Soon: Chapter 14: And now for…the rest of…the conversion

Back to Paul’s “private torment,” thinking of “the jarring teaching of the Gospels.”

Should the teaching really be so jarring to Paul?  Bad enough that he got a Ph.D. in religious studies without reading Revelation, but he never read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?  Really?

But even when thinking of the Gospels, Paul doesn’t think of too many specifics.  He mentions in passing teachings like…

If you want to be rich, give your money away.  If you want to lead, serve.

BECAUSE SO MANY CHRISTIANS DO THOSE THINGS, RIGHT???

(And let’s ignore the fact that this turns charity into a deal.  And here I thought people might actually give their money away or serve because they thought those were good things to do, not just because they thought they would get to become rich and lead.  Silly me…)

…when Paul allowed himself to consider that Jesus might have died for his sins, he found himself overwhelmed with grief.

Was he a sinner?  He had been unfaithful to his wife.  He had lied.  He had been selfish, caring more for himself than for his family.  He had killed people.  The weight of it was too much.  He did not remember suffering guilt before; he hardly even knew what it was.

Until now.  He wanted to shake himself back to reality, to get out from under the awful shame be reminding himself that there were myths, fairy tales.

So, there it is.  Paul is upset that he’s done bad things because Jesus died for those bad things.  He feels guilt because the “fairy tales” tell him to, not because he thinks he actually wronged others.

Oh, and not for nothing–Paul may be feeling bad only because of Jesus, but Jenkins has done a pretty good job of showing evil atheists, in evil Atheistopia, getting along just fine, and morally, without the fairy tales.  How about Jae, as a nice first example–she hasn’t been selfish.  She hasn’t cheated.  She hasn’t put her needs before Paul’s.  She certainly hasn’t killed people.  Hmmm…how in the world could she have been so good, without Jesus around to tell her how bad she is?

Finally, FINALLY, the damn plane takes off (and I am still wondering why they just didn’t cancel the flight), and there’s tons of turbulence and Paul is freaking out and they circle Chicago forever.  Now, I’m no Rayford Steele or anything, but when you want to land a small plane and there are tons of storms, don’t you just usually divert the plane?  Why don’t they go to St. Louis or something?

But instead of doing something sensible like that, they try to land, and people are screaming and puking and Paul thinks:

Was it possible he could die?  What if everything he had been listening to was true?

Pascal’s Wager: check.

What if there was a God and a plan of salvation and consequences for not connecting with it?  He shook his head.  He wasn’t about to become a foxhole convert.  That made no sense.  He wondered if it would even be valid.

Hmmm…this all sounds a bit familiar:

“But Cameron, I would be doing this only because I’m afraid I’m going to die in this plane!  That’s all.”

-Chaim Rosenzweig, The Indwelling

Wow, Chaim really was the dry run for Paul Apostle, wasn’t he?

God, save me, Paul cried silently, and he knew he was not pleading only for his physical life.

Yep, because believing in a soul, when you never have before in your life, is just automatic like that.

KABLOOEY!!!

There’s a huge ka-banga of thunder and a bolt of lightning…and Paul sees it, his vision miraculously restored!

Hallelujah!

It’s just that simple!

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Posted on May 19, 2011, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Ugh. Oh, Paul. He doesn’t have a personal experience with god, he doesn’t come to some divine epiphany, he doesn’t even feel like there’s more to the world than materialist atheist science can explain. He converts because the bible is just automagically the truthiest thing in existence.

    I’ve read the bible. Wasn’t particularly impressed. Jenkins wouldn’t be believe that, of course. I doubt that he even imagines it possible to have an opinion on the bible. It’s just there, and it’s true, and it’s inherently beautiful. No interpretation necessary. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what kind of person you might be. The bible ignites a specific set of feelings within every reader, and they can either embrace it, or choose to deny it because they’re proud and sinful and can’t bear to face the grace of god. That a person could read the bible and just feel nothing is unthinkable.

