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TF: EBOWF

TF: EBOWF July 19, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 401-402

One possibility is that Jerry Jenkins had in mind a rough list of developments planned to take place in the second book and a general goal for that book of about 450 pages. After typing up the first 17 chapters, then, he found himself 400 pages along with most of those developments still unmentioned. So Jenkins thus skips ahead 18 months and spits out the final 50 pages in a hasty, jumbled rush, skipping from topic to topic without any attempt to tie it all together.

That’s one theory, and it may almost explain why the final chapters of Tribulation Force are such an incoherent mess.

Almost. The problem, though, is that theory can’t quite account for how thoroughly disjointed and scatterbrained these finally chapters actually are. They read as though they were dictated while Jenkins was distracted with some other task. Like maybe they were dictated while he was driving in heavy traffic. Or while he was driving in heavy traffic and simultaneously carrying on a conversation with his passenger about some completely unrelated subject. Or maybe all of that, with the passenger being an IRS special agent conducting a 20-year audit of Jenkins’ finances while holding a crying baby.

My alternate theory isn’t entirely satisfying either. That one holds that Jenkins, realizing the plot of this novel is far too implausible and contradictory to be believed, deliberately crammed all the action in the book into the last 50 pages in the hopes that by slamming readers with a barrage of rapid-fire plot developments they will be unable to focus enough on any given thread of the story to realize how ridiculous it all is or to protest that any supposed prophecy requiring such events all to occur just can’t be taken seriously.

This part of Tribulation Force is a weird, stream-of-subconsciousness summary of what has transpired in the past 18 months. Bruce Barnes, we learn:

… had instituted a program of house churches, small groups that met all over the suburbs and throughout the state in anticipation of the day when the assembling of the saints would be outlawed. It wouldn’t be long.

And while he’s been busy creating this network of secretive underground cells, we’re told in the same paragraph, he’s also watched “the ministry of the two witnesses and Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah swell to fill the largest stadiums on the globe.”

So in a single paragraph we’re told that the persecuted believers are gradually losing their freedom to assemble while at the same time new believers are joining the church in mass-gatherings at giant stadiums all over the world.

And while your brain is trying to figure out how both of those things could be true at the same time, or how the new believers from these high-profile stadium revival meetings could be secretly channeled into the underground house churches, your eye is already moving on to the next paragraph:

The 144,000 Jewish evangelists were represented in every country, often infiltrating colleges and universities.

I’m still disappointed that the authors did not maintain their purported “literal interpretation of Revelation” standard and portray these 144,000 evangelists as singing virgins. I’m also not sure why they’re bothering to “infiltrate” colleges and universities. Trying to influence academia is generally a smart approach if you’re looking to influence future generations, but here in the world of Tribulation Force we know that there won’t be any future generations. I’d like to think that this would be part of the message those evangelists are bringing to college students. If you’re talking to some pre-med undergraduate who’s preparing to spend the next eight years in school and you know for a fact that the universe is going to be destroyed in five and a half years, then I think you’re obliged to mention that.

But what really strikes me there is that word “infiltrating.” That implies an entire missiology and ecclesiology — one that views institutions of learning as enemy territory and views scholars, scientists and students as enemy agents. The apostle Paul did not “infiltrate” the Areopagus or the city of Ephesus. Even Jonah did not think of himself as “infiltrating” Ninevah.

Yet before you have time to think this through any further, you encounter the next sentence and yet another jarring non sequitur:

Millions and millions had become believers, but as faith had grown, crime and mayhem had increased as well.

So the growth of faith brings crime and mayhem? I think what the authors mean there is that even as “faith had grown,” crime and mayhem were keeping pace by growing among a distinct and separate group of non-believers. It’s hard to be sure, though, because once again they assert the existence of this rampant crime and mayhem, but we still never see it anywhere in the world they describe.

This phantom post-Rapture crime wave, as we’ve discussed before, reflects the authors’ misunderstanding of the doctrine of “total depravity,” which they seem to believe means instead that human nature is utterly depraved. The Calvinist/Augustinian idea of “total depravity” holds that humanity’s sinful nature is pervasive — infusing every aspect of our being, but it does not hold that this pervasive fallenness is absolute. The idea, in other words, is that we humans are rotten to the core, but not that our core consists entirely and exclusively of rot.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins believe in utter depravity, meaning that without the presence of real, true Christians as salt and light to preserve this world, the rest of humanity will revert to our unrestrained nature, becoming barbarians or Reavers or the Sawyer family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

At some level I suppose it’s necessary for them to suspect that this is what Everyone Else is really like, because otherwise the wrath and cruelty they believe will be poured out on Everyone Else would seem like overkill and an injustice. Their eschatology works like any other revenge fantasy, so just like the villains in Lethal Weapon 2 or Death Wish 3, we non-RTCs have to be portrayed as utterly, irredeemably wicked so as to allow the audience to cheer our violent death without any qualms or qualifications.

