the first Star Wars film when he was in danger. I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together and realized that Buck was the witness to a violent crime and should have reported it to security, the NYPD, etc. Only L&J didn’t do their homework and bother to do research as to who guards the UN, and they lazily believed that Carpathia’s word, through supernatural means, would take effect immediately. (Which makes me wonder: how so? Would Satan make all the NYPD or UN Security members sleep in until noon, and then wake up and decide that with Big Brother Carpathia in control, they may as well be basket weavers or interpretive dancers now?)
    Cactus Wren: That was brilliant with Briscoe and Curtis. I’d have liked to have seen the ever-dyspeptic conspiracy theorist John Munch and the laconic, sometimes scary Fin Tutuola in the mix; problem is, when Left Behind first came out (c. 1994), Munch would have been in Baltimore at the time and have missed out on the action. (If I recall L&O: SVU correctly, Tutuola would have been working in narcotics at the time.)

  • Ecks: Yes, but I’ve met plenty of Americans who literally can’t understand when someone from Birmingham talks.

    Just wondering, do you mean Birmingham, England, or Birmingham, Alabama?

  • Technomad

    From what I understand, the difference between “language” and “dialect” is that a language has its own army, while a dialect doesn’t.
    In re. Scots/Lallans/Doric: I’d say that you get a spectrum in Scotland from “ordinary British English with a Scots accent” on to stuff so thick that Robert Burns’d be hard-put to get it. I can follow it if I hear or read it, but can’t speak it. A lot of the vocabulary’s rather archaic or unique to Scotland.
    –Technomad, not a Scot himself, but with Scottish relatives, and somewhat of a linguist.

  • Michael Cule

    The commandment says: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
    Now as Heinlein says, this doesn’t mean no lying at all. It means no lying about people so as to harm them when you’re in court or otherwise on the record.
    The commandment does not say: Thou shalt bear *true* witness against thy neighbour. There’s no obligation, if you know something to someone’s disadvantage, to drag yourself down to court to get them put away.
    Mostly, from the point of view of a secular person, if the laws are sound and a crime is really a crime that harms someone, you should do your duty and go and tell the court what you know. But that’s not a sacred duty to God, just a civil duty to your fellow human beings. (Which may be something you feel obliged to do because of the commandment about loving your neighbour as yourself.)
    So when the law that they are asking you to help enforce is wicked, cruel or otherwise bad then by all means find a believable lie (preferably one you can’t get caught in) that will spare people.
    People of a delicate disposition should probably take note that I am here confessing to being (like most people) an Unreliable Witness.

  • Jon: Sure, you could say that it’s absolutely wrong to lie, and define “lie” as requiring intent, which would exempt things like writing fiction, but I don’t know that an absolute stance on honesty is that narrowly defined.
    But that’s precisely a straw man. I don’t know of any absolutionists who define “lie” to include fiction. You are referring to people who, for the most part, do not exist. Or you are applying to Christians a definition of lying that they do not hold.
    This reminds me of the ol’ big rock conundrum regarding omnipotence. Skeptics argue that in order for God to be omnipotent, He would have to do anything at all, even if it’s logically impossible, or something that He would never choose to do … when in fact most theologians do not make such a claim, and do not define omnipotence in that manner.

  • I don’t know of any absolutionists who define “lie” to include fiction.
    What I meant to say: I don’t know of any Christians who define “lie” to include fiction.

  • Ecks

    Just wondering, do you mean Birmingham, England, or Birmingham, Alabama?
    I meant in the UK (“BER-mingum,” rising intonation, flattened northern “err” phoneme), not USA (“Bir-Ming-Haam”, strangled American ‘a’ phoneme). As far as I know, nobody much has any trouble following the latter… though I have run into people with thick American Urban Black accents that I’ve found totally impenetrable – to the point that I had to nod, smile gratefully, and move on to find someone else to ask directions from once I got out of eye shot of the first guy.
    Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour… means no lying about people so as to harm them when you’re in court or otherwise on the record.
    So really it’s “thou shalt not commit perjury in the the court of life”?
    I am told that if you are raised Catholic it is explained to you as a child that each commandment comes with logical extension knock-ons. So, “thou shalt not kill” also covers not having violent thoughts, or even think mean things about your siblings. So I doubt that at least the catholics would accommodate such legalistic hair splitting over the false witness commandment. I don’t know, the commandments seem like one place that it probably really is good to read them rather broadly.

