Soon: Chapter 1: Our Hero and His Godly Wife…Sorta

Well, there’s no putting it off any longer–time to introduce our “hero.”

As I’ve mentioned before, it appears to be Jenkins’ intent in these early chapters to make Paul Apostle as unlikeable as possible, so that his conversion from the evils of atheism will be that much more dramatic.  Problem is, Paul is just as much an ass after becoming a Christian.

But not to worry–he’s quite a big ass right now, too.

Paul has been married to his wife, Jae, for ten years.  They have two kids: Brie is seven and Connor is five.  Paul’s job, working for the National Peace Organization, keeps him on the road frequently, which leads us to Paul’s Big Sin: he’s a serial adulterer. 

But here’s the interesting thing: read these paragraphs, introducing Paul’s “indiscretions,” and let me know who you think Jenkins thinks is behaving worse: Paul or Jae…

Complicating this year’s festivities for Paul was that Jae was again on his case about the time he spent on the road–her code for not trusting him.  He had been caught in an indiscretion, which she persisted in calling an “affair,” more than six years before.  At thirty-six, a muscular six-foot-three, and possessed of a quick wit, he had always been attractive to women.  Often when traveling he would have dinner with a female colleague who, after a few drinks, would radiate the signals of invitation, sometimes even brazenly.  If the women was appealing–and not infrequently she was–Paul didn’t say no.

These encounters were mostly one-time, no-strings flings that livened up the boredom of travel and, to Paul’s mind, had nothing to do with his marriage.  But Jae sifted through his luggage like Sherlock Holmes and quizzed him relentlessly.  Her jealous obsessions and tight-lipped silences were wearing him down.  Paul used to love merely gazing at Jae.  Now he could hardly stand being in the same room.

So, the lines are drawn.  Jae is the one who is obsessed and relentless.  Paul is the one who simply doesn’t say no–and who can blame a witty, handsome guy like him, right, when appealing, brazen women are throwing themselves right into his arms?  I mean, he might have to duck and let them fall, and that would be very un-gentleman-like.

(Oh, and naturally, Paul is very tall.  LaHaye and Jenkins’ heroes always are.)

There is so much to break down here.  Between having their two children, Paul was caught in an affair.  Being caught did not stop him from engaging in numerous other “indiscretions” between the time his daughter was an infant, and the present.  And the fault for all this lies, in the words of the author, with brazen Other Women and a jealous, tight-lipped wife.

Rayford Steele is starting to look like a paragon.

Heck, Paul doesn’t even get what Rayford gets–interest in only one woman, while unhappily married to another woman who constantly guilt-trips him and their daughter about religion.  There’s nothing wrong with Paul’s wife, nothing wrong with their marriage–at least, nothing is mentioned beyond mere boredom.

And here’s the strange thing.  The really strange thing.

Jae has stayed with him.

Through six years of infidelity, she has stayed married to Paul.  It’s not like they have some sort of agreement or arrangement, and she’s not in the dark (far from it).  She’s stayed, desperately unhappy, with a husband who can’t stand her.

Jae is an atheist.

Doesn’t this seem just a bit odd?  By RTC lights, aren’t atheists supposed to be amoral seekers of selfish, hedonistic pleasure?  Yet Jae has not slapped Paul to the curb and struck out on her own.  She has not sought revenge by having any “indiscretions” of her own.  She seems committed to the marriage, to the point of not leaving when her husband a) cheats on her (many times, with many women) and b) can’t stand her.  (Oh, and we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the contempt and loathing Paul has for Jae.  Compared with what’s to come, the serial cheating is nothing.  And again, it gets no better post-conversion.)

This is really the first (though by no means the last) instance of Jenkins’ characters interfering with their religious roles.  Jae is playing the role, as The Slacktivist once put it, of “the good, godly wife,” who stays in her marriage no matter what because God Hates Divorce.

Except Jae doesn’t believe in God.