It’s understandable if you find this characterization a bit offensive. “Hey, wait a minute,” you may protest, “I’m not a drug-dealing racist Afrikaaner and I never killed Riggs’ wife or girlfriend or kidnapped Murtaugh’s daughter.” But try to keep in mind that LaHaye and Jenkins aren’t just accusing you of being such a villain — they’re also saying the same would be true of them if they had not accepted Jesus as their personallordandsavior. Their confused doctrine of utter depravity holds that absent the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, every human would constantly be engaged in every form of monstrous, lurid, predatory behavior they could get away with. Even a moment of self-reflection should cause them to question that belief, to realize it’s incompatible with what they know to be true of themselves and of others. So it becomes yet another one of those beliefs that requires them to guard against even a moment of self-reflection.

All of which is to say that, yes, this notion of widespread crime and mayhem suggests that the authors believe some rather nasty and untrue things about you, but that’s partly due to their attempt to believe some rather nasty and untrue things about themselves. So any offense you might take at the crime-and-mayhem accusation should be tempered with a heavy dose of pity.

The chapter continues like a museum tour conducted at a brisk jog, Jenkins leading us past one display after another too quickly to take much of it in or to try to associate what he’s saying with what we’re seeing. And next up here on your left is the new One World Religion, led by the new pope:

Already there was pressure from the Global Community North American government outpost in Washington, D.C., to convert all churches into official branches of what was now called Enigma Babylon One World Faith.

Or EBOWF, for short. I can’t imagine anyone I’ve ever known or met or heard of actually wanting to join anything like the EBOWF. It’s organizing principle is that everything that everyone everywhere has ever previously believed must be rejected and replaced with substanceless pablum. That’s not a compelling sales pitch, and unlike the authors I can’t in any way imagine hundreds of millions of Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, Mormons, Animists and atheists stampeding to sign up.

Just trying to imagine such a thing brings to mind the myriad insurmountable objections that all these many different kinds of believers and nonbelievers would have to the entire project of this one world religion. And considering the gravity and seriousness of all those weighty objections, it seems a bit trifling to complain about the name of this new global church. That name, I think, would be pretty far down the long list of reasons that no one would willingly join. But that name would still have to be included somewhere on that list, because such an awful, hideous, clumsy name would still be a deal-breaker for most people.

“Enigma Babylon One World Faith.” That’s just horrible.

It’s taken from LaHaye’s weird, selectively literal reading of Revelation 17. One part of that chapter reads, in the New King James Version the authors prefer:

I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

The seven-headed beast, the angel tells John of Patmos, represents “seven mountains on which the woman is seated.” And just in case that hint isn’t sufficient, the angel drops a bunch more that this mother of all whores is a symbol of Rome. John, writing about Roman oppression while still under Roman oppression, couldn’t just come right out and say “Rome,” but when a first-century writer sitting in the middle of the Roman Empire writes, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth,” there isn’t more than one way to understand what he’s saying.

During the sectarian violence that characterized the West in the centuries following the Protestant Reformation, it became popular among some anti-Catholic Protestants to suppose that the mother of all whores in Revelation 17 was not the imperial city of Rome, but rather the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church — as though the passage concluded with the angel saying, “The woman you saw is the church based in the city that used to rule over the kings of the earth.”

I believe that the proper reading of John’s Apocalypse is as a condemnation of all oppression, all oppressors and all oppressive systems. For some 16th- or 17th-century Protestants, the Vatican actually was an oppressor, and their application of this text for their context would have been an appropriate appropriation. The same thing would have been true for a Catholic experiencing religious oppression under one of the Protestant regimes of the time.

Revelation 17 is about Imperial Rome, and probably specifically about Imperial Rome under the tyrant Nero or the tyrant Domitian. But what it says about those particular tyrants applies equally to all tyrants and to all tyranny and it is never inaccurate for those living under tyranny to apply the meaning of this chapter to their context. To do so is to follow the example of John himself who, like the author of Daniel, was able to write openly of his oppressor by giving it the name of that earlier, archetypal oppressor, Babylon.