  • I recall a theory popular on the RaptureReady sites that, since Satan doesn’t know exactly when the Rapture will occur (not being equal to God and all), he has to have a few potential Antichrist candidates available in every generation. Gotta have his man ready to seize power immediately; after all he’s only got seven years to play with, not enough time to start from scratch (um, so to speak).
    You know, I find this idea totally bizarre. Basically, such an argument assumes that Satan is not only aware of PMD prophecy, but is actually following it like it’s a script. Considering that particular script doesn’t end well for him, I find myself wondering why he’d do such a crazy thing. I mean, if I were Satan (oh wait, I’m gay and pagan, I pretty much am Satan), I’d be looking to toss out the prophecy/script rewrite the whole darn story. You know, things like:
    “Well, I’ll fix God! I’ll bring the anti-Christ to power before He can rapture his True Believers!”
    “I’ll raise a fake anti-Christ and then while the Tribulation Force are chasing after him, the real one can do his thing without detection.”
    Now, I suppose you could argue that Satan could be aware of the prophecy and all of his plans to upset it are foiled and it becomes fulfilled anyway. (Actually, I seem to recall at least one Greek tragedy playing heavily with such a theme.) And that would certainly make an interesting story.
    But somehow, I don’t feel that’s what the LB crowd have in mind. I get the impression they really do think Satan is following along with the script faithfully, despite knowing how badly it ends for him.

  • Drake Pope

    I don’t know, the commandments seem like one place that it probably really is good to read them rather broadly.
    That’s true.
    For example, Laypersons and other non-theologians read the phrase, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” as some sort of prohibiton against taking the life of another person. However, if you read it broadly enough, you’ll notice that, in the fine print on the stone tablets, it includes several caveats. For example, it’s okay to kill someone if you’re at war with them, or if they broke into your house at night, or if they commit incest, or if they eat shellfish while wearing polyester, or if they were convicted of murder, or if they came onto you in a bar, or if they’re of a different religion / ethnic group / nationality than you, or if they disagree with you politically, or if they’re gay, or if they go to work on Sunday… People often miss those addendums while they’re looking at the Commandments.
    All of the other Commandments have these same addendums attached to them. Basically, whenever you see a Biblical prohibition against somethign that people like to do, such as murder, just mentally add in these addendums. Basically, the law is not “Thou Shalt Not Kill” but actually “Thou Shalt Not Kill Unless You Really Want To, and In That Case Say Three Hail Marys and We’ll Take Care Of The Rest”.

  • hapax

    aunursa: I don’t know of any Christians who define “lie” to include fiction.

    Umm. I do. Of course, I don’t think the two traits are connected. I think it’s less a problem of excessively stringent ethics, and more of really faulty literary sense.

  • Tonio

    (Hand to heart, Tonio, I think you’re a fundamentalist magnet. You could probably find a fundamentalist Unitarian.)
    The vast majority of the fundamentalists I encounter are on other boards. In real life, most of the Christians I encounter are either Catholic or moderate evangelical – the first three girls I ever had dates with were Catholic. (Are you classifying Catholicism as fundamentalist?)
    Would a Catholic man refer to “you Catholic girls”?
    In the hypothetical situation, Joel may have felt that the song’s meter required the pronoun.
    What difference does this make in this story? Everything had already been predetermined.
    L&J would have another agenda to have their protagonists exhibit ideal (in their view) Christian behavior.
    the rest of the verses could be read as a critique of the Catholic Church’s treatment of girls/young women pre-Vatican II. Whether that was actually Joel’s motive is up for question. I don’t think he was making fun of Catholic girls, though.
    I can’t speak for my Catholic friend, but I can imagine some Catholics seeing Joel’s narrator as seeking to turn the girl away from the faith just so he can sleep with her. It didn’t occur to me that the narrator may have valid criticisms of the doctrine. (What elements in the lyrics are pre-Vatican II doctrine?)
    Yes, but I’ve met plenty of Americans who literally can’t understand when someone from Birmingham talks.
    The Judas Priest edition of “Behind the Music” had subtitles for bassist Ian Hill – apparently VH1 thought his accent was less comprehensible than those of his bandmates. Is Walsall technically part of Birmingham?

  • cjmr

    FWIW, here’s the applicable portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with regards to the question, “Is it OK to lie to the Nazis about the Jews in the attic?” (The link goes to the entire section on that commandment.)

    2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
    2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

  • Tonio

    the first three girls I ever had dates with were Catholic
    And no, I don’t see myself as Joel in the song in question. I don’t have an explanation, other than I was initially attracted to girls-next-door as opposed to makeup wearers.