In Left Behind, LaHaye and Jenkins (through Rayford) excused Hattie Durham’s lack of concern about his married state because “she claimed no moral or religious code.”  Rayford himself wasn’t concerned about his married state until after he got religion.  So why here, in an atheistic dystopia where Christians are burned alive, are the morals which are supposedly exclusive to Christians being held by atheists?  Could Jenkins actually be saying that atheists care about marriage, too?  Or is Jae just a prop, something Paul can cheat on now so that he can’t cheat on her after his conversion? 

Which brings us back around the circle.  Paul needs to be Christian in order to be faithful.

Why doesn’t Jae?

Posted on December 13, 2010, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. It doesn’t even work as a prop, since the audience Jenkins is writing for see any sex outside marriage as wrong, so you could have Paul be unattached, and he could stop coming on to every woman he meets post-conversion to help show how he’s changed.

    But then, I suppose, no hero of Jenkins’ could be unmarried by 36, ’cause that would be un-manly, wouldn’t it?

  2. Wow. There is some creepy, creepy subtext in that passage…

    At thirty-six, a muscular six-foot-three, and possessed of a quick wit, he had always been attractive to women.

    Yay for universal standards of beauty! I also like how we’re informed that he has a quick wit, which means we’re very, very unlikely to actually see him being witty.

    Often when traveling he would have dinner with a female colleague who, after a few drinks, would radiate the signals of invitation, sometimes even brazenly. If the women was appealing–and not infrequently she was–Paul didn’t say no.

    This is where we get into the creepy stuff. When travelling, he would get his dinner date drunk. Once she “radiated” the “signals of invitation”, he didn’t say no. Maybe it’s the side project I’m working on, but how does this not scream “serial date-rapist”?

    These encounters were mostly one-time, no-strings flings that livened up the boredom of travel and, to Paul’s mind, had nothing to do with his marriage.

    …nothing to do with his marriage, nothing to do with the other women involved, and based on the previous sentence, probably nothing to do with informed consent!

    But Jae sifted through his luggage like Sherlock Holmes and quizzed him relentlessly. Her jealous obsessions and tight-lipped silences were wearing him down.

    Yeah. Because in a world with AIDS and paternity suits, worrying if your travelling husband was fucking around on the road is all about jealousy!

    At the risk of being extremely ‘meta’, I’m starting to suspect that Jenkins isn’t writing what he believes, but what he thinks his audience believes. (no doubt based, in part, on propaganda he has had some hand in promoting)

    So Paul isn’t an atheist. Paul isn’t even Jenkin’s idea of what an atheist is, because to write that, you have to give the character thoughts and feelings and rationales for their behavior. And Jenkins knows that his audience won’t let him portray non-Christians as rational beings with their own motives.

    No, Paul is what Jenkins things his audience thinks an atheist is like. It’s like writing a novel by playing Telephone in a room of fundies.

    • I definitely hear you on the creepy vibe of getting the women drunk and then blaming them for “seducing” him because zomg they’re showing off the assets! Never mind that getting someone drunk on purpose is like deliberately lowering their judgement threshold so you can con them into doing something really dumb.


      Jenkins could have just made him a more worldly version of Buck Williams – unattached, but likes to play the field, and hits bars and pubs a lot to pick up women after he’s also had a few drinks. Mutual drunkenness leading to sex is less squicktastic, though it’s still poor judgement.

      This Paul Stepola guy is the putative good hero we’re supposed to be rooting for as he converts to Christianity? Hell, the only way that’ll happen is if he really does change his behavior.

      Then again, why is his behavior the way it is in the first place? To show the intended audience what a bunch of mean ol’ bastards atheists are. X-|

      • This description of Paul Stepfordwife is rather reminding me of one of the problems I have with Torchwood (bear with me, OK?). Early on in TW, we’re introduced to Owen, who, for those who haven’t seen it, is a potentially interesting, if not likeable, character: a shallow, philandering and occasionally date-raping guy who seems unaccountably convinced he’s a hit with the ladies. The problem is that a lot of the writers seem to actually *admire* the man: when, for instance, Owen uses an alien mind-control device to seduce a girl and, when her jealous boyfriend turns up, uses the same device to seduce him too, it’s portrayed in a kind of “wow, what a scamp!” way, rather than as a stupid thing to do which is likely to lead to the perpetrator getting either a) slapped with a lawsuit, or b) beaten up or c) both.

