T.F.: By the rivers of Babylon

T.F.: By the rivers of Babylon April 17, 2009

Tribulation Force, pp. 21-27

After spending much of the first chapter presenting their notion of the Proper Limited Role for Women, the authors begin Chapter 2 with some reflections on Manliness. Both of these discussions are excruciating, but where the previous one was often infuriating, this one is just kind of awkwardly embarrassing.

Godly manly men must be manly, it seems, yet still in touch with their feelings — but not in, like, a gay way or anything. Manly men thus weep and hug and share, but only provided that they also always feel an appropriate manly discomfort in doing so. We see this demonstrated by each of the last surviving Promise Keepers. From Buck:

Buck didn't know how to respond when Rayford Steele greeted him warmly. He appreciated the warmth, but something nagged at him and he held back a little. He still wasn't quite comfortable with this kind of affection …

And from Rayford:

Rayford was new to this kind of sensitivity. Before his wife and son had disappeared, he had not wept in years. He had always considered emotion weak and unmanly. … Uncomfortable, Rayford looked away.

And from Bruce:

Bruce had smiled at Rayford's story of getting into trouble on the job, and he had smiled when Buck arrived. Suddenly, however, Bruce's face had clouded over. His smile had vanished and he was having trouble composing himself. … [He] pressed his lips together to keep them from quivering. His eyes were filling. … Bruce was a different kind of guy. He had always communicated in his own way and in his own time.

Bruce spends most of the next 10 pages in this struggling-for-composure mode. The authors reassure us constantly, though, that this is an expression of Bruce's godly fervor and of his blunt honesty, which requires a kind of courage and thus is also an expression of manliness. (The virtues all seem to be gendered here in the world of Left Behind. Courage belongs to men, temperance to women.)

The source of Bruce's anguish here and the cause of this hastily assembled emergency meeting of the Tribulation Force is an astonishing new development, a discovery he's made from his long days and sleepless nights "poring over the Bible and commentaries" while simultaneously watching CNN.

Bruce looked up. "Now I know what people meant when they said they feasted on the Word. Sometimes I sit drinking it in for hours, losing track of time, forgetting to eat, weeping and praying. Sometimes I just slip from my chair and fall to my knees, calling out to God to make it clear to me. Most frightening of all, he's doing just that."

Buck noticed Rayford and Chloe nodding. He was newer at this than they were, but he felt that same hunger and thirst for the Bible. But what was Bruce getting at? Was he saying that God had revealed something to him?

The suspense has me nodding off — I mean nodding along — too. What is it, Bruce? What has God revealed to you that caused you to call this emergency meeting?

Finally, Bruce Barnes reveals his revelation: He has figured out the identity of the Antichrist. It's that new leader of that new One World Government — Nicolae Carpathia. 

Now to you and I this might seem like old news. Carpathia's identity as the Antichrist of this story was obvious from the get-go, and it was explicitly acknowledged hundreds of pages ago. The whole reason Buck is here in Chicago, after all, is because he was just in a room with the Antichrist as he was being all kinds of Antichrist-y, twirling his waxed mustache with bloodstained fingers and saying things like, "Bwah, bwah, I am the Antichrist! Scary, scaaary!" (I'm paraphrasing.)

But while this has all been spelled out previously both to readers and to the members of the TF Quartet, the authors haven't yet provided a full-length summary of the Antichrist Check List. Bruce corrects that here:

"Don't you see? We know Nicolae Carpathia is the Antichrist. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Buck's story of Carpathia's supernatural hypnotic power and the murder of those two men is ridiculous. Even so, there's plenty of evidence that Carpathia fits the prophetic descriptions. He's deceptive. He's charming. People are flocking to support him. He has been thrust to power, seemingly against his own wishes. He's pushing a one-world government, a one-world currency, a treaty with Israel, moving the U.N. to Babylon. That alone proves it. What are the odds that one man would promote all those things and not be the Antichrist?"

That's a pretty good summary of how LaHaye and Jenkins view the world. This is their reflexive response to the arrival of every new president, prime minister, MP, mayor or justice of the peace. Each must be viewed as a potential Antichrist Candidate and evaluated according to this check list.

