Monthly Archives: February 2014

Poll Results: Calling It

Okay, so it’s been just over a week since the Palate Cleanser News and Poll, so I am calling time!

Poll Pic

I’ll tell you what: I totally thought I, Saul would be the runaway winner.  But the clear winner is MOAR MOVIES.

And I’ll tell you what else: I would have been happy to do any of these, but I am kinda psyched to do some movies.  Especially Pamela’s Prayer, which was one of my first Christian Films and has a special place in my heart.

Plus, that movie is FRICKIN’ NUTS.

30 Rock

Can’t wait.

So, after God/Jenkins unleashes his righteous wrath on the atheists in Silenced, we will do Belle and the Beast, then a few other movies, including Pamela’s Prayer, at least one of the Teenage films (by request!) and maybe another Christiano creation or two.

Thanks for voting, guys!


Silenced: Chapter 21: Promiscuous Rascal

The aftermath of the call, on Jae’s end, is pretty unremarkable.  Ranold is a bit bitter that he couldn’t listen in, but why should he care?  Were those “incidentals and courtesies” really so revealing of Paul’s traitorism?

The only weird part is that Jae refers to Paul as a former “promiscuous rascal.”  Which seems an awfully cutesy way to refer to the behavior that broke her heart and nearly broke their marriage (and probably should have).


Over in France, Paul attends the meeting of the underground Christians, pretty much for the sole purpose of scolding their leader, ChappellShow.  Because nothing works better in a resistance group than an arrogant foreign stranger showing up to shame your leader.

Paul began quietly, earnestly, planning to warm to his topic as he took cues from the body language of his audience.

I wonder if their body language would be to slap him, since they’ve been loyal to ChappellShow for years and have known Paul for maybe two hours.

“Chappell,” he began, “what’s happened to you?”

“You’re folding your tents, man.”

“Chapp, are you done?  Are you finished?  Should the torch be passed to Lothair or one of these other younger, braver, brasher people?  Because your intensity is just a memory now.  If I were part of the leadership team here—and worse, if I were part of the rank and file—your example would inspire me to do what?  Oh, I don’t know.  Quit?”

It is hilarious that Paul refers to these strangers, some of whom have been Christians for longer than he has been alive, as the “rank and file.”  How respectful.  No doubt this will win them all to his way of thinking.

He’s so winsome!

Actually, what wins over the French Christians is, once again, Paul talking about his own life.  Specifically, his time in L.A., and how God showed his loving mercy by slaughtering millions.

“[The L.A. Christians] prayed that God would smite their enemies.  And then they told their enemies they had prayed that and warned them that if they didn’t stop killing believers, God would act.  And He did.”

Which would have been great if the only people smited were the army and law enforcement.  But, as we’ve discussed, those were the people who were most able to get out of L.A.  The true smited, the children and elderly and hospital patients and the poor, had little to nothing to do with killing believers.

And hey guess what??? Paul wants to go on that ride again!

“Chapp, if you could ask God to do in Europe something like he did in Los Angeles, what would it be?”

With Paul’s insistence that “God woos his own in love, but He judges his enemies in wrath and anger,” Chapp admits that though he is “in the flesh,” he wants “a plague on the house of our oppressor.”

And, as we shall soon see, God interprets the word “house” very liberally.


Meanwhile, back in D.C., Ranold reveals to Jae that the NPO is setting up a little sting for Paul, to make sure he’s “behaving.”  And by “behaving,” Ranold mostly means “not sleeping around.”  Jae is pissed, and I’m rather amused that we are meant to feel sorry for poor ole Paul, being entrapped like this, as he envisions a judgment for Atheistopia straight out of the book of Exodus.

Remember, it’s Ranold who’s the bad guy.

I have to remind myself of this all the time.

400th Post: Palate Cleanser News and a Poll!

Hey, so this is the 400th post of Heathen Critique!


Close enough.

(Seriously, I have no idea why I didn’t care about 100 or 200 or 300.  Anyway.)

So, thought I’d share my decision about the palate cleanser for after Silenced, since we almost three-quarters done.

