Left Behind Fridays Writing Seminar: If You Want Your Characters To Be Skeptical, Don’t Give Them A Front-Row Seat To A Miracle That Would Convert Richard Dawkins

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So.  In order to explain a title that must seem ridiculously obvious, and to further explain how it can apply outside a very narrow situation, I’m going to have to set the scene a bit.

For this week’s lesson, we’ve returned to the very early days of Fred Clark’s Left Behind Fridays series, and the very early pages of the Left Behind series.  The Rapture has just occurred.

(For those unfamiliar with this primarily-American bit of fundamentalist Christian mythology, the Rapture is the moment when God takes all of the Elect up to Heaven as part of the festivities described in the Book of Revelation.  Exactly when in the festivities is a point of much debate, but the writers of the Left Behind series hold the very popular position that the Elect are taken before the situation gets bad – or else what’s the point?  There’s also much debate as to who “The Elect” would be.  The writers of Left Behind hold that this group would include all children below the Age of Accountability – that is to say, when they’re too young to be held responsible for their actions; generally speaking, around puberty – and adults who are a very specific kind of Christian.  Their kind, naturally.  In the posts and comments of the Left Behind Fridays series, these are referred to as Real True Christians, or RTC’s.)

…anyway, The Rapture has just occurred, and one Buck Williams, author-insert designated hero and Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time (referred to in the posts and comments as the “GIRAT”), is having a flashback to an incident that should have warned him that this was coming.

In the setting of this book, Greater Israel has been achieved.  The great botanist Chaim Rosenzweig (yes, they named their botanist “Life Rose Twig”, and I’m not even going to complain because in this series that counts as clever, but consider carefully if you really want to be similarly “clever”, on danger of people saying “no, seriously”, about the names you write) has developed a formula that allows the desert to bloom, and all of the surrounding countries have gladly joined Israel so that the Israelis will bring them agricultural bounty.

That’s not the miracle.  I’m not done.

Russia demands access to the miracle plant formula (because a plant-growth formula that works in sandy desert is clearly ideal for cultivating tundra), and when Israel refuses (for some reason), they ally with Ethiopia (the hell?) and launch their entire nuclear arsenal, plus all of their conventional forces, at Israel simultaneously.

I’m put in mind of a safecracker who uses a truck full of C-4 and fertilizer to break into a simple wall safe.  You’ll get in all right, but what you want won’t be there anymore.  Does Russia have no spies in this setting?

I’m still not done.  Neither Russia losing its collective mind nor its bothering to ally with Ethiopia during a nuclear war is the miracle.

No, the miracle is that, while every bit of nuclear and conventional ordinance explodes in midair, not a single Israeli or Israel-friendly (the category that includes Buck) is harmed.  Not by the explosions, not by falling debris, not by radiation or chemical poisoning.

Now, as Fred points out in L.B.: Buck and Jules, this is a miracle that makes the parting of the Red Sea look like a little kid splashing in a puddle.  There should be no atheists left.  Richard Dawkins should either be writing essays on what such-and-such phenomenon reveals about the nature of God, or going the sackcloth-and-ashes route to repent for his heresy.

Of course, simply believing in God or gods is not enough to save someone from the horror to come in this setting, but still, the world should be very different, and not just because Russia is completely disarmed.  How can the world witness something like what happened in Israel, and yet only one man even kind of converted?

One answer to that lies in the writers’ beliefs about human nature (which, incidentally, they share with many of their co-religionists, and fundamentalists in general): they believe that everyone, deep in their hearts, knows that they (the Real True Christians) are right, and that they only refuse to convert to RTC-anity out of stubbornness and love for their sins.

Not everyone has such a distorted view of human nature, and there’s not much that a couple of blog posts can do to help you if you do.  Be aware, however, that you’re wrong: with the exception of actual con artists, people really do believe the things they profess to believe.

Fortunately, this episode can be used to teach another important, more broadly-applicable lesson: don’t have impossible, nonsensical things just happen in your story because the story requires them to happen.  How is it possible that the Arab countries surrounding Israel give up decades of enmity and surrender their sovereignty for the sake of good crops?  Because Tim Lahaye’s Apocalypse Timeline requires a Greater Israel and a blooming desert.  Why does Russia think Rosenzweig’s formula will even work for them?  Why don’t they send spies, or steal some treated soil for reverse-engineering?  Why do they ally with Ethiopia, of all countries, and send every military resource they have at Israel?  Because of some half-translated passage on the Apocalypse Timeline about Gog and Magog.

(And also because Russia is the default Bad Guy Country in Lahaye & Jenkins’s Cold War-trained minds, but that was starting to be anachronistic even in 1995…when they were writing a book that was supposed to be about the future.)

And how can the whole world see a blatant miracle and not convert en masse?  To say nothing of the man who was actually there to see it!  Because of Lahaye & Jenkins’s warped view of humanity, yes, but also because there can be no story if the Rapture takes everyone.

And also so the readers (most of whom are from L&J’s subculture) can tell themselves that everyone who spends the rest of the series undergoing horrific suffering that makes YHVH look like Yog-Sothoth deserved it.

Suspension of disbelief is a courtesy that your readers extend you.  Don’t start the party by pissing in the punch bowl.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Left Behind Fridays Writing Seminar: If You Want Your Characters To Be Skeptical, Don’t Give Them A Front-Row Seat To A Miracle That Would Convert Richard Dawkins

  1. Pingback: Left Behind Fridays Writing Seminar: Suspension of Disbelief Doesn’t Apply to Human Nature | Dreams of the Shining Horizon

  2. Are you seriously using a series that sold over 60 million copies as an example of what not to do? Are the results not enough to show that it enjoyed some general level of success regardless of whatever nitpicking dispute you have with some fleeting moment in the story line? The suspension of disbelief obviously worked for a huge number of people. If this blog post gets more than 60 million hits I might put some faith in what you’re saying, but otherwise, sorry mate, you should have written an article about how the suspension of disbelief is extremely flexible and to not be afraid to mince out realism in favor of entertainment. Because that’s what books are. Entertainment. If you disagree, go write a history book.

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