NRA: Marchons, marchons!

NRA: Marchons, marchons! July 20, 2012

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 34-35

Buck Williams can’t figure out what to do with the church.

He and Chloe have arrived at New Hope Village Church where they broke the news to poor Loretta about the death of Bruce Barnes. But now what? The nominal leader of this congregation is dead. What will they do next?

For that matter, what were they doing before?

Buck doesn’t have any idea. Neither do the authors. They’re big fans of the church in the abstract, but when it comes right down to it, they can’t really say what it’s for. They can’t figure out what to do with this church because they can’t figure out what any church is supposed to be doing.

This is a direct consequence of Tim LaHaye’s theology. We’ve discussed before how his “Bible prophecy” scheme tends to ruin storytelling. It seems like all this End Times stuff should make a thrilling backdrop for a work of fiction. But once you get into the theology of it, you start to realize it won’t allow for much in the way of thrills. When everything is prophesied and pre-ordained just so, there’s no room left for human agency. Your characters can do things, but they can’t do anything that matters.

And LaHaye’s premillennial dispensationalist theology presents the same problem for the church as it does for would-be storytellers. It leaves no room for the church to do anything that matters.

In the grand scheme of PMD thinking, we’re now living in the “church age” — a parenthetical hiccup in God’s great timeline during which nothing much of importance happens. What is the role of the church in the “church age”? Mostly, it’s sitting around and waiting for it to be over — waiting for Jesus to come back (sort of) to rapture us all off to Heaven where we’ll have front-row seats to watch the apocalyptic fireworks below.

Just like Buck sitting there in the office at New Hope, premillennial dispensationalist theologians can’t figure out what to do with the church.

NHVC was, initially, the home base for the Tribulation Force. But that small group made up only a tiny fraction of the church’s total membership. Why those others were excluded from the “force” rather than recruited into it has always been a mystery. Also a mystery: what all those other people have been doing while Rayford and Buck were flying and driving and phoning around.

Three of the four Trib Force members moved away from this church more than a year ago, and Bruce has spent much of that time traveling abroad. So who was leading this church while Bruce was away? And what was the church being led to do? It seems as though the authors have no idea. We readers certainly don’t.

Buck could find out here. This is his chance to ask Loretta what’s been going on at New Hope outside of Bruce’s long-departed “inner circle” and its secret mission. But Buck doesn’t bother to ask. He simply takes charge without bothering to figure out what it is he’s taking charge of.

And with Buck in charge, you know what that means — To the phones!

Chloe worked with Loretta in fashioning a terse, two-sentence statement that was sent out by phone to the six names at the top of the prayer chain list. Each would call others who would call others, and the news would quickly spread throughout the New Hope body.

Given his odd fascination with telephony, it’s not surprising that Jerry Jenkins would include this use of a “prayer chain” here. It’s actually a nice touch — one of the most realistic and recognizable details of real life in a late-20th century evangelical church.

Younger readers might not have heard of prayer chains or phone trees before. They were an efficient and elegant means of spreading the word in the days before the Internet, email or texting. Jenkins does a nice job there in describing how they worked — and they did work. We had a prayer chain list just like this in the church I grew up in, but phone chains and phone trees were also useful for all sorts of other, more secular purposes as well. Our soccer team had one, for example, so that all our parents would know when we were returning to the school after a long road trip and they could be there to pick us up.

Phone chains have mostly disappeared now, with Facebook and email serving the same function even more efficiently, but the thought here of this sort of thing is tantalizing. Here is an aspect of local church culture that would serve this community well if they were to take on the role of an anti-Antichrist underground. They already have their subversive clandestine communications network set up.

But again, alas, they don’t seem to have any sense of what they might do as an anti-Antichrist underground, or why such a network might be useful.

The “news” relayed here via the phone chain is, of course, the news that their pastor is dead. This is certainly important news for the church, but Buck and Chloe seem to think it’s the only newsworthy news for “the New Hope body.” I imagine that Loretta — my Loretta, not Jenkins’ southern-belle impostor — knows better. I imagine that she’s been working the prayer chain all day to keep the congregation informed of the status of all of its various members.

She lives here, after all. Unlike Buck and Chloe, Loretta and the rest of the congregation live here in the area, where a missile strike at the hospital and a perhaps-nuclear blast at the airport must surely have affected the lives of every member of the church. The prayer-chain phones have likely been ringing all day with news of NHVC members who were killed or injured or displaced in the attacks.

