Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 307-310
So far in the Great Tribulation, CNN is crushing the competition. The cable news channel has established itself as the one and only reliable source for breaking news in the earth’s last days. The living creatures about the heavenly throne have broken the first four seals of God’s wrath, pouring out calamitous judgment in the form of the four riders of the Apocalypse, and only CNN has the story.
We saw this yet again in the final pages of the previous chapter, as Rayford Steele only learned of the third and fourth seals of the Great Tribulation thanks to catching a CNN report on an airport television. That’s odd for several reasons. First, you’d think that agents of divine wrath “given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth” would’ve been something Rayford might have noticed without having to learn about it from cable news.
You also might think that Rayford should have learned about these things due to his professional role as the personal pilot of the global potentate and thus a close personal assistant to the Antichrist himself. He’s got an eavesdropping system rigged up in the Antichrist’s plane that makes him privy to all of Nicolae Carpathia’s highest-level conversations, but even that apparently doesn’t provide him with the kind of information that CNN is regularly providing its viewers in the Last Days.
This isn’t entirely unreasonable. The Great Tribulation, after all, would be filled with the kind of big breaking news stories that CNN has always been pretty good at. The 24-hour news channel’s problems usually tend to be from the long stretches during which there aren’t any big breaking news events for them to cover. That’s when they wind up flailing about with Crossfire-type punditry and commentary, or with D-Day-level coverage committed to stories that shouldn’t merit and can’t withstand that level of reporting (missing white women, OJ, etc.). The seals and trumpets and vials of Revelation would actually be the kinds of stories CNN is good at.
What about CNN’s competition? Well, the Fox News Channel didn’t launch until 1996 — after the first two books in this series were typed. The emergence of Fox as the exclusive news source for these books’ target audience was just one of many, many developments the authors failed to prophesy. But if Fox News had already arisen to its current status as the only trusted news source for conservative white Christians, it still wouldn’t make sense to have Rayford and Buck learning about the Great Tribulation from Fox reporters. That’s partly because breaking news isn’t Fox’s forte — their specialty, after all, is filling and killing all the time in between the big breaking news stories that everyone clicks over to CNN for. But it’s mainly because everyone at Fox News would’ve disappeared in the Rapture.
(Let’s not dwell on it too much, but keep in mind that all the real, true Christians were raptured right out of their clothes. Thus Irene Steele and Pastor Billings and all the rest would have found themselves, in the twinkling of an eye, transported to Heaven, where some of the first things to appear before them would be the naked bodies of Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly. Heaven, in other words, might seem like some kind of Bohemian Grove/Eyes Wide Shut nightmare.)
But even though it was pre-Fox News, the Christian readers of these books did have another dependable cable news source back when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were first starting this series of books. There were a host of Christian broadcasters all over the dial — from Pat Robertson’s CBN network to the plethora of televangelists and “Bible prophecy” preachers whose syndicated programs seemed to fill the early morning hours on most of the basic cable channels. Some of them — including John Hagee and Jack and Rexella Van Impe — even had cameo roles in the original Left Behind movie, appearing as passengers on Rayford’s plane who later disappeared in the Rapture.
The “Bible prophecy” racket involves meticulous branding for every preacher in the biz, with each carving out a distinct market niche by arguing for tiny variations in the basic prophecy outline they all share. Tim LaHaye would thus insist that his competitors — guys like Hagee and Van Impe — are mortifyingly wrong about certain details of the Rapture or Great Tribulation timelines, and he would warn readers not to be led astray by their errors (i.e., Buy my books, not theirs). But as those movie cameos showed, these disputes never quite rise to the level of suggesting that the others would not also qualify as real, true, Rapture-worthy Christians. If you want to squander several precious hours, feel free to Google terms like “mid-Trib” or “Pre-trib vs. Post-trib” or “secret Rapture” and you’ll find dozens of websites full of heated, contentious arguments between various competing factions of “Bible prophecy” enthusiasts. Yet as angry as those arguments can get, they retain a kind of professional courtesy that concedes that even the benighted mid-Tribbers will still be Raptured with the rest of the RTCs and not left behind with the accursed ungodly atheists, pagans and seminary professors.
“They all disappeared in the Rapture” is probably the main reason none of those “Christian broadcasters” appear here as competition with CNN in the post-Rapture pages of this series. But it’s also a bit more complicated than that.*
The other main source of competition for CNN in this story ought to be the proud media empire of Global Weekly, which is now led by the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time, Cameron “Buck” Williams himself. But Global Weekly seems to be a non-entity when it comes to keeping abreast of breaking news during the Great Tribulation. Buck Williams seems to have no idea about, and no interest in, any of the huge global stories CNN is covering. Not the outbreak of World War III, or the global famine, or the pestilence now threatening the lives of one out of every four people on earth. The only reason Buck has even a vague sense of any of that happening is due to Rayford filling him in second-hand based on what he saw on CNN.
