TF: Oratory

TF: Oratory October 26, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 277-279

The "Bible prophecies" on which the Left Behind series is based are not actually in the Bible.

One way of responding to this nonsense, then, is to point that out — to turn to the Bible and look at what it says and what it means and to contrast that with what Tim LaHaye claims it says, pointing out all the gaps, the unsupported leaps, the incoherence of his eisegesis, the inconsistencies, contradictions and outright inventions that form the basis of his premillennial dispensationalist scheme.

That's one approach and I sometimes try to do that here. But it's not the only approach.

We don't need to be experts on the Bible to prove that the "prophecies" of Left Behind are ridiculous. That ridiculousness presents itself on every page of these books. "These things will happen," LaHaye says. "These things are prophesied and therefore they must happen." And without ever consulting the text from which these supposed prophecies are derived we know that this is false — that such things cannot be and will not be because people are not like this.

Human nature will not allow it.

Human nature is the one thing we require from any story for it to ring true. We can accommodate fantastical elements like Nicolae's supernatural mind mojo powers. That's unlike the world as we know it, but we're willing to stretch that far. What we cannot tolerate, though, is the notion — the requirement — that people will cease behaving like people. And that is the premise and prerequisite for most of what happens in these books.

It's not just that we occasionally see a few people behaving strangely or inexplicably, but that everyone behaves inexplicably — the whole world is out of character.

I don't just mean the sort of out-of-character behavior that arises from sloppy writing, where people talk funny or seem to have inappropriate emotional responses. There's plenty of that here, too, but what I'm talking about here is the way in which alien, inhuman behavior is made the necessary driver of this story. The plot depends upon people not acting like people. It depends upon them acting in a way that people have never acted and, being people, will never and would never and can never act. If people in this story behaved like actual people, then this story would not happen.

That makes this a bad story — an unbelievable story that does not ring true.

And that's why it's important to me to demonstrate that Tim LaHaye is wrong when he claims that this unbelievable story is "based on the Bible." As a Christian, I take the Bible rather seriously, so when some propagandist achieves prominence by making the Bible look foolish, portraying it as a fortune cookie that denies and contradicts reality, then I feel obliged to defend it.

All of which is why, when we arrive at a section like today's in Tribulation Force, I want to preface our discussion by again recommending Barbara R. Rossing's The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. It's a quick and accessible read. Rossing surveys the standard and historic Christian understanding of eschatology and neatly shows where LaHaye's scheme departs from it and distorts it.

That's important to keep in mind when you're reading something like this account of Nicolae Carpathia's one-world religion press conference — a baffling bit of impossibility that, even more strangely, is portrayed as being met with unquestioning enthusiasm. This enthusiasm, we're told, stems from Nicolae's preternatural charisma — an attribute the authors keep telling us about but never actually show us:

Carpathia was his typical masterful self, giving all the credit to the leadership of the ecumenical body and endorsing the "historic, perfect idea, whose time is long overdue."

No one present questions this idea of uniting all religions into a single faith, no one challenges the need for it or the desire for it. Nor do they raise any of the obvious questions about how on earth Nicolae plans to reconcile the incompatible teachings of the world's formerly disparate faiths. The enthusiastic crowd doesn't even seem particularly interested in learning more about the as-yet-undisclosed substance of this newly invented religion that they've all just been informed they will have to adopt.

All they've been told of it so far is that it teaches that God stole their children and they must therefore be grateful for this "cleansing" of their families. This strikes everyone as wonderful news and not at all objectionable.

This is what I mean by LaHaye's problem with human nature. Can you imagine any of the humans you're acquainted with responding in this way? Can you imagine a devout Muslim or a confirmed atheist abruptly and cheerfully abandoning their convictions for no apparent reason? Can you imagine a grieving parent of any faith or creed being joyfully receptive to the notion that the world is much better off without their child?

Well, Tim LaHaye can imagine it. He imagines that this mass conversion to an ill-defined new religion is prophesied, so he imagines that exactly this must and will happen.

Having transformed the populace of their novel into the sort of unrecognizably inhuman people who might behave in accordance with this supposed prophecy, LaHaye and Jenkins cannot imagine any further questions these aliens would have except to ask about some of the other unlikely details of LaHaye's prophetic outline:

He took a few questions, including what would happen to the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

That's a reasonable question, considering the End Times prophecy check list. It would seem that the official establishment of a single world religion would make the rebuilding of the temple unnecessary. But both of those things are on the list, so both have to occur here in this story.

