NRA: Papa don’t preach

NRA: Papa don’t preach February 3, 2015

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 293-299

Hattie Durham is pregnant. The would-be father is Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist — the culmination of superlative evil and the enemy of God. He is a man the authors describe as worse than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Nero, Pol Pot, Charles Manson and Idi Amin combined. Nicolae is a beast. He is the beast with:

… seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast is like unto a leopard, and his feet are as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

If any man have an ear, let him hear.

So not really marriage material, this guy.

Hattie’s situation is unique in all of human history. Given such a wholly unprecedented, unparalleled predicament, it would seem like the authors have only two choices here. They could emphasize the uniqueness of this monstrous pregnancy and treat it as the exceptional situation that it surely is. Or else they could seek to make it more broadly relatable or applicable by treating it as a metaphor for less unusual circumstances. (Hattie fell in love with a charming, charismatic man and then woke up with a soul-less Beast from the pit of Hell. That could serve as a metaphor, I think, particularly given that this book was first published at the same time that Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was being broadcast.)

But the authors here don’t do either of those things. They dismiss or ignore the exceptional nature of Hattie’s situation — even though this requires them to ignore their own title for this book. Rather than find some way to make her unique dilemma a metaphor for some wider human experience, they pretend there’s nothing unique about it at all. It’s just a pregnancy, and for the authors, every pregnancy is exactly alike.

Rosemary
“Hattie, what do you think your options are?” Rayford asked.

Which is to say that, for the authors, every pregnancy is an opportunity to talk about abortion. And that is what they do for the rest of this chapter. This is an extended conversation between Rayford Steele and Hattie Durham in which Rayford attempts to convince Hattie that abortion is immoral and not a legitimate option for her.

Actually, that’s not quite right. This isn’t so much a conversation between Rayford and Hattie as a ritual recitation of the authors’ arguments against abortion in the abstract. Rayford isn’t an individual in this scene, he’s the Generic Anti-abortion Male who serves as the mouthpiece for the authors’ arguments. And Hattie Durham is not an individual either. She’s not a former flight attendant turned tyrant’s girlfriend, but simply the Generic Untrustworthy Woman (or, really, just the Generic Woman, since for the authors “Untrustworthy Woman” is redundant). This isn’t Hattie Durham talking here. It’s just Generic Woman offering caricatured comments to serve as a foil for the moral superiority of Generic Anti-abortion Male.

Regardless of what one thinks about abortion, this scene doesn’t contribute to the conversation about it in any constructive way. It’s an exercise in tribal affiliation rather than an argument designed or intended to persuade. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are writing here for an audience they assume already is — and must be — anti-abortion. Those readers do not need to be convinced that abortion is immoral, and LaHaye and Jenkins aren’t trying to convince them of that here. Their point, rather, is to convince those readers that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins share their opposition to abortion. The point is to convince readers that LaHaye and Jenkins are unassailably part of the anti-abortion tribe.

On that level — and only on that level — this chapter succeeds. That is the one clear point that the authors communicate here. Do you wonder if LaHaye and Jenkins are anti-abortion? Wonder no more. They are.

But this performative display of anti-abortion bona fides* isn’t likely to persuade anyone to change their mind on the subject. It won’t begin to cause anyone who supports legal abortion to question that support. Nor will it cause anyone who opposes legal abortion to reaffirm that support. That’s not what this was written to do.

The authors’ first concern regarding Hattie’s pregnancy is not that the would-be father is the Antichrist. Their first concern is that word, “pregnancy.” The authors do not like that word. They see it as a dangerous euphemism employed by untrustworthy, selfish womenfolk:

Most troubling to Rayford was Hattie’s turmoil over her pregnancy. He wished she would refer to what she was carrying as a child. But it was a pregnancy to her, an unwanted pregnancy. It may not have been at the beginning, but now, given her state of mind, she did not want to give birth to Nicolae Carpathia’s child. She didn’t refer to it as a child or even a baby.