When Buck and Chloe arrived, they found Loretta “sitting stiffly in the outer office staring at the television” and weeping as she watched reports of the blast at the hospital. They assumed that all of her tears were for Bruce, and I imagine she didn’t see any reason to correct them. What would be the use? She knew Buck had met the Emersons more than once, but she was sure he wouldn’t remember them, so there’d be no point in telling him that no one has heard from them since they went to pick up their son at the airport.

“No point in letting Jenkins know about the Emersons, either,” Loretta thought to herself while the author’s head was turned. “He wouldn’t care either.” And so none of that made it into the book.

You know Buck won’t let Chloe and Loretta hog all the phone fun here:

Meanwhile, Buck recorded a brief message on the answering machine that simply said: “The tragic news of Pastor Bruce’s death is true. Elder Rayford Steele saw him and believes he may have died before any explosives hit the hospital. Please do not come to the church, as there will be no meetings or services or further announcements until Sunday at the regular time.” Buck turned the ringer off on the phone and directed all calls to the answering machine, which soon began clicking every few minutes, as more and more parishioners called in for confirmation. Buck knew Sunday morning’s meeting would be packed.

Chicago is under attack as World War III has broken out and the pastor is dead, but “there will be no meetings or services or further announcements until Sunday at the regular time.” This coming Sunday, Buck thinks, the church will be “packed.”

I doubt it. If this church has nothing to offer people right here and right now, then what could it possibly have to offer them on Sunday? If the outbreak of war doesn’t turn New Hope into a hive of activity — prayer vigils, care-package assembly, bandage-rolling, gathering for comfort, etc. — then there’s no reason to think that the calendar flipping to Sunday will suddenly transform it into the relevant, useful or meaningful place it has failed to be the rest of the week.

“There will be no meetings or services,” Buck’s message says. And for him those words are really just synonyms. For Buck, and for the authors, this is what “service” consists of — hosting “meetings.” This is the only “service” the church can provide.

But the church will meet on Sunday morning, as usual. Why? What for? Apparently because that’s what churches do — they hold meetings on Sunday mornings, and sometimes they hold other meetings to plan those Sunday-morning meetings or to figure out ways to boost the attendance at such meetings. But neither Buck nor the authors seems to have any idea what a church could or should be doing other than that.

And again, that’s characteristic of Tim LaHaye’s PMD theology. This is what the church does in the premillennial dispensationalist “church age” — it meets on Sundays and it waits for Jesus to come back.

This is why the Tribulation Force had to be conceived and commissioned as something separate from the church. The Trib Force (in theory, at least) has a mission and an agenda in the world — “to stand and fight the enemies of God during the seven most chaotic years the planet will ever see.” The church, and any given local church, has no such agenda or mission.

This inert, inactive local church is particularly strange to see here in the world of this novel, sitting there like a lump “during the seven most chaotic years the planet will ever see.” The Antichrist now reigns supreme as an imperial sovereign who demands the allegiance of everyone on earth. The nameless, faceless parishioners at New Hope are supposed to be opposed to all that — their allegiance is supposed to lie elsewhere. Yet they’re not doing anything about it.

Nicolae Carpathia has already established a mandatory one-world religion, the “Enigma Babylon One World Faith.” Yet New Hope Village Church hasn’t been closed down and they haven’t had to take their operations underground. They’ve been allowed to flout the EBOWF and to continue holding their Sunday morning meetings — probably because Nicolae realizes these do-nothings don’t pose any threat to his reign or to his legitimacy. There’s no reason for him to crack down on this church as though it was a stealthy gathering of dangerous insurgents, because it’s nothing like that. Nicolae doesn’t even mind the sermons they hear at their Sunday meetings — recitations of the End Times check lists that, at this point in the game, amount to little more than a weather report.

It would be a different story if this church were actually doing something — if it were the kind of church where Buck’s answering machine message announced an emergency meeting, a midnight vigil, and a call for volunteers to assemble at the church immediately before heading out to respond to the bomb-blasted and war-ravaged parts of the community. That kind of church would be a threat to Nicolae’s EBOWF and to his empire. That kind of church wouldn’t be able to operate freely and openly the way NHVC does.

If New Hope were actually doing anything, this is what attending there would be like:

RICK: Now you finish locking up, will you, Carl?

CARL: I will. Then I am going to the meeting of the —

RICK: (interrupting) — Don’t tell me where you’re going.

CARL: I won’t.

RICK: Goodnight.

CARL: Goodnight, Monsieur Rick.

That’s from Casablanca — a story set in territory under the puppet regime of a beastly empire.

My favorite scene from Casablanca — and thus one of my favorite scenes, period — shows what a gathering at New Hope Village Church ought to be like:

That is what it should mean to sing hymns in church under the reign of the imperial beast. John of Patmos would understand that scene. I don’t think Tim LaHaye would.