  • cjmr

    Tonio,
    It’s more the tone of the text, rather than the words themselves (coupled with Billy Joel’s age) that make me say pre-Vatican II.

  • Ecks

    Totally off topic, major 8 threads ago zombie resurrection:
    Y’know McCain’s advert “The One”?
    Now new and improved (with extra awesome).

  • Jon

    aunursa: What I meant to say: I don’t know of any Christians who define “lie” to include fiction.
    And I wasn’t claiming that there are; I was merely (inadequately, apparently) postulating that someone could hold a belief in a requirement for absolute truth that would, technically, result in fiction being regarded as a lie.
    I will agree that my position could be viewed as a straw man, but my intent – Hey look! Intent is entering into it! – was not to attack anyone, or accuse people of holding beliefs that they don’t hold.
    As I said, ultimately my point was that holding an absolutist position on anything would be largely untenable given human nature, and I attempted to illustrate this by using an example that said if you hold a belief that you must be absolutely honest at all times, this would mean that, technically, writing fiction would be “lying.”
    However, I have seen quotes on places like Rapture Ready in which people have actually stated that they don’t read fiction because they view it to be a form of lying, but I’m not feeling up to going spelunking in fundamentalists forums to find a cite, and the poster could easily be lying anyway, so YMMV on that one, and really such a claim is neither here nor there.
    Really, I was just surprised that no one had put forth the notion of “fiction as lie,” as it’s not an entirely unheard of claim, what with movies being “lies at 24 frames per second,” and the famous line from an issue of The Sandman stating that “all writers are liars.” These are sort of self-aware claims made by people involved in the business of creating works of fiction, and not accusations from rapidly anti-fiction Christians (who don’t exist), but even so, the fact remains that the fiction as lie idea does exist, even if only half-seriously.
    So, to summarize: I don’t think fiction is a lie, there is no immediately apparent evidence (anecdotal or otherwise)at my disposal showing that any groups of Christians believe fiction to be a lie, I’m not accusing Christians of believing that fiction is a lie, and my chosen example to illustrate a hypothetical position sucked.
    Okay?

  • Jon

    D’oh! That should be “And I wasn’t claiming that there are any” and “rapidly” should be replaced with “rabidly.”

  • Jon

    And finally, FWIW, I think a more likely problem within fundy circles is the failure to recognize that fiction isn’t true. No, that’s not Bible snark – though I did once have a co-worker who said “I only read Christian fiction,” and in response, feeling like an evil, god-deying, atheist, I said, “You mean like the Bible?” – but rather a referenced to people like John Todd, who claimed that Atlas Shrugged was actually a blueprint for how the Illuminati was going to take over the world, and Jack Chick, who thinks that things like D&D and the Harry Potter books/movies are training manuals for the occult.

  • Tonio

    I think a more likely problem within fundy circles is the failure to recognize that fiction isn’t true
    That sounds too simplistic. I suspect they don’t see a practical difference between fiction and nonfiction, in terms of (in their view) the influence on the audience. They seem to see the typical person as so vulnerable to the power of storytelling that he/she cannot help but convert to the storyteller’s worldview or agenda. It’s the fundamentalist version of the people-are-stupid argument, where the saved are immune to the storyteller’s pernicious influence while all the rest of the dumb sheep march to their doom. That’s what never made sense about the old fundamentalist rants about rock music – they believed that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” can lead someone to suicide, but they were obviously familiar with the lyrics and they hadn’t tried to off themselves.

  • (Are you classifying Catholicism as fundamentalist?)
    Quite the opposite. One of the things that contributed to my conversion was seeing how studying the faith is encouraged; there are vast numbers of books on religion written by Catholics-they even made saints out of some of those authors!-while Fundamentalists insist that the Bible is all you need and there is only one way to read it.
    But there are fundamentalist Catholics; I’ve seen their websites. What can I say-catholic does mean “universal”; there’s room for everyone :)
    So I doubt that at least the catholics would accommodate such legalistic hair splitting over the false witness commandment.
    *shrugs* I’m Catholic; I brought it up first. I think we’d only get upset about legalistic hair-splitting if it was done for selfish reasons. Lying to get yourself out of well-deserved trouble? Bad. Lying to protect someone (including yourself) from an evil person? Not even going to blink.

  • pepperjackcandy

    To believe in situational ethics, in this subculture, entails believing that there isn’t really any such thing as right or wrong, true or false. It means being groundless, godless and “relativistic” (a closely related bogeyman).
    Ah! So GWB got the fundie vote because he lies consistently, rather than in a relativistic fashion.

