Monthly Archives: August 2013
“In the end, we win,” is stated by Tsion Ben Judah at least once in his “messages” to the poor, beleaguered, skyscraper-dwelling believers in the Left Behind series. Coincidentally (or not), it was also a theme I heard at least twice on Christian radio last week. (Yes, I listen to Christian radio in the car sometimes. It is fascinating, Captain.)
In the world of Left Behind, it almost makes sense. There is an alleged global and spiritual war going on, and maybe the “troops” (har) need some encouragement. Now, granted, the lives of the Tribbers of Left Behind is not exactly one of the hardship and horror you might expect, but we can pretend.
In today’s world, it makes even less sense. Christians are the single most privileged religious grouping in North America. Yet some feel the need to think of themselves as under constant fire, even as they cheer on the lack of equality and respect afforded others.
And then there is the world of Soon. A world in which war, cancer, and homelessness have been eradicated, but where people are not free to practice their religion. I can accept that this is not cool, even if we don’t ever get a clear picture of what the atheistopic government is really up to: is it a worldwide conspiracy to wipe out all religious people? Are the murders the work of a few rogue agents like Bia? We never do quite get to see. And I’m not sure that confusion is meant to be purposefully ominous…
All this to say that this portion of the book is where Jenkins “proves” a few of the supposed worst traits of atheists…by making the atheist leader of the world say them.
But first, we get to see Paul at his asshattish finest. Ball Dangler tells Paul of all the NPO has done so far, which Paul thinks is “much ado about little.” There’s the Paul Apostle wit we all know and love!
“We are on the same page as far as the disposition of this madman, I assume.” [said Dangler]
Paul chose to flash his powers of recall. “No recourse, no appeal, no grace period, no severance.”
Dengler raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Well done,” he said.
Wow, Paul, it is so amazing that you can repeat a line that has no doubt be rerun hundreds of times since the disasters!
Also, what does Dangler care what Paul thinks should be done with the terrorist? Paul is just a consultant on religious matters; he certainly shouldn’t have anything to do with the sentencing part of the process.
After the huge and disgusting sammiches they ate, Dangler naturally wants to smoke a cigar and discuss philosophy.
“Sir, again, I am here at your disposal. There is nothing I’d rather do—short of being home with my family—than whatever you wish.”
“That sounds marvelous, Paul. Here, why don’t you try this Naughty Nurse costume on for size…”
Just kidding. Atheistopia may be open to all manner of everything between consenting adults (those bastards!), but Dangler himself has a traditional family: wife and three sons.
Three sons, guys. Just like Ranold mysteriously has a son that he did not have in Soon.
It’s kinda funny that Dangler is a family man and proud of it. I mean, I’m sure we’re supposed to know that his supposedly happy marriage cannot possibly be as happy and fulfilling and moral as RTC marriages, given Jenkins’ views on the matter:
Q: Once again with Paul Stepola in SOON we have a man whose marriage has deteriorated, much like Rafe’s in Left Behind. Is there a reason why you chose this theme again?
A: Such tragedy occurs daily, especially among people without faith. Of course, bad marriages are so pervasive that they have invaded the faith community too. Broken relationships are a source of heavy heartbreak that seem to affect every family. That I have enjoyed an idyllic marriage for nearly 33 years also makes the other side of that an interesting topic to explore.
-from an interview with Jerry Jenkins at Reading Group Guides
The smug is strong in this one.
Jenkins appears to be unfamiliar with actual divorce rates, including those of “people without faith.” (Not that there is anything automatically wrong with divorce, I hasten to add.) For example, this survey was available in 1999, before Jenkins started researching (heh) Soon.
Also, as long as we’re having a smug-off, I shall put out my parents as Exhibit A: both nonbelievers, happily married for over 40 years. HA! Atheists WIN!
But Paul has no time to dwell on how much he wants to head back to Chicago and ignore his kids and exchange pleasantries about the weather with his wife; it’s time to discuss international affairs!