  • Deceptive
  • charming
  • people flocking to support him
  • thrust to power
  • pushing a OWG
  • pushing a OWC
  • pushing a treaty with Israel
  • moving the U.N. to Babylon
  • supernatural hypnotic power (optional)

The tricky thing about this check list, as we've seen, is that these words don't seem to mean the same thing for L&J that they mean for the rest of us.

"Deceptive," for example, doesn't necessarily mean lying or dishonest, but rather that the AC is suspected of having a nefarious secret agenda. If no evidence can be found to support this suspicion, that lack of evidence is interpreted as evidence that this particular AC is dangerously adept at keeping his nefarious hidden agenda well-hidden. Thus every AC can be said to meet this criterion.

We've already discussed on several occasions how "pushing a one-world government" here means something more like "insufficiently belligerent and suspiciously irenic." That, coupled with the dreaded "treaty with Israel," is why L&J and all Rapture enthusiasts suspect anyone who utters the word "peace" of being the Antichrist.

That's a change from the view of apocalyptic types from older times. They used to fear people like Napoleon — those who sought to conquer the world through force, riding forth on literal, flesh-and-blood white horses, intent on empire. But to premillennial dispensationalists, would-be imperialists get a pass. They're obviously not "peacemakers," so there's no need to worry that they might be the Antichrist. This is another example of how the PMD view that the Antichrist will be a wolf in sheep's clothing leads them to be suspicious of all sheep while being complacent about wolves. They're not fearfully vigilant against the rise of the next Napoleon or the next Caesar or the next Pharaoh — they're keeping watch against the rise of the next John Lennon. Imagine that.

I suspect this is related to another curious linguistic feature of L&J's books and, indeed, of nearly all PMD literature. In these writings, the phrase "one world government" appears repeatedly, almost incessantly, but the word "empire" is almost never used.

My guess is that this is partly a defense mechanism. PMDs have developed an instinctive arms-length avoidance of any potential mention or allusion to anything that might prompt one to think of the Roman Empire. It's very, very important to them that no one think of the Roman Empire when reading the book of Revelation. Thus even though "empire" is a more concise and more precise term for this thing that PMDs fear, it's too fraught with historical meaning for them to use.

The clumsy, less accurate phrase they have settled on as a replacement is also telling. It comes laden with all sorts of ugly connotations that reveal quite a bit about the intellectual family tree of PMDism in general and of Tim LaHaye in particular. Apart from PMD literature, you're most like to encounter the phrase "one world government" only in John Birch Society tracts or in even more explicitly hateful "Protocols," "diaries" and manifestos. LaHaye et. al. don't like to talk about that side of the family, but their use of this phrase keeps bringing it up.

Anyway, the reason for Bruce's recitation of this check list here is that Nicolae Carpathia has apparently just announced that this very list of things is his own agenda as the new leader of the newly established OWG. This is meant to be the Big Reveal, so to ensure the full dramatic effect with as much immediacy as possible, Jenkins decides to relay this to us third-hand, by having Bruce tell the others about how he learned this from CNN.

"He announced it through his media guy, your former boss, what's his name?"


"Right. Steve Plank. They held a press conference so he could inform the media that Carpathia would be unavailable for several days while he conducted strategic high-level meetings."

So to recap there, this is a huge news story. The key players in this huge news story are Buck Williams' best friend and the world leader he met with several times during the previous several days.

And Buck got scooped on this story by CNN and, apparently, by just about every other working journalist on the planet. Buck didn't even see others' coverage of this huge story because at the precise moment his best friend was on television revealing the details of the huge story that he completely failed to cover he was preoccupied with petty retribution against a co-worker. He was upset with her because she was insufficiently deferential to his awesome journalistic prowess.

"He said that Carpathia, while not seeking the position of leadership, felt an obligation to move quickly to unite the world in a move toward peace. He has assigned task forces to implement the disarming of the nations of the world and to confirm that it has been done. He is having the 10 percent of the weaponry that is not destroyed from each nation shipped to Babylon, which he has renamed New Babylon. The international financial community, whose representatives were already in New York for meetings, has been charged with the responsibility of settling on one currency. …"

Stop. Just make it stop.

