Welp, it’s Chapter 33, and Murphy has officially decided to Do Something: go to the beach.
Okay, I’m being ever so slightly unfair. He goes to Myrtle Beach to find Methuselah. On his trip down, Murph reflects upon
his own knowledge of Myrtle Beach Wikipedia. Now, I’ve been to Myrtle Beach and it’s fun, but the history definitely isn’t as fascinating as a lot of places (basically, they decided to make it a resort…and made it a resort). So I’ll forgive Murphy for not speechifying for three pages, and instead just “reflecting” for one paragraph.
He goes to the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, which is not far from Meth’s estate, and just chills on the beach “to just sit and take in the glory of God’s creation.”
Or the glory of tourism creation, I guess. Also, I wonder if cool ole RTC Murphy decided to set this scene in Myrtle Beach (as opposed to any other of the beachy areas in North and South Carolina) because of Myrtle Beach’s thong ban.
So he takes in the glory of God’s creation, and sits around to wait for Meth, and opens a book (unspecified, so presumably not the Bible).
Might as well do something productive, Murphy thought.
Reading a book might be the first productive thing Murphy’s done in this book so far.
A few hours later, Murphy sees Meth being escorted out to the beach by his plainclothes bodyguards. (At 11:30, the heat of the day in late spring at Myrtle Beach, really? An older guy like Meth would probably want to go out way earlier, before the heat becomes too oppressive.)
Now, it’s important to point out right now that Murphy went all the way to Myrtle Beach with exactly zero plan. (This despite the fact that Murphy thinks of this meet-up as something that is “on Murphy’s terms, not [Meth’s].“) So he’s lucky when he happens to see a young staffer for the Dunes, and cons him into loaning him a Dunes uniform by implying (though not lying outright and in so many words, because that would be wrong) that he wants to use the uniform to get close to a pretty lady. Having thus conned and potentially gotten into deep trouble an innocent young man just trying to make his way in the world, Murphy poses as a waiter and gets Meth’s order. Without looking up, Meth orders a sammich, and…
Murphy was about to explode inside, his curiosity mingling with a great deal of anger. Methuselah had succeed a lion on him, almost killed him when he cut loose a cable in the Royal Gorge, and hired a host of professional killers to try to take him out.
Yeah, Murphy…none of which would ever had happened had you not take Meth up on his invitations. He invited you to places, with the situation very clear to both of you, and you decided the reward was worth the risk. So forgive me if I don’t feel too much sympathy for you.
(Also, you forgot about the puppy cave.) (I suspect because Phillips forgot about it too, to at least about said doggies.)
In his anger, Murphy lashes out with this lame “attack”:
“How about some rattlesnakes for lunch?”
…And he instantly finds himself spitting sand because the bodyguards tackle his ass.
After a second, Meth recognizes Murphy, and calls off his guards. Hilariously, Meth immediately deduces that Levi Abrams (yes, Meth knows who Levi is), must have done the actual investigation. So even Meth knows full well that Murphy is incapable to doing anything on his own.
“I can figure out how you know so much about the Bible. Your grandfather was a missionary and your father was an active Christian. But what’s with all the games, the riddles, the attempts on my life?”
Murphy gives himself rather too much credit here. It’s pretty obvious that Meth never meant to kill Murphy. I’m pretty sure that if Meth wanted Murphy dead, Murphy would be dead.
And indeed, Meth characterizes his antics as “tests,” and tells Murphy that this has all been for a Cause: Meth’s family were killed by “wicked and powerful” people with “goals for world domination.” (Guess who!!!) Meth wants to destroy them, and needs Murphy’s help to do it, and all these silly Bible artifact tests have been to get Murphy “battle-ready for these people.” Because I guess The Seven (TSAN!) are going to make Murphy crawl on rope bridges and save drowning puppies.
Meth explains that he leads Murphy to Bible artifacts because “[The Seven (TSAN!)] would like to see the Bible destroyed and believers in Almighty God eliminated. I am simply using you to help prove them wrong.”
Murphy thinks that Meth’s “warped logic” indicates that “the old man had all but lost his grip on reality,” though Meth’s taken more action in any one passage with him than Murphy’s taken in this whole book. And honestly, the only error in logic I see in Meth is that he’s contracting Michael Murphy and not, say, The Punisher or someone more appropriate, to go after the cabal that killed his family.
And hilariously, Meth actually sides with me (which I suppose, in Murphy’s eyes, would mean that I had lost my grip on reality, too), and points out that Murphy “could have turned back at any time,” but always chose to go for Meth’s crazy games.
Murphy tries (rather half-heartedly, I might add) to press Meth for more details, especially on The Seven (and Murphy still doesn’t know their name!), but Meth just peaces out and has his crack security team escort Murphy away.
Oh, but not before reminding Murphy to return the Dunes uniform.
Murphy had completely forgotten about the uniform.
Crack hero, ladies and gentlemen!
A Very Stable Genius.
Who simmers as he heads back home:
It was so typical of Methuselah to just walk away. It always had to be on his terms. He had to be in control.
No doubt about it. Murphy was ticked off.
Short-tempered, impatient, impotent in the face of a much more intelligent man (one who, it is worth noting, actually does have a long-term plan for his life). Even when Murphy does something, he doesn’t actually do anything.
I’m getting a tad sick of Phillips introducing this one-dimensional, one-off characters, only to kill them as soon as they’re introduced. Multiple guards at the Parchments of Freedom Foundation, even guys like Vern, Murphy’s helicopter-flying “friend” from Ararat—give them a name and a relationship (however unbelievable) to a main character, then kill them off. Yeah, I totally believe that Michael Murphy is close, personal friends with Vern, his wife, and their one-and-two-thirds children, even though we never heard of them before (even when Laura died!) and never heard from them again after Vern served his purpose.
