LBCF, No. 201: ‘By the rivers of Babylon’

LBCF, No. 201: ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ September 7, 2018

Originally posted April 17, 2009.

You can read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. The ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, is available on Amazon for just $2.99. The Tribulation Force is the resistance within Nicolae Carpathia’s OWG. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available. Volume 3 is coming soon(ish).


Tribulation Force, pp. 21-27

After spending much of the first chapter presenting their notion of the Proper Limited Role for Women, the authors begin Chapter 2 with some reflections on Manliness. Both of these discussions are excruciating, but where the previous one was often infuriating, this one is just kind of awkwardly embarrassing.

Godly manly men must be manly, it seems, yet still in touch with their feelings — but not in, like, a gay way or anything. Manly men thus weep and hug and share, but only provided that they also always feel an appropriate manly discomfort in doing so. We see this demonstrated by each of the last surviving Promise Keepers.

From Buck:

Buck didn’t know how to respond when Rayford Steele greeted him warmly. He appreciated the warmth, but something nagged at him and he held back a little. He still wasn’t quite comfortable with this kind of affection …

And from Rayford:

Rayford was new to this kind of sensitivity. Before his wife and son had disappeared, he had not wept in years. He had always considered emotion weak and unmanly. … Uncomfortable, Rayford looked away.

And from Bruce:

Bruce had smiled at Rayford’s story of getting into trouble on the job, and he had smiled when Buck arrived. Suddenly, however, Bruce’s face had clouded over. His smile had vanished and he was having trouble composing himself. … [He] pressed his lips together to keep them from quivering. His eyes were filling. … Bruce was a different kind of guy. He had always communicated in his own way and in his own time.

Bruce spends most of the next 10 pages in this struggling-for-composure mode. The authors reassure us constantly, though, that this is an expression of Bruce’s godly fervor and of his blunt honesty, which requires a kind of courage and thus is also an expression of manliness. (The virtues all seem to be gendered here in the world of Left Behind. Courage belongs to men, temperance to women.)

The source of Bruce’s anguish here and the cause of this hastily assembled emergency meeting of the Tribulation Force is an astonishing new development, a discovery he’s made from his long days and sleepless nights “poring over the Bible and commentaries” while simultaneously watching CNN.

Bruce looked up. “Now I know what people meant when they said they feasted on the Word. Sometimes I sit drinking it in for hours, losing track of time, forgetting to eat, weeping and praying. Sometimes I just slip from my chair and fall to my knees, calling out to God to make it clear to me. Most frightening of all, he’s doing just that.”

Buck noticed Rayford and Chloe nodding. He was newer at this than they were, but he felt that same hunger and thirst for the Bible. But what was Bruce getting at? Was he saying that God had revealed something to him?

The suspense has me nodding off — I mean nodding along — too. What is it, Bruce? What has God revealed to you that caused you to call this emergency meeting?

Finally, Bruce Barnes reveals his revelation: He has figured out the identity of the Antichrist. It’s that new leader of that new One World Government — Nicolae Carpathia.

Now to you and I this might seem like old news. Carpathia’s identity as the Antichrist of this story was obvious from the get-go, and it was explicitly acknowledged hundreds of pages ago. The whole reason Buck is here in Chicago, after all, is because he was just in a room with the Antichrist as he was being all kinds of Antichrist-y, twirling his waxed mustache with bloodstained fingers and saying things like, “Bwah, bwah, I am the Aaantichrist! Scary, scaaary!” (I’m paraphrasing.)

But while this has all been spelled out previously both to readers and to the members of the TF Quartet, the authors haven’t yet provided a full-length summary of the Antichrist Check List. Bruce corrects that here:

“Don’t you see? We know Nicolae Carpathia is the Antichrist. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Buck’s story of Carpathia’s supernatural hypnotic power and the murder of those two men is ridiculous. Even so, there’s plenty of evidence that Carpathia fits the prophetic descriptions. He’s deceptive. He’s charming. People are flocking to support him. He has been thrust to power, seemingly against his own wishes. He’s pushing a one-world government, a one-world currency, a treaty with Israel, moving the U.N. to Babylon. That alone proves it. What are the odds that one man would promote all those things and not be the Antichrist?”