    I get that we, as humans, are somewhat confined in our thinking; limited to our own experiences, we struggle to understand others, only partially succeeding when we can find some personal parallel with which to compare and contrast. I get that thinking outside your head is really damn hard. But it never fails to horrify me when I see cases like this – when someone is so blind to their own bias that they assume their feelings to be some kind of axiomatic law of nature. Like their own skull is an echo chamber.

    Makes me feel claustrophobic just thinking about it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Oh, Paul. He doesn’t have a personal experience with god, he doesn’t come to some divine epiphany, he doesn’t even feel like there’s more to the world than materialist atheist science can explain. He converts because the bible is just automagically the truthiest thing in existence.

      Remember, BB: This is a CHRISTIAN (TM) Novel. And “the bible is just automagically the truthiest thing in existence” is one of the tropes — no, the core axiom — of Conventional CHRISTIAN(TM) Fiction. The purpose of this book (like so many others) is to Reassure the reader that They Are Right.

      Another trope of Conventional CHRISTIAN(TM) Fiction is the Conversion Scene usually comes at the end of the book, AKA The Altar Call Ending. Would it be too much to hope that Jenkins ends the book at this point?

  2. RedwoodRhiadra

    So he reflects on his life, realizes he’s a bad person, feels massive guilt, gets “saved”, and based on what I’ve heard of the rest of the book, changes his behavior not one iota (except for maybe stopping cheating on Jae). He still lies, is selfish, and kills people – but Jesus lets him do so without guilt.

    I guess that’s what Jesus is good for – enabling sociopathy.

    • hidden_urchin

      If our protagonists from “Left Behind” are anything to go by then that is an accurate assessment.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        There is only one type of Conversion Experience in Conventional CHRISTIAN (TM) Fiction.

        “There Can Be Only One…”

  3. If Paul had been listening to Harry Potter books when the storm started, he’d be praying to Dumbledore right now.

  4. Inquisitive Raven

    Y’know, for someone so obsessed with logistics, Jenkins is remarkably bad at it. Every winter flights get cancelled due to weather during major snowstorms. They get cancelled in the summer too due to things like tornadoes and hurricanes. Heck, I think they get cancelled for sufficiently severe thunderstorms.

    And I’ve been on a flight that got diverted. Well, first it sat for an over hour on the tarmac at a scheduled intermediate stop while we waited for the weather to clear at the flight’s final destination. Then after the plane finally got in the air, we got diverted to this podunk airport in BFN Missouri, well, okay not completely BFN; there’s a major U of MO campus in the town where we landed, but it’s hardly St. Louis or KC. By the time I go where I was going about four hours late, the next flight from my starting point had already arrived. My dad went to meet the wrong plane.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      This is the same Jerry Jenkins that had cruise ships on the Jordan River and three-hour slogs East-to-West across Manhattan Island. This despite entire chapters dedicated to over-the-phone idiot conversations about logistics.

  5. I guess that when Paul read the Bible academically he tried to work our what it actually meant, as opposed to feeling it with his newly-RTC gut (I’m sure Atheistopian medicine has a cure for that).

    The RTC feels bad for his sins because Jesus died for them. The rational person feels bad for his misdeeds because he has done harm to people.

    “Was it possible he could die?” Oh, I wish.

    I think this conversion counts, at the very least, as an oath given under duress…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      “Was it possible he could die?” Oh, I wish.

      Firedrake, I think you’re touching on one of the problems with RTC-ism in general. It’s not about Christ inviting us into the Kingdom of God. It’s not about “that you might have Life, and have it more Abundantly.” It’s not about Death being defeated at the Resurrection.

      It’s all about selling Fire Insurance.

      Say the Magick Words and get your Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card.

      That’s it.

      And a 2000-year-old spiritual tradiion — the core spirituality of Western Civilization — becomes nothing more than selling Fire Insurance.

    • The RTC feels bad for his sins because Jesus died for them. The rational person feels bad for his misdeeds because he has done harm to people.

      This! I was going to try and make the same point, but you did it much more succinctly than I could.

    • The RTC feels bad for his sins because Jesus died for them. The rational person feels bad for his misdeeds because he has done harm to people.

      I’m not an RTC, but I would think that it’s not necessarily an either/or. You can feel bad about your sins because Jesus died for them AND because you’ve harmed other people.

      That said, I remember having the same reaction when I read about the conversion of William Murray (Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s son) in his book My Life Without God. His mother, according to him, turned against God in reaction to her religious, abusive father, and Murray in turn turned toward God in reaction to his mother’s abuse.

      Yet while he describes regret for his involvement as the plantiff in the Supreme Court case that outlawed prayer in the public schools, never once does he express remorse for passing on that same cycle of abuse to his wife and his own kids. And tellingly, his daughter in turn rebelled against him, and joined her grandmother’s organization.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Daughter, I think that qualifies more as a Family Tragedy than anything else.

        And also a working out of the Bible verse about The Sins of the Fathers being visited upon their Children, generation after generation. Not in the sense of God punishing you for what your grandfather or his grandfather did, but as a poetic way of saying how destructive behavior and attitudes cascade through the generations.

  6. (And let’s ignore the fact that this turns charity into a deal. And here I thought people might actually give their money away or serve because they thought those were good things to do, not just because they thought they would get to become rich and lead. Silly me…)

    Jesus was speaking metaphorically, ie, true wealth is giving it all away; true leadership is service.

  7. I wonder if Paul’s general ignorance of the Bible is intended as another swipe at these damn liberal intellectual religious studies types who insist on studying it in its sociopolitical context instead of recognising it as the Roadmap to the End Times (TM). “Haw, he’s got a PhD in religious studies, but he doesn’t Know the Truth!” sort of thing.

    • I imagine that’s partially true. Certainly, Paul’s Ph.D. makes a good background, because he has a reason to investigate all these different cases. OTOH, you’re right that there’s a definite feel of, “A Ph.D. is a lofty ivory tower degree, and didn’t teach him what the Bible is really about, like being RTC-homeschooled then going to a Bible College would have!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Today, May 22, 2011, we know of one more RTC (as opposed to “those damn liberal intellectual religious studies types”) whose Roadmap to the End Times hit yet another dead end.

  8. And you know, it would have been alright for Paul plead for Jesus to save him because he was scared of dying. It’d make a nice arc for him to travel he converts because he’s so grateful the plane didn’t crash and his sight was restored, and and he goes along maturing in his faith and helping others (stop laughing!) he starts to see how amazing Grace is and how beautiful Christ’s gifts can be. I’m not even a religious believer and I can find that moving.

    But nope, not only does he make a point of saying it’s not just trying to save his skin asking for Christ, he apparently doesn’t change either.

  9. Hi all (waves), I came over her from Slacktivist and I’ve been catching up since then. These posts are hilarious. A much needed break from RL.

    I had a complaint about the Jenkin’s “miracles”. Specifically that they are not terribly miraculous. Unless I’m mis-understanding the miracles are: an earthquake in an earthquake zone, a fire at an oil well, and rapidly dying genetically engineered trees. All of these are things that can already happen without god’s involvement. Plus they have appear to have no effect on anybody.

    Whereas in [my recollection of] the Bible, miracles were things that otherwise couldn’t happen. Like a making a spring suddenly flow from an otherwise dry rock. Or causing a bush to be on fire but not actually burn up. And the people who witnessed it recognized it as a miracle and were affected by that.

    I assumed that Jenkins just lacked any imagination whatsoever. But my insightful husband pointed out that it might be a deliberate way to keep believers seeing signs of god in all kinds of totally normal events that happen all the time (like tornadoes or mudslides).