Then again, if there’s one thing Michael Murphy has, it’s an odd notion of friendship. What kind of view of friendship do you have when your closest “friend” disappears for months, and you can’t even bring yourself to call his family to see if they know anything, or if there’s anything you can tell them?
Anyway, we’re at it again. Remember Levi’s pal from the Mossad, Moshe Perlman? When Murphy subcontracted out with Levi to get him to Ashdod, Levi in turn subcontracted to Moshe to “check it out.”
And so he is. And Phillips feels the need to specify that he is doing so in “an old 911 Porsche from West Germany,” which he is driving because it’s “an old enough car that it didn’t attract any attention.”
This struck me as odd, so I asked my husband about it, since he knows waaaaayyyyy more about cars than I do. He said that off the top of his head, a 911 Porsche is “a cool classic car that lots of people would recognize,” so maybe not the best thing to drive if your aim is to be completely unnoticed.
Moshe heads to the site of old Ashdod, and sees four cars parked by the sorta-site.
Pearlman’s training with the Mossad made him very alert and very suspicious.
Thanks for the info, Phillips.
Moshe is so alert and suspicious that he puts his gun on, then sneaks in from hundreds of yards away and determines that the cars are “not the type of vehicle one would take on an archaeological dig. They were too new, too nice, and too clean.”
Yeah, because a 911 Porsche is definitely the car you would take on an archaeological dig.
Moshe follows footprints from the cars to a hole in a wall (just go with it) (and yeah, Moshe is totally acting unsuspiciously, following people and snooping around really obviously like this).
Fumbling around down there, all by himself, Moshe hears four men also fumbling around. Two of them (we’ll call them “the two Arabs,” because Phillips does) naturally ask after Moshe’s identity and purpose.
“I’m a tourist,” Perlman said brightly, hoping his acting chops were up to snuff. “I saw some cars and I stopped to look at the ruins of Ashdod. I then discovered the hole in the wall and entered. Are you archaeologists?”
Oh, yeah, Moshe, Academy-Award-level performance right there.
The two Arabs moved closer.
“Why, yes, we are. We are exploring for ancient artifacts.”
Moshe had heard enough lies during his career to quickly discern truth from falsehood by the tone in one’s voice.
Oh, yeah, congrats, Moshe. Your spy skills are working just great for you right now. You really have those Two Arabs in a spot.
Damn, son, if Archer was on the case, these guys would already be dead.
In a rather ridiculous yet simultaneously boring development, Moshe evades the Two Arabs and makes a break for his car.
BUT TALON IS THERE
Yep, Talon is there. Because Talon has the super villain power to teleport to wherever the “plot” needs him to be.
So, yeah, he’s just been waiting around for this guy to show up. So he snipers Moshe in the leg, then sits Two Falcons on him, and it’s all over.
Cut to 3:00 in the morning, and Murphy is roused by a call from Levi, who informs him that Moshe’s body was just found, and that “all the wounds look like the clawing and pecking of birds” but that “no one can figure out what happened.”
Murphy, of course, manages to figure out that it was TALON (he’s a crafty bastard, that Murphy is) and says that he wants to go to Ashdod now “more than ever.” Which would be nice, really, since it would basically be the first time he’s gotten up off the couch in this entire book.
Levi volunteers to go along, “to avenge Moshe’s death. I would be my joy to turn those falcons on Talon.”
Okaaaayyyy. But I don’t think that’s how birds work, dear. I mean, they’re not guns, yanno? They don’t work equally for everyone. They’re loyal to Talon. Idiot.
Murphy urges Levi to “put on the pressure!” because it’s still completely up to Pal Levi to set up this whole trip. So Murphy’s gonna sit around while Levi gets things done. Murphy does helpfully add that “Talon already appears to have a big head start.”
Yeah, Murph, go figure. So shocking, what with all the work you’ve done on this mission and…
At the end of the previous chapter, during the Fake Standing Ovation, “kooky” RA Shari was clapping and grinning along with everyone else (I’m assuming she was the only one not in on the joke). One sentence, but an unstated length of time later, and she’s poring over a piece of papyrus that Murphy found in a “curio shop in Cairo” at some undetermined point in the past.
Murphy pops in on her, and she reveals that she’s read the papyrus, and it references the Ark of the Covenant. Specifically, it verifies that “two magical objects” (the rod and manna, presumably) were removed. Now, this is the first “break in the case” in many, many chapters, and it’s kinda hilarious that Shari discovered it, not Murphy, but the discovery itself takes a distant second place to a much, much more important topic…
See, Dean Archer Fallworth has left a message with Shari for Murphy to come and talk with him. This would be horrific enough in itself for Murph, but unworldly Christian Shari is also up on all the gossip, and reveals to Murphy that the President of Preston University is retiring…and Fallworth is on the short list to replace him!!!
Probably not the reaction LaPhillips expected readers to have.
Not Murphy’s reaction, either.
Murphy felt sick to his stomach.
Awww, whatsa matter, Murph?
Oh, and let’s just pause for a moment and reflect that Murphy’s nausea was brought on, not by someone trying to kill his girlfriend, not by the realization that the Antichrist himself may be alive and well and gathering followers…but by the thought that his professional rival might get a promotion.
Yep, that’s out hero! Like a good Christian, unconcerned with the things of this world.
So Murphy heads off to Archer’s office, “armed” with a few pieces of paper. We’ll see why in a sec.
Archer breaks the news to Murph that he might be the next president, and Murphy gets to act not at all surprised, so as “not to give him the satisfaction” of a “reaction.” Like, say, Murphy’s actual reaction of nausea. So mature!
Archer mentions that if he does become president, he’ll do his best to cancel Murphy’s biblical archaeology classes.
Murphy baits him into saying that this is because “religion has no place in the classroom,” and Murphy is off to the races!
(Fallworth obviously misspoke here. Based on his past interactions with Murphy, it’s clearly always been his position that proselytizing has no place in the classroom, but nothing will stop Murphy once he gets on a roll.)
Murphy begins by the snide ole response that oh, I guess Fallworth is against teaching about art that depicts religious things, or the Protestant Reformation, or religiously-themed music, hmmm???
Fallworth rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean, Murphy?”
Right? Fallworth has so much more patience than I, debating with this child. (Apologies to children, most of whom have more sense than Michael Murphy.)
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.” [Murphy responds]
“Oh, then I guess you’re a bit denser than I thought, Murphy. I guess we’ll see what happens in a few months. Have a nice day.”
Well, that’s what Fallworth should have said. Instead, he lets Murphy blather on, segueing into a cherry-picking lecture on the Supreme Court case of Abington School District v. Schemmp. (Because I guess Murphy is now a legal expert, too.)
Okay, a bit of background: evangelical Christians generally hate this case, being one of those that Drove Prayer Out Of Public Schools.
Never mind this is one of the cases that drove forced prayer (and in this particular case, forced Bible readings, too) out of public schools. So it’s kinda funny that Murphy would cite this case, for two reasons: 1) it didn’t come down on Murphy’s side and 2) it’s talking about public elementary schools, not a (presumably) private university where these guys are.
So yeah, these are the printouts that Murphy grabbed on the way out. Because he hears “meeting with Dean Fallworth” and immediately thinks, “I better grab a copy of a Supreme Court case from 1963 so I can read it aloud to him!”
Which he does At length. (Yeah, shocking, I know.)
So, it’s interesting. Here’s the passage Murphy quotes. I’ve crossed out the parts he omits, so you can see the difference:
It is insisted that unless these religious exercises are permitted a “religion of secularism” is established in the schools. We agreeof course thatthe State may not establish a “religion of secularism” in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus “preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.” Zorach v. Clauson, supra, at 314. We do not agree, however, that this decision in any sense has that effect.In addition, it might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into those categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.
So yeah. The pro-prayer crowd was saying that taking out the prayer had the effect of a “religion of secularism,” and the Surpeme Court said No and No.
Also, we’ve seen plenty of Murphy’s classes from beginning to end by this point. Anybody think he’s arguing for his right to present religion objectively, and not aiding his particular religion?
Then Murphy quotes another Justice saying that “the holding of the Court today plainly does not foreclose teaching about the Holy Scriptures or about the differences between religious sects in classes of literature or history.” Sure, great. Kinda hilarious that Murphy is quoting that when he habitually dismisses class with admonitions to students to listen to the “still small voice” of God/their conscience, and to beware false (non-RTC) teachers.
By the way, here are a few quotes from the opinion that Murphy would be less likely to use as weapons against Fallworth:
While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs.
Oh, and this section occurs right before the first one Murphy (partially) quoted:
The conclusion follows that in both cases the laws require religious exercises and such exercises are being conducted in direct violation of the rights of the appellees and petitioners. Nor are these required exercises mitigated by the fact that individual students may absent themselves upon parental request, for that fact furnishes no defense to a claim of unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 430. Further, it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent and, in the words of Madison, “it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, quoted in Everson, supra, at 65.
After all this, Murphy ends with the rather half-hearted conclusion that “we don’t see eye to eye.”
True dat. Fallworth is for actual classes being taught, Murphy is for twisting the words of the Supreme Court (and doing a piss-poor job of it, at that), to make it seem like Fallworth is against religion being taught in any context.
Then the following bizarre exchange takes place:
“I respect your right to disagree with me. I’m not trying to force you to accept what I believe. All I’m asking is that you have the same respect for me and my beliefs.”
Murphy says this. Murphy, who once said that Fallworth was just someone who “had moral issues” and, later, that agnosticism (Fallworth’s position) was “a life of ignorance and uncertainty” that is “pretty lame.”
Oh, and in that same conversation, Murphy, in an example of his respecting the rights of others, he expressed his fear of courses that would teach “the beauties of being a Wicca witch with white magic.”
So it’s not too surprising that Fallworth’s sarcastic response is that Murphy is suuucccchhh “the loving Christian.”
“That’s interesting, Archer. Whenever you have a difficult time defending your views, you resort to personal attacks.”
Fallworth has had no difficulty defending his views. Murphy is proselytizing in class, and you just know that Fallworth knows all about it, given the timing of these conversations. Really, it’s Murphy who has difficulty defending his position, what with his reliance on printed-out pages of Supreme Court opinions that don’t even come down on his side, and his constant…well, personal attacks on Archer himself, as seen above.
Phillips really doesn’t remember that we’ve read the other books, does he?
And Murphy, of course, has to have one more bon mot as he turns on his heel, takes his ball, and goes home:
“Archer, as you have gone on record…let me go on record. You are on shaky ground. If you choose to make a battle over this, so be it. I will not roll over and play dead on this issue.”
Wow, bit of projection going on, you think? Archer is on shaky ground? The guy who is currently dean of his department, and in line to be president of the university…is on shaky ground with one of the (no doubt) least respected professors on campus, who routinely proselytizes in his classes, if he shows up at all. And when was the last time Murphy published, might I ask?
Ah, but little things like that don’t matter, not when Murphy storms out and slams the door, like a petulant teenager!
Stroming (no doubt in the manliest of fashions) back across campus, Murphy thinks that “there were not too many issues he would fight for, but this was one of them.”
Really really? Because I have a feeling Murphy would “fight” against just about anything, including putting gluten-free options on the student union cafeteria menu. Or if the Wicca witches with white magic started a campus club.
And, proving that Phillips really doesn’t read what he writes, Murphy then has this thought:
Over the centuries men have tried to put down the teachings of the Bible. They have barked like dogs at a caravan and yet the caravan of truth keeps moving forward in spite of them. God help me to remember this when under attack.
This from the guy who was just trying to convince his dean that he use of religion in the classroom fell under the Supreme Court definition of “a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization” or “study [of the Bible] for its literary and historic qualities…presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”
Murphy, Murphy, Murphy…what have I told you about bearing false witness?
Thirty chapters in (out of sixty-eight), and seriously NOTHING has happened yet.
We are reminded of this twofold, as Murphy begins yet another class, and notices that Summer Van Doren has not shown up.
Get your head in the game, Murphy. You’ve got a class to teach. Anyway, how could you be thinking about her after you had that wonderful dream about Isis?
Yep, he’s done nothing. He hasn’t started tracking down the Biblical artifacts he keeps daydreaming about, and he hasn’t contacted the pseudo-girlfriend that he real dreams about.
(This is starting to become one of those stereotypical I-have-a-girlfriend-who-lives-in-Canada things. You can just picture Murphy chatting with colleagues: “I do TOO have a girlfriend. She just lives in another state and never visits and we don’t talk on the phone or write letters or email. But she’s real! I even held her hand once!”)
(More to the point, this is also reminiscent of Rayford Steele’s obsession with “a woman he had never touched“—for these RTC males, relationships are actually better…when they aren’t actually relationships.)
Also also, did Murphy seriously expect Summer to audit every single class he ever teaches, forever? I mean, dude, she has a job.
And, in further news of Occasional Characters, Murphy notices that Paul Wallach has shown up to class.
It had been quite some time since Paul had dropped out of his class.
Uh-huh. So why then does he get to just show back up whenever he wants? I mean, I get that this is the easiest and most pointless course on campus, but I doubt the registrar is similarly incompetent. Dean Archer Fallworth has shown us repeatedly that some people at Preston University do actually care about their jobs.
Interestingly, Murphy reaction to Paul’s presence is:
I guess he and Shari are really trying to put their relationship back together.
Wow, so even Murphy understands his own class is pointless. Because Paul couldn’t possibly be there to get his degree (which he should already have, but whatevs); he could only be in that classroom to win Shari back.
Murphy begins class by briefly reviewing the previous weeks: lectures on “the concept of God…[spawning] many cultures to create pagan gods and idols,” and “thinking about both good and evil angels.” And again, he seems to be openly admitting that nothing about this course has anything even remotely to do with archaeology.
Now we’re on to false teachers, which Murphy of course interprets to mean anybody who preaches or teaches anything that is not RTC-ity. He starts with a Letterman’s Top Ten list. Well, it’s a list of ten people. I don’t feel like tracking down all of them, but one I picked at random was Abu Isa, who never actually claimed to be Christ at all. So…whoopee?
Murphy blathers on for pages about these and a second list of ten “false Christs and teachers,” sprinkling in a sentence or two about some (but not all) of them, in such a way that absolutely none of it will stick in the minds of his students. Moving a bit further forward in history, Murphy mentions Ann Lee, whom I only mention because she was a Shaker leader, and I recently heard a radio preacher snarking about Shakers. I had not known this was a Thing in RTC-ity, but apparently so.
And this list is odd in another way: Maitreya is put in the same list with Marshall Applewhite. Seems to me that a guy who leads a mass suicide belongs in a different category than the potential future Buddha. (Interestingly, Murphy puts a year next to each name. Maitreya gets 1959. Why, I’m not sure, except that 1959 was the year the translation of a book containing the prophecy of Maitreya was released. Top notch researching there, Murph!
And this goes on for EIGHT PAGES. Eight pages of Phillips’ distillation of his glances at Wikipedia. And he tops it off with a full page of FALSE TEACHERS who made predictions surrounding the year 2000. And again, this list is just bizarre with regards (or lack thereof) to proportionality: the leader of a mass suicide is once again featured in the same list as someone who just made some bizarre claims. (Why do I get the feeling that in LaPhillips’ eyes, it is much worse for a woman to make bizarre claims than a man?)
Now, as we’ve discussed before, these students are friggin’ pros at this point in the fine art of Dealing with Michael Murphy. So it should come as no surprise when, instead of calling Murphy on the fact that plenty of RTCs have made claims that have not come true, a student asks the following:
“Dr. Murphy, hadn’t there been predictions about Jesus Christ…like where He was going to be born and how he would die, for hundreds of years before the event?”
Yeah, she knows what’s up.
Murphy is just waiting for such a question, because the claims of RTCs are totally different from all other spiritual claims.
Murph cites one Peter Stoner, a Christian mathematician who was in turn cited in Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (In true incestuous RTC tradition, McDowell cites Stoner’s book, which was “carefully reviewed” by the American Scientific Affiliation…a group co-founded by Stoner.)
The “staggering odds” Murphy cites is that there is a “one in ten to the twenty-eighth power [chance of Jesus] fulfilling eight prophecies.”
Now, aside from snarking on the completely unquestioned prophecies that may or may not have been referring to Jesus, and may or may not have come true (though if you want to, try this or this), the bell is about to ring (because I guess this is middle school), and one of the most laugh- or cringe-inducing moments in the entire series happens:
“With odds like that, when Christ returns, I don’t think there will be any doubt about it. So think about the importance of following a true teacher as compared to a false teacher. It could affect the future of each and every one of you.”
The bell rang and the students treated Murphy to a standing ovation for a particularly inspired lecture. He blushed and gave a nod of gratitude.
I mean, wow. There are really too many comments for me to make.
First of all, again, the authors have not been to college. I have been in a LOT of college and graduate and professional classrooms, and the only time I have seen a professor applauded for a lecture is when it is either 1) a guest lecture or 2) the last day of classes. Standing ovation for a random weekday lecture with PowerPoint lists and a handout? Not so much.
Especially because (and I do so love to hammer away at this point), this lecture had ZERO to do with archaeology. ZERO. It was about false (non-RTC) teachers, most of them from the 20th century. Dean Fallworth, where are you when we need you?
So there is no way I can read this standing ovation as being the least bit sincere. It’s coming right on the tail of a brown-nosing question that was fishing for a self-serving response from an egomaniac. Student asks the brown-nosing question, Murphy pontificates on Biblical “statistics” for two full pages, gets a standing ovation. There is NO WAY that was not planned ahead of time. It’s a faux-spontaneous act to kiss up and raise grades and put the narcissist in a good mood. For a darker image, think of the opening scene of USS Callister (and yes, I’ll just reference the opening scene, because SPOILERS).
Sure, we have all the many, many times Rayford Steele has insisted on being called “Captain,” and DOCTOR Paul Stepola, the besets spy in the history of the world, but this standing ovation for a normal lecture may be the single best example of this world heaping unearned praise and adulation on its author avatar heroes.
Brilliant PowerPoints, Professor, just brilliant!
It is still hard to believe how slowly we’re working through these Back-in-the-Bible chapters. Chapter 20, the last one, covered the first part of 1 Samuel 4, and this chapter covers the second part of 1 Samuel 4, about the Philistines capturing the Ark, and two guys dying, and then some other guy goes back and finds out the one dead guy’s wife is in labor, and sensitively doesn’t wait until she’s done pushing the baby out to tell her that her husband’s dead. So she dies, but not before naming her son Ichabod, because she was a big fan of Sleepy Hollow.
Murphy has Isis over for a home-cooked meal of grilled steaks and
beers and Netflix and chill water and a “rented movie.” Over the course of a whole page, this “cutely” turns into a series of “passionate kisses,” Isis on top of Murphy!!!
Annnnd just as you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Ruby, that doesn’t sound like your common or garden RTC novel. There’s passionate kissing and the woman is on top of the man and this is all happening in the evening at the man’s house when the woman lives a four-hour drive away so she’ll presumably have to spend the night—” welllll…
Yup, Murphy conked out on the couch and dreamed about Isis. Not California Swedish Blonde Volleyball Surfer Summer, but Isis. So, I mean, it’s kinda nice…then again, this is Isis’s first “appearance” in nine chapters, and it’s in a dream.
Anyway, Murphy is woken from his dream by a call from Levi Abrams. Levi has made two appearances in this book so far, but they were before my Glorious Life Event Hiatus, so here they are if you’d like to review.
Levi is actually returning Murphy’s call to his answering machine (man, the little things that date books, eh?), because as usual, Murphy only contacts his “friends” when he needs their help. He’s actually calling Levi in, not to thank him for the surveillance equipment that helped them kinda-sorta expose Sonstad, but to loop him in to Isis’s Ashdod issue.
It’s 10:30 at night, but Levi doesn’t want to talk about Ashdod now. Instead, he invites Murphy to the gym first thing the next morning for a workout and sparring. Now, not that there’s anything inherently romantic about going to the gym with a friend, but it just seems odd to juxtapose that invitation with Murphy’s realization that the homey and sexy scene with Isis just now wasn’t real.
And I’ll add something else too, especially in light of the last chapter, in which Murphy imagined heroically finding artifacts instead of, yanno, actually going out and finding artifacts. Murphy doesn’t do anything—he doesn’t archaeologize, he apparently doesn’t date, but he imagines doing these things. Now, even in the most cliched context I can think of, such imaginings would be not something dismissed as quickly as they are brought up, but springboards to actual action. The love dream especially—how many movies have we seen where dreaming/thinking ’bout love leads to a Grand Romantic Gesture, a Race for Your Love, or simply an Anguished Declaration of Love? This could be Murphy’s big moment, when he realizes that a blonde surfer can’t actually turn his head from the (new) love of his life.
He just goes to the gym with Levi.
“Levi, your reverse punches are like hammers. How do you develop them?”
Well geez, Murph, Levi thought you’d never ask. A page and a half was spent on Murphy’s sexy-domestic dream about Isis, and the EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF SPACE is used to describe in vivid detail how Levi suspends pieces of paper from the ceiling (his wife loves that, I’m sure), and punches the paper, trying to rip it in the middle with the punch. It’s just as riveting as you might imagine.
FINALLY, they actually get around to discussing Ashdod and Aaron’s Rod. And by “discuss,” I mean that Murphy just straight up asks that Levi “push through the paperwork for an archaeological dig.” As usual, our Brave Hero is incapable of doing the simplest of preparations for his own expedition without his Mossad contact. Levi even offers to send his friend from the Mossad, Moshe Pearlman, to go to Ashdod right away to “check it out.” Because I guess Moshe doesn’t have anything better to do with his time.
And then, secure in the knowledge that he has absolutely no work to do whatsoever, Murphy gets back to perfecting his reverse punches. Because that’s what’s important here.
Of all the Starbucks in all the world, you had to walk into mine…
So must Michael Murph think when Shane Barrington bumps into him at Starbucks. Yep, the media mogul who lives in Manhattan has come to a random Starbucks in college-town North Carolina.
And he’s caught Murphy at such a busy time in the adventurer’s life!
[Murphy] was sipping his Starbucks coffee and daydreaming about finding Aaron’s Rod and the Golden Jar of Manna. It would be an archaeological find that would stun the world and put Bible critics on the run.
Yep, I’m sure we all remember those thrilling scenes in Indiana Jones movies, when he would stand around coffee shops and daydream about finding artifacts. Those daydream moments are what made the audiences come back again and again.
I hate to harp on this (oh come on, I love to harp on this!), but this seems an almost self-aware admission by LaPhillips that NOTHING has happened in this book yet. He has gone nowhere except on a date with his girlfriend (who is not really his girlfriend, and who he puts right out of his mind when leggy blonde surfers enter the room), and to a couple of tent revival meetings. And as for what he’s done, it’s basically just preach at his archaeology students, using lectures that he admits are just mirrors of what his pastor is preaching about.
Is it possible to take a coffee break when you have nothing to take a break from?
Anyway, Barrington comes in and bumps into Murphy, and for a book that won’t name bands, it has no problem pumping the Starbucks name (which is ironic when you consider that a few years later, RTCs would have their first field day whinging and whining about Starbucks holiday cups).
“I guess we both like a good cup of coffee.” [said Shane]
*insert Starbucks joke here*
Shane is also being extraordinarily nice and polite here, considering that the last time he and Murphy spoke, Murphy was incredibly and unnecessarily rude, insulting everything Shane did and was involved in. (And bear in mind that no, Murphy still doesn’t know that Shane works for The Seven (TSAN!).)
And we remember this because Murphy reminds us—a half-page is spent recounting the encounter and the insults Murphy made, though he amusingly characterizes it as “[the encounter] turned less than cordial,” which is certainly one way to share some of the blame to Shane, when it was Murphy who went uncordial. But whatevs.
Shane is in town to close the deal on a local station he’s purchased, and asks Murphy, out of the blue, about his new show promoting Constantine De La Rosa. Murphy is surprised that Shane cares about his opinion, but I’m not: in the last chapter, we were reminded of De La Rosa, and now LaPhillips needs to reiterate that he’s the AntiChrist by creating a situation in which Murphy can spout off about him.
Murphy snidely remarks that De La Rosa’s goals: diversity, tolerance, environmentalism, and peace, are all “a little dangerous.” Bizarrely, Shane doesn’t laugh in his face at this and head off with his Starbucks to avoid further wasting of his time, but lets Murphy prattle on how De La Rosa just might be one of the False Prophets of the End Times (ha-HA, so we know our intrepid hero doesn’t have it quite right…yet), and Shane just stands there harping and thinking about how much he admires “Murphy’s ability to not mince works and to speak honestly.” Because that, dear readers, is what everyone will be thinking of you when you ramble about the End Times to them.
On a related note, this a very timely chapter. Because just last week, the Slacktivist covered the moment in Left Behind when Buck Williams miserably fails to witness to a woman sitting next to him on a plane, a woman who very clearly wanted to be witnessed to. And now Shane is asking questions of Murphy about De La Rosa. This would be a perfect opportunity to open up to Shane, tell him about the Good News. Pull out his Bible that he always has on him and show Shane chapter and verse about false prophets, instead of making crazy-sounding claims that environmentalism and peace are “dangerous.”
Instead, Murphy goes on a bizarre guilt-tripping tangent, to the effect of: if Shane doesn’t totally support and believe in De La Rosa, why is he giving him a show on his network? To which Shane gives the very sensible answer that De La Rosa is news, a famous religious figure just like Mother Teresa. And it just makes Murphy look naive, because even religious stations have disclaimers before some shows saying that the network execs might not agree with everything that you’re going to see. It’s a silly, time-wasting point to make.
(Oh, and Shane is also promoting De La Rosa because The Seven (TSAN!) told him to. But again, Shane has done an awesome job of keeping this all a secret from Murphy, who still has not idea who TS are, what they want, and that they have one of the most powerful media moguls on the planet working for them.)
But all this annoying, probing, do-you-support-him talk puts Shane right off, and the two men go their separate ways.
In the car, Murphy prays:
Lord, why did You bring him into my life today? Am I supposed to have some kind of influence in his life? He’s power hungry, arrogant, and difficult to like.
Help me to be tolerant.
And God smote Michael Murphy on the spot for using That Word. The End.
Actually, apparently unaware of irony, LaPhillips cuts to Shane’s reaction to the conversation. But Shane, though of course admitting that Murphy is Right (though only about there being something sketchy about De La Rosa) is mainly focused on his anger towards The Seven. And he reflects on how they ordered the murders of Stephanie and his son, the Ambiguously Gay Arthur.
Because events like those can be easy to forget.
So, you readers don’t have to spend any of your precious sympathy on Shane Barrington. He’s just filled with rage and vengeance, just like all evil atheists are. So it’s no reflection on Murphy’s skills that he couldn’t witness properly. Or at all.
Back to some pointless posturing by The Seven (They’ll Stop at Nothing!). This time, they’ve all jaunted over to Florence and are hanging out at the Accademia Gallery to see David. The book then engages in a rare instance of male fat-shaming, as Viorica and Jakoba giggle behind their hands because Sir William is a fatty-fat-fat who isn’t cut like David.
Then we readers are expected to have a good chuckle at Sir William ourselves, because Viorica and Jakoba both notice that Sir William has noticed the colorful scarves that Italin women like to wear.
Geddit? GET? IT? He’s like, totes gay. And FAT. And it’s funny!
Once they’re all together, The Seven (TSAN!) continue their discussion of Constantine De La Rosa. Hey, have you guys ever noticed that when The Seven (TSAN!) get together, they have, like, a five-minute discussion, then they globe-trot off to the next exotic locale to have another five-minute discussion? Just sayin’, they could’ve taken over the world six times by now, were they a bit more efficient.
Anyway, they are for sure setting De La Rosa up to be the New Nicolae, even referencing some “bona fide miracles” that I guess De La Rosa is planning to do sometime in the near future. Because he hasn’t done them yet.
They even reference The Mark, pointing out that it’s “a little early” to institute it, being as how, yanno, nothing’s happened yet. Also the Bible says it’s not time yet.
Then they turn to a topic almost as important as the leader who will take over the entire planet…Michael Murphy!
“He and a man named Bob Wagoner have begun to expose some false teachers in the United States.”
General Li is giving Murphy and Wagoner way too much credit here, since, as we know, they’ve only just tried to expose the one man in their own backyard, and that mostly by sending stuff to someone who does the actual exposing. They’re not exactly Harry Houdini and James Randi, is all I’m saying.
“But I don’t think it will garner much attention. … Murphy and his ally will be rejected as religious wacko extremists.”
Hmmm…what a “wonderful disclaimer” our heroes have. If their exposing doesn’t work, it’s not because they did a half-assed job of it, but because of the anti-religious-nutjob climate in the United States.
Sir William hilariously states that he is “a little tired of [Murphy’s] continual irritating interruptions. He is like a bulldog that won’t release its grip.” Oh yeah, Murphy just won’t let go of The Seven, will he? Always digging deeper, foiling their clever plots…
Murphy has done NOTHING to mess with The Seven. The Seven have barely been slowed down, and even then, it’s only by their own or Talon’s or another hired hand’s incompetence, or because they are focusing on Murphy instead of concentrating on world domination. Murphy has exactly zero idea of who these people are, where they’re from, what they want, and how they’re trying to get it. And I honestly think that at this point, Phillips himself has forgotten this, and thinks Murphy knows as much as we, the readers, do.
(Indeed, since this is all just another way to get to the events of Left Behind, there’s no way Murphy could stop or slow down The Seven, and LaPhillips knows this. This is all God-ordained stuff that’s leading to one inescapable ending. There’s no choice or free will in LaHaye’s little world, so it’s kinda silly to act like Michael Murphy even has a chance against these people, even if he was trying, which he’s not.)
Jakoba points out the obvious solution: kill Murphy. The silly little woman’s perfectly sensible plan is shot down, of course: Murphy is “most resourceful.” Yeah, so resourceful that he does the same thing almost all the time, following the same schedules and patterns as he always has (this is most of us, mind you, but most of us aren’t being surveilled by an international group with bottomless resources that is trying to take over the world).
I mean, one sniper could take down Murphy on his way to class any day. Heck, if you want to make it look like it’s not the Evil World-Taking-Over Organization, have the sniper kill others, so it looks like an act of terrorism instead of a murder. Or kill him in his (apparently) entirely unprotected house some night—make it look like a botched break-in. There’s about a million ways you could kill this perfectly ordinary man—he is not friggin’ Captain America, yanno.
Mendez points out that when Murphy’s wife died, “that slowed him down for a while.” (Well, like two weeks, but whatevs.) And they point out that they tried to kill Isis, but were unsuccessful. Now, Isis is obviously much smarter and has much better self-preservation instincts than Murphy, and works in a building with actual security, but I still don’t see why if they failed to kill her one time, that means they now can never try again.
So they determine to kill Shari instead. And if they fail to kill a 22-year-old girl with no family and no support system who lives alone and goes maybe four places in town, ever, then I give up.
As they promised themselves, Sherlock Murphy and his sidekick, Dr. Wagoner head back to the next revival meeting of J.B. Sonstad. They decide to bear false witness and pretend to be a TV…um…car…by parking next to the real TV vans and slapping some layperson antennae on top of the car. Yeah, their disguise is pretty much foolproof.
Shockingly, Wagoner has done some (very rudimentary) internet research on Sonstad, finding out that he’s married with three kids, one of whom just got married…with a $1.2 million wedding.
Okay, so we know he’s really rich. (Or the daughter married money or Sonstad’s wife is rich, though Murphy and Wagoner do not consider these possibilities.) Still, it’s not as much as some people spend on weddings. (This article is fascinating to me. Chelsea’s wedding cost $3 million, and Ivanka gets to say “unknown” since they did everything at Trump properties, but the things they did know the cost for with Ivanka’s wedding were almost all more expensive than Chelsea. So we can draw our own conclusions.)
(I also think it’s amusing the way Wagoner describes the wedding. Okay, so I’m not defending spending millions on a wedding, especially since my own was less that 1% the cost of Sonstad’s daughter’s, but honestly…
“…Sonstad put on a massive wedding for her at an exclusive country club. Dignitaries and important businesspeople from around the globe were in attendance. It was a formal sit-down dinner with well-known vocalists and musicians as entertainers. Cascading flowers, gourmet food, expensive champagne.”
…I mean, I get the point kinda, but still. A formal sit-down dinner??? Flowers??? Champagne????? OMG, at a WEDDING???????
Murphy has done enough intertubes research to learn that Sonstad owns three homes, and boy, I sure can see that it is very bad for a Christian to spend money on expensive houses, like these people, or these.
Murphy and Wagoner join the crowd in the tent, and yell snide comments at each other as the rest of the crowd cheers on Sonstad. They’re annoyed that he’s prophesizing, which is rich coming from an author who wrote a huge series of books on future events as predicted in the Bible (allegedly).
Then Sonstad heals some more and collects an offering. Murphy takes the chance for more snideness:
“Bob, have you noticed how Solstad works some wonderful disclaimers into his talks?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m just a pastor, Murphy! I wouldn’t have any idea how to spot disclaimers in preaching!”
So Murphy has to explain:
“The first is that if you have enough faith, you will be healed. That gives him a great out if nothing happens and the person isn’t healed. It’s because they didn’t have enough faith. It’s not Solstad’s fault.”
Oh, that’s rich. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I listen to Christian radio in the car a lot. And I have heard plenty of “wonderful disclaimers” that are basically the same: the biggest one, I would think, is how to handle the promise of Mark 11:24, that you will get anything you ask for in prayer. And both the Bible and its followers have thought of plenty of “great outs” for that one: sometimes you’re asking for the wrong things, or asking incorrectly, or your motives aren’t pure enough.
And perhaps Murphy actually read a bit about fakey faith healing, because he points out that Sonstad only heals people with internal problems. He doesn’t grow back arms, for example, and “no lepers…were cleansed.” (You know lots of lepers in suburban North Carolina, do ya, Murph?)