That’s a pretty good summary of how LaHaye and Jenkins view the world. This is their reflexive response to the arrival of every new president, prime minister, MP, mayor or justice of the peace. Each must be viewed as a potential Antichrist Candidate and evaluated according to this check list.

  • Deceptive
  • charming
  • people flocking to support him
  • thrust to power
  • pushing a OWG
  • pushing a OWC
  • pushing a treaty with Israel
  • moving the U.N. to Babylon
  • supernatural hypnotic power (optional)

The tricky thing about this check list, as we’ve seen, is that these words don’t seem to mean the same thing for L&J that they mean for the rest of us.

“Deceptive,” for example, doesn’t necessarily mean lying or dishonest, but rather that the AC is suspected of having a nefarious secret agenda. If no evidence can be found to support this suspicion, that lack of evidence is interpreted as evidence that this particular AC is dangerously adept at keeping his nefarious hidden agenda well-hidden. Thus every AC can be said to meet this criterion.

We’ve already discussed on several occasions how “pushing a one-world government” here means something more like “insufficiently belligerent and suspiciously irenic.” That, coupled with the dreaded “treaty with Israel,” is why L&J and all Rapture enthusiasts suspect anyone who utters the word “peace” of being the Antichrist.

That’s a change from the view of apocalyptic types from older times. They used to fear people like Napoleon — those who sought to conquer the world through force, riding forth on literal, flesh-and-blood white horses, intent on empire. But to premillennial dispensationalists, would-be imperialists get a pass. They’re obviously not “peacemakers,” so there’s no need to worry that they might be the Antichrist. This is another example of how the PMD view that the Antichrist will be a wolf in sheep’s clothing leads them to be suspicious of all sheep while being complacent about wolves. They’re not fearfully vigilant against the rise of the next Napoleon or the next Caesar or the next Pharaoh — they’re keeping watch against the rise of the next John Lennon. Imagine that.

I suspect this is related to another curious linguistic feature of L&J’s books and, indeed, of nearly all PMD literature. In these writings, the phrase “one world government” appears repeatedly, almost incessantly, but the word “empire” is almost never used.

My guess is that this is partly a defense mechanism. PMDs have developed an instinctive arms-length avoidance of any potential mention or allusion to anything that might prompt one to think of the Roman Empire. It’s very, very important to them that no one think of the Roman Empire when reading the book of Revelation. Thus even though “empire” is a more concise and more precise term for this thing that PMDs fear, it’s too fraught with historical meaning for them to use.

The clumsy, less accurate phrase they have settled on as a replacement is also telling. It comes laden with all sorts of ugly connotations that reveal quite a bit about the intellectual family tree of PMDism in general and of Tim LaHaye in particular. Apart from PMD literature, you’re most like to encounter the phrase “one world government” only in John Birch Society tracts or in even more explicitly hateful “Protocols,” “diaries” and manifestos. LaHaye et. al. don’t like to talk about that side of the family, but their use of this phrase keeps bringing it up.

Anyway, the reason for Bruce’s recitation of this check list here is that Nicolae Carpathia has apparently just announced that this very list of things is his own agenda as the new leader of the newly established OWG. This is meant to be the Big Reveal, so to ensure the full dramatic effect with as much immediacy as possible, Jenkins decides to relay this to us third-hand, by having Bruce tell the others about how he learned this from CNN.

“He announced it through his media guy, your former boss, what’s his name?”

“Plank.”

“Right. Steve Plank. They held a press conference so he could inform the media that Carpathia would be unavailable for several days while he conducted strategic high-level meetings.”

So to recap there, this is a huge news story. The key players in this huge news story are Buck Williams’ best friend and the world leader he met with several times during the previous several days.

And Buck got scooped on this story by CNN and, apparently, by just about every other working journalist on the planet. Buck didn’t even see others’ coverage of this huge story because at the precise moment his best friend was on television revealing the details of the huge story that he completely failed to cover he was preoccupied with petty retribution against a co-worker. He was upset with her because she was insufficiently deferential to his awesome journalistic prowess.