The authors believe this is not just significant, but nefarious. Hattie may not yet have a “baby bump,” but the authors insist she’s already got herself a baby — a child. Yet she stubbornly refuses to use those words — child, baby, toddler, firstborn, offspring, infant.

Hattie isn’t solely to blame for her deadly euphemizing. The English language itself is guilty here. It’s an infernal linguistic conspiracy dating back centuries, designed by Satan himself to deny the full personhood of these unborn teens. English-speakers have long devised a whole host of such euphemisms, all with denotations and connotations deviously designed to make the distinction that Rayford here laments and rejects.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Antichrist chose to make English his official one-world language. Nor is it any wonder that English-speakers have such a hard time grasping Rayford’s point here.

Rayford had the difficult task of trying to plead his case without being too obvious. He had asked her, “Hattie, what do you think your options are?”

Hattie has known Rayford for a long time, so she’s used to that sort of question from him. It’s just one of his little quirks — like the way he insists on being called “Captain.” She’s come to terms with that, and she long ago learned to suppress the desire to punch him in his condescending throat.

That’s why she’s able here to stifle the justifiable urge to say, “What do you mean what do I think my options are? If you want to lecture me on what you think my options are, then just say it. But don’t sit there waiting for me to beg you to correct what you imagine my misperceptions are, you pompous, self-righteous jerk.”

She might think that, but she doesn’t bother saying it. Instead, she says this:

“I know there are only three, Rayford. Every woman has to consider these three options when she’s pregnant.”

Not every woman, Rayford thought.

The authors, and Rayford, all imagine that Rayford is able to think such things without those thoughts showing plainly on his face. That has never, ever happened in all of human history. For millennia, men like Rayford have looked at women like Hattie while thinking precisely those same thoughts. And every time, every single time, those thoughts were transparently displayed on the man’s face.

All of which is to say that Hattie’s throat-punching restraint throughout this scene is really remarkable.

Hattie had continued: “I can carry it to term and keep it, which I don’t want to do. I can put it up for adoption, but I’m not sure I want to endure the entire pregnancy and birth process. And, of course, I can terminate the pregnancy.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“What do you mean ‘what does that mean?'” Hattie had said. “Terminate the pregnancy means terminate the pregnancy.”

“You mean have an abortion?”

Hattie had stared at him like he was an imbecile. “Yes! What did you think I meant?”

“Well, it just seems you’re using language that makes it sound like the easiest option.”

“It is the easiest option, Rayford …”

The authors here are continuing their sermon on what they see as the dangerously euphemistic language that enables baby-killers like Hattie to avoid acknowledging their monstrously evil intent. The authors see “terminate the pregnancy” as an Orwellian phrase Hattie prefers because she’s scared to say the word “abortion.”

Weirdly, though, even in a scene in which Hattie is being sketched as the broadest caricature of a vapid, selfish straw-woman, she’s not the one who’s recoiling from that word here. Rayford seems more afraid of that word than she does.

Still, though, in defense of the authors’ main point here about euphemisms, while Hattie may offer an emphatic “Yes!” to the word “abortion,” you’ll notice she still shies away from describing this option as “snuffing out the fully human life of my precious, adorable baby in an act that is precisely equivalent to murder because a fetus is morally indistinguishable from any other human person.” So obviously she’s still euphemizing.

“It is the easiest option, Rayford. Think about it. Obviously, the worst scenario would be to let a pregnancy run its entire course, go through all that discomfort, then go through the pain of labor. And then what if I got all those maternal instincts everyone talks about? Besides nine months of living in the pits, I’d go through all that stuff delivering somebody else’s child. Then I’d have to give it up, which would just make everything worse.”

“You just called it a child there,” Rayford had said.

“Hmm?”

“You had been referring to this as your pregnancy. But once you deliver it, then it’s a child?”

Rayford has a remarkable knack for tripping over his own feet triumphantly. He and the authors see this as his big “Gotcha!” moment with Hattie. Her use of the word “child” there, Rayford thinks, somehow concedes his claim that personhood begins at the moment of conception. Except Hattie didn’t say, “a zygote is indistinguishable from a child.” She maintains and reaffirms the distinction he’s been trying to deny all along. In his exuberance over his imagined “Gotcha!” Rayford accidentally agrees with her: “Once you deliver it, then it’s a child.”