It is yet another movie that I caught on local Christian television, and GORRAMITALL but I am psyched to do this one:

I’ll just say one thing that strikes me right away: that is a pretty cute “beast.”

This movie promises to be interesting on another level, too: it was a Mormon movie first.

Yup.  See, it was originally called Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale.  Apparently, a few explicitly Mormon lines were cut and the movie was repackaged as Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance.  I haven’t seen the Mormon version yet, but I will, so I can better speak to the changes.

And I come into this as an expert on Mormon entertainment, yo.  I have seen all five seasons of Big Love AND The Book of Mormon.


(It would be cool to be paid for plugs like this.)


And I will leave the final decision of what to do next in the hands of you, my lovely readers.

The options:

1.  Shadowed, the third and final book of the Underground Zealot series.  More adventures in Atheistopia with Paul and Jae Stepola/Apostle and Ranold B. Decenti/Benedict Arnold.

2.  The Europa Conspiracy, the third out of the four books in the Babylon Rising series.  Michael Murphy sets out to find the Handwriting on the Wall.  Yes, really.

3.  Something completely (okay, partially) different: It seems that out old pal Jerry Jenkins has found a new co-writer/pastor to work with—James MacDonald.

For those unfamiliar with him, you can see a ton of his sermons on YouTube.  I won’t link you an hour-long talk, but here is a tiny sampling of him:

I listen to James MacDonald many mornings on my way to work, and what strikes me most is his tendency to play the incredibly extraverted, repeat-after-me game, which ends up sounding like this:

MacDonald: Jesus is perfect.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Jesus is perfect.”

Unmicced audience: Eee-uh ert.

MacDonald: Again! Because this is exciting!  Jesus is perfect!

Unmicced audience:  EEE-UH ERT!!!

It would drive me CRAZY if I had to do this every week.

It is so cool that I don’t go to church.  😉

This book is brand-spanking new, but I already have a used copy, and there is a BOOK TRAILER, guys!

Kinda sounds Michael Murphy-ish, though I see by skimming the first few pages that the hero is a professor at a theological seminary, not a small Southern university.  Anyway, that bit of skimming aside, I think I would critique this book blind, just like the Christmas novels.

4.  Another something partially different: a focus on movies instead of books for awhile.  I’ve got a little stack of Christian movies here, and could just do a few in a row.  Some examples:

One of the ones that Started It All for me:

More from the Teenage series, including Teenage Conflict (creationism) and Teenage Code (cheating).


So, whaddaya think???  It’s up to you guys!

Silenced: Chapter 20, Part 2: (Silly) Spy Games

The morning after his “incidentals and courtesies” conversation with Jae, Paul is called (presumably on his skull this time) by Lothair, the French Leiutenant.  ChappellShow is still so upset by Random Woman’s death that he doesn’t want to see Paul or be part of the plot to catch Magnor.  Paul berates Lothair, but Jenkins makes sure to let us know there is “a whine” in Lothair’s voice.

“You know, Lothair, I wish we were all still teenagers and that this was some silly game.”

Speak for yourself, Paul.  Your games are not silly, just stupid.  The games I played as a teenager were way more fun.

Like this one.

Turns out that the problem, and thus the reason for the stupid word games, is that ChappellShow is right there, listening in on the skull phone call.  So Paul and Lothair do the old routine that always happens when someone is listening in on a call.

“Listen carefully.  Yes or no.  Can you tell me categorically that Magnor has not tried to call Chapp?” [said Paul]


“You understand me?”


“So he has called.”

“I understood you.”

Yeah, Paul is totally not into silly games.  And neither is Jerry Jenkins.  Not into stupid word games at all.

On his way out to meet with the zealots, Paul sees Karlis Grosvenor’s car.

Was he being watched?  Followed?  He didn’t dare proceed to his rental.  He had to either get in the car issued to him, keep walking as if just sightseeing, or make his way back to the hotel.

Paul chose the latter…

Damn good thing, too.  I can’t even believe that the second thought crossed Paul’s mind.

Grosvenor: Good morning, Paul.  Hot on the trail of the terrorist who killed hundreds and destroyed national treasures?

Paul: Nah, just sightseeing.

Grosvenor (who, remember, hasn’t had any time off since the bombing): *punches Paul*

Nah, that’s just what I wish would happen.  Instead, Grosvenor was ferrying in Bia Balaam from the airport.

Grosvenor is none too pleased, since this is the second American he has had to play host to in as many days.  He asks Paul to take her back to the airport in the morning, and Paul acquiesces, more because he doesn’t want to make waves than because he wants Grosvenor to actually have an hour off.

Paul meets up with Bia in the lobby of the hotel.

As usual, she seemed overdressed, over made-up.

Yeah, she was only travelling on international business.  How weird of her not to just wear jeans and a tank top.

God, Bia is such a bitch.  I mean, just…just everything with her.  What a horror show:

Balaam was as intimidating as she looked, with her silver hair and eyes, the unusual height, the coldness she tried to hide with the occasional toothy smile.  She creeped Paul out in business settings, but the social thing never worked at all for her.

Well, let’s be clear—the social thing is not working for Paul.  Bia, actually, seems fine.  And I wonder if Jenkins even realized he used the word “intimidating” there—that is the true crux of the matter.  Paul is intimidated by Bia—she’s smart, worldly, knows what she’s doing, and is not impressed by Paul.

James Bond logic: the one woman who does not immediately offer to fulfill Bond’s every desire?  She’s the villain’s girlfriend.  There is no other possible reason why Our Hero would be looked upon as a Mere Man.  I mean, we know that Paul is handsome and witty and charming.  We know because Jenkins keeps telling us so.  Therefore, all people should love him immediately, and if they don’t, we know there’s something wrong with them.

“I’m representing USSA NPO at the ceremonial announcement in Bern tomorrow.  Thought I’d come early and see the Eiffel site.”

Paul nodded.  I’ll bet.  “What did you think?”

Her smile died.  “Tragic.  Tragic.”

Well, there was some insight for you.

Screw you, Paul.  At least she didn’t come to Paris and immediately disparage the national monuments and call it an honor to see the site of the loss of hundreds of lives, like some people.

Exactly what “insight” did you have about the bombing, Paul?  I mean, other than the fact that it was sad that believers died, but not so much that atheists died.  Asshat.

Paul was antsy, wanting to get going, hoping he could figure out a way to elude her, to get to his rendezvous without being noticed.  But she was saying something about her son.  Her son?  Paul didn’t even know she had a family.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “You have a son?”

Our witty, charming, superspy hero, everyone!  Unable to keep up with two minutes of small talk.

But remember, Bia is the one for whom “the social thing never worked at all.”

Because Jenkins said so.

“And a daughter,” she said.  “I’m long divorced.  Not a happy story, though the kids are good.  Leya is a professor.  Taj goes back to Georgetown tomorrow.  He’s doing well.”

Hmm, yet another son that we never heard about in the first book.  Doesn’t bode well for poor Taj.

And the “not a happy story” part—maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that sounds like something pretty bad, maybe even abuse.  Most people I know who simply fell out of love or otherwise divorced amicably, they’re more casual about it, will say things like, “it just didn’t work out.”

But “not a happy story“?  That seems serious.  Yet Bia has once again persevered, successfully raising two very accomplished children while rising in her own career.

Damn, but Bia rocks.

Not that Paul cares.

Paul studied her.  She actually did seem to soften when speaking of her children.  Who would have guessed?

“I mean, a woman that I’m not attracted to actually loves people!  Inconceivable!”

And Paul doesn’t even need to figure out a way to blow off Bia—she has actual work to do.  Because she takes her job seriously and isn’t here to sightsee.

Unlike Paul, who wanders around the city, “enjoying a pastry in a fountain square,” before finally heading to his meeting with ChappellShow.

Hot superspy action!

Silenced: Chapter 20, Part 1: More Deeply Than Ever Before

Paul decides to call Jae (I think for the first time since he tried to convince her not to go to D.C., and this is all just a fascinating insight into his tiny mind:

Regardless of the international situation, he could not let anything keep her from being his first priority.

His first priority…to control what she sees and where she goes.

