Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Apocalyptic Placeholder

Soul Harvest, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Read by Richard Ferrone, Recorded Books LLC, 1998

I wish I had something more substantial to say. What follows isn’t really too many examples of earth-shaking moments of enlightenment or insight. Halfway through the series and everything I said previously still applies: the characters are still wooden, the plotting is still ludicrous, the prose is atrocious, and the theology is, frankly, offensive to everyone save a select few people who have a disturbingly bloodthirsty interpretation of the Bible.

Yes, it’s that time again, time to laugh our way through the Apocalypse with the wacky hijinks of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. More tragedies that seem to shock and depress no one (unless someone they know personally is involved), more pointless time filling pages to get us up to twelve (now, oddly 13 with an LB prequel just out and two more on the way— why kill the cash cow just because you made it to the end of the world?), and more corny revelations of the Antichrist’s growing power and the end of days fast approaching. In my previous reviews of the first three books, I broke the books down and dissected them for plotting, style, and theology. Since little has changed in this regard, these reviews of books four through six will simply be individual reviews, but without the structured nature of before. I’ve said it, you can read it here to freshen up, it doesn’t bear saying again.

Book four, Soul Harvest: The World Takes Sides, begins with something I hadn’t noticed previously. The prologue of each book, to catch readers up, is the last chapter of the book prior. That’s a nice racket, getting readers to pay twice for the same material — and it pads out your page count nicely. The giant earthquake that rocks the whole world at the end of Nicolae and beginning of Soul Harvest strikes me as odd. These days, with the exception of Jesus appearing in ultrasounds, tortillas, and Willie Nelson’s profile and the Virgin Mary slinking around underpasses curing chronic halitosis, very little in the way of verifiable miracles occur anymore. With these books, Super-Sized miracles are happening in rapid succession as though God suddenly woke up and remembered he was omnipotent and decided to make up for lost time. This begs the question why God was so remote in between Biblical times and the End of the World.

Rayford thinks at one point, “He still found it hard to accept that this was part of God’s ultimate plan. Did this many people have to suffer to make some eternal point? He took comfort in that this wasn’t God’s desired result. Rayford believed God was true to His word, that He had given people enough chances that He could now justify allowing this to get their attention.” So, let me get this straight. God is quiet, no miracles, no divine moments of spectacular evidence, then when God gets pissed that people aren’t paying adequate attention to his silence, he decides to kick it with the big time miracles. Does that make any sense at all to anyone? Is this how an all knowing, all powerful, all love God is supposed to act?

You won’t get any answers here, though I do have a suspicion as to what believers in this kind of book might think. More importantly, I wonder what others are thinking, those who read this series not because they’re ardent Dominionists or Reconstructionists, but simply fans of end of the world doomsday fiction. I’m sure the box office raked in by The Seventh Sign starring Demi Moore didn’t hinge on simply fans of that particularly bad acting soon-to-burn-in-hell slut, Bible thumpers or not. What do self-described Christians who are not of LaHaye and Jenkins ilk think of this kind of book? Is their thinking ever so slightly inched toward it or swayed by it? That’s the kind of thought that frightens me.

However that may be, Soul Harvest is probably one of the duller of the books simply because it’s acting in the capacity of moving the story line along, getting us a few yards down the field toward the return of Jesus touchdown, but without any real purpose of its own. There seems to be little in the book save people flying from America to Israel then back again then back again again then someone else does the same thing. Buck doesn’t see Rayford face to face until the next book because they’re both always in the air going to opposite places. So most of the book is about airplanes and cellphones. Yawn.

Which is very odd considering that the entire world (except Israel, naturally) has been shaken by global earthquakes that have killed millions from the shocks alone. Jenkins and LaHaye never quite address all the aftereffects like cholera, typhus, and various diseases that such wide scale disruption of waterlines and electricity would cause. Oh no. They just keep our heroes jet setting around, Buck doing all sorts of crazy things while Rayford tries to discover whether or not his new wife Amanda is dead and if she was a spy for the Antichrist or not.

With the exception of Amanda, there’s an A-Team quality to these Tribulation Saints. Regardless of what happens to them, car wrecks, plane crashes, earthquakes, the incredible psychic damage of at least twice witnessing mega-casualty rates in the millions, they always manage to come out alive and not that badly for wear. A couple of tears, a couple of prayers, a couple of moments staring off into the void, and you’re done, ready to get on with whatever you’ve got to do. Must be nice. I hear one news story about a kid getting run over in her own driveway and I’m sick all day. Close to the book’s end, a meteor described as “about the size of the Appalachians” crashes into the Atlantic Ocean sending fifty foot waves miles inland on both sides. Ho-hum. This little subpoint in the book is explained, occurs, and is over and done with in perhaps less than two thousand words. I would have imagined it might have ended life as we know it.

While it’s abundantly clear from the disaster-porn that is Left Behind that fundamentalists like the authors drool at the idea of the “Wrath of the Lamb” and have a clear hatred of the planet, it all seems to contradict Jesus’ whole the meek shall inherit and turn the other cheek rackets. It’s right up the Antichrist’s alley though. His first priority after the earthquake is getting communications up and running, which is important, true, but neither he nor the Christians ever comment on all the typhoid infected Africans and Asians and Alabamans. Here’s what Nicolae does say, though, about his new communication venture. “It is cellular. It is solar-powered. I call it Cellular-Solar.” That is what I call some amazing Antichrist-powered branding. Genius. For short — heh heh, ahem, cough, wheeze — the company is referred to as — are you sitting down? can you handle it? do you see it coming a mile away? brace yourselves — Cell-Sol. Get it? Get it? Cell-Sol. Sell Soul. It’s as obvious as a kick to the nuts.

