TF: The Cleansing

TF: The Cleansing October 20, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 275-276

The press conference announcing the ill-defined, but legally mandatory, one-world religion continues, with one of the nameless and unimportant non-Buck reporters asking:

"Is there one major tenet you all agree on?" another reporter asks.

This was met with laughter by the participants.

Why the laughter? I think Jerry Jenkins intends it to be nervous laughter, a kind of awkward acknowledgment that the world's formerly disparate religions don't share many particulars in common. I've seen that sort of nervous laughter at real-world interfaith gatherings when someone raises the question of the contradictory doctrines of those assembled, but those real-world interfaith gatherings are utterly unlike this fictional one.

When people from different faiths get together here in the real world it's usually for a specific purpose on which we have all agreed ahead of time to cooperate. Disaster relief, a food drive, a Habitat work project, prayers on behalf of trapped miners or missing children. The priest of the local Catholic parish can stand beside the local rabbi, the local imam and the local Methodist minister and say, "Please donate canned food" or "Please pray that the search party will find Jessica" because they all agree that feeding the hungry and rescuing the lost are Good Things. They're not coming together to argue about the divinity of Christ or the meaning of the sacraments or the five pillars.

Here in Tribulation Force, however, these representatives of the world's many faiths have not gathered to cooperate on some common need or project. They have gathered, explicitly, to combine all of their faiths into one — to splice together whatever lowest common denominators they can find and abandon the rest. And that means, of course, that the representatives of the various religions gathered here cannot actually be representative. Actual devotion to or understanding of one's own faith would disqualify any would-be representative from this confab.

So if theirs is nervous laughter, then it must be due to the thin and uninspiring content of this new global faith they've just made up.

Now, brace yourself, what comes next is a doozy:

Mathews called on a Rastafarian to answer. Through an interpreter he said, "We believe two things concretely. First, in the basic goodness of humankind. Second, that the disappearances were a religious cleansing. Some religions saw many disappear. Others saw very few. Many saw none. But the fact that many were left from each proves that none was better than the other. We will be tolerant of all, believing that the best of us remain."

Oh for goodness sake no. No, no, no. None saw none disappear. None saw very few. The children are gone. Everyone’s children. In 2009, there were more than 1.2 billion children under the age of 10 – that’s hundreds of millions more children than there are “real, true Christians” of the sort that Tim LaHaye believes would qualify for the rapture. The majority of the disappeared would be children – children of every creed, sect and faith.

Nicolae and Cardinal Mathews are personally childless, and perhaps this particular un-Rasta Rastafari is as well, but most Rastafari and Catholics, most Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, pagans, Jews, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Mormons, Wiccans, Anglicans, Sikhs, agnostics and atheists would have had daughters, sons, nieces, nephews or grandchildren. And they would all be gone. The disintegration of the world’s children was indiscriminately perfect – a rain that raineth on the orthodox and the unorthodox alike.

Because this divine child-snatching was indiscriminate, it makes no sense for anyone to believe that it was targeted towards some faiths more than others. And because it was a stealing/slaying of children, it makes even less sense for anyone to speak of it as a purging or “cleansing.”

The idea is monstrous and it would be perceived by everyone in the audience as monstrous. But this is what Jerry Jenkins makes this poor Rastafari say here – that God has improved the world by at last ridding it of these horrible, unworthy children.

Let’s just briefly recap what the speakers at this press conference have done:

1. They have insulted the faith and non-faith of every believer and non-believer on the planet with egregious sacrilege, blasphemy and condescension.

2. They have declared that freedom of conscience is, henceforth, abolished.

3. They have celebrated the loss of every parents’ children as “a religious cleansing” that took away the worst of us.

4. They have attributed the global disappearance of every child to God and, therefore, since “God is us and we are God,” claimed responsibility for the greatest horror ever to befall the human race.

Again, I find it unlikely that Mathews and his coterie would survive this press conference. The frenzy that would immediately result from this series of abominable announcements would not be broadcast by the assembled media because the cameramen would be participating in the riot, knee-deep in the fray, helping to beat that child-hating Rastafari to death with severed limbs torn from the trampled body of Cardinal Mathews.

Well, OK, maybe not quite that bad. But these incendiary announcements and pronouncements, one after the other, would surely produce angry shouting, the hurling of anything handy, and the rushing of the platform. The “basic goodness of humankind” would swiftly prove insufficient protection for anyone fool enough to say such things.

This inevitable anger, of course, is not what LaHaye & Jenkins portray. Instead, they describe each increasingly atrocious assertion as eliciting increasing enthusiasm from the audience. The crowd applauds the dictate that they are no longer free. They cheer the pleasant thought that God has purified the world by getting rid of their children.

Part of the explanation for such a weirdly inappropriate response is that the audience, like the authors, has completely forgotten about the children. This seems so unlikely and strange that it takes a while to accept that this is really what's going on, both here and throughout this book. But look again at what the Rastafari is saying here — "Some saw none" disappear.

The authors have simply forgotten the premise of their own book, forgotten that they began their story by poofing away more than a billion children in the twinkling of an eye. And it's not just this press conference that shows they have forgotten all about those missing children. There are many scenes in this book that simply don't make any sense unless we pretend along with the authors that the vaporization of all those children never occurred.

"Some religions saw many disappear," the Not-Rastafari says. "Others saw very few. Many saw none." And right there, mid-paragraph at the top of page 276, the reader has a choice to make. To go on, to continue reading, you must accept that the premise of the book has changed, that the past has been altered, that the authors words are not reliable. New Rule, the authors are saying, never mind about all those kids.

This is irreparably absurd. The authors would have us accept that for some purposes, all the children of the world have been raptured while, for other purposes, they haven't been. If the reader has qualms about the arbitrary cruelty of young children being counted among the wicked and irredeemable "left behind," then the authors will reassure them not to worry — the innocent children will be raptured and thus spared the relentless punishments of the Tribulation. But for every other aspect of the authors' "prophecy" to be true, to play out the way they imagine and insist it must, the reader is asked to please disregard this absence of children, forget it ever happened and don't expect or allow there to be any consequences of it.

But enough of the unintended absurdities of this paragraph — let's turn to its intentional absurdities. Specifically, let's consider why being "tolerant of all" is held up as a concept worthy of mockery. It's related to this business about "the basic goodness of humankind" — a concept the authors devote a full page to ridiculing here. This ridicule comes through a scene they construct as Buck Pwns the Apostates, wherein they remind us that Buck is, like, way more astuter than all those supposedly "astute religion editors" at the press conference.

Buck moved around to the front and raised his hand. … "Follow-up question for the gentleman at the microphone or Mathews or whomever. How does this tenet of the basic goodness of humankind jibe with the idea that the bad people have been winnowed out? How did they miss possessing this basic goodness?"

No one moved to answer. The Rastafarian looked to Mathews, who stared blankly at Buck. …

Mathews finally took the microphone. "We are not here to debate theology," he said. "I happen to be one of those who believes that the disappearances constituted a cleansing, and that the basic goodness of humankind is the common denominator of those who remain."

Mathews' talk of "a cleansing" is meant to be ridiculous, but not because of the children. Just imagine using that word — "cleansing" — when talking to a parent who had recently lost two children in, say, a car accident or a fire. Imagine opening the morning paper to read: "The Johnson family was cleansed Friday of two children, Brittany Ann, 9, and Jeremy David, 7, who were purged in a purifying housefire." That would be ridiculous and appalling, but this isn't the objection that either Buck or the authors has to what Mathews is saying.

Their objection is that Mathews is contradicting the Christian doctrine of Utter Depravity.

Again, there is no such thing as a Christian doctrine of Utter Depravity. LaHaye and Jenkins are here implying that this idea of "the basic goodness of humankind" is fundamentally opposed to the Christian belief of humanity's sinful nature, but that's not quite right.

Is humanity basically good or basically evil? The Christian answer is "Yes." Or "inextricably both." (We Christians answer a lot of questions this way. See also, for example, "Was Jesus fully divine or fully human?")

L&J don't provide this Christian answer, arguing instead that this is an either/or question. They present Mathews as a cartoon to be mocked, a man who believes that humans are basically good and therefore not at all evil. They think this is ridiculous because they believe the opposite — that humans are basically evil and therefore not at all good.

We don't need to discuss here the whole vast array of biblical and theological arguments for why "basically good" or "basically evil" should not be regarded as wholly exclusive, binary alternatives. All we need to do to demonstrate that is to look at ourselves and each other.

This question of the nature of human nature is not just a diverting abstraction. It matters. It has implications for how we live together. Naively assume that people are all basically good and therefore not at all evil and you'll create a host of problems arising from that error. Cynically assume that people are all basically evil and therefore not at all good and you'll create a corresponding host of problems.

But an even more dangerous set of problems arises if you assume one of the mirror-image errors shared by Cardinal Mathews or the authors.

The authors sneer at Mathews' notion of a "cleansing," but actually they agree with him. It really was, they believe, a cleansing, a purging, a separating of the righteous from the unrighteous, the worthy from the unworthy. After the "cleansing," Mathews says, the evil are gone and "those who remain" are good. The authors, conversely, contend that after the cleansing, the good are gone and the left behind are evil.

What they both share, in other words, is the idea that some people are basically good and therefore not at all evil while the others are basically evil and therefore not at all good. The problems this assumption about human nature creates tend to be lethal.

This is why tolerance is mocked here. The authors' perspective provides no basis for it. They view tolerance as illegitimate.

If we believe that all humans are both intrinsically valuable and intrinsically fallible, then we are compelled to be tolerant of others in recognition of their worth and dignity and of our own humble and partial and likely flawed perspective. But if we believe that we are special because LaHayeJesus has set us apart and made us basically good, then we don't need to tolerate those others who remain basically evil. They wouldn't need or deserve tolerance. What they would need is to be given a chance to accept LaHayeJesus and thereby be made good, or to reject LaHayeJesus and therefore be swept away in Tribulation and damnation for eternity because they're nothing but evil and they deserve it.

Cardinal Mathews, still off-balance from Buck's awesomely clever questioning, decides to call in the closer and segues into an abrupt introduction of the "man of the hour":

"I happen to be one of those who believes that the disappearances constituted a cleansing, that the basic goodness of humankind is the common denominator of those who remain. And this basic goodness is found in greater measure in no one other than United Nations Secretary-General Nicolae Carpathia. Welcome him, please!"

The platform erupted with religious leaders cheering.

I was saddened to discover here that Nicolae does not reprise his earlier star-making performance at the U.N. I was really, really hoping that we would be treated to another rousing alphabetical list — "Advaita Vedanta … Adventist … Ahmadiyya …" — repeating each name in nine languages as representatives from each sect stand in turn, cheering and weeping with joy until, hours later, the Zoroastrians at last are called to their feet to join the raucous celebration.

But no, he just takes a bunch of questions from reporters. We'll get to those next week. I'm too disappointed just now to continue.

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