        Anyway, I’m getting exactly the same vibe here in terms of Jenkins’ “he seduces all these women, and the only consequences are that his bitch of a wife goes through his luggage! Whatta guy!” description of Paul.

        • Base Delta Zero

          Sue someone who doesn’t exist, who works for an organization that doesn’t exist, for using a device that doesn’t exist? Or even beating them up? Even if this somehow gets off the ground, the only thing it would accomplish is a bullet in the head. (Or however Torchwood prefers to dispose of people who know too much).

  3. Well, no, Paul is what *Jenkins* would be like if he were an atheist — or what he fantasizes he would be like (tall, witty, with women falling at his feet) if he wasn’t constrained by his God-given morality.

    And Jae is equally what Jenkins think all WOMEN want to be like — controlling shrewish harpies. And Jae isn’t divorcing him because she isn’t interested in his fidelity or commitment, just in his money and status (I’m assuming).

    She won’t have an affair, because women don’t really like sex, except for the brazen hussies.

    • So, is it enjoying sex that makes one a brazen hussy, or is it just part of the set that one gets upon deciding to become a fallen woman?

  4. What, the Atheist Conspiracy hasn’t abolished marriage yet? Along with Mom and Apple Pie, obviously. In fact I can see a fanfic with the apple pie bootleggers, in their good old-fashioned diesel truck (the only diesel vehicle left on the roads)…

    I think Jae’s characterisation may be a version of the madonna-whore problem – women are either Good Passive Wives or Irrresponsible Floozies, with no middle ground.

    • “What, the Atheist Conspiracy hasn’t abolished marriage yet?”

      I wondered that, too. I’ve been told that marriage is solely a religious thing. You would think in Jenkins’ evil atheistic dystopia, the institution wouldn’t even exist.

  5. He had been caught in an indiscretion, which she persisted in calling an “affair,” more than six years before. — If the women was appealing–and not infrequently she was–Paul didn’t say no.

    IT’s a Goddamned AFFAIR you sanctimonious mewling son of a–

    Ahem. Okay, Rayford was creepy and an asshole but, you’re right, this sort of behavior makes Rayford out to be just a prat. It’s an affair and there’s no way this jerk should be able to weasel out of it. But he will because Jenkins is in the driver’s seat and is moulding the world to his world-view.

    This is the sort of thing that makes me feel decreasingly bad about letting my own ethics seep into what I write.

  6. Judging by Hattie’s treatment over in Left Behind, the writers seem to have a weird slut/saint complex going with women. Either they’re obedient and loyal to a single man despite his many, many faults (and are either godly or obviously going to be godly later on), or they’re hussies in sensible shoes who have no redeeming features and probably aren’t that smart.

    Go get laid, guys. You’ll feel better.

  7. I also take issue with Paul’s naming his daughter after a cheese. It may have been what they were eating on the night she was conceived (cue Homer Simpson: “Mmmmm….. brie….”) but it’s still going to be hell in the playground when she’s growing up. “Cheesy Briesy” would be the least of it. “Sheldon Cooper is a smelly pooper” pales by comparison. Comedy gold.

  8. If I were a Christian reading this, I would have assumed this was an unreliable narrator. Not that the author literally blamed Jae for this, but rather he wants us as the audience to despise Paul for blaming her for this. The calling an affair an “indescretion”, the accusing tone in which she’s described looking through his stuff…i would think the Good Christian audience is meant to laugh at how unfairly this is being presented.

    Of course if the narrative doesn’t change after Paul becomes a Christian then maybe I’ll have to rethink.

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