“He said that Carpathia, while not seeking the position of leadership, felt an obligation to move quickly to unite the world in a move toward peace. He has assigned task forces to implement the disarming of the nations of the world and to confirm that it has been done. He is having the 10 percent of the weaponry that is not destroyed from each nation shipped to Babylon, which he has renamed New Babylon. The international financial community, whose representatives were already in New York for meetings, has been charged with the responsibility of settling on one currency. …”

Stop. Just make it stop.

Deep breath.

OK, obviously trying to unpack just that one insane paragraph — to respond reasonably or logically or to assess the political plausibility or desirability or even the logistical possibility of each part of Nicolae’s crazy-quilt six-impossible-things-before-breakfast agenda — is more than we can hope to accomplish here in a single post. And it gets worse. There’s more.

Plus I’ve already skimmed past some things we’ll have to double back to look at — like another retrofit patchwork attempt to make us think Rayford has been grieving, or the mash note Buck left in Chloe’s locker. So obviously we’re going to need to revisit these pages a bit.

But before we go let’s just pick one absurdity for closer inspection:

“… shipped to Babylon, which he has renamed New Babylon.”

Why not to Troy or to Machu Picchu? What possible purpose could there be for establishing a global capital in an ancient lost city in the Iraqi desert?

L&J’s answer, of course, is that it’s the fulfillment of prophecy. That explains why this has to happen in their novel — it explains the authors’ motive for this relocation, but it doesn’t explain the character’s motive. Why would Nicolae want to relocate there? Why not, say, back home in Cluj?

We have to assume that Nicolae is working off the same Antichrist Check List that Bruce and the authors are using. Apart from the whole problem of these supposed prophecies also insisting that he’s doomed in the end, you’d think poor Nicolae would find the arbitrariness of his appointed tasks a source of frustration and bewilderment. “OK, what do I have to do next? Babylon. You’re serious? Why, exactly, would I want to do that? Babylon doesn’t even have an airfield, so how am I supposed to transport 10 percent of the world’s arsenal to …?”

Unlike the poor Antichrist, the authors don’t need to worry about any of the logistical impracticalities of their prophecies. They just have to recite them, in order, and to inform their readers that what has been foretold has come to pass.

But again, why Babylon? Well, it’s in the Bible. The Bible actually mentions Babylon quite a bit. The prophets just go on and on about it.

L&J would say that sure, the liberals and doubters and Jews will say that this is because the Babylonian Emp– … Babylonian OWG was an actual place whose actual army actually invaded Judah and carried the people off into actual exile. And those liberals will go on to speak of Babylon as a symbol for exile more generally, getting all metaphorical the way that liberals and doubters always do. But L&J know they’re all reading this backwards. The actual exile of the people of Judah was really, in L&J’s view, just a metaphor — a prophetic foreshadowing of the far more important future New Babylon to be established by the Antichrist any day now. If those stories weren’t all about predicting and foretelling, then why do they call them prophets, huh? The other references to Babylon throughout the scriptures, those references that the liberals interpret as metonymy for exile, those should all, in L&J’s view, be interpreted “literally” — as references to the coming, actual New Babylon.

So when, for example, John the Revelator speaks of Babylon it’s not because he was writing to people who were, like Daniel, living as exiles and resident aliens in a hostile, foreign empire, but because he was writing to people like us — to 21st-century Protestant Christians whose lives will, at any moment now, be interrupted by the Rapture and the rise of an Antichrist we won’t still be around to see, but who will, among other things, establish as the capital of his OWG a city called New Babylon.

That is what the word “Babylon” means to Tim LaHaye. That is what every mention of the word Babylon — whether in the New Testament or in the Hebrew scriptures — means to Tim LaHaye. That and only that. This is, again, what he means when he says he reads the Bible “literally.”

Pick up a reggae album at random. Any reggae album. Listen to it and you will find a far more accurate, reliable and theologically sound exegesis of the meaning of Babylon than you will ever get from Tim LaHaye or any other so-called “prophecy expert.”

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