Maj. Strasser orders Rick’s Cafe closed because he’s just seen something dangerous, something that poses a real threat to the reign of the empire. New Hope Village Church poses no such threat to the Antichrist.

The members of NHVC may sing the hymns of another kingdom, but Nicolae knows they don’t intend to do anything about it. They may pray “thy kingdom come,” but he knows that for them it’s nothing more than “prophecy” talk — a hollow reference to some wholly future event that has nothing to do with the present and no bearing on their lives here in this world.

These people are no threat to the Beast. They can’t figure out what to do with the church.

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  • Hawker40

    Looking over it in my head, the ‘good hygiene’ advice my father gave me (among other pieces of advice on the subject) seems to be something you tell a 14 year old boy looking for his first girlfriend, not something to be told to a 25 year old man looking for a long term relationship.  It’s the step one basics that a grownup should already know and not need to be told, especially not by another (alleged) grown up.  I think the next time I give this advice, I will assume that the adult I’m speaking to knows this* and skip straight to the second paragraph.

    *Unless I have visual/olfactory evidence to the contrary.

  • Lori

     Yeah, that makes sense. Puberty can be a really ugly time and new stinks one doesn’t quite know how to deal with can be a big part of that. And yes, some adults are not as attentive to personal hygiene as they should be. They’re a pretty small percentage of the population though, even if the population in question is only the unhappily single.

    It occurs to me that one possible reason the stinky guy thing comes up over and over again is that SG is noticeable in a way that many other single-and-looking folks are note. It’s not like all single people wander around wearing a scarlet S or something. There are some really unpleasant attitudes toward the involuntarily single so a lot of people don’t bring it up or try to sort of smooth it over by saying that they’re not really looking.

    That perfectly lovely person who you assume would have no trouble finding an SO and who says s/he is “just too busy to date right now” or whatever* may actually be really bummed about being single and just not want to say that because it invites the kind of dumb, crappy input that we’ve been discussing. So the perfectly nice people who just haven’t been blessed with finding someone yet are kind of invisible singles, and Stinky Guy ends up seeming like Single Guy when he really isn’t.

    *To be clear, there are plenty of people who actually are single and not looking. Not everyone who says that they’re too busy or just not feeling it or whatever is lying. However, some of the people who say that are either trying to dodge a conversation they know from experience they will not enjoy or are trying to put a good face on a situation that they would rather was different. Unless you know the person well you can’t really know so you have to assume that when people say they’re not looking, they’re not looking. Just don’t let that lead you to believe that all single-and-looking folks are Stinky Guy or Gal or the King or Queen of Neurosislandia or Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

  • ako

    It seems like someone started off trying to come up with a list of stuff a person actually should stay away from.   (If the person you’re dating is prone to ridiculing you behind your back, prone to putting all of the blame for every relationship problem on you, pressures you for sex with no consideration for your feelings, or tortures animals, then the best thing you can do is get away immediately.)  Only whoever put the list wasn’t sorting through it carefully, and it expanded to include stuff that was merely a potential issue (untreated depression, a history of abuse without ‘enough’ therapy, etc.), and stuff that really seems to be a matter of individual tastes and circumstances (like the whole “ZOMG, COMIC FANS!  FLEE!” thing).

    People should start with the basics of personal grooming, and anyone who hasn’t mastered that should get some advice on working on the basics.  But “just bathe” as general advice is both incredibly lazy (because it’s the easiest thing to think of), and incredibly insulting (because it carries the connotation of “Single?  Well, obviously you must be walking around in food-stained sweatpants and a cloud of your own stench everywhere!”)

  • fraser

     My wife has utter disdain for my comic book collection, but she married me anyway, the poor, deluded fool.
    The bit that annoyed me most was “A man is who he is by his 16th birthday. Don’t enter a relationship
    expecting him to change.”
    “Don’t expect to change him” is a staple of advice and makes sense, I think (although obviously if you’re building a life for two, things will change just because–well, there’s two of you). But stuck with the first sentence? I’ve changed a lot since I was 16. Most people I know have.

  • Rhubarbarian82


    “Men who have juvenile hobbies such as comic book or action figure collections. This is a huge sign that they’re not all the way grown up.”

    These lists always end up there, don’t they? A guy I went to college with, who works as an animator at Disney feature, would tell women he works at a pot dispensary, rather than his actual job. It’s by no means a universal rule, but a lot of people assume the people working in animation or games are all just giant man-children.