(A child, we should mention, who will never live to see its fifth birthday. Hattie is newly pregnant and it is nearly two years into the Great Tribulation already. Her due date would be some time in the fifth-from-last year of human existence. “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!” This child’s short life will be marked by fire and bloody hail falling from the sky, the seas turning to blood, Wormwood-poisoned waters, and demon locusts — all before its third birthday.)

The weirdest thing in this whole discussion is the way both Hattie and Rayford seem to ignore that her boyfriend, Nicolae Carpathia, is the Antichrist. He’s Big Brother — an absolute totalitarian dictator.

And that means that this whole abstract discussion of Hattie’s “options” is terrifically absurd.

“I can put it up for adoption,” Hattie says. But no she can’t. That is absolutely not an option. It is even less of an option for Hattie than it was for Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour. The consort of the Global Potentate can’t just go down to an adoption agency and explain that she wants to find a good home for the heir to the Antichrist.

But then even just the first glance of a thought in that direction reminds us of the world of these books, and how impossibly wrong everything that Rayford and Hattie are talking about here is for such a world.

Less than two years before this conversation takes place, every child on the planet disintegrated simultaneously in the twinkling of an eye. No more babies. No more toddlers. No more preschoolers. No more elementary schoolchildren. All gone, everywhere.

Was there a period of anxiety in which the world wondered and worried whether or not pregnancy would ever again be possible? Was there a baby boom 10 months after the Rapture? Was there worldwide jubilation on the discovery of the first post-Event pregnancy? Was the birth of the first post-Event child met with joyous tears and celebration?

The authors never say. The authors never care and they assume we readers couldn’t possibly care either.

It is impossible to think that all of the world’s children could disappear without the world changing as a result. The scope of that change is almost too vast to contemplate, but we can at least begin to imagine what the authors here refuse to consider. And whatever else it might be that we try to imagine about this world of stolen children and the aftermath of their disappearance, we must surely consider this: People in that world would think differently about adoption and abortion than we do.

Different in what specific ways? Therein lies the grist for a thousand novels and short stories. But different, surely — very different.

Here I’ll just ask you to imagine one person who lives in such a world. Perhaps this person had children of their own, perhaps not. In any case, a little less than two years ago, this person was going about the routine of their day when suddenly, instantaneously and inexplicably, every child on the planet vanished.

This person lived through that. They witnessed it, enduring the Event itself and the aftermath of a childless world. Now, at last, the first infants have been born with more on their way, but it remains a world without toddlers. There are no 2-year-olds in this world, and no 3-year-olds or 4-year-olds. This person has not seen a 5-year-old child in almost two years. No one has.

And now this person is on an airplane bound for Chicago, eavesdropping on this conversation between Rayford Steele and Hattie Durham.

Is there any conceivable way that this person would not think that what they were hearing was monstrous, cruel, inhuman madness?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* We should note here the significance of this as a snap-shot in time. The fact that LaHaye and Jenkins felt the need to shoe-horn in this tangential display of anti-abortion boilerplate locates this book in 1997 almost as surely as the technological details of early cell-phones, the early Internet, and pornography as a newsstand phenomenon.

LaHaye and Jenkins and Thomas Nelson Publishers recognized that subcultural sanction for these books required such a performative recitation of anti-abortion sentiment, yet they did not also see the need to include a similar display of anti-gay sentiment. That locates the book as published for the evangelical subculture somewhere between 1984 and 2003. We can narrow that down further by noting the lack of any apparent need for a mandatory display of anti-“New Age” sentiment (post-1990), and the lack of any need to display anti-Muslim (pre-2001) or anti-environmental (pre-2000) sentiment. We can thus confidently peg this book as a relic of the 1990s evangelical subculture without even needing to check the copyright date on the title page.


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