Murphy and Wagoner wander off, and just as in the Left Behind series, the nameless, faceless masses are just dumb ole sheep, transfixed by Sonstad and his snake oil. And it turns out that Murphy and Wagoner’s clever plan to get a good parking spot had an ulterior motive: they used some borrowed equipment from Levi Abrams to pick up transmission from Sonstad and his wife. She communicates with him during the preaching, telling him who has which condition. This completely blows Wagoner’s mind, and Murphy suggests sending the tape to “a hard-hiring, no nonsense, investigative reporter” who can do an article (hopefully one with a least a few less cliches).
You’d think this might actually open a door to a semi-interesting subplot about an actual investigator investigating this, but alas, we pop forward one week, to when the cliched newspaper reporter is having a television interview with Sonstad. (???) Sonstad handles things about as well as he can, denying nothing but claiming that such tactics just “strengthen the weak faith of some in the audience.”
Murphy’s pissed, so I just bet he has no choice but to continue with this boring subplot for another few chapters!
Murphy humblebrags to himself as he stands in line at the Student Center for lunch. He runs over his phenomenal workout routine in his own mind, then tells himself that…
I deserve a reward for doing my ninety pushups a day.
Ooooh, we’re all sooooo impressed, Murphy!
But ultimately, Murphy settles for Good Christian Self-Denial, and gets a tuna salad sandwich instead of a burger and fries. Which, yes, is healthier in some ways, but manly man Murphy is denying himself quite a bit of protein and fiber. But it’s okay—surely he has the Manliest Christian Shits of all.
I kinda feel like he might regret not getting the Manly Burger, because Summer Van Doren comes to sit with him for lunch. They make small talk and Summer mentions that she’s originally from San Diego and enjoys surfing, like any “southern California beauty with blond hair” (Murphy’s thought) should.
Wow, a sexy blonde volleyball player from California who is also a surfer. Could they possibly have carried this stereotype any further?
Summer also points out that good ole Pastor Bob has been talking about demons and the occult and presumably the evil of D&D and Marvel movies. Which, again, I am sure Dean Fallworth will be delighted to hear—that their archaeology professor’s lectures are mirroring the sermons of the local asshat preacher.
And perhaps Murphy is subconsciously afraid of this, as he spontaneously brings Fallworth up in this conversation. Like I’ve said in the past, for someone who seems to think he’s above it all, Murphy certainly thinks about Fallworth’s opinion a lot.
Murphy then notices Summer clocking his ring finger, which is bare now.
If she noticed [that he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring], she did not mention it.
Well, yeah, Murphy, because women don’t do that. “Ah, guy I am talking to! I have observed that you are not wearing a wedding band! We’ll bang, okay?”
(Speaking of, Murphy is surprisingly nonchalant about dining with a human of the opposite sex. I mean, I don’t care if he does, in some kind of weird Mike Pence-kinda way. I’m just saying that for a man who claims to be in love, he sure is opening himself to temptation from this one-dimensional blonde volleyball/surfing goddess.)
Well, perhaps in a sick attempt to diffuse the RTC sexual tension, Murphy brings up the BTK Killer as an example of demonic activity. (Brainy Summer, btw, hears only the very faintest of tiny bells ring at the phrase “BTK Killer.” But then again, if there’s one kind of person Murphy loves, it’s someone he can lecture on any and every topic.) See, Dennis Rader once said that demons in his head told him to kill. Then again, he also blamed his own victims, so I guess I just wouldn’t look to a vicious serial killer for religious knowledge like Michael Murphy does. But that’s just me.
But we’re back in familiar territory now, with Murphy lecturing his poor victim on whatever cockamamie thoughts enter his head. Yanno, serial killers, depression, voodoo, the usual.
“A number of Bible scholars believe that most demonic activity takes on more subtle forms [than becoming a serial killer]. Things like extended depression, suicidal thoughts, debilitating anxiety, and doubts about God.”
Yes, folks, if you have depression or even the slightest doubt about God, don’t worry about it, because IT’S PROBABLY JUST DEMONIC POSSESSION.
Wait, that didn’t come out right.
Actually, Murphy immediately backpedals and says that not all emotional problems (like, say having doubts about God), are actually caused by demons, but that demonic activity “just exacerbates” the problems, which “makes it very hard for counselors to distinguish between demonic attacks and psychological problems.”
Boy, yeah, that is a challenge. Here, let me see if I can help you: THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS DEMONS.
Then Murphy whines for a minute about voodoo that missionaries have to deal with, then he’s off to the races about Loye Pourner, USAF, who has petitioned for official recognition of Wicca in the military and is a lay leader and high priest.
Oh, sorry. According to Murphy, he “claimed that he was a high priest.” (Emphasis mine.) ‘Cause you know those non-Christians! Always claiming that they’re high priests or rabbis or monks or whatevers, in their fake made-up religions. Totally different from really real things like DEMONS.
Apart from claiming to be a high priest of Wicca, Murphy doesn’t have much on this man, except for the vague accusation that “demons are smart enough to work within a culture to capture the thinking of people.”
(By the way, sure is classy (and loving!) of LaPhillips to use a real, living person, who was just minding his own business and trying to practice his faith, as an example of demonic activity in the United States.)
All of this leads Summer to ask a very important question:
“Michael, have you ever had to face a demon?”
Murphy says he hasn’t, though how would he know for certain, since a big part of his bit is that demons can show up anywhere and be disguised?
Anyway, Summer leaves for a convenient class, and Murphy thinks that not only is she hot, but she’s also “warm and well spoken and intelligent.” How would you know, Murph? You didn’t let her get a word in! He then thinks about how Isis and Summer both share these qualities, but that Summer is RTC, so “they could connect on a deeper level.” Again, deeper level, Murph? You didn’t let her get a word in!
I’ll add that it’s an odd (yet appropriate for Murphy) way to assess romantic love. Murphy seems to think it’s like a table of pros and cons. And now Summer has one more point than Isis, so she wins! Gee, I’m just shocked that the idea of falling in love with the whole person has no place in this world.
Are you SURE you haven’t met any demons, Murph?