This is going to be another one, like last week’s, that deals with a number of smaller – but collectively important – points, instead of a single large theme.
I think the best place to start is with the title:
NRA: Throwing Chaim Under The Hypothetical Bus
The Hypothetical Bus is a rhetorical tool used by many Christians (not just fundamentalists) for the purpose of evangelism. The question they ask is: “What if you were to leave here and get hit by a bus when you tried to cross the street? Would you be ready to face your heavenly judgment? You may think so, but only accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior can keep you out of Hell.”
Fred Clark spends a great deal of the post discussing the terrible theology of this view, along with the hypocrisy of those who promote it. As an Evangelical Christian himself, he doesn’t like the fact that this horrifically cruel, fear-based version of Christianity has become so widespread.
But there are lessons that we heathens can take from this too, and he is careful to point them out.
First of all, while the idea that you’re doomed to eternal torture unless you recite a specific prayer may or may not be true in our world (and cannot be proven one way or another as long as you are in this world), it is definitely true in the world of Left Behind. One of the advantages of being a writer is the ability to set the rules of your fictional worlds like that. More importantly for our purposes, author avatar and designated hero Buck Williams knows that it’s true. More importantly yet, he has a dear friend who is in immediate danger of death, and thus immediate danger of Hell.
And yet he does nothing. And we’re still supposed to think of him as a hero.
Sorry, no. In Buck’s situation, failure to even try is an act of mewling cowardice. Heroes, both real and fictional, have risked the mission to rescue people from far, far less.
Of course – and this just goes to further demonstrate how completely designated heroes the protagonists are – the question then becomes: what, exactly, is The Mission? To resist the Antichrist? One of the designated heroes is flying the Antichrist’s plane. If they were willing to “resist” on a level more ferocious than silent disapproval and childish pranks, Nicolae would even now be magically reconstituting from a pile of ash on a remote mountainside, minus his entire inner circle and cut off from communication with the forces he’d been ordering to nuke cities. Millions of lives would be saved, perhaps long enough to save their souls. Remember, everyone that Nicolae murders is sent to Hell by God if they die unsaved. Of course, many of those victims could have been saved from Hell, if not death, if Buck had taken advantage of his time as the Antichrist’s press secretary to communicate the message of salvation. But that, of course, would have compromised the mission, which is to…um…
This is why it’s a problem if you want your characters to be members of a resistance cell caught up in events too large for them to affect, but set up the narrative structure so that they have to be physically present in the arch villain’s high councils in order for us to know what’s going on. In such a situation, they can affect events, and people are going to expect them to try if we’re to accept them as heroes.
Similarly, this is another example of the problems inherent in setting up a situation where the most important thing the characters can do is evangelize – never mind the fact that the authors make it clear that evangelization is what Real True Christians do, and the protagonists are only heroes because they’re Real True Christians – and then making the characters secret agents.
The root of all of these problems is that the authors are failing to be consistent with the rules they’ve created for their world. In this world, the Rapture has occurred – which means that all of the children and a certain, very specific demographic of adults have vanished from the world. Israel was preserved from a nuclear attack by a blatant miracle. People will be a bit more open to religious explanations for things. Especially because the Tribulation Force have their accurate-in-every-detail (because those are the rules the authors have made for their world) apocalypse timeline. A few accurate predictions, and they could be making converts hand over fist. But they don’t do that. The world has seven years left to exist, the characters are in positions of power, anyone who dies without speaking the right words spends eternity in unimaginable pain, and the characters are not using every tool at their disposal.
How do you like that for heroes?
The point of this rant is simple: if you’re going to set the rules of your world, as is your right as a writer, you then have to follow them.
If I had to come up with an example of this done well, I would suggest the One Rose trilogy by Gail Dayton. In the fantasy world she creates, the nation that serves as the primary setting is a matriarchy where women enjoy a degree of dominance roughly equivalent to male dominance in the United States in the Fifties – that is to say, the total dominance of ages past is gone, men’s rights are advancing and a few pioneers are reaching places that men have never reached before, but society is overwhelmingly oriented toward female authority. Ms. Dayton makes sure that every detail supports this world and reminds you that you’re not in Middle Earth anymore. Every person of authority – every government official, every military officer, every business owner, every priest, every magic-user – is female unless it is specifically mentioned otherwise. The protagonists are speaking with a character who would be a wizened graybeard in another novel, and the pronoun “she” comes casually out of nowhere to remind you that this world is different. Familiar institutions look different because they’re arranged to be of maximum advantage to women: marriage, for example, involves no less than four people; unlike our world, where marriage originated as one man and as many women as he could afford to keep his house and raise his children, marriage in this society is designed to allow a woman to have children and continue her other pursuits while other members of the group, more inclined to the task, can raise the children. Because Ms. Dayton doesn’t pretend that women are perfect (and what kind of stories would you tell about them if they were?), there is prejudice and discrimination in this world: a male officer who really should be in the cavalry is in the infantry because they’re the only part of the army that will accept male officers – and at lieutenant, he’s already achieved a higher rank than any man ever. When a male lord chamberlain – the highest rank any man has achieved in this country’s government – proves to be disloyal, it will no doubt be used as an argument against male government officials for years. It’s more or less taken for granted that female officers in the military will sexually harass their male subordinates (who are, after all, young and in fine shape), and the men have little recourse.
Even the smallest details serve the purpose: waiters automatically hand the check to the woman, people instinctively look to the oldest woman in a group to speak for that group, etc.
This is what it looks like when you set the rules of your world and then make sure you follow them. This is what you should be striving for.
But. To get back to our example of what not to do. I’ve already discussed how Buck’s failure to evangelize is contrary to the rules as set forth for this world and his alleged status as a hero. I’ve also mentioned how his unwillingness to risk The Mission just reminds you, upon a moment’s thought, that there is no mission.
But there’s something else that you should remember: his mission, even if he had one, would be in no danger if he did evangelize. Our other author avatar, Rayford Steele, actually got into a minor dispute at work when he harassed one of his co-workers with his evangelism (this was at a point when the writers were focusing on the protagonists being “ideal examples of Real True Christians, like you, the audience at home, should be” rather than secret agents), and won! What’s more, the characters openly attend a Real True Christian church, which the Antichrist’s One World Government has apparently allowed to stay open. These are things that would turn up in the background check when Rayford was hired to fly Nicolae’s plane and Buck was hired as his press secretary. The Antichrist knows that they’re Real True Christians, and he doesn’t care. Why should he? They’ve been perfectly loyal and efficient employees so far.
But do you know who does kill Christians as soon as they’re found? Jews. That’s the reason Chaim is in danger in the first place. When Tsion Ben-Judah publicly declared that Jesus was the Messiah and that Lahaye and Jenkins’s brand of American Fundamentalist Christianity was the only true faith, he was marked for death by the Israeli authorities, along with all his associates. They’ve already murdered his family and (clumsily, unsuccessfully) tried to implicate him as the killer.
That’s diabolical. Since starting WWIII, Carpathia may have an edge on the Israeli authorities in terms of sheer body count, but he hasn’t tried anything that cunning or cruel yet even once in the entire series.
When your Jewish stereotypes are more evil than your Antichrist, you’re doing it wrong.