Buck hasn’t even checked in with anyone at Global Weekly in several days. When the Antichrist started randomly nuking all of the world’s major population centers, Buck’s only work-related response was to send everyone at his Chicago office home indefinitely. He then traveled to Israel — the one place in the world where the Antichrist’s civil war against himself was not happening — and went into hiding, cut of from all communication, so that he could help to smuggle Tsion Ben-Judah into Israel and then back out of it.
This is, apparently, what the GIRAT does whenever some world-altering massive story begins to unfold. He runs in the other direction, pursuing some irrelevant subplot involving an unrelated set of villains who subsequently disappear from the rest of the story just as abruptly and confusingly as they were introduced.
Since arriving back in the (former) United States, Buck still hasn’t bothered checking in with his office. Global Weekly has likely missed yet another deadline, failing again to publish its news magazine in the wake of a huge news story, but Buck hasn’t given that a second thought. Instead, he’s hunkered down at Loretta’s house, getting ready for Bruce Barnes’ funeral the next day.
Buck felt the presence of God as clearly as he had during his escapade in Israel and Egypt. He realized his God was not limited by space and time. Later, when he and Chloe went up to bed, leaving Rayford alone in the dining room to put the final touches on his memorial service message, they prayed that Verna Zee would follow through on her promise to attend. “She’s the key,” Buck said. “Chloe, if she gets spooked and says anything to anybody about me, our lives will never be the same.”
This is what Jerry Jenkins’ leans on as a source of “suspense” throughout the following chapter: The worry that this sensibly shod, ambitious career woman will spill Buck’s secret identity as a closeted Christian. This comes immediately after the meeting in which Buck and his friends commissioned Tsion Ben-Judah by telling him that their goal as a group was to “spread the good news of Christ to others.” So far, Buck has shared this news with precisely one person, Verna, and now he regrets having done so, dreading the possibility that she might share this news with anyone else.
Verna, of course, is Buck’s co-worker at Global Weekly — or, as he would insist on putting it, his subordinate there. We readers have absolutely no reason to believe that an up-t0-date edition of Global Weekly arrived on newsstands or in subscriber’s mailboxes this week, while Buck was off escapading through the Sinai. We have no reason to believe its website has been updated since before the Global Community’s nuclear attacks on itself began. We have no reason to believe that all of its former readers have not given up on it as a news source and, like Rayford and the authors and Buck himself, come to rely exclusively on CNN as their only reliable source of information. But if Global Weekly does still exist, in any respectable form that’s not hopelessly three-Seals behind the times, it could only be because of Verna Zee.
If you’re waiting for Buck to acknowledge that or to express any gratitude to Verna for keeping his enterprise afloat, well, you’ll be waiting a very long time.
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* After all, Tim LaHaye himself does not seem to exist in the fictional world of Left Behind — not because he disappeared in the Rapture back in the first book, but because in order for this story to unfold the way the authors want it to, everyone in the fictional world needs to have never heard of people like Tim LaHaye — or people like Hagee or Van Impe, or Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping, Edgar Whisenant, John Walvoord, etc.
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a sense in which all of the End Times events predicted by these wildly popular proponents of “Bible prophecy” depend on them never becoming so wildly popular. In our world the general outlines of LaHaye’s “Rapture” folklore have permeated popular culture. His books were among the best selling volumes of the 1990s and 2000s, just as Lindsey’s were among the best-selling of the 1970s and Scofield’s were among the best-selling of the early 20th Century.
And that ruins the plot. In order for the End Times to play out the way that LaHaye et. al. claim the Bible prophesies, the world needs to be made up of a small group of true believers surrounded by an overwhelming majority who are completely unaware of their ideas about the Rapture, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, etc. And that’s what the world of these novels seems to be like. But our world is not like that at all. In our world — the real world — the majority of unbelievers already know the basics of this Rapture-Antichrist-Tribulation story. They don’t believe it, but they’ve heard it before.
That’s why the Rapture and it’s aftermath could never play out here in the real world the way they do in the pages of Left Behind. All of us non-believers — i.e., nonbelievers in the infallibility of Tim LaHaye — wouldn’t be wandering around mystified, latching onto half-baked talk of “some kind of electromagnetism.” We’d all, instead, recognize what we’d just seen: Holy crap, that was the freakin’ Rapture. And our response to that initial event would be informed by that recognition, thereby derailing many of the subsequent steps of LaHaye’s prophecy. Those prophecies, as described in Left Behind, depend on a world populated by people who are not genre-savvy to stories like Left Behind. The success and popularity of these books therefore ensures that these books can never “come true.”
That’s an ironically self-refuting aspect of Left Behind, but it is not, of course, the biggest reason the events prophesied in these books could never come true. The biggest reason for that is simply that God is, actually, not a ginormous cosmic douchebag.
** We still haven’t gotten a complete list of all the cities destroyed or any attempt to tally any kind of global death toll. We readers don’t even know if the bombing is still going on or if Nicolae has decided to end these attacks on himself as abruptly as he started them. Our only hope for learning such things, apparently, is to wait for the next time Rayford wanders past an airport TV tuned to CNN.