    I never bothered to try to hide it; if a potential partner is genuinely bothered by that, then they aren’t anyone I want to spend any amount of time with in any capacity. There are way worse things to spend money on than a pretty modest toy/figure collection.* I’m pretty lucky in that it’s usually okay with my girlfriend, so long as I buy a double to give to her, haha.

    I do remember the single-bashing threads, and that was about the point where I stopped checking the comments on TypePad. I was freelancing at the time, and – surprise! – having to work from home pretty much murders your chances at stumbling into someone you might develop a relationship with. Once you hit your late 20s, you start to realize that everyone has paired up at this point, so you can’t find new people through your friends. Remove school and work, and those are really the three main ways people meet people.

    *There are genuinely creepy figure collections, though; I will be the first one to tell you.

  • There are way worse things to spend money on than a pretty modest toy/figure collection.

    Yeah, it’s funny how people are judged for their hobbies the moment they hint that they would like to have a SO. 

    Reminds me of Spoony’s review of the movie Mazes and Monsters:

    “My god!  People are using role-playing games as a healthy outlet to deal with their real-life problems?  Those evil bastards!”

    And yeah, I don’t see much of a point in hiding your interests, or giving them up (thereby making yourself unhappy), because your hobby supposedly renders you a dateless loser by default.  If a guy can’t handle the fact that I’m into science fiction and gaming and watching bad movies for fun, why would I want to waste time for both of us by pretending?

    It’s a pretty silly theory anyway–if my nerdy dad and hippie-artsy mom managed to find each other, there’s hope for all of us.  ;)

  • hidden_urchin

    If a guy can’t handle the fact that I’m into science fiction and gaming and watching bad movies for fun, why would I want to waste time for both of us by pretending?

    Indeed.  Love me, love my P-51 Mustang telephone.

  • Lori

    The whole issue of which hobbies or interests make you an acceptable or unacceptable candidate for being loved is just a big old sinkhole of gender essentialism and it gave me a major twitch even when I was happily coupled.

    The chick with way too many shoes is a stereotype (problem #1), but for some reason no one asks a woman if she owns too many pairs of shoes to be worth loving then way they ask guys if they own too many comic books or action figures (problem #2). Why? AFAIKT it’s mostly because massive shoe collections are considered part and parcel of beautifying oneself to attract a mate and are thus considered legit in a way that action figures are not.  That’s problem# 3 & 4. At that point I stop counting because the whole thing is giving me a fury headache.

  • Formerconservative

    Being into sci fi, gaming and watching bad movies for fun is a turn on as far as I’m concerned.

  • Dan Audy

    Absolutely, my wife and I started dating having known each other casually for 6 years when we were out with a big group at a movie and we both shouted the same heckling comment at the screen at the same time.  We got a good laugh about it and decided to ditch the rest of the group and get some tea rather than going out drinking afterwards and found out we really enjoyed each others company and had similar outlooks and interests.


    The bit that annoyed me most was “A man is who he is by his 16th birthday. Don’t enter a relationship expecting him to change.”
    expect to change him” is a staple of advice and makes sense, I think
    (although obviously if you’re building a life for two, things will
    change just because–well, there’s two of you). But stuck with the first
    sentence? I’ve changed a lot since I was 16. Most people I know have.

    Heck, the human brain isn’t even fully developed at 16. There are plenty of neurological changes still to come, even apart from learning experiences.

    At 16, I wasn’t yet a feminist or a Quaker. I’d say those developments were pretty significant changes.

  • fraser

     A fairly standard perception at the time of the Jarrett book. I read a couple more books which tackled gaming as a plot element and invariably a)someone gets an unhealthy obsession with the game b)the protagonist’s personal journey requires growing up and stopping playing.

  • Joe Smith

    Keep in mind that these are “red flags,” not “Dealbreakers.”   I agree that you ought to take a good think before getting involved with an addict and there are some creepy comic book guys out there, but hey,  look at each situation.

  • Zoetrope

    I am a long time lurker/almost never poster (2007ish?) from both sites before the switch. I frequented the Slacktiverse, as well as Pantheos, but then pretty much just switched to Pantheos completely after some time. Discovered the whole thing cause of the “Left Behind” Posts, and stayed for some of the wisdom. Despite disagreeing on the belief in Christianity (because it’s not for me), I fully respect Fred because he stays true to his beliefs and clearly has a good heart. In any case, it is also not up to me to tell others how to live their lives, and if certain things make them happy, then it is not my place to say otherwise unless they are harming others. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending Fred! I can’t quite word what I want to say correctly…

    I have just read all of these comments, as I used to read the comments a fair bit back in the day before my life got too busy to follow my random sites I was interested in. Had no real idea why the Slacktiverse got shut down, but understand it now, and I have my own unusual personal analogy that seems to reflect how shit went down there. This may be redundant (being a 5 month old thread anyway) but thought I’d throw in my 2p.

