Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Forest for the Trees

Okay, did some digging on YouTube looking for the perfect clip, but I'm afraid you'll have to settle for the almost perfect clip instead. Basically I've come to envision the Tribbles, both young and old, as basically being the Buddy Bears, except with less fur. The line in the song about how "if you ever disagree, it means you must be wrong," is particularly apt. But in the Buddy Bears defense, at least they have a catchy tune that makes you smile, which is more than I can say for the Tribbles. Plus, the Buddy Bears actually do help Garfield out in that clip, cleaning up his house for him. Can you imagine the Tribbles ever doing anything for anyone, especially if said character isn't an RTC? Didn't think so.

This week's selection begins with Judd's perspective. Why? I don't know, especially since nothing really happens. Maybe Ellanjay thought that if we didn't receive some reminder that Judd exists, we'd forget. Lionel does have a few lines, but I'm still wondering if Lionel isn't actually Judd's Tyler Durden or Harvey like I mentioned a few weeks ago.

Anyway, all that really happens is he and Lionel drive around, looking at all the flaming wreckage and thinking of all the sinners being burned up. Because, lest we never forget, Judd and Lionel are horrible people.

Judd saw a fire department’s door open, and an engine rushed out. Firefighters in full gear bounced inside as the truck rolled onto the street. But as soon as the engine hit the street, GC flags on the truck burst into flames. Firefighters flailed their arms and struggled against their seat belts. The red truck slowed, its massive tires melting and spreading onto the pavement. First the driver, then the rest abandoned ship, running toward the firehouse. Before they reached the driveway, they burst into flames. One firefighter ran to the back, managed to turn the water on, and pointed the hose toward his coworkers. Boiling water scalded his friends. They screamed and fell before catching on fire.

I'm really starting to think I shouldn't have started an "Our Sociopathic Heroes" tag. I'm afraid I'd overuse it, thus rendering it meaningless. Because need I remind you, those firefighters Judd saw die horribly with scarcely a comment, THEY WERE OUT DOING THE FUCKING JOBS! THEY WERE HELPING PEOPLE AKA THAT ACTIVITY THAT THE TRIBBLES ONLY TALK ABOUT DOING BUT NEVER ACTUALLY DO!

Judd's selection ends and the rest of the chapter is told from Mark's perspective.

Remember last week how I said there was an Obligatory Conversion Scene coming up? Well, we're here. I'll spoil it for you: Clemson comes to love Big Brother.

Anyway, Mark, seeing an opportunity to chalk another one up on his fuselage, starts asking Clemson about his family. Me, I find myself wondering if the paragraph at the beginning of the chapter isn't Ellanjay's attempt to answer the question I keep repeatedly asking: If God just wants people to believe and follow him, why doesn't he do something less fatal and less cruel like say, rearrange the stars to spell out "Jesus is Lord and Tim LaHaye was right about everything?" As you can guess, the answer Ellanjay provide is weaksauce.

Mark had learned a long time ago that a person didn’t become a believer in God simply because of information, so he had to resist the urge to spell everything out for Clemson. Instead, he asked Clemson about his family, where he had grown up, and his church background.

My objection is mostly that the conversion scene mostly follows the standard one seen in any RTC fiction, ignoring, of course, the fact that the characters of the LB-verse don't live in our world in which much of religious belief has to be taken on faith. The characters In the LB-verse have seen miracles and the kind of Acts of God that would make Richard Dawkins pause. It's more the nature of God that they'd question. Because with the exception of God swatting aside nukes aimed at Israel, pretty much all the miracles/Acts of God are so horrific as to make one of Lovecraft's Elder Gods blanch.

So Clemson tells us a little about his life. Basically he's one of those heretics who has no axe to grind against God or the Church, but just doesn't see a reason why believing in God and following the Golden Rule isn't good enough. No doubt, he's one of those types who actually reads through the second chapter of James rather than ignoring it like all good RTCs.

In an attempt to find something positive to say, Mark does briefly do something smart. Rather than leap to "Jesus love you, which is why he's tried repeatedly to kill you horribly so you can spend eternity in hellfire," Mark starts talking about how all this shit that's happened was predicted in the Bible and starts laying it out. Me, I wonder why they don't just point to the voluminous amount of RTC-published books written before all this happened that say the same thing. Because anyone can use the Bible as some sort of Ouija board, twist scripture to make it say whatever you want, but I imagine pointing out how Hal Lindsay or whoever predicted exactly what would happen decades before the Rapture might have more impact.

You kind of wonder about the LB-verse. While the basis is that pretty much everything that Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, and numerous others have said is true, at the same time, people stumble around acting like all this is some bizarre novelty. Even though it's not like numerous films don't already exist that explore the whole idea of the the anti-Christ.

In short, I'm wondering if the LB-verse doesn't operate like The Walking Dead, where it's established that none of numerous zombie movies/lit exist in that world, which explains why all the characters act like this zombie stuff is new to them and everyone has to learn how to defeat them as opposed to just going, "Y'know this is exactly like that George Romero movie," and working from there.

Yeah, sorry about the long tangent, back to the story.

So Mark starts asking about the prayers Clemson has made and whether they've been answered. Mark then says this:

Mark drew closer and got down on one knee. “Clemson, it’s not enough just to believe that God exists. The Bible says that the demons believe that. Even Carpathia believes in God.”

That line set off all sorts of notes of recognition. I had to hit Google to be sure, but I did find confirmation of my theory: that what Mark just said is a riff on a verse from the Book of James. In fact, it's James 2:19 to be specific. I'm going to guess that that's the only verse from the second chapter of James that RTCs pay attention to. Because if you took some time and actually read the rest of that chapter, yeah, many RTC kids will start asking their parents uncomfortable questions, given that the main thesis of that chapter is "Faith without Works is Dead."

They probably ignore the beginning of the