Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sociopatholical Eschatology

Apollyon: The Destroyer is Unleashed, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Read by Richard Ferrone, Recorded Books LLC, 2001

Why name your book after perhaps the most minor character in the Bible, someone mentioned only briefly, in one book, in one verse, without reference to any greater context? Because the name clearly sounds ominous and it means “destroyer.” It’s the kind of reason heavy metal kids in high school put upside down pentagrams on their notebooks, the coolness factor. And because this book allows Jenkins and LaHaye to really revel in the destruction.

In book five of the Left Behind series, we tie up a number of loose ends left over from the previous books and move on to some more super-duper natural disasters whose effects, taken together, should wipe out the entire population of earth, but don’t. In the heartwarming, “Awwwww” category, after spending all of Soul Harvest with the question of whether or not Amanda Steele was a spy, we find out in Apollyon that it was all a put-up by Nicolae trying to sew dissension and suspicion among the Tribulation Force. The honor of the woman is upheld. That’s sweet.

Not so sweet is that Hattie Durham miscarries due to having been poisoned by Nicolae’s men when she was being held (unbeknownst to her) at the abortion clinic. Granted, again, a point I can not repeat enough, that we’re supposed to feel bad about the termination of this pregnancy, knowing that it’s the Antichrist who knocked Hattie up, is just one of the more bizarre absolutist positions LaHaye and Jenkins spout throughout the series. Remorse for all the bad stuff she’s done convinces Hattie to confess the frame-up of Amanda to Rayford, but not to get right with God. Alas, this lost soul will cause yet more trouble.

Cameron “Buck” Williams and his pregnant wife Chloe, Rayford’s daughter, are reunited at last, through a series of events that started with last book’s worldwide earthquake. She’s been in the hospital in a semi-coma, kind-of-sort-of-not-really-but-kind-of under house arrest by the Global Community troops, and she awakes just in time to be rescued. It’s chivalry, it’s daring-do, it’s romance, it’s love, chaste chaste chaste love. “He wondered how silly they looked staring up at the ceiling with their feet flat on the floor,” Jenkins describes awkwardly. The last nested double prepositional phrase is so we know that even if they are “one flesh” they aren’t, you know, trying all that hard to attain that goal. It’s as if the prose is saying, in prose reminiscent of old college dorm rules for co-eds, “look, no funny business here, no, sir.” Now mind you, the wife in this feet firmly on the floor pair is pregnant, so The Sex had to have happened at some stage (yet the pregnancy was an accident, suggesting non-procreational, yes, you heard me right, recreational nookie).

As each book is predicated around one major occurrence (Soul Harvest’s building up to the reunion of the sundered Tribulation Force after the earthquake and non-event of that Appalachian-sized asteroid plunking itself down in the Atlantic), Apollyon expends all its energy leading up to Rabbi Tsion ben-Judah delivering a sermon to a packed house at Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem. That’s it. A sermon. Of course, this is a sermon preached by a converted Jew to thousands of converted Jews who will be dispersing throughout the world to convert others, with more success one suspects than Jews for Jesus. But still. The grand event here is a sermon?

Of course, it will be tricky, as more plagues, more devastation to this poor planet is being wrought, and ben-Judah is in fact considered an outlaw. For what you ask? Having outraged both Grand Potentate Nicolae Carpathia and the head of Enigma Babylon One World Religion Pope Matthews by saying other religions are false, despite claims that atheism is more acceptable under the new ecumenism than ben-Judah’s Christianity. How is this even remotely logically consistent? Ben-Judah is in hot water for saying only his Dominionist Christianity is true and all other religions are false, yet don’t atheists say that all religions are false? I know I do. This argument is not presented because it makes sense. It’s not even presented as something that doesn’t make sense and we should see that. It’s part of the general odd sense of persecution fundamentalist Christians feel today that they believe even the atheists are more welcome than they are. Against such colossal ignorance of the facts (such as nine states have laws against atheists holding public office, but zero have laws against Christians), no fact, no reality can make headway.

With the world in turmoil still from the earthquake, the asteroid, and now the plague of crazy-assed locusts that only sting non-believers in ben-Judah’s Christianity leaving them swollen, sick, and in agony for months, how will the Trib Force ever get the rabbi from middle America to Israel for the stadium sermon? Oh, our plucky heroes will figure it all out. As part of their logistics, note for humor’s sake this small dialogue between Buck Williams and Chaim Rosenzweig:

“The stadium will be filled with Jewish converts who are convinced Nicolae is the Antichrist himself,” Buck protests when Chaim asks if his boss and friend, the Antichrist, can make a little speech at ben-Judah’s sermon. “Nicolae Carpathia, he seeks world peace, disarmament, global unity.” “My point exactly.” Like the idea in Soul Harvest that freedom to practice the religion of your choice is a satanic wickedness, the Left Behind series makes a fetish out of associating anyone who preaches something similar to the words of the Prince of Peace as devils incarnate. In this case, Buck’s correct, but why is “peace, disarmament, global unity” so heinous and evil that it’s a default consideration for the Antichrist?

As we arrive in Israel, we find still at their posts at the Wailing Wall the Two Witnesses, named Moishe and Eli, loud-mouthed angel-types who breathe fire on anyone who messes with them and who drop curses on Israel like it was Jeremiah-time all over again. No one in the book ever seems to question how the Witnesses at the wall manage to mess with the water and weather of Israel, causing droughts and turning bottled water to blood. This is taken for granted by most, even supernatural powers are ascribed to the Two Witnesses, and sometimes it’s dismissed as clever magic tricks.