“Frankly, Mr. Chancellor, I’ve always thought it ironic that the best-known army knife in world history comes from a country that has been militarily neutral for centuries.”
Really? Because it wasn’t that funny, Mr. Ball Dangler.
No matter—on to religion!
“It may surprise you to know, Doctor, that I am sympathetic to the yearning of the human soul for something beyond itself.”
“That does surprise me.” [said Paul]
Me too! In a skeptical, science-based, atheistic world, I’m kinda surprised that anyone would cop to believing in a soul that exists separate from the body.
But let’s let Dangler explain:
“We have shown that the eradication of religion results in true peace. We have proven, at least in my mind and in the minds of right-thinking people, that the true source of honor and goodness is found within oneself. My religion? Humanity. Worship the human mind and heart and soul and potential.”
“You do believe in a living soul then?”
“Oh, certainly. It is the conscience, the inner person.”
“So the conscience, in effect, worships itself.”
“Yes! Very good! There is nowhere else to look, and rightfully so.”
HA! So atheists DO worship themselves! I knew it! I knew there couldn’t really be such a thing as a person who doesn’t worship anything! I mean, how ridiculous would that be???
“Men and women are, at their core, loving, giving, caring, achieving people.”
Not all of them, Dangler. Not by a long shot.
Paul agrees with me!
Paul wanted to play devil’s advocate, to ask about people who follow their base natures and commit crimes and put themselves above others. But he couldn’t risk it. The discussion would lead back to Styr Magnor and be blamed on evil in the name of God again.
And we all know that God has other kinds of evil in mind. As do other men and women. In fact, though Paul and I agree in principle that some people put themselves above others, I was thinking of an example a little closer to home. Say, just for the sake of argument, a man who came up with the marvelous idea to ask his God to dessicate an entire city, and then (quite easily) talked a bunch of like-minded people into also asking for that very thing.
Then, when the dessication happened and thousands died, celebrating.
Yanno, that kind of base nature and putting oneself above others.
As Paul and Ball Dangler discuss important, manly issues like sandwiches and how they are SO not bothered by rudeness, Jae is continuing her crisis of confidence back in Chicago. It is getting into the evening, and she is feeling like the long days when the kids are at school are never going to end, because she apparently has no friends, no hobbies, and no books she has been waiting to read or shows she would like to watch. Good damn, Jae, this is a gift. Your horrible, emotionally abusive husband is in freaking Europe and your kids are in school all day. I can think of approximately 7,612 things just off the top of my head that I could do with that kind of time on my hands.
To her credit, Jae considers both her father’s offer to work at the NPO in Washington, and the possibility of working locally. But all that is pushed aside in the face of her childrens’ request: they miss their father (why is a mystery) but also hope they can continue to see Straight while Paul is gone.
Jae thinks it’s a good idea–she wants Straight to get to know her better, and thinks that she either intimidates him (a likely scenario, given Jae’s education and Straight’s RTC-ianity) and/or that he thinks little of her, given that he saw how she and Paul fought when he was blinded.
But Jae likes and respects Straight:
He was wise; there was no question of that. And a servant. In Jae’s book, anyone who turned his own tragedy and handicap into something positive was worthy of a pedestal.
Yeah, apart from his obnoxious and controlling need to touch people who don’t want to be touched, he’s a peach!
“Jae’s book,” let’s remember, is the book of an atheist. I can only imagine that Jae is already thinking of Straight in rather Biblical terms (“a servant“) because she is already a proto-RTC in Jenkins’ mind.
Also, it’s no wonder that Jae so admires Straight for doing something positive with his life (as far as she knows) after losing his family and his foot. After all, Paul lost his sight and his hair and his career (or so it seemed at the time), and all he did was become even more of an abusive asshole than he already was.
As Jae mulls this over, the phone rings. It is one of this book’s true heroes, Berlitz, calling to beg her to come to Washington. Berlitz is a salesman, on the road Monday through Thursday, and wants Jae around so she can bond with Aryana. And he wants to spend more time with Brie and Connor, and Ranold and Margaret (their mom) are all excited about it, too. He’s actually kinda funny and adorable about the whole thing, as he paints the worst case scenario if Jae says no:
“I might start drinking more, being a worse husband—if that’s possible—neglect my ma, who is also your ma, you remember. I might not even keep trying to be the son Dad wants me to be. I’ll be a drunk, old orphan, divorced three times, and it’ll be all your fault. You could save me with this one little decision.”
At least he had made Jae laugh.
And I have a feeling that laughter is a rare thing in Jae’s life. Gorammit, why isn’t this book about the awesome adventures of Berlitz, the awesome atheist travelling salesman? He makes a hella better protagonist than Paul.
Time to meet the leader of Teh Ntire Atheistopia, “peacenik” Baldwin Dengler.
Paul shows up at the gorgeous gubmint building where he will be spending the night, and the first thing we learn is that Paul keeps a disgusting stash of undercover disguises in a plastic garbage bag, which he totes around the planet with him so the clothes will stay dirty and stinky, and Paul can pretend to be somebody gross.
I mean, somebody who is gross on the outside. The inside part, Paul already has covered.
As usual, we get far more description of secondary characters than our mains:
The chancellor was as tall as Paul, sixty-five years old, slim, trim, tanned, with thinning gray-and-white hair. He extended a hand, and when Paul shook it, Dengler clasped his other hand around Paul’s, too. Exceptionally long fingers, Paul thought.
They eat, and once again, Jenkins provides better description of food than he does of people. For effect, the meal is served out of fancy lunch bags:
Servers simultaneously opened the men’s bags and set on each plate a gleaming green apple, a triangle of Swiss cheese the size of a piece of pie, a two-inch-square block of chocolate, and what appeared to be a large wrapped sandwich.
I love cheese, but I cannot imagine eating a whole piece of it that is as big as a piece of pie. Jenkins must have been really hungry when he wrote this.
Paul unwrapped his sandwich and found the thin-sliced summer sausage piled an inch and a half high between two ridiculously thick slices of fresh, soft white bread with moist, chewy crust. He also noticed a thin layer of brown mustard and a generous dollop of mayonnaise.
Sounds disgusting, thank you very much. I’ll pass.
“Follow each bite with a slice of the apple,” Dengler suggested, “and the occasional piece of cheese. Save the chocolate for dessert.”
Well, fine, Mr. Bossy-Pants!
Yanno, I hate to defend Paul at any time, about anything, but he is a grown man, and probably knows how to eat lunch. And geez, save the chocolate for dessert? Well, thank
God goodness you are here, Baldwin, because I could never have figured that out for myself!
Also, that piece of cheese is the size of a piece of pie (no, I am not ever getting over this!); I think it will take more than “occasional” bites to finish off that monster.
Maybe it was the exotic combination of foods he wouldn’t have predicted in a million years. But Paul found the meal the best he had ever tasted.
Exotic? Oh yeah, there’s nothing more exotic than a sammich and a piece of cheese and an apple!
Then again, this apparently is a man who has to be told that chocolate is for dessert.
Now, one might consider that many hundreds of people have just been brutally murdered, and several world landmarks destroyed, and Dengler and Paul might have important things to talk about, but hey, they have to eat, too. I get that.
What I don’t get is that the next few minutes are taken up by an interminable conversation about the crabby chauffeur who drove Paul in from the airport. Dengler gets a note that the man was rude, and the two men debate and debate and DEBATE what should be done with him. Paul argues for leniency, but this is not so much about being kind and understanding, as it is about Paul’s need to prove that he is above being bothered by such trivialities:
“…I suppose my self-esteem is healthy enough to weather that…”
“…I would feel terrible if I got a man in trouble for something that barely registered with me.”
The driver is fired without severance or anything, which does not seem very in keeping with the ideals of Atheistopia, Mister Chancellor.
And Paul and Dengler finally start discussing the situation at hand.
Not that we’ll hear anything of it.
Paul arrives in Bern, and gets into a snide little conversation with his driver. Unusually for the Underground Zealot series, it is the other person who instigates things, not Paul:
“So this is Doctor Stepola. The expert.” [Emphasis Jenkins]
Paul decides to play nice by playing dumb, with expected results:
“Hey, maybe you can tell me something. How did Bern get to be the international capital? I mean, Switzerland makes sense, but why not Zurich?”
“Bern is the capital of Switz–” the driver said.
“Have you been here before?”
“To Zurich, but never to Bern.”
“Then why would you say it shouldn’t be the world capital?”
“I didn’t. I was just wondering–”
“The minute you set foot in our city, you disparage it? Zurich is bigger, so Zurich is better?”
You were wondering, Professor? Try reading a book. The driver may be a jerk, but Paul is being a condescending ass. The driver is not his tour guide.
Anyway, I’m bored of this scene, so let’s pop over to Jae, who’s bored, too. Jae is just not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. This was alluded to in Soon, and driven home here. She just cannot find anything to occupy her time while the kids are at school. I know this makes Jae a very bad future-RTC wife, but I can understand. After all, Jae has spent the last ten years in a relationship with emotional abuser Paul, who has probably managed to keep Jae from forming any lasting friendships. At least twice in this book, Jae alludes to having friends, but we never meet them or learn anything about any of them. I have a feeling that she’s so lonely that she is imagining her acquaintances (probably her kids’ friends’ parents) to be her friends. Paul has also spent eight years telling her that she’s stupid and incapable, so she probably hasn’t cultivated many hobbies or outside interests. Very typical of emotional abusers: keep them from being focused on anything but the abuser, make them feel useless alone. It’s apparently worked.
Jae also has a graduate degree in economics, and says that she misses the adult interactions of an office setting. Again, not something a good RTC wife should feel, which I guess proves that Jae needs to accept Jesus into her heart so all those nasty feelings of discontent can be repressed, as they should be.
Jae calls Ranold to vent, which I guess shows just how lonely and friendless she really is. Ranold is full of praise for Paul and tells Jae that he may be in Europe for many weeks. She is made even more upset by this realization, but then Ranold makes Jae an offer she probably could refuse, if she wanted to: come to Washington, D.C. for a month or two, with the kids, and be a temporary “numbers person” at the NPO.
WILL Jae take the job? WILL Paul get along with the leader of the world? Stay tuned!
The great mystery of Soon has been solved!
DID Jae read the letter from Paul Stepola Sr. to Paul Stepola Jr.? The one full of boilerplate Christian apologia?
Yes. Yes, she did.
Jae’s emotions are understandably mixed at the discovery of the letter (which happened some months ago, in Soon), but her main concern is to keep it from her own kids.
But now she reads over the letter again, and finds it to be,,,not so bad.
Jae, you poor sap.
And somehow, this read-through of the letter was different. Jae was not so uptight.
As we all know, most times when women have a problem with something, it is because they are too uptight. Probably the first time Jae read the letter, it was That Time of the Month.
This read-through of the boilerplate evangelism leads Jae to…well, it seems a rather odd conclusion to me:
Wrong. Misguided. Delusional, surely. But how he loved his son!
You can read above my initial reaction to the letter in Soon. I somehow cannot find a lot of WOW-he-loved-his-son-SO-MUCH in a letter that mainly contains very run-of-the-mill evangelism, coupled with talk of Hell, including that Beloved Son’s own mother will be going there someday. (And, we know, she is roasting there even as Jae reads the letter again.)
And yet he reached her—even though she was not the object of the letter—with his love for his child. She knew what it was to love a child. And she knew what it was to love his child. She loved Paul with all her heart, in spite of everything.
Jae, you poor, poor sap.
Jae is guilty of something we all do on occasion: assuming that everyone else in the world shares our attitudes. She loves her kids and assumes that Paul Sr. has that same kind of love for Paul Jr. She wipes away all this stuff:
But those who have rejected God will face a very different fate: punishment and suffering beyond anything we can imagine or have ever managed to inflict upon each other.
That’s you, Jae, that he’s talking about. You and your parents and your brother and, as far as you know, your husband. He may love his son (as long as he becomes a Christian, mind!), but he thinks millions upon millions of other people deserve Hell for all eternity.
Hell, even Ranold doesn’t think that.
But Jae has other ideas:
…she had forced herself to compare [Ranold] with a man she had never met. And her father had been found wanting.
Yes, Ranold is no great father, especially to his son. But Jae apparently can’t accept that both men were/are wanting as parents. And she’s definitely not capable of the kind of introspection that might reveal that her own unaffectionate, self-involved, and judgmental father might well have been a factor in her own marriage to an unaffectionate, self-involved, and judgmental man.
Poor Jae. She really has nowhere to turn.
In other words, she is ripe for RTC conversion!
Paul is woken up in the pre-dawn hours with the news of the Eiffel Tower disaster. It means, of course, that he will have to go to Europe. Jae wakes up, and is upset–partially that Paul will be leaving (because who could bear to lose such a treasure?) and partially because of, yanno, the loss of life.
[Paul] looked at Jae sadly. “Half a mile of iron and steel fell into the Champ-de-Mars.”
“And this in the name of God.”
“So Magnor says,” Paul said. He hoped and prayed that Christians weren’t really behind this. Who could justify that?
I dunno, Paul. The same people who justify the deaths of thousands because Christians prayed that God would remove all H2O from Los Angeles?
“My flight to Bern leaves in four hours.”
“You going to try to get more sleep?”
“No. I’ve got meetings first.”
Note: this is a lie from Good Christian Paul. By no means his first or his last to poor Jae, who wants nothing more than to repair their trainwreck of a marriage. Paul makes it sound like he’s going to NPO meetings…but he’s just going to chat with Straight.
I hope you all have the fond memories of Stuart “Straight” Rathe that I do. He was a hospital volunteer when Paul was blinded in Soon. And by “hospital volunteer” I mean “stealth Christian who tries to convert specially-selected patients like Paul.” He is Paul’s friend (his only friend) and his marriage counselor (that is, the only person who will listen when serial cheater and emotional abuser Paul whines about how haaaard it is to love his wife), and his Magical Negro.
This is the first time we’ve been to Straight’s apartment, and the slash potential we noticed in Soon continues apace. Jenkins even gives us a two-fer when he makes sure we also know that Paul is not a racist, because he admires Straight’s “magnificent skin.”
We also learn that Straight is a fan of vinyl and linoleum (no, really) before getting down to business. By which I mean, Paul starts whining:
“Any idea how lonely this is?”
Well, Paul, maybe if you hadn’t spent the last eight years destroying your own marriage, you might have a friend and ally in your wife, and wouldn’t be so lonely. Too bad, so sad.
And, with the bodies of the Paris victims still warm, Paul and Straight obsess over the drama of the letter from Paul’s father, whether Jae has it, what Jae thinks about it, what Jae thinks about Paul, and really, Straight should just pass Jae a note in study hall:
“Jae, Paul told me to tell you that he finds you marginally less repulsive and stupid than he did six months ago. Also, do you think he’s a Christian? Please check one.”
And they pray. Not about the victims of the hour-old horrific tragedy, mind you, but about Paul being able to find Christians in Europe. Also about Paul getting a “protective hedge of fire around him.”
Cool superpower, bro.
Finally, Straight gives Paul some actual useful information: the names of the head of the whole French underground (Chappell Raison (“Goes by Chapp.“)) and some guy in Rome (whether he is the head of the Italian underground or just Rome is not mentioned), Enzo Fabrizio.
And more bitchin’ travel times in Atheistopia: it only takes two hours to fly from Chicago to Bern. Atheistopia just improves itself constantly–in Soon, most travel times were about half what they are today. But this flight is less than a quarter of the estimated time today.
Atheistopia, you’ve still got it.