    Or maybe its a little of both! No one (sane) ever accused Jenkins of being too imaginative!

    • I’ve certainly been assuming that it’s deliberate – in a way, these non-miraculous miracles could be considered an answer to criticism of the Left Behind series. When Russia (and Ethiopia!) attack Israel with everything they’ve got, and all their aircraft and missiles simply come apart in the air… people are not going to say “oh, that was a bit strange” and get on with their lives. They’re going to be digging at it endlessly, looking over every image-captured frame and every radar trace, trying to work out exactly what was going on – and why did it happen? – and will it happen again?

      Instead, in LB, we get the sort of dull incuriosity which personally I associate with cult members who are waiting to be told what to believe.

      So here at least we have “miracles” that can legitimately be dismissed as natural occurrences. Unfortunately, given that they are meant to be God’s unambiguous messages to repent or burn forever… they make God look like kind of a dick.

      (Each man creates God in his own image…)

      • “So here at least we have “miracles” that can legitimately be dismissed as natural occurrences. Unfortunately, given that they are meant to be God’s unambiguous messages to repent or burn forever… they make God look like kind of a dick.”

        Especially when religious teachings have been forbidden for over 30 years. Like I said with Bia, what does God think people will think??

        • Exactly. God is sending out messages that only individuals in possession of his super secret decoder ring can interpret. If you think god is vengeful and wants all those idiots to burn for banning religion, it makes sense. If you think god is loving and forgiving it makes no sense at all. It’s sad that Jenkins fans can’t see how hateful their belief system really is.

  10. Oops, sorry that got really long. Mostly I just wanted to pipe up and say Hi.

  11. Choir of Shades

    I’ve finally figured out the real reason Paul converts. In chatting with a friend about Nice Guy Syndrome, I realized that it’s a matter of entitlement for Paul. Paul feels so entitled to paradise that he converts just for the chance at HEAVEN! (TM) He looks around him and what is there to see? An end to most major sources of strife around the world, a devoted and loving wife who is supremely forgiving of his faults, an extended family that provides him with plenty of support (Ranold pulls strings for him to get him into one of the most elite government agencies and even covers up and spins Paul’s stupidity into heroism, as we have mentioned back when Paul was blinded, and then is there to support Paul at his unwarranted award ceremony; that seems like a pretty good father-in-law to me), and the rapid improvement of life with new, functional technology, rather than Apple being at the cutting edge by unveiling a small upgrade to their major product every year or two. Anyways, he looks around him and sees as good a place as has ever existed; But Paul Stepola deserves more and what more could there be than HEAVEN! (TM) It must be his, so he converts.

    • I get the feeling that in an oblique way, this ALSO classifies as Fire Insurance Conversion. It requires an all-or-nothing mentality on Paul’s part; anything other than UNALLOYED perfection is chimeric and a bringer of agony. {wonders if this could have defined J, too…} Once he sees something more perfect than the current scenario, being unable to reach it, whether directly denied or otherwise, is hellish. What once was great and noble, becomes in his eyes worse than dross, because it’s no longer possible to see it as the zenith.

      Which makes one wonder whether he desires beauty, comfort, health, etc. for their own sake, or for the sake of vicarious glory. If the latter, it helps explain why we don’t see much of an improvement in his manner post-conversion. I know I can’t see how glorythirst and kindness can consistently coexist…

  12. How about Jae, as a nice first example–she hasn’t been selfish. She hasn’t cheated. She hasn’t put her needs before Paul’s. She certainly hasn’t killed people. Hmmm…how in the world could she have been so good, without Jesus around to tell her how bad she is?

    Keep in mind, though, that she almost certainly once walked off with a paperclip that didn’t belong to her, or said “No, you don’t look fat!” to one of her friends when it wasn’t strictly true, or had a mean thought about her parents as a child, and is therefore clearly deserving the worst possible torture for all eternity.

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