That’s my take on Revelation 17, but it is not at all what Tim LaHaye would call a “literal reading.” Such a “literal” approach, however, could never possibly lead one to the conclusion LaHaye has arrived at here — that “Mystery, Babylon” is a church or a religion. That’s folklore derived from centuries-old Protestant propaganda and it’s wholly unsupported by the text. I do not see how LaHaye can take the text, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth,” and claim that this ought to be “literally interpreted” as a reference to something like EBOWF.

The one-world religion was headed by the new Pope Peter, formerly Peter Mathews of the United States. He had ushered in what he called “a new era of tolerance and unity” among the major religions.

Neither “tolerance” nor “unity” ought to be such a difficult word to understand. Yet here again, as they do throughout this series of books, the authors seem not to have the slightest grasp of what those words mean, misusing and abusing them beyond all recognition.

This Babylonian pope becomes the straw-man embodying the authors’ deformed, warped misunderstanding of the word “tolerance,” allowing them yet again to repeat one of their favorite bits of imbecile sophistry: If you’re so tolerant, then why won’t you tolerate my intolerance? Hah! Gotcha! (See earlier: The Stupid Brigade.)

The biggest enemy of Enigma Babylon, which had taken over the Vatican as its headquarters, were the millions of people who believed that Jesus was the only way to God.

“To say arbitrarily,” Pontifex Maximus Peter wrote in an official Enigma Babylon declaration, “that the Jewish and Protestant Bible, containing only the Old and New Testaments, is the final authority for faith and practice, represents the height of intolerance and disunity. … Adherents to that false doctrine are hereby considered heretics.”

The authors despise their cartoonish villain Pope Peter because in their view he gets everything precisely backwards. It’s not those who embrace the “Protestant Bible” as “the final authority for faith and practice” who ought to be branded as heretics — it’s Everyone Else. The authors are all for branding heretics and they don’t really mind any of the coercive tactics the EBOWF pope uses to enforce religious hegemony, they just think he’s enforcing the wrong religion.

One could read these pages in Tribulation Force and conclude that LaHaye & Jenkins genuinely just don’t comprehend what tolerance means, but I don’t think that’s true. I do not think anyone repeating the “If you’re so tolerant, why don’t you tolerate my intolerance” idiocy is ever being genuine.

It is simply not possible for anyone to argue something that astonishingly stupid in good faith. To be capable of speech is to be too smart to imagine this is anything more than semantic nonsense. I called it “sophistry” above, but that’s over-generous — anyone mistaking such foolishness for cleverness would have flunked out freshman year.

And yet this sort of thought-strangling semantic looping remains popular, not just among say-anything-for-attention Internet trolls, but even among some who seem otherwise smart enough to know better. John C. Calhoun, for example, often employed a parallel pseudo-argument. Abolitionists say they’re for freedom, Calhoun said, but they’re trying to take away our freedom to own slaves!

Calhoun was not a complete moron, yet he employed the same completely moronic, sub-sophistry trick — the same tail-swallowing semantic folderol, the same disingenuous accusation of hypocrisy based on the pretense of misunderstanding the concept (in his case, pretending to misunderstand “freedom” rather than pretending to misunderstand “tolerance”). So why would a smart person ever think that something so astonishingly stupid was a clever argument?

I think it gets back to what I’ve argued before — that moral choices can produce a kind of willful, self-inflicted, chosen stupidity. Moral choices can place other concerns ahead of the truth, causing us to become out of step with reality, i.e., to think and to act stupidly.

I’ve discussed this before mainly with regard to bigotry and to self-righteous indignation. Both of those elevate a pretense of superiority above reason and reality and thus lead those who make that choice to become more stupid than they would otherwise be. The defense of privilege is often another such intelligence-stifling moral choice — whether it be Calhoun’s choice to defend the privilege of the slaveowner or LaHaye & Jenkins’ choice to defend the privilege of hegemonic religion.

That willful, chosen stupidity is on display throughout the rest of this series of books as EBOWF is repeatedly and unironically described by the authors as “tolerant.”

I don’t believe that the authors are really so dumb as to think that “tolerant” means “suppressing all dissent.” But I do believe they have chosen to be that dumb.

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