  • Judith

    “Basically, such an argument assumes that Satan is not only aware of PMD prophecy, but is actually following it like it’s a script.” ~Jarred
    (scroll down to the other part where I quote you for the short answer)
    Funny thing about Nicolae: He is and he does. Nicolae actually reads the Bible (Well, that should probably be “has people read the Bible for him, and then give him the general idea”. Nicolae is much too rich and powerful to read things himself at this point) so that he can find out when he can kill the witnesses and such.
    When Leon actually stops to think about this for a moment and realizes that if the Bible was right about all of this other stuff, maybe it was right about them too, Nicolae shuts him up with the following counter-argument:
    “Leon! Take a deep breath. Do I act like an antichrist?”
    At which point Leon should have grabbed the nearest heavy object and began beating both of them over the head with it while screaming “YES!!!!!!12111@22111~!!!!” Because Nicolae did act like the antichrist, and he and Leon both knew this. Nicolae was conceived, born, and raised to be Lucifer’s “chosen one” who would over-throw the enemy of Lucifer. His parents made virtually no attempt to hide this from him. Nicolae went through the time in the desert and every one of Jesus’ temptations to prove to Satan that he was ready to be the antichrist, and he rose to power, and Leon helped him rise to power, while fully aware that he was the antichrist, just under a different title. This further backs up my previous idea that Nicolae and Leon must have known that one of their moles were listening in on this conversation.
    No, instead Leon responds with the following:
    “Certainly not, Excellency!”
    And just in case we were stupid enough to think “Geeh, maybe Leon’s right!” JJ and TL decide to make it painfully obvious (and do keep in mind when I say that that this is 5.5 books into the series, and it’s been painfully obvious for about 5 books.) that Leon is wrong:
    “Who do you say that I am?”
    “You know well that I believe in my heart you may be Christ himself.”

    And, having been contradicted by his Beloved Nicolae, Leon has shut down his (normally quite tiny anyway) brain, so neither of them make the connection that “Hmmm… Nicolae? The antichrist? NO WAY! People think that he’s Christ! Nevermind that in this book that’s the definition of the word!”
    “But somehow, I don’t feel that’s what the LB crowd have in mind. I get the impression they really do think Satan is following along with the script faithfully, despite knowing how badly it ends for him.” ~Jarred
    Short answer: Pretty much.
    In the LB universe, Satan/Nicky are very much intentionally* playing along with God. They’re just too stupid to realize it.
    *By which I mean “God told me to shoot these guys on this day, so Imma shoot these guys on this day! IT”S BRILLIANT! HE”LL NEVER SEE IT COMMING!” not “God told me to do this and this and this so I can burn in Hell for all eternity… w00t! Sounds like fun!”

  • Jon: Okay?
    Okay.

  • In Armageddon (Book 11), Nicolae indicates that he knows where Jesus will appear, because it’s in the Bible, and that he will plan accordingly.
    “It is in their Bible,” [Nicolae] said. “And they claim never to lie. We know right where he will be… [T]hat is where we shall be, joined by our victorious forces from Petra, in full force to surprise the son [Jesus] when he arrives.”

  • Ecks

    but the bible also says that “nobody knows the hour”… Not even Jesus, just God. It’s in there, I read it. Uh.
    I’m Catholic; I brought it up first. I think we’d only get upset about legalistic hair-splitting if it was done for selfish reasons.
    Oh, the hair splitting I meant was the claim “false witness only refers to deceptive testifying against people, and doesn’t cover anything but that exact specific type of lie”. I think most christian groups (including catholics) tend to read it more broadly, that lying, generally speaking is teh bad. Extra redundant clarification: There may be times it’s best, but GENERALLY bad.

  • Aha. I had actually generalised it to “lies that cause harm”, which qualifies as hair-splitting :)

  • Me

    This discussion reminds me of the girl during the Columbine murders who was asked right out if she believed in God, and after an affirmative reply was immediately killed.
    Hate to be the one to break it to you, but this is actually an urban myth propagated by her mother (who, in the aftermath of the tragedy, was given an erroneous testimony which she stubbornly clings to despite piles of contrary evidence – so it’s not REALLY her fault, just terribly depressing).