    Before anything: I gotta say that acts of aggression or hostility by either hosts or guests in any environment are completely out of hand. They are also sometimes unavoidable. It’s how they get handled by  both sides which serve as a reflection of the people involved. I admit I personally don’t know these people involved in this discussion here, so mean no offence with my analogy coming up.

    I do full time work in bookselling and make music in my spare time.  I am based in London, UK. I try to do my own hip hop music that is a honest reflection of me, which thus does not conform to the accent/attitude of my fellow performers. I don’t follow the tropes as such. This is my honesty, but it also has given many many people a dismissive superiority over me, as I have been subject to abuse many many times during performances. This is a different story, so it is irrelevant for right now. The point I am getting at is I have travelled on the circuit all over London, and found that the nights I am most comfortable in are Mixed Nights which are Comedy/Poets/Guitarists/MC’s (me) and all kinds of random joy. The demeanor of the host also obviously plays a huge factor here.

    On the other hand, there is a place that I can’t stand. I used to support a place that was exclusively Poetry and MC’s when it first opened. (strictly Poetry nights do tend to have awful vibes) I will call it Ell-See for the purposes of this analogy. I went to this night regularly because I will always support new places and people. Ell-See is on once a month, and two years back it was free entry. I wasn’t any good back then (despite 4 years of work at this previous), but I still persevered, and showed my support. Over time the whole demeanour of this place changed in a very negative way. The ironic thing is that the night was starting to be promoted as a positive and uplifting place to be for all this time. I still went and supported it, despite it looking like they wanted to drive me away. Free entry became £5 entry. 5mins on stage became 3mins on stage. Beats became Acapella. Many Open Spots became 8 Maximum.  A lot of that is obviously to do with demand rising as the night was becoming more successful, but it was clear the way it was starting to go. They formed their own Ell-See Collective who didn’t need to pay entry and got extended slots. Long term supporters like me and a few others got ignored and felt under-appreciated. My friend, who also does the same as me, bailed out on this night much earlier. That was a wise move.

    (In fact, there was only one other long term supporter who only just got inducted into the Collective. He has a disability, so I don’t know whether that prejudice factors into that. I personally wonder why he wasn’t invited to join them sooner. He should have, with the support he always gave them.)

     Basically the night was starting to become a sycophantic showcase. Everyone was  blowing their own trumpets, not acting with any humility or generosity, and becoming a lot more judgemental of others outside the inner circle. There was also a lot more pandering to the hosts in attempts to curry favour. My material is generally quite bleak, as I have been in/and am in a very dark patch right now. Because my words did not fit into their designs for the night, it meant that whenever I performed I was given subtle hints to fuck off. I was originally confused as they specify that this night is so open and accepting! My feelings about the place changed so dramatically over a period of time that the whole thing was becoming untenable for me. After I did one performance one time, the host did another one directly after mine to remove whatever impression I would have left with the audience. It meant that my regular monthly attendance dropped so much I decided I would give it one more shot in 2012. I did that. The host introduced me that one time by saying “We accept all types of hip hop here”. Surely if you do, there is no need to say it directly before I perform unless there is a caveat? Unless you are implying that really I am not welcome here? I still performed. All the other performers (including the Open Mic ones) had
    laviscious praise heaped upon them while I got hardly any love from
    anyone.  Whether I am any good or not is irrelevant. It is all about how I was made to feel in this supposedly open minded environment.

    That was my last time at that night, and I have no intention to ever return. I still think about it a bit, because I invested a lot of my time in supporting it in the early days. I think about how I’ve been treated there, and wish there was a like minded community for MC’s who don’t conform to their judgements and prejudice. I’m different to them, and I’m fine with it. If the community is open and inclusive, and parades itself as being so, I expect it to do what it says on the tin. Not to be faced with hidden knives as I slowly realised appearances and touted values were not as they seemed. If I could help to build my own community with its own values in this way, I would. But you always need sturdy foundations, and to their credit, they certainly have that.

    All this means that when I created and executed my first big event this last month gone, I didn’t invite any of them to it, because they were unsupportive and clearly prejudiced against my own artistic expressions. It is hard to show love to the people who never show it to you.

    There is my long imperfect analogy… I’m sorry about the length, but this has been a bugbear for me, and I can see common parallels with what ensued between members of both communities over here. I hope people can relate to mine, but understand that I’m coming a bit left-field here.