Oddly enough though, later on when Rayford calls Buck’s cellphone, he gets a busy signal. Uh, yeah. A busy signal? Really? No voice mail despite the fact that the Trib Force have state of the art everything? No voice mail even though Buck is an ace reporter? I find that a bit hard to believe. And every member of the Trib Force believe their cellphones are private and that Nicolae can’t listen in — and apparently he can’t, despite controlling every single means of communication on the globe. Owning all media also somehow prevents him from putting cybersleuths down on tracking from where Tsion ben-Judah is posting his online sermons. Something the local police can do when tracking pedophile predators can’t be done by a man with the power to raise the dead? This is one of the biggest problems with the entire series. Jenkins insists, yes, insists, on writing about subject matter that he really and honestly knows dick all about.

In another perfect example of this, Hattie Durham checks into an abortion clinic — or fertility clinic as she, in her unsaved state, refers to it. Unlike the drive through abortions all us pro-choice people insist upon, nay demand to be made mandatory, this place is something like a luxury spa that puts you up for a week or so before they even get around to talking to you about abortions. “They’re pushing me to have an abortion,” Hattie tells Rayford over the phone. Then why are they letting you hang out for a week, sister? Not even Planned Parenthood “pushes” anyone to have an abortion. In fact, outside of unwilling fathers-to-be or grandparents, I doubt anyone “pushes” abortions. It’s a myth like drug pushers. Then Hattie says her counselor was surprised when she told her that she felt guilty about being pregnant out of wedlock. “She’d never heard that,” Hattie tells us. This stretches even the credulity of those in persistent vegetative states. We are to believe, I guess, that none of the other sluts who showed up to kill their sweet, sweet babies felt even the slightest twinge of guilt about what brought them there; they just wanted to get it over with so they could get back to fucking. This is what we’re supposed to believe, unless Jenkins is implying that this abortion clinic mainly serviced deaf-mutes.

The first rule of writing is to write what you know and it’s probably one of the more fundamentally broken rules in this series. Jenkins clearly knows little about little (he doesn’t even know enough about his own religion that he has to have a so-called minister pour thoughts into his head for his books). Jenkins knows clearly nothing about the Bible, abortion clinics, cell phones, journalism, nor what kind of suffering a global earthquake would cause apart from knocked over buildings. That doesn’t stop him from writing tons of bestsellers though, so what do I know. In no particular order then are just a few of the funnier parts of this book, parts that made me laugh.

“Buck had never believed in extrasensory projection or telepathy even before he had become a believer in Christ.” Is there something in the Bible about believing in this or is Jenkins slyly indicating that believing in this bilge requires believing a whole bunch of other nuttiness? Later Rayford wishes he was clairvoyant, so perhaps this is coming down the pike ESC, Extra-Sensory Christianity.

“Eons ago God the Father conceded control of Earth’s weather to Satan himself, the Prince and Power of the Air.” Rabbi ben-Judah says at one point. What? Where the fuck did he get this tidbit of information, because I’ve read the whole Bible, cover to cover, and I don’t recall that at all. In fact, Job 37:15 and Jeremiah 10:12-14 specifically say otherwise. If you wish to read more about this idea, go here.

“Of course, every citizen of the global community is free to believe as he or she wants and to exercise that faith in any way that doesn’t infringe upon the same freedom for others.” This is what the Antichrist tells the world after the earthquake. Understand this right now. This is evil in the books. This is an evil idea from the pit of hell delivered by the Antichrist himself. Freedom of religion, as propounded in the Bill of Rights, is just what the wickedest man on earth wants. Chew on that a bit because millions of people hang on these authors’ every word.

Not to be outdone, Rabbi ben-Judah delivers a sermon to his believers explaining their right to oppress other religions. It’s against relativism, asks if you can say something without feeling its vapid about Jesus, and reiterates a point I find offensively thin: “Jesus, the Son of God, the only man who ever lived without sin, died for everybody’s sin. All we had to do was believe that, repent our sins, receive the gift of salvation. We would be forgiven...reconciled to God.” Apparently then, according to this thumbnail, all you have to do is the above. Simply believe in Jesus, not actually follow in his footsteps such as he suggested, not actually work to alleviate suffering in this world. Forget about good works and not sinning. If you just repent the sins you’ve done and the ones you’re going to do, then you’re a-okay.

As the book nears its conclusion, Christians all start to develop a sign on their foreheads that allows them to recognize each other. Apparently, the bearer of the mark can’t see it. Why? I don’t know. It’s a cross, of course, because God, he loves himself some ancient torture/murder devices and a fish would have been weird, dude. I guess it’s Jenkins sense of irony that the marks show up but only after Rayford’s wife disappears, maybe dies in a plane crash, and he spends all of the book agonizing about rumors that she might have been a spy. The book ends without resolution to this, it’s one of our big cliffhangers, unlike, say, that meteor the size of a mountain range that just struck the earth.

Tune in tomorrow for more thrills, chills, and excitement! It’s Rapturific!

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