Here are four items from that check list that don't all seem easy to reconcile:

1. The Antichrist will establish an official, single, unified one-world government which will absorb and subsume every other nation into itself.

2. The Antichrist will sign a peace treaty with the distinct and separate nation of Israel.

3. The Antichrist will establish an official, single, unified one-world religion which will absorb and subsume every other religion into itself.

4. The Antichrist will rebuild the Jewish temple and the Jews will resume worshipping there.

Those even-numbered prophecies seem kind of odd. If there's only one nation, then how can Israel be a separate entity capable of signing a treaty? And if there's only one religion, then what is the temple for?

The only way to make sense of these prophecies as a whole is to assume that Jews are somehow special. And "special" here would seem to mean that when they talk about "everybody" they of course don't mean that the Jews are included, because they're not part of everybody. In other words, not really a good kind of special to be.

Nicolae doesn't explain this specialness, he just provides a progress report on his little Herod imitation:

"As many of you know, much money has been donated to this cause for decades, and some prefabrication of the temple in other sites has been under way for years. Once the reconstruction begins, completion should be without delay."

It's an Ikea temple. The prefabricated parts will be shipped flat to Jerusalem for assembly, presumably along with an allen wrench and instructions in Swedish hieroglyphics.

No one asks the most pertinent question — Why rebuild the temple if we're all joining this new OWR? — but at least Buck's nameless colleagues in the press corps are astute enough to ask the second-most pertinent question:

"But what happens to the Islamic Dome of the Rock?"

"I am so glad you asked that question," Carpathia said, and Buck wondered if he hadn't planted it.

Yes, Nicolae must have planted that question, because no one could possibly have wondered that without prompting from the Antichrist.

"Our Muslim brothers have agreed to move not only the shrine but also the sacred section of the rock to New Babylon, freeing the Jews to rebuild their temple on what they believe is the original site."

The really fantastic aspect of all this is the clear pride the authors take in what they seem to believe is a simple and elegant solution to centuries of conflict over this contested holy site. We'll just move Al-Aqsa — problem solved! What's that — it can't be moved because it rests on a sacred mountain? OK, then, we'll move the mountain, too — genius!

The authors revel in their triumphant cleverness for having come up with this plan. They seem to be imagining that the rest of the world is kicking itself for not having thought of this sooner, not realizing that this exact solution is attempted all the time wherever there is ethnic conflict or disputed territory. Such relocation, when it applies to people rather than to mountains and mosques, is what we call "ethnic cleansing" and it's not usually as simple or as elegant as LaHaye and Jenkins imagine it to be.

The crowning touch on this howlingly impossible plan is the choice of the Iraqi desert as the new location for the no-longer farthest mosque. What could possibly go wrong?

Keep in mind that this brilliant scheme is what the authors point to when citing Nicolae's "typical masterful self." It's almost as masterful as his brilliant plan to hire Rayford through the strategic sending of anonymous flowers. Or his complex master plan in which he keeps Buck Williams alive in order to … um … wait, I forget — why exactly hasn't he had Buck killed already?

The crowd is so dazzled by this second "historic, perfect idea" that they have no more questions and Nicole wraps things up by again demonstrating that he is the greatest orator of all time:

"And now, if you will indulge me for a moment longer, I would like to say that we clearly are at the most momentous juncture in world history."

Just savor that sentence as an example of oratory. See if you can construct a blander statement for marking such an occasion. See if you can find a less-inspiring phrase to herald "the most momentous juncture in world history" than that one. See if you can bury it and muffle it with a more deadening bit of vacuous throat-clearing than "And now, if you will indulge me for a moment longer, I would like to say that we clearly are …"

We've discussed before the trap that the authors have set for themselves here. They have told us, again and again, that Nicolae is a great orator — that his power to weave words casts a spell over his hearers.

Don't ever do this to yourself as a writer. Don't tell your readers that your hero is a superlative poet unless you're prepared to back that up with examples of her superlative poetry. Don't tell your readers that your hero always comes up with the wittiest and funniest retorts and comments unless you're prepared to support that claim by writing dialogue that would make Groucho and Dorothy Parker jealous.