Again, I ask you, does any of this even remotely strike you as plausible in any way? Not from a “do I believe this kind of religious supernaturalism” standpoint, but from a “does this kind of behavior strike me as a reasonable depiction of human thoughts and actions.” A drought that only strikes Israel and all of the water in the country turning to blood even the sealed bottled water everywhere doesn’t seem evidence of anything to non-believers and believers never seem to take advantage of it to put nons to the question. It’s just this thing that non-believers accept, some sort of trick, oh well, guess we’ll just drink juice, what’s on TV, how was your day, and so on. Occasionally, a new, minor character will pop up to converse with the Trib Force member who happens to be in Jerusalem at the time, get converted, and then begin risking life and limb. Luckily for our characters, it happens pretty often, and always just when they need a taxi driver they can trust or something.

Typical for this kind of thriller, these newer characters serve only the purpose of serving the characters or imparting some important information to them or saving their bacon in a difficult spot, and then they die. They aren’t characters but Christianus ex machina. Ken Ritz is one such character (as is David Hassid, the guy who replaces Rayford as the Antichrist’s pilot now that Steele’s on the lam). Ritz shows up to teach Rayford some more flying, smaller planes, to be a second pilot in some escape scenes where Rayford or Buck have some daring exploit to execute, to clue Rayford in on where he keeps his million dollar stash of gold coins (no shit), and then he’s shot dead.

Lest you think Rayford hopes to steal Ritz’s money, the man does enter what would stand up in court as a verbal contract to turn all his gold over to the Tribulation Force, so Rayford is totally justified in snooping around for it after his death. Ritz tells Rayford that after the Rapture he knew the economy wasn’t going to go well, so he started buying gold. Gold. Ah, the old right wing belief that America took a wrong turn once we left the gold standard. Which brings us to another item that LaHaye and Jenkins haven’t quite thought all the way through.

The economy in the book never seems to be much of a problem. Millions disappear and hundreds of planes crash, killing thousands more, there is a worldwide earthquake that kills millions more and wrecks cities and towns all over the planet, an asteroid crashes into the Atlantic and fifty foot waves wash over both coasts, all non-believers are stung by insects whose venom renders them sick and disabled for months at a spell, drought and poisoning move on to one third of the planet’s water takes, yet the world economy still seems to run as usual. I’m sorry? Runs as usual? I think there’d be some kind of economic collapse coming down the pike here.

I waited to see what would happen when later, according to another shoehorned-in prophecy that adds nothing to the plot, the sun dimmed and sunshine was cut down to 2/3rds exposure at 2/3rds its power. I’m no climatologist, but this should turn the entire globe into an ice cube. There should be huge ramifications, major alterations of life, yet it’s really just a minor plot point. Boy, is it cold these days. Oh dear, we’re going to need more firewood. Good thing we got that generator. Um, yeah, where did you get the fuel? This cold snap eventually lifts and the sun shines again, but other than fulfilling a very literal rendering of some passage in the book of Revelation and helping to begin the conversion of Chaim Rosenzweig, this episode serves no greater purpose and has no major consequences — like all the goddamn crops and cattle dying and millions starving in the new, couple-weeks-long Ice Age.

And because you have to put every single word of Revelation into this book, a second meteor hits the earth, landing on “an uninhabited part of the Fertile Crescent” and setting off a giant volcanic eruption. That strikes me as vaguely disastrous, but whatever. I suppose what with all the millions of folks dying lately there’s got to be some places without any people left anymore. It causes an explosion and eruption that is described as a “million times” as strong as any explosion ever before on the earth, natural or manmade. Bigger than this? This? A million times? And this hurts no one at all? Belching clouds of smoke threaten to blot out the sun, right after the sun was dimmed for some weeks? You’re kidding me that anyone could still be alive on the globe at all after such nonsense. Jesus, why do these guys hate the earth so much? It seems they get a sadistic glee out of punishing the globe as hard as they can.

And just on one little side note, wouldn’t all these millions, no, billions, of decaying bodies release quite a huge quantity of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide (the rotten egg smell gas), and methane? This would strike me as incredibly unhealthy if you assume the kind of body count all these millions of deaths would inflict, none of which takes into account the economic impact, the psychological impact, the labor impact, the congestion of every aspect of life impact. Millions of dead bodies assumes millions of funerals, millions of gravediggers or vast funeral pyres of hundreds of people, millions of insurance claims, millions of disruptions in the supply chain of oil, fresh water, food, basically everything that makes the world run. Not one scintilla of thought is expanded on these consequences of the book, because thinking about killing all the non-Christians is cool and holy, while thinking about how it would screw up your life is a bummer and is not part of God’s Plan, dig?

As if to drive home that point, here’s a passage that typifies things: “His emotions conflicted as they always did when he saw humans die.” Uhhh, conflicted? What’s the conflict precisely? We aren’t told if it is between happiness and sadness or euphoria and fright or which emotions exactly are wrestling for control. It’s just a lipservice gesture, like all the other feints toward humanity that characterize so much of these truly appalling and horrific books.

I shudder at the task I set myself sometimes, but onward we go. More tomorrow in our wrap up of the first half of the Left Behind thrilla in vanilla. Same batshit crazy time, same batshit crazy channel.

No comments: