Recently in Left Behind Category

everybody's got to make a living

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Slacktivist has been slowly working his way through Left Behind, one scene at a time, every Friday for the past couple of years. Today he finally got to the most jaw-droppingly appalling scene in the entire first book, for me at least: the phone conversation in which atheist, slut and future girlfriend of the Antichrist, Hattie Durham, complains that the disappearance of all the embryos and fetuses means her sister the abortion provider is out of work!

That short description doesn't begin to do justice to the amazing awfulness of the scene. If you want to see everything that's wrong with Left Behind in a few paragraphs, check it out.

left behind

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January 10 movie: Left Behind. Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe so, because I've had a persistent curiosity about this movie for some time. I found myself checking the program guide for the religious cable stations, hoping it would show up, when I remembered that I have Netflix. Duh!

The Left Behind movie was something of a pleasant surprise after the books. Granted my expectations were extremely low. And okay, the story is ridiculous, the plot is mechanical (what's the word for a movie where people move perfunctorily from Point A to Point B because the script told them to? That's what it is), the acting isn't great, and the special effects are nothing to brag about. It's a B movie; I didn't expect Oscar performances or a scintillating script.

The relief was that many of the stupidities and really hateful elements from the book had been changed. First and most importantly, they dropped the telephone fetish. Also the portrayal of the chaos immediately after the disappearances was much better than in the book. Most people in the book act like they've read the jacket and they know immediately they're in a Rapture story. In the movie people are running around screaming and demanding to know where their children are. Which is more realistic I think. I suspected this might be better in the movie, for the simple reason that the book follows the "Tell, Don't Show" method of storytelling to such an extreme degree, and it's difficult to make a movie without showing something.

Also the Hattie character, while still whiny and clingy at key moments, was much more of an independant person than in the books. My recollection of the first book is that Hattie exists for no reason except to feed the collossal ego of heroic asshole Rayford Steele. (And may I say, the casting was excellent on that score: the guy playing Rayford looked and acted the heroic asshole to a T.) But as the movie begins, she's gotten tired of Rayford's sexual games and is making a career change to get away from him. It's almost like she's a person with her own thoughts and motivations or something.

Another pleasant surprise was Bruce Barnes, the preacher who spends the entire book wearing a metaphorical hair shirt. In the movie he shows a bit of spine and even seems angry at God for a minute there. Don't you think that, if the Rapture really happened, Christians who didn't get chosen might be pissed? I have to think that someone, somewhere would have the reaction "So I'm not good enough for you, God? Well fuck you too!" Bruce Barnes doesn't go that far by any stretch (this is a Christian movie after all) but he does yell in the church and knock down a cross.

Also, the conspiracy theory obsession with the Jews and "international financiers" (whatever those are) is toned way down in the movie. In fact I think they don't ever say the word "Jewish" in connection with that subplot. Which is good because it's kind of ridiculous in the book: Slacktivist describes it as Jews, international bankers, the U.N. and international Jewish bankers at the U.N. In the movie, the character spouting these theories is portrayed as a conspiracy theory nutjob that most people ignore. Which perhaps is an admission on the part of the filmmakers of how ludicrous the antisemitic conspiracy theory subplot is.

Of course, the movie still doesn't reflect my world view to the slightest degree. And it has more than its share of flaws: for one thing, the perfunctory nature of the plot as I mentioned above. There's not much energy wasted on motivation or plot logic.

Also, ace reporter Buck Williams is just as strangely incurious in the movie as in the book. I found it hilarious that the pilot of his chartered plane asks all the questions one might expect an award-winning investigative journalist to be asking. Who did this, what do they want, will there be more disappearances, will the disappeared be back, what do they have in common, etc. Buck can't stop to ask these questions; he's busy traveling across country to meet his good friend the conspiracy nut!

And the conversion scenes fell pretty flat for me. I think that's simply a result of me not being in the target audience. For an onscreen religious epiphany to move me, it would have to be intense. (See Ordet, or even Song of Bernadette.) In Left Behind there's not much emotion conveyed in the conversion scenes. They're just sort of there. Maybe I was supposed to fill in the blanks with my own personal religious experience, which I do not have, and so the scenes were empty for me.

But overall I never wanted to put my foot through the screen, where I often had the fight the urge to throw the books across the room. I would never read those books again. And honestly, I wouldn't seek out this movie again. But I can imagine that if this movie came on TV at some point in the future, I might not change the channel. That's the best endorsement I can give it.

thought control

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Okay so this is the last post I'm going to make on Left Behind and then I'm done with the whole sordid mess and can take the books back to the library before I rack up a fine. The last book, Glorious Appearing, covers Jesus' triumphant return to Earth, his defeat of the Antichrist and the beginning of his thousand year reign. In a word, it's evil. It's so evil it makes the earlier books seem almost benevolent. Jesus comes back, kills tens of thousands with His voice, then teleports everyone on Earth to Jerusalem, forces them all to worship Him, then kills all the unbelievers. Then His thousand year rule over the few survivors begins, with Jesus the Ultimate Dictator scrutinizing not only their every action, public and private, but even their every thought. He's in their heads, responding to their thoughts before they are formed. Not one moment of privacy, even in your own mind. The End.

The Jesus of Left Behind isn't the lamb of peace they taught us about in Catholic school. He's really into vengeance, punishment, smiting His enemies. And the punishment for being the Antichrist is identical to the punishment for being taken in by the Antichrist, is identical to the punishment for resisting the Antichrist but not being Christian, or not the right kind of Christian.

This passage, from the final book, bothered me more than anything else in the entire series:

"Then the Great White Throne Judgement, at the end of the Millenium, is the final one?"
"Yes."
"But it doesn't sound like there will be much to judge. People either received Christ as their Savior, or they didn't."
"Right, but we believe that God, being wise and fair and wanting to demonstrate how far men and women fall short of His standard, will judge them based on their own works. Obviously, all will fail to measure up. This will show that the punishment is deserved, and as I have said, they will be sent to the lake of fire for eternity."

They are saying (and the speaker is a "leading theologian" character who sermonizes often, so I think it's safe to assume that his opinions are those of the authors) that God has set up an impossible standard for salvation, which He will apply selectively in order to get rid of whomever He wants. A sort of heavenly kangaroo court. It shocks me that the authors, who claim to love God so much, would attribute such meanness, such weasely legalistic tricks to Him. I don't believe in Jesus Christ but after reading that, I think I have more respect for Him than they do.

I suspect that what's really going on is they're trying to explain away Revelation 20:12-13, which says that in the final judgement: "The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books....each person was judged according to what he had done." This is problematic for Lahaye and Jenkins who firmly adhere to the "faith, not works" approach to salvation. (A concept I first encountered in a Jack Chick publication in which a bank robber murders a nonchristian who lived an exemplary life. The murderer repents and accepts Jesus just before being shot to death by the cops, and goes straight to his heavenly reward. The victim? Demons and pitchforks for him!)

I clearly remember a priest telling me (in religion class; I think it was Morals) that atheists who lead good lives will be pleasantly surprised when they arrive in heaven, because they were "Christian in deed if not in word." In retrospect, I doubt this was orthodoxy. But Lahaye and Jenkins seem to have gone to the opposite extreme: in their world faith is the only thing that matters, deeds not at all. Further than that, salvation depends not on faith but on "praying the prayer," saying a specific formula of words. In Left Behind these words are given the power of a magical incantation. Once the prayer has been said, salvation is apparently guaranteed. I never got the sense from these books that I did from Catholic school, that a life of faith would be spent striving to be worthy of God's love. Instead you pray the prayer, say the magic words, then wrap yourself up forever in the snuggly blanket of knowing you are saved. No matter what happens, no matter what you do, once those words are said you are heaven-bound.

They say over and over that "the mark of God" is irrevocable and that everyone who wears it is saved. While reading I tried to figure out if they meant that once you prayed the prayer and got the mark, you could go on a raping and killing spree, and you'd still be saved. But I think they meant that once you accepted God, you would be incapable of sin. Which shows such a profound lack of understanding of human nature that I have to think I misunderstood or they were being disingenuous.

To be fair, Lahaye and Jenkins never suggest that this state of grace, immunity from sin, is possible now. In fact they never say outright that it happens to the believers in the end times. They mostly avoid the subject of sin committed by believers. There are a few minor conflicts among them, and heroic asshole Rayford Steele has a period in one of the middle books of being more of an asshole than usual. But for the most part none of the believers ever commit misdeeds (at least, nothing that the authors apparently see as misdeeds).

And while I'm on the subject of the mark of God, I have to say that a really ugly thought occurred to me while I was reading this final book. Much of what they accuse the Antichrist is also true of God, at least as they portray Him. The Antichrist puts a mark on the forehead of everyone in the world who is loyal to him; so does God. The Antichrist kills those who refuse his mark; so does God. The Antichrist tricks the condemned into thinking they can save themselves by taking the mark, then executes them anyway; Jesus forces the unbelievers to worship Him, then casts them into eternal fire anyway. Perhaps if I were Christian I wouldn't see it this way. But from where I'm standing, the Antichrist of Left Behind doesn't seem so bad compared to the God of Left Behind. At least the Antichrist couldn't get inside your head; you could feign loyalty but still have the freedom of your thoughts. In Christ's thousand year reign, even that is taken away.

The quote above, that bit of hand-waving around judgement by deeds, is followed up by this:

"But what about the goats [unbelievers] in the coming judgement? Where do they go? And will they also be judged again at the great white throne a thousand years from now?"
"Yes. For now they will be sent to hades, apparently a compartment of hell, where they will suffer until that final judgment, and then they will be cast into the lake of fire."
"Sad."
"Yes, it is. Very. And yet I believe all these judgements will demonstrate to the whole world God's justice and righteousness and will finally silence all who have scoffed."

That last sentence, I believe, is the thesis of the series. All of you who scoff at us Evangelicals, you are so going to get it. They haven't convinced me of God's justice and righteousness, but they sure got the last part. Throwing everyone who doesn't see things exactly your way into eternal fire ought to silence them, all right.

neener neener

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Before I started reading Left Behind, I thought it had two purposes: to inspire believers and to convert unbelievers. Probably not genuine unbelievers like myself, but mainstream Christians who wouldn't be considered "true Christians" by the type of Christian depicted in LB. I expected the series would be a cautionary tale, warning mainstream Christians to join an evangelical church post-haste.

Now that I've finished the series, I think I was wrong. The purpose is not to persuade but to gloat. The series is one long "neener neener" to unbelievers. We were right, and you were wrong, and look how much you're going to suffer.

Jesus said: "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." But the believers in Left Behind do rejoice as they trample on the enemy. They wink and laugh at enemy soldiers during Armageddon. The immolation of unbelievers, burned to piles of ash, is described as "almost amusing." They "can't wait" for "the awful reality of Satan and his lackeys getting theirs." They're like playground bullies who act with impunity because they know the teacher is on their side.

Which brings me to the most offensive thing about this series: the way God is portrayed. The believers talk on and on (and on, and on) about God's boundless love for His children, but that's not what we see. Left Behind makes God out to be a nasty little boy holding ants under a magnifying glass. Vicious, vindictive, totally without compassion. That's the God LaHaye and Jenkins want us to believe in.

Tsion Ben-Judah, the World's Only Biblical Scholar, says many times that the judgements and plagues aren't in conflict with a loving God because God is just trying to get everyone's attention, giving everyone one last chance to accept Him. But the punishment so far outweighs the crime that I felt sympathy for the unbelievers who, true to prophecy, curse God instead of accepting Him. After the earthquakes, and the locusts, and the sulfurous poison gas, and the sores, and the oceans of blood, and the darkness, would you be filled with love and worship for the being who was doing this to you? Me neither. We're supposed to see the holdouts as stubbornly choosing earthly pleasure and "thumbing their noses at God," but instead I saw them as God's victims, flies He swatted with His sledgehammer.

And as it turns out, that bit about having one last chance isn't even true anyway. Near the end of the series, the few remaining undecided who have neither become Christian nor taken the mark of the beast find that "their hearts have been hardened" by God. They are unable to convert even if they want to. The believers witness unbelievers begging God to allow them to pray to Him, and think to themselves that these people deserve no sympathy. After all, God gave them plenty of chances, but His patience has limits. That's right, God in His infinite mercy condemns millions of people to eternal torment, because He gets tired of waiting. Converting six years into the tribulation is okay, but six years and four months is too late, sorry, God doesn't want you anymore.

As God's chosen people, Jews are the exception: they're allowed to convert right up until the moment Jesus arrives and starts slaughtering unbelievers. And I must say, Jesus the mass murderer isn't very nice, but at least He sounds like I imagine a god might sound..mostly. (It's painfully apparent when Christ's dialogue was quoted from Scripture and when it was written by LaHaye and Jenkins.) The angels who show up earlier in the series (and have more of their dialogue written by L & J, I surmise) are so badly written it's just tragic. A direct encounter with an eternal being would be a transcendent experience. It would change you forever. But to the believers in Left Behind, it seems rather mundane. The angels show up, save their lives, chat, then disappear and everyone goes on about their business. The believers seem to view the angels as just another tool in the arsenal, like the super cool cell phones and the heat ray guns. One even makes up a nickname for the archangel Michael! (When the angel appears in an airplane they ask, "Are you there?" and the angel says "Roger." Prompting the nickname "Roger.") They're taking that whole personal relationship with God too literally, if they feel free to give funny nicknames to His messengers.

I think the whole premise of this series -- translating Biblical prophecy into predictions of actual future events -- trivializes what it claims to glorify. The book of Revelation is (in my opinion) a work of feverish visions. It's majestic in its lunacy. Trying to break it down into facts and predictions robs it of all life and poetry. What's left is sad and absurd, like a deflated Macy's float.

For instance, Tsion (the World's Only Biblical Scholar) instructs us that "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head" means the Jews, specifically the ones who convert to Christianity. And "two wings of a great eagle" means by land and by air. And "the place prepared for her in the desert" means Petra, in Jordan. And "a time" means "one year." Therefore the passage "The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach," actually means that when the Antichrist attacks the Jews, they will escape to Petra in cars and planes, and live there safely for three and a half years. Leaving aside the question of the basis for this interpretation, how dreadfully prosaic! It's like taking the lines "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate" and saying "That means you are pretty and you have a good personality."

I may have more to say about this tomorrow -- I haven't even addressed Jesus' thousand-year reign of enslavement and thought control -- but I'm tired of thinking about Left Behind for tonight. I think I might dig out some Gene Wolfe. It would be nice to read a good writer's depiction of gods speaking to men, for a change.

left beneath

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I'm finally slogging through the rest of the Left Behind series. I didn't think it was possible, but they get even more annoying towards the end. Satan possesses the Antichrist, and he's kind of an idiot. By which I mean, he has no more idea what's going on than his minions do. I get that the evil secular humanists are supposed to be totally unfamiliar with the Bible & unwilling to find out, even after the plague of locusts and the water turning to blood and so on. But wouldn't Satan at least have a clue?

The most unintentionally hilarious moment so far was in book 9 when the Antichrist desecrates the temple in Jerusalem by murdering someone inside the temple, then going to the inner sanctum and sacrificing a pig, wallowing in the blood and laughing like a maniac. One of the believers sees this and wonders to himself why the minions would offer adulation to someone who acts like a drunken reveler at a frat party. Um? I'm pretty sure the frat brothers at Duke restrained themselves to petty hijinks like burning things and throwing up on the quad. But slaughtering pigs and rolling around in the fresh blood? There must be a lot we don't know about those Bible colleges.

Will write more (maybe) when I'm finished the series, but here's one more for the LB vs. Soaps series.

Romance:
Left Behind: "I could look into your eyes until Jesus comes."
Soap Opera: "I don't do sex for money. I do it because I like it."

mid week blues

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Writing a resume is such an ordeal. Is there anything worse? Well I suppose writing the resume and then not getting the job would be worse. But let's not go there.

And no, by mentioning my resume I am not breaking my longstanding rule not to post anything that I wouldn't care if the whole world knew. Because I already told the people who will be affected if it works out. Which, cross your fingers, y'all.

But anyway, resumes. I hate them. Hate. I have a real problem talking myself up. (Talking about myself is another matter. I mean, just look at this journal.) I had the same problem writing the proposal for VRT. I just couldn't get past the feeling that my work should speak for itself and I shouldn't have to make up bullshit praise to convince a publisher that it was good. Lucky for me, Llewellyn was able to figure that out despite my incompetence at blurb-writing. Here's hoping that Nameless Large Corporation in Need of Help with Semantic Markup is also aware that skill at building web pages is not necessarily reflected in skill at writing about yourself in glowing terms.

Another thing I hate is the Left Behind series. Yes, after seven books I can describe my feeling for the series as hatred. I'm not even going to get into the theology (there's a devastating critique of it at Slacktivist). Even theology aside, there's plenty of odious worldview to go around.

For starters, the role of women. I feel a bit ridiculous even bringing this up. I mean, what did I expect? Equality and respect between the sexes? From Left Behind? Surely I jest.

Okay, so the only genuinely smart person so far is Chloe Williams, but she cheerfully submits to her husband's whim even though she's so much smarter than he is, she has to spell it out for him:

"Don't parent me, Buck. Seriously, I don't have a problem submitting to you because I know how much you love me. I'm willing to obey you even when you're wrong. But don't be unreasonable. And don't be wrong if you don't have to be."

So I guess a husband tells his wife what to do because he cares, but a parent tells his child what to do just for the hell of it. The worst part is that after this speech, Buck realizes she's right, but rather than saying so, he resolves to make her wait a few days and then "announce that he had made a decision." So she won't get any crazy ideas about having a say over her own actions. It's so appalling I can't think of anything to say.

The treatment of unbeliever Hattie Durham is even worse. (And can Jesus hurry up and gloriously appear and strike down these horrible names?) For all the believers' mewling about how much they love Hattie and how they care about her, in fact they all hate her. They loathe her. Their contempt is barely concealed. We're told by the believers that she's "ditzy," "not smart," "selfish," "ungrateful," "whiny." When in fact she seems to me no stupider than the rest of them, and one of the only characters in the whole series to display genuine emotion. Heroic asshole Rayford Steele, who was in fact looking to join the mile high club with her when the rapture struck, tsk tsks the fellow believer who has feelings for her, admonishing him that "there's nothing attractive about her." Because being poisoned by the Antichrist and suffering a miscarriage left her a wee bit haggard. When she's attacked by the plague of locusts they make her live in the shed so they won't have to listen to her screams. When they talk about loving Hattie, they sound like they want to snatch her soul for Jesus and then kick the rest of her out on the street.

And by the way, the locusts? Millions of locusts that look like tiny armored flying horses and cry "Abbadon!" while they sting unbelievers and cause them 5 months of agonizing pain, during which time they cannot die? I'm sorry, that is stupid. I don't care if it's in the Bible, it's stupid. Through that whole section I kept wondering, do the tiny horses cry the name of their demon king in tiny squeaky voices? Isn't that more silly than scary? Are they cute like the little tiny demon in that halloween episode of Buffy? And if someone who's been stung cannot die, does that mean just suicide or by any means? If you cut off their head they'd still be alive? Put them in a wood chipper?

A good fantasy/horror writer makes the impossible seem possible, and the absurd seem plausible. (See King, Stephen.) Left Behind achieves the opposite. The whole story is so ridiculous that even the trivial details seem absurd. (Of course, King also knows how to write a plot, maintain tension, and create characters who sound like real people and make the reader care about them. Skills sorely lacking in Left Behind.) When I read an adventure or fantasy book, I want to be swept up in the story. I don't want to sit there nit picking and wondering how they expect me to believe that in three and a half years the UN could change its name to "Global Community," take over all the world's governments, redivide the world into 10 regions, move the capital of the world to Babylon, convert the world to one currency, create a new religion and subsume all other religions into it, attack and destroy multiple major cities in the US and Britain, suffer a global earthquake, then rebuild Babylon after the earthquake. Not to mention the locust attack and the 200 million invisible horsemen who kill people with sulfurous smoke. I mean, come on! Three and a half years? How long did it take for the Euro to catch on?

And why is there only one sect of Christianity post-rapture? And only one Biblical scholar? (And why would a Jewish scholar who converted to Christianity sound just like a Baptist?) I guess maybe all the theologans got raptured, and then this one guy converted afterwards. But wouldn't other smart people convert too, when faced with that kind of overwhelming evidence? You'd think that in the midst of all these Biblical prophecies come to life, there would be thousands of religious bloggers out there trying to make sense of it. But according to the book, there's only the one guy acting as a Web-based pastor to every Christian in the world.

All that I could forgive, if the believers didn't turn out to be a bunch of smug bastards who drive SUVs. At one point heroic asshole Rayford Steele devotes a couple of pages to whining about having to drive a sports car, far too tiny to hold a man like him. Then when they find a new safe house in an abandoned office building, they're delighted to discover a bunch of abandoned SUVs with the keys still in them. Including a Hummer! Yay! Yes, the narrator actually mentions the Hummer by name. Because if you were living in the end times, a fugitive from the Antichrist, and you were about to be unable to buy or sell because of the mark of the beast, you would definitely want to drive around in a gas guzzling behemoth that stands out like a sore thumb.

On the bright side, the sixth book did provide the most soap opera-esque moment to date. There comes a time on every soap, about twice a year generally, when a villain starts acting extra villainous. Victimizing more people than usual, cackling with evil glee, twirling his moustache and so forth. At the same time everyone in town starts acting suspicious. Skulking, acting shifty, making vaguely threatening statements in public about said villain. At this point you know that there's about to be a big murder mystery, where we will all be on the edge of our seats (or so they hope) wondering who really killed the villain. Neither the audience nor the people in the show know, so all the characters go around trying to protect each other because they all think each other did it, muddying the water even further. And then they drag it out for months until nobody cares anymore, and the wrong person goes on trial, until finally the right person recovers from their amnesia and yells out "I did it!" in the middle of the courtroom. But they get off scot free because it was self-defense. At least that's how it works in soaps.

The funny thing is, the assassination of the Antichrist played out in the exact same way. (Except for the part about the trial and the amnesia.) I almost laughed out loud when I realized what was happening. Much of the book is spent with heroic asshole Rayford Steele and his secret plot to kill the Antichrist, but when the time comes a whole mess of random characters show up and skulk around, for no reason except to create confusion about who did it. (Which they reveal almost immediately at the start of the next book, and it was totally obvious anyway, but that's beside the point. It's usually pretty obvious on a soap too: it's either the day player they can afford to lose, or the saintly heroine who the audience won't mind seeing get away with it.)

Well I have worn myself out bitching about Left Behind. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep reading or not. I hear they continue to get worse. But then again, they are a fast read. And thanks to the library I can read them without having to give any money to those hacks. My tax dollars at work!

left behind: god's own soap opera

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Writing about Left Behind the other day, I realized that I kept making comparisons to soap operas. And the more I thought about it, the more similarities presented themselves:

Premise
Left Behind: nigh-endless adventure series obsessed with the Rapture.
Soap Operas: nigh-endless drama serial obsessed with romance.

Continuity
Left Behind: you can skip a book and still know pretty much exactly what's going on.
Soap Operas: you can skip a month and still know pretty much exactly what's going on.

Porn Names
Left Behind: Rayford Steele, Buck Williams, Dirk Burton, Nicholae Carpathia, Hattie Durham, Chloe Steele.
Soap Operas: Ridge, Cord, Jax, Stone, Decker, Greenlee, Flash, Kendell, Starr.

Consequences
Left Behind: God punishes those who have sex outside marriage.
Soap Operas: God punishes those who have sex without love. Unless they're really hot.

God is Listening
Left Behind: If you pray for a sign from God, the next person you see will get you out of whatever impossible jam you're facing at the moment.
Soap Operas: If you pray for a sign from God, the next person you see will be your new love interest.

First Impressions
Left Behind: If you take an instant dislike to someone, that's a pretty good indicator that s/he is a minion of the Antichrist.
Soap Operas: If you take an instant dislike to someone, that's a pretty good indicator that you will very soon have sex with him/her.

Family Planning
Left Behind: No one ever uses birth control, and anyone who even considers an abortion ends up a minion of the Antichrist.
Soap Operas: No one ever uses birth control, and anyone who has an abortion ends up in a mental hospital.

Pride Goeth
Left Behind: The good characters are insufferably self-righteous, and horrible things are always happening to them.
Soap Operas: The good characters are insufferably self-righteous, and horrible things are always happening to them.

Finally, a couple of major differences:

The Wages of Sin
Left Behind: The evil characters are pompous, too serious and not much fun.
Soap Operas: The evil characters are way more fun, and generally way more interesting, than the good characters.

The Road Less Travelled
Left Behind: The authors are obsessed with all aspects of travel. Pretty much every major event is told through the lens of people traveling from one place to another. The travel itineraries tend to replace more important and more interesting narrative.
Soap Operas: Distance is meaningless. Every building in town is next door to every other building. It takes a half hour to fly from upstate New York to Puerto Rico. Not a moment is wasted on getting from point A to point B. The only time you see someone traveling is if they're about to have a car accident or plane crash.

left behind

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Went to the library today. Among other things I got the next Left Behind book. Well actually, the third. The second was out. But I found that I didn't have any trouble at all skipping from book 1 to book 3, didn't feel like I had missed a thing. I guess in a multi-part series they have to write it so that readers who can't get one of the books can skip ahead to the next without feeling totally lost. Still, I felt a little like a soap viewer -- if you can watch 2 days out of 5 and still know exactly what's going on, why would you bother to tape the show every day? Only if you love the characters and want to experience as much of them as possible. Unfortunately the characters in Left Behind are too flat to inspire that kind of dedication.

So anyway, I've gotten sucked into the Left Behind series. The writing is abysmally bad but it is entertaining, I'll grant it that. In fact I read the entire third book last night. It's interesting to compare this series to other, more successful books. There's the "near future post-apocalyptic fantasy/horror": The Stand by Stephen King. The "sweeping, multi-part epic with religious themes": Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. The "fish out of water, ordinary American guy dropped into Christian mythos": Inferno by Larry Niven. All more enjoyable to read than Left Behind.

None of these comparisons are really fair, I guess, because [snarky aside] those other writers all know how to write. Okay, actually I was going to say that none of the other authors are bound by strict faithfulness (slavish devotion you might say) to source material, which has been the downfall of many adaptations. Inferno is the only one that even references Christian source material (not the Bible, though as I understand it Left Behind isn't based on the Bible either, rather on a particular interpretation thereof) and Niven has a certain irreverence that I don't expect to see from Jenkins and LaHaye. For instance I doubt they will have anyone, much less their protagonist, call God "the Big Juju."

Also I think the obvious dual goals of converting unbelievers and inspiring believers interfere with Left Behind's ability to entertain. The lengthy conversion scenes drag the story down, all the True Christians come off like total drips, and when bad girl Hattie complains about how preachy and annoying they are, I'm right there with her. (I kind of sympathize with Hattie just for being forced to say that the rapture of all the fetuses was a bad thing because it put her sister who works for an abortion clinic out of work! Just like with soaps, when the writers make a character do and say outrageous things to show how e.v.i.l. they are, I often end up sympathizing with that character and resenting the alleged heroes.)

On the other hand, as an avowed atheist I'm surely not the target audience for the book. My guess is the proselytizing is aimed at casual Christians or those of the "wrong" denomination, which according to the book seems to be everyone except extreme conservative Baptists. (Even the pope isn't part of the rapture! He ends up leading the Antichrist's one world religion.)

On the third hand, I don't think The Book of the New Sun has any intent to proselytize, but I found Severian's epiphany (when he realizes that every thorn on every bush is like the Claw of the Conciliator, and throws his shoes in the water so as to walk barefoot on holy ground) deeply affecting. So I know I'm not immune to spiritual themes in fiction. It just has to be, you know, well written.

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