And don't tell readers that your hero is the world's greatest journalist and your villain is the world's greatest orator if the examples you've written of their reporting and their oratory are laughably awful.

My advice, again, is to avoid superlatives altogether and to avoid trying to portray anyone as the world's greatest anything. But if you must, then stick with the visual arts or music. It'll create a headache for anyone who wants to adapt your story into a movie, but at least readers won't expect to see your characters dance or to hear them sing.

There was never any way Nicolae's oratory was going to live up to the build-up presented by the authors, but it seemed like they didn't even try.  They could have just ripped off great oratory from the past (the Beast from the Abyss, surely, would not be above plagiarism). But instead they just seem to have typed random words.

Seriously, just imagine Neil Armstrong, one foot on the ladder, the other hanging down into the unknown below: "And now, Houston, if you will indulge me for a moment longer, I would like to say that this clearly is one small step …"

That's just horrible.

It get's worse.

"With the consolidation to one form of currency, with the cooperation and toleration of many religions into one, with worldwide disarmament and commitment to peace, the world is truly becoming one. …"

Here again the authors reveal their view of tolerance as a kind of synonym for syncretism. Or, if not quite a synonym, then a slippery slope.

Sure, they say, "tolerance" sounds all nice and tolerant, but where does it end? One day you decide to forgo burning witches and before you know it, you're all dancing naked on Beltane. It starts with a tiny, harmless-seeming step like not expelling your Jews, but before long you wind up denying Christ by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Just look at Massachusetts. One day they stopped hanging Quakers and, next thing you know, gay marriage.

Tolerance, in their view, is dangerous.

I have tried many times to engage this fear of tolerance, tried to persuade people like L&J that their antipathy toward it is misguided — that mutual respect and an affirmation of the rights of others actually strengthens their own rights and freedoms. But this conversation always ends the same way. "Yeah," they say, "well if you're so tolerant, how come you can't tolerate my intolerance?" I've patiently tried to explain that this question makes no logical or grammatical sense, but they're always too busy high-fiving each other and doing their end-zone victory dance to hear me.

That — exactly that — has happened dozens of times, and I only wish that were an exaggeration.

Nicolae mumbles and clears his throat and drones on for another paragraph of gassy preamble leading up to his big revelation of the new names for his new OWG and OWR. Mathews kind of stole his thunder here by already using these names several times earlier in the press conference, but the crowd plays along anyway:

"With the move of the United Nations headquarters to New Babylon will come a new name for our great organization. We will become known as the Global Community!" When the applause finally subsided, Carpathia concluded, "Thus the name of the new one-world religion, Global Community Faith, is precisely appropriate."

So apparently it's not just Buck and Rayford who have been reluctant to accept Nicolae's job offers. It's also everybody he's been trying to hire in marketing.

I appreciate the old saying — the name doesn't make the dystopian dictatorship, the dystopian dictatorship makes the name. But still, "Global Community" doesn't exactly sing, and "Global Community Faith" is even clunkier. The latter sounds like the name of a rundown storefront nondenominational church — Global Community Faith World Outreach Center. The kind of place where a guy calling himself Bishop Hank preaches sermons on chem trails and fluoridation for a tiny congregation of relatives and ex-wives.

I'm picturing a listlessly awkward brainstorming session, with Steve standing by a white board in Nicolae's office while Hattie, Chaim and the Antichrist struggle to come up with names for the OWG. ("How about United Nation — singular?" "Not really a new name, is it?" "I'm putting it up here. Remember the process, people, we're not judging, we're just trying to fill the board.")

After reaching his stirring crescendo — "is precisely appropriate" — Nicolae heads off. While all the other reporters are shouting their final parting questions at the leaders, both Nicolae and Mathews, in turn, work their way over to talk to Buck.

This is to remind readers once again that Buck is super-duper special. Other reporters shout questions at world leaders, but world leaders are lining up to shout questions at him. Plus he's a better wizard than Harry, gets better grades than Hermione, and he's so good looking that he makes Bella, like, totally forget all about Edward and Jacob.

Nicolae, for his part, just wants to remind Buck of the standing job offer. "You tell [Steve] what it will take and we will do it," he says. "That's a promise."

And that's it. Not even a hint of menace or intimidation, which seems a bit disappointing coming from the supposed embodiment of evil.

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