  • Me

    Of course, a friend of mine is married to a Dutch woman (Dutch being the language most closely related to English, apparently), and I don’t think he speaks a word of it. So, meh. But still, Nicholae is supposed to be Mr. Cunning Linguist, so what gives?
    The distinction between Dutch and English, I would argue is notably but not extensively greater than between Romanian and Italian, greater than the difference between French and any of the other Romance Languages, and much greater than the very few distinctions between any of the remaining Romance Languages (maybe Sardinian since it’s so conservative, but still).
    Between Dutch and English, the entire gender system collapses, most of the nominal declensions are forgotten, subordinate word order changes dramatically, the entire vowel system collapsed, and more.
    As far as I know, all of the modern Romance languages more or less preserve Vulgar Latin’s two gender system (although there are a few arguments of Italian having a weak neuter subclass that developed), have experienced minimal major vowel shifts (that was mainly French were most of the distinctions were preserved just in weird forms), and haven’t experienced even half of the syntactic upheaval English went through (and what little there was, it was mainly shared by all of them).
    So, not really.
    Whether Scots, which is sometimes called Doric – which is a Germanic language/dialect absolutely unrelated to Gaelic – is a “language” or a “dialect” is a contested issue. If it is a language, it’s English’s closest kin; if not, then Dutch is.
    To be fair, Scots seems somewhat transparent to me (especially when written). I think there’s more difference between Occitan and French or Catalan and Spanish than English and Doric.

  • Judith

    “And they claim never to lie.”
    …Wait. That’s really in there? Really really? And Nicky took their word for it? That just made my night.

  • Ecks

    Me, while I appreciate the depth of the linguistic knowledge you are sharing with us (really, I do, I’m a total cool-facts geek), your handle is… err, a bit difficult to handle. It’s hard not to read it and think of ME (as in, the real me, Ecks – you see the problem).
    So while it’s terribly witty, and while it is categorically not my place to demand anything about anyone else’s handle whatsoever, might I still request in the very sweetest, demurest, and most sugar heaped possible way that you might give just a tinsy consideration to evolving it into something that doesn’t pass so many wrenches through my internal cogs (I don’t have many to start with, I’m afraid, so am far too easily perturbed).
    Thank you for taking my peevishness well, and do keep up with the awesome posts!

  • Me

    To be honest (ha ha, that’s a funny statement in this thread), I was considering adding a “For the terminally curious / total linguistics nerds” warning prior to my tirade into comparative linguistics.
    For every one else wanting to post something like TL;DR : English and Dutch aren’t as similar as Romanian and Italian. Full stop.

  • Me

    I really, really don’t understand where the whole train of thought that lying is worse than causing the incarceration and probable death of several people (and likely yourself and your family or other cohorts). I suppose, from a rather fundamentalist stance, lying is wrong and it’s the Jews or whoever’s own fault if they’re not saved and that death really is final for them.
    Then again, that shows a level of anti-empathy I just can’t fathom. As much as I find extremists of the missionary sort annoying for most of us and disgusting when it comes to extermination of local cultures (all to frequently in the third world), they at least show that they care enough about the next person over that they want them to not have a horrible afterlife.
    As Fred said earlier, why didn’t they take the post-rapture video to CNN or Fox News (assuming Colmes is still around :P )? They really only care about THEIR personal well being in the afterlife (or maybe the comfort of an immediate relative or a lover/spouse – outside of that, no dice).
    PS – Sorry for a possible double post.

  • Amaryllis

    “It is in their Bible…And they claim never to lie.”
    And Nicky took their word for it?

    But at least he didn’t use a contraction, let alone split his infinitive.

  • inge

    aunursa: I don’t know of any absolutionists [Christians]who define “lie” to include fiction.
    I seem to remember one or two internet kerfuffles where such a definition has come up. But with the internet, you can never be sure if someone was serious, trolling, or in desperate need of coffee.

  • Amaryllis

    I’ve come across the “fiction is lying” attitude in old novels(!) — the first that comes to mind is L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon. Orphaned Emily, born to be a writer, lives with a devout-Christian aunt who truly believes that fiction is the lying work of the devil. I don’t know how widely held such a belief may have been, but it’s been pretty completely overcome if the amount of “inspirational fiction” on my library’s shelves is anything to go by.

  • SchrodingersDuck

    The Judas Priest edition of “Behind the Music” had subtitles for bassist Ian Hill – apparently VH1 thought his accent was less comprehensible than those of his bandmates. Is Walsall technically part of Birmingham?
    No, although it’s in the same county and is connected to Brum via Wolverhampton. The Walsall accent – Black Country – is quite different to a Birmingham accent; in it’s purest form, the dialect differs little from Late Middle English in pronunciation, having skipped out many of the great vowel shifts (for instance, “you” and “go” are pronounced “yo” and “gou”). I doubt Ian Hill speaks pure Black Country, but even so, it can be tricky for untrained ears.