Deep breath.

OK, obviously trying to unpack just that one insane paragraph — to respond reasonably or logically or to assess the political plausibility or desirability or even the logistical possibility of each part of Nicolae's crazy-quilt six-impossible-things-before-breakfast agenda — is more than we can hope to accomplish here in a single post. And it gets worse. There's more.

Plus I've already skimmed past some things we'll have to double back to look at — like another retrofit patchwork attempt to make us think Rayford has been grieving, or the mash note Buck left in Chloe's locker. So obviously we're going to need to revisit these pages a bit.

But before we go let's just pick one absurdity for closer inspection:

"… shipped to Babylon, which he has renamed New Babylon."

Why not to Troy or to Machu Picchu? What possible purpose could there be for establishing a global capital in an ancient lost city in the Iraqi desert?

L&J's answer, of course, is that it's the fulfillment of prophecy. That explains why this has to happen in their novel — it explains the authors' motive for this relocation, but it doesn't explain the character's motive. Why would Nicolae want to relocate there? Why not, say, back home in Cluj?

We have to assume that Nicolae is working off the same Antichrist Check List that Bruce and the authors are using. Apart from the whole problem of these supposed prophecies also insisting that he's doomed in the end, you'd think poor Nicolae would find the arbitrariness of his appointed tasks a source of frustration and bewilderment. "OK, what do I have to do next? Babylon. You're serious? Why, exactly, would I want to do that? Babylon doesn't even have an airfield, so how am I supposed to transport 10 percent of the world's arsenal to …?"

Unlike the poor Antichrist, the authors don't need to worry about any of the logistical impracticalities of their prophecies. They just have to recite them, in order, and to inform their readers that what has been foretold has come to pass.

But again, why Babylon? Well, it's in the Bible. The Bible actually mentions Babylon quite a bit. The prophets just go on and on about it.

L&J would say that sure, the liberals and doubters and Jews will say that this is because the Babylonian Emp– … Babylonian OWG was an actual place whose actual army actually inv
aded Judah and carried the people of
f into actual exile. And those liberals will go on to speak of Babylon as a symbol for exile more generally, getting all metaphorical the way that liberals and doubters always do. But L&J know they're all reading this backwards. The actual exile of the people of Judah was really, in L&J's view, just a metaphor — a prophetic foreshadowing of the far more important future New Babylon to be established by the Antichrist any day now. If those stories weren't all about predicting and foretelling, then why do they call them prophets, huh? The other references to Babylon throughout the scriptures, those references that the liberals interpret as metonymy for exile, those should all, in L&J's view, be interpreted "literally" — as references to the coming, actual New Babylon.

So when, for example, John the Revelator speaks of Babylon it's not because he was writing to people who were, like Daniel, living as exiles and resident aliens in a hostile, foreign empire, but because he was writing to people like us — to 21st-century Protestant Christians whose lives will, at any moment now, be interrupted by the Rapture and the rise of an Antichrist we won't still be around to see, but who will, among other things, establish as the capital of his OWG a city called New Babylon.

That is what the word "Babylon" means to Tim LaHaye. That is what every mention of the word Babylon — whether in the New Testament or in the Hebrew scriptures — means to Tim LaHaye. That and only that. This is, again, what he means when he says he reads the Bible "literally."

Pick up a reggae album at random. Any reggae album. Listen to it and you will find a far more accurate, reliable and theologically sound exegesis of the meaning of Babylon than you will ever get from Tim LaHaye or any other so-called "prophecy expert."

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  • ako

    I’ve had dreams, and I’ve had what I’m pretty sure are hallucinations (once under the influence of general anesthetic – I’m pretty sure the penguins were only there because I was expecting them) and some of them form a somewhat coherent picture, and some seem to bear a strange and interesting relationship to my future reality. Although none of them ever gave me the vision feeling.
    I don’t know what that means. Just that it’s very hard to tell, from this end, what the distinction is.

  • Alex Scott

    They also generally prove actually useful. They tell me something. Sometimes I have to work out what they’re telling me and what to do with that, but it’s useful one I do work it out.
    Thanks for saying that. I think I may have risked saying that these experiences are completely unreliable, when sometimes, really, it’s just that we shouldn’t take them at face value, or stop our spiritual journey with them. Just like the Bible!
    My mom, for example, had a vision, unprovoked, nearly thirty years ago, that she still remembers in clear detail. It’s part of what made her become a Catholic. And I just don’t feel I have any right to pick it apart. Especially since the content of the vision, the way she described it to me, was–I’ll say it–so insightful.

  • I must confess curiosity as to how someone could trust visions.
    It is trivially easy to induce the human mind into seeing things that aren’t there (or remembering things that didn’t happen. Indeed, it’s especially good at mis-remembering what it saw when it saw things that weren’t there.) it’s pretty clear most of these times that the hallucination is not some deeper truth (unless the neon elephants with the trombones have deep cosmic significance.)
    So how is it that a vision can be trusted? How do you know it’s not just your brain playing tricks on you? I’ve yet to hear of anyone learning something new from a vision or, indeed, anything coming out of it that isn’t 100% subjective.

  • hapax

    Well, as in so many things, it’s… Not Like That.
    I mean, I’ve had plenty of hallucinations, too — dreams, migraines, over-tiredness, artificial chemical inducements. And I’ve had auditory (not visual) experiences while in deep prayer and meditation.
    And my response to all of them has been pretty much the same: “Hmm. Interesting / pretty / creepy / whatever, now go away.” My feeling about people who undergo spiritual discipline in order to deliberately induce visions is pretty much the same as my reaction to people who take recreational drugs for the same reason: “Okay, if that’s how you want to amuse yourself, but ummm, please make sure you’re seated in a closed room and don’t tell me about it, mmkay?”
    I personally find rummaging about in my own head to be *quite* astonishing enough when I’m concentrating on that whole rationality bit.
    Now I *have* had experiences that I do consider to be encounters with the Divine, that I have zero personal doubts about their authenticity. In fact, this absolute unquestioning bone- (and soul-) deep conviction is possibly the defining characteristic of said experiences — I’m far more likely to seriously consider the whole Brain-Inna-Jar hypothesis than I am to doubt whether those were genuine.
    But they weren’t “visions”, or “sounds”, or anything sensory at all, except insofar as *I* am a physical being, and hence automatically translate all experiences through the medium of my senses. One of the reason that I don’t talk about them much, or try to describe them (besides being really nobody else’s business, and evidentiary for nobody but me) is that any attempt to put the experience in words reduces it thereby to a third- or fourth-hand translation that becomes such a badly muddled metaphor as to be senseless and silly.
    I do think I recognize it, though — catch an echo, as it were — when someone is talking about something similar. Tillich’s “Being.” Moses’s “I AM”. What my priest calls “The Great Yes.”
    All of which, of course, can be certainly be sensibly explained as a shared delusion, the crossing of a common neurological tripwire. I don’t know anyone personally who has experienced such a thing who considers it “evidence” for anyone else. I don’t know anyone personally who has experienced such a thing who considers it anything less than absolutely trustworthy, more “real” and “true” indeed than their own existence.
    So. Is “something new” being learned? Hardly. In a sense, the something being learned — or affirmed, perhaps — is the oldest Something there is.
    Iwas lucky enough to be watching my son the afternoon he really learned to read, and I could literally see the moment when it all “clicked” for him, the moment the trigger flipped, and marks on a page became words, which could be built into stories. He didn’t “learn something new” — nothing which millions of people hadn’t already learned, nothing which he hadn’t accepted intellectually for months and months already.
    But he was never quite the same person again, either.

  • Julie paradox

    Um, sorry to sound picky, but: Psalm 137? Anyone?

  • cyllan

    I don’t know anyone personally who has experienced such a thing who considers it anything less than absolutely trustworthy, more “real” and “true” indeed than their own existence.
    I’m with Hapax on this one. I’ve had encounters with the Divine that are (I believe) probably on the same level. Because we’re different people, I suspect that the nature of those encounters were slightly different, but she’s right. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what I felt was as Real as I am.
    I am enough of a rationalist to say that my experiences could just be some sort of odd neuro-wiring, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I’m just an odd bit of neuro-wiring when you get right down to it. Also every time I stray too close to the “Oh, I didn’t REALLY experience that” line, I wind up going through the whole thing again, and it’s a sufficiently frankly terrifying (awe-inspiring) experience that I’d like to keep the repeats to a minimum.

  • hapax

    Psalm 137? Anyone?
    Yay for the bashing babies’ brains against rocks!
    That’ll teach the little b*stards to scream while I’m trying to sleep…

  • Adam Cuerden

    Um, you realised this isn’t categorised as Left Behind, right?

  • On encounters with the divine, I wrote about an experience I had about a year ago that I never really did figure out.
    (http://ksej.livejournal.com/167188.html, in case the link doesn’t make it)

  • I guess my problem with such visions is that I have memories that I know, beyond all doubt, are real.
    Save that they’re impossible.
    Objective sources (such as pictures, or written stuff) contradict them. My brain doesn’t care about that, it knows what it remembers, and reality-be-damned, as it were.
    Still, I think that pressing this any further is going to be far too confrontational of me. I can accept that others could see such feelings as genuine, I never would be able to. I don’t trust myself enough to do so.

  • Tonio

    When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.
    Paine appeared concerned with the content of the revelation. My point has to do with whether there is communication happening in the first place. And my first-person concept is this – if I say I have the 10K Maniacs version of “Because the Night” in my head, no one else would actually know if this was the case. They would only know that I say I have that earworm, and I could be lying. Or I could be mistaken and have the Patty Smith original version in my head. That has to do with limitations of knowledge, and given that limitation in that case, it would be even more fantastic if I suggested that the earworm originated from a celestial iPod.

  • ako

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what I felt was as Real as I am.
    I think this is one of those cases where I’m not going to understand it, and it’s best all around to accept that I’m not going to understand it. Because I’ve never felt anything like that, and I don’t entirely understand the feeling from what you’re describing.
    But I’ve got no problem with leaving it as something I don’t understand, as long as it’s with like you guys, who don’t expect me to take it as objective reality.

  • Tonio

    They also generally prove actually useful. They tell me something. Sometimes I have to work out what they’re telling me and what to do with that, but it’s useful one I do work it out.
    I can see your point. That sounds like the argument for using Tarot to suggest new perspectives. I’m attempting to view the matter as if I were the editor of an encyclopedia, where I want to answer the question of whether there is an outside agency causing the visions or Tarot readings. The usefulness of these is a separate issue.

  • lonespark

    Bad things happen because good stuff happens and there’s big humongous cosmic pattern that’s in balance. Plus wyrd. No omnibenevolent anything. No sin. I believe in the gods and various other spiritual beings, but their existence is mostly irrelevant to the question, because I don’t think it makes a damn bit of sense to define anything as good or bad by human reckoning in anything but human terms. Gods can keep their own accounting, as can polar bears, spirochetes, and the Q.

  • lonespark

    To me, it seems that suffering has a *use* rather than a *purpose*. But the use of suffering is personal; that is, each of us decides to what use we will put suffering, if any.
    I agree with this, although I don’t tend to deal in the concept of suffering. I’d say much pain has a use. And that when Wendell Berry writes, of right living that “its hardship is its possibility,” that applies to the unlikely horribly wonderful phenomenon of life in general and human life in particular. Pain doesn’t have a purpose any more or less than salt or sunlight or the tide. We can give it purpose, take purpose from it, and perhaps other being can, too. Even gods, if such there be.

  • lonespark

    GDwarf, it’s hardly true that every religious statement amounts to asserting a universal truth. “I felt the presence of my ancestors,” “Such and such practice gets me/us/our church closer to god,” or even “This holy book states x,” really aren’t equivalent to “everyone loves my girlfriend.” There certainly are religious authorities making statements about universal truth, or at least truths they wish to make universal. “This book is sacred/this practice is blasphemous/etc. isn’t untrue…but those things aren’t universally true either. However, most religious practice by individuals and communities has a lot more of the individual first kind of statement.

  • lonespark

    On behalf of all people who don’t not believe in elves, (and faeries too, I suppose) I protest! It is to be war between us! If my demands are not met, a disaster beyond your imagination…
    No, wait, it isn’t Thursday, is it?
    Carry on, then.

  • lonespark

    Hey wintermute,
    If I ever get a chance to work your speaker/pulsar analogy into a Toastmasters speech and give you credit, would that be ok?

  • lonespark

    So, Hobbits share the Doom of Man? Or so we think? What about Dwarves?

  • lonespark

    This is a bit off most of our topics and
    and I don’t really want to start flames,
    and I shall introduce myself slowly by saying the hilzoy at Obsidian Wings had some fantastic posts about abuse and the difficulty of leaving that also touched this much better than I can…
    somebody who chooses to believe an abuser loves them despite the evidence, because that belief makes them happy… I think we can agree that doesn’t end well.
    Yeah, it’s unlikely to end well. I don’t see that we can say that means the abusive person doesn’t love them. Love is complex, human beings are complex. Sometimes the people who love you are really bad at love. Sometimes they’re broken. Sometimes they’re sick.
    Love itself, with a capital letter and an independent existence as an ideal, may bear and endure all things, but people can’t and generally shouldn’t.

  • lonespark

    Or, MB, maybe flowers in Valinor would appear as flaming balls of Helium / big hunks of rock to us puny mortals? Like the different dimenional things mentioned earlier?

  • Caravelle

    Ionespark : Yeah, it’s unlikely to end well. I don’t see that we can say that means the abusive person doesn’t love them. Love is complex, human beings are complex. Sometimes the people who love you are really bad at love. Sometimes they’re broken. Sometimes they’re sick.
    I agree, I was being a bit shortcutty. It might have been better to say “people who believe their abuser will change”, “people who believe things will be better if they stay with their abuser”, or “people who believe their abuser loving them is at all relevant given, loving or not, he/she’s abusing them and seems unable or unwilling to change this”, something like that.
    I don’t think it detracts from the point I was making.
    Or, MB, maybe flowers in Valinor would appear as flaming balls of Helium / big hunks of rock to us puny mortals? Like the different dimenional things mentioned earlier?
    I thought of making this point, but don’t Elves exist in Valinor ? Except for the physical perfection and the immortality they aren’t portrayed as that different from humans, but if Valinor is so… cosmic… shouldn’t they also be, to live there ?

  • lonespark

    Hmmm, yes, but elves can be bicultural code-switchers, or have different eyes/souls…ok, I was being hasty, just like a mortal, Treebeard must chastise me. Also my spelling of dimensional.
    And speaking of the sun…
    The latest issue of Idunna came last week, and one of the articles talked about what the sun is and means, comparing our scientific knowlege of “a mass of incandescent gas,” with the seasonal and symbolic spiritual significance of Sunna/Sol…and then, in a bout of synchronicity, that Monty Python music video was played on Sunday in church.

  • hf

    Caravelle: elves that have actually gone to Valinor do appear as light to Frodo’s Ring-sight.

  • This post doesn’t show up on the “Left Behind” page

    What the tag said … this post doesn’t show up on the “Left Behind” main page.

  • How are you. God creates men, but they choose each other.
    I am from Nicaragua and learning to read in English, tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Cheap dvd movies for sale from online cheap dvds huge cult movies.”
    Thank you very much :o. Cleveland.

  • Well, on Hobbits and Valinor, I just finished an essay called “Arda of the Hobbits” (link in sig) which I hope the Tolkien fans here will enjoy. Or if you don’t like it, I get a pie in the face, right?
    I prefer chocolate.

  • s_noe

    The first time anyone told me about Babylon, I was the passenger on a car trip from eastern Pennsylvania to New York. (My first such trip – grew up in California.) We were in New Jersey on the turnpike (I think), went up over a hill, and saw the crazy landscape of chemical plants/warehouses stretched out below us.
    The driver pointed out and said, “Babylon.” Suddenly I understood (overstood!) what all those reggae songs were talking about.