Besides loving her and caring more deeply for her and the kids than he ever had before…


Okay, first of all, that’s not saying much.  An improvement from constantly berating and serially cheating on his wife, and barely remembering his kids’ names to not serially cheating (because God is watching) and occasionally carrying the luggage.

“That’s not love.  In fact, I don’t think you even know what love is.

-Tom Servo, MST3K, Alien from L.A.

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.  Paul really does have no idea what love is.  Calling his wife once a week when he’s out of the country?  Sometimes feeling guilty because he doesn’t pray for her enough?  “Taking charge by serving her“?  He still barely notices the kids’ existence.  Still doesn’t trust his wife’s judgment…about anything.  Still enlists his best friend to keep tabs on her and assist in manipulating her.

Yeah—that’s not what love is.

Anyway, the rest of the sentence:

…Paul sensed that when the truth came out, if she didn’t run from him—which was, of course, entirely possible—she had the potential to be his greatest ally.

That’s awfully optimistic of Paul, considering the bridges he’s burnt in his decade of emotional abuse.

We go to D.C. to see the actual call.  After a brief line showing how terribly PC this Atheistopia is (the kids are going to a “Washington Native American football game” with Berlitz and Aryana the next day), we see that once again, Jerry Jenkins has forgotten that everyone has skull phones.

Because Paul calls the Decenti house’s landline.

This book was written in 2004.  I haven’t had a landline since 2003.  In a world of skull phones, would anyone still pay for a landline?  I can see maybe having one old-school cell around, in case of an emergency of some kind, but a landline?  Yeah, I think Jenkins just forgot again.

Of course, having a landline means we can have a “humorous” moment in which Ranold tries to listen in on the call.  (He is in the kitchen, while Jae is talking to Paul in her bedroom, so apparently the house has multiple landline phones.)  Brie calls out her grandpa, and the unhappy couple can have their conversation in private.  Or at least, as private as a call can be that is not a skull call.

For less than one page, Jae and Paul talk about how much they both wish she could come to Europe to be with him, though seeing as how Paul spends his days getting tours of cities and his nights praying with the underground Christians, I wonder how much time they imagine they could spend together.

Jae mentions absolutely nothing about Ranold and his (correct) suspicions, as she should, but she does passive-aggressively state that “I don’t like being a single parent.”

Though really, she should be used to it after all these years.

Hilariously, we are told that Jae and Paul finish their already-scintillating conversation with “incidentals and courtesies.”  Oh yeah, this is some kind of strong, loving, sexy marriage they have now!

Incidentals and courtesies.”  Makes it sound like a conversation with your insurance guy.

When the conversation ends, Jae doesn’t feel any immediate anger or suspicion, though she muses that…

 If she found any evidence that he was still fooling around behind her back, [she] had no doubt her forgiveness reserves would be spent.

“I mean, sure, I was willing to forgive the first thirty-seven times, but thirty-eight?  That is a BRIDGE TOO FAR!!”

On Paul’s end, he actually thinks a nice thought about Jae…

She had a quick mind, strong character.  She thought for herself.

Though this thought doesn’t seem quite so genuine when we remember that Paul was trying to manipulate that strong mind and change those thoughts, as he and his best friend conspired to keep Jae from doing what she wanted to do.

He also thinks that those “incidentals and courtesies” amounted to a “warm conversation.”

So yes, Servo, he really doesn’t know what love is.

Silenced: Chapter 19: Yet More Manipulation

Berlitz and Aryana visit the folks, and…

…while neither seemed to know how to interact with kids that age, their interest alone eventually won over Brie and Connor.

How awesome are Berlitz and Aryana?  They are so damn sweet.  Some amoral atheists you’ve made there, Jenkins.

While the doting uncle and aunt are busy with the kiddies (as well they might be—kids might as well be orphans for all they interact with their parents), Ranold tells Jae all about Ball Dangler’s conversation with Paul, which Ranold heard about from “the head of USSA NPO.”

Wow, some great secret-keeper that Dangler is.  Private conversation with the one agent closest to the international terrorist?  I’m gonna tell everybody!

Not that Dangler suspects anything.  In fact, he called Paul “a brilliant thinker.”

So we can see that he clearly does not know Paul at all.

But Ranold does:

“Rather transparent, if you ask me.  Wanted him to delay the announcement of the pledge of loyalty.”

Jae cocked her head, trying to make sense of it.  “What possible reason could Paul have had for that?”

RIGHT???  Gorram, why are the Main Villian and the Little Woman the only ones in this story with any sense?


Back in his hotel room, tired after a day of accomplishing absolutely nothing and, in fact, potentially making things worse, Paul feels “strangely at peace” and listens to John 12:24-28, which I suppose reinforces the whole better-to-die-than-to-lie-about-being-a-Christian thing.

Like Paul and his Plot Armor need to worry about that.


A bit later (after, no doubt, brainwashing himself to sleep just like Jae does), Paul is woken by a skull call from one of the French Lieutenants (har), one Lothair.  Lothair informs Paul that Random Christian Woman was caught and killed by the cops.

“There is nothing we can do, Doctor.  We don’t dare do or say anything with the announcement coming Monday.  That’s so frustrating; we’re climbing the walls here.”

Wait, so are you saying you would have done something, but for the announcement?  Because that’s not how things have gone so far.  When has the French underground, or any Christian underground in any other country, made any kind of protest or, hell, said or done anything when the Powers That Be oppress them?  I mean, Jesus, in Soon, the Christians went out of their way to deny everything that happened (blood in the Reflecting Pool, cherry blossoms rotting)—it wasn’t Christians protesting, it was God!

I just don’t see what the announcement has changed here, is all.

Anyway, apparently ChappellShow needed a Trigger Warning for Random Woman’s death, because he can’t speak to Paul now and wants to pull out of the whole contact-Magnor plan, because it’s all bringing back memories of his wife and kids.

Paul’s response?

“No!  Now, he can’t—”

“I am just passing on the message, Doctor.”

“NOOOO!!!  This means I might have to do my job!!!”


Back in D.C., Jae is conflicted over Paul.  The serial infidelity had “nearly killed her,” but as far as the traitorism goes…

She was an intelligent woman.  She wouldn’t protect him for no reason.  She didn’t want him at any cost just so her kids could have a live-in dad.

Wow.  Just like Lothair, Jae, your actions (or lack thereof) speak elsewise.  You’ve seemed quite willing to have him at any cost just so your kids could have a live-in dad.

(And some “live-in dad.”  Actually, that may be the perfect term: whether atheist or Christian, Paul has always lived in the same house, but has never really been a husband or a dad.)

Jae already deeply regretted having shown her father the devastating letter.  What was this need she had to pour fuel on an already raging fire?  Did she need the points with her dad?  For one thing, Ranold needed no more ammunition.  His mind was clearly made up.

Love how Jenkins tries to paint this as Ranold being closed-minded and stubborn.


Jae chooses a New Testament disc at random, and of course it is terribly appropriate.  Surely it was no accident that Jae picked that disc.  He let Random Woman get murdered, but makes sure Jae picks the right CD.  I guess it’s kinda like how God helps people find their keys, but doesn’t stop wars and famine.

Turns out it’s Philemon 1.  Go ahead and read the whole thing—it’s not long.

Jae reads verses 8-10:

Talk about manipulation, Jae thought.  This Paul put her father to shame.

That is fantastic, that after all this time, and all that’s happened, Jae still thinks it’s Ranold who is the manipulator.

Who could deny this request, regardless of what it turned out to be?

So Jae straight-up admits that she is perfectly willing to be manipulated.  She sees the manipulation, but just does it anyway.  And maybe now we have another little clue as to why Jae has stayed in her wrecked marriage this long…

After verses 11-12:

No wonder her husband’s father had named him Paul.  Mr. Stepola had wanted a son like this.

Um, I hate to be the one to have to remind you, Jae and also Jerry Jenkins, but PAUL IS A JUNIOR.  He is Paul Stepola, Jr.


The Stepolas named their son after his father.  (By the way, love the implication that Mrs. Stepola had no say in her own son’s name.)  Not after the Biblical Paul.

I just…


And her conclusion:

Even if she never shared this Paul’s faith, there was much Jae knew she could learn from him.

I really don’t think there’s much anybody can learn from Paul, except maybe how to be a dick.

So, hey, look at all the great stuff Jae is getting from the Bible!



My 400th post here at Heathen Critique is coming up soon!  I’ll be polling on the next book you all want me to read, and revealing the movie critique that will come after Silenced.  I am so looking forward to this one—it’s…a bit of a different animal.

Silenced: Chapter 18: Bwahaha

In a last-ditch attempt to actually do something while in Europe, Paul calls Daddy Chancellor Ball Dangler to—I don’t know, because superspy Paul only reaches the receptionist and leave an “urgent” message.

“It’s urgent, Pam!  I might have to lie otherwise!  To someone other than my wife!”

Wait a second.

Wasn’t superspy Paul the recipient of Ball Dangler’s own personal and private skullphone number?  How did Paul forget this???  He literally has forgotten that he has the instant-access, 24/7 direct line to the leader of the planet!  I mean, we learned about this a few months ago, in blog-time, but for Paul, it’s only been a few days.



Back in Jae’s room in D.C., Ranold reads Paul’s father’s letter for the first time.  Needless to say, he is less than pleased.

But, being the awesome investigator that he is, Ranold begins spitballing possibilities.

“Stepola Sr. bit on the Christian thing hook, line, and sinker.  But didn’t you—orhe—tell me his mother was not just an atheist but also antireligion?”

Jae nodded.  “She was.”

“Wasn’t it she who talked Paul into religious studies?  Was that just a sham, covering for her own secret beliefs?  Is it possible Paul was raised in this?  That he’s been a plant in the NPO since day one?”

“Now you’re getting paranoid, Dad.”

Heh, not really.  Ranold is completely correct that Paul is a secret believer working as a double agent.  It’s not wrong of him to consider additional possibilities.

Jae sees Ranold eyeing her New Testament discs:

“Yeah, I’m a secret believer too, Dad.  We’re all out to ruin your life, overthrow the USSA, and take over the world for Jesus.  We’ve brainwashed Brie and Connor and they’re working on Mom right now.”

Wow.  That was this close to being a Sarcastic Confession, Jae.


Ranold calls Paul—not to play some kind of cat-and-mouse game, but to scold him for trying to contact Ball Dangler.

Not that Ball Dangler knows or anything.  Looks like Pam told Ranold, and—

Wait, that doesn’t make sense.  Why would Pam tell Ranold?  Paul’s supervisor is Bob Koontz in Chicago, not his father-in-law.

Well, somehow, through some long and complicated game of skull-phone-tag, Ranold found out, and scolds Paul about protocol and chain of command.  Paul tells off Ranold, because this is a TOTES IMPORTANT issue he needs to discuss, and Ranold slinks away.


Well, it did add four whole pages to the book, so there’s that.

FINALLY, Paul talks to Ball Dangler, and gets to lie without really lying:

“Sir, I have made significant progress, inroads into rebel factions.”

“We’ve prayed together and they’ve told me how hard I have it.”

And he asks Dangler to delay announcing the loyalty oath, on the grounds that it would “scare off” Magnor.

It would?

I don’t get it, and neither does Ball Dangler.  This is the explanation we get:

“[Announcing the loyalty oath] will mark the boldest move yet by the International Government against the underground, against terrorists, and let’s face it, against Magnor.”

“Because when the terrorist who has killed hundred realizes that he might have to sign a piece of paper, he will be so intimidated that he will run away forever!  That makes sense, doesn’t it, Mr. Leader of the Planet, sir?”

“I will tell you what I will do, Doctor,” Dengler said.  “If you believe you have a serious inroad to Magnor, I will call off Intelligence and put them on the underground at large.”

Ouch.  “Okay.”


I love it when a plan comes apart at the seams.

“But I am not going to delay the announcement.”


“And, Doctor, the hotline number I gave you would have eliminated a lot of the delay in reaching me.  I answer that one myself.  I trust you not to abuse it.”

The “you idiot” at the end is implied.

So, let’s tally this up: Paul didn’t get what he wanted, plus made it so that even more pressure would be put on the Christians, plus looked like a fool in front of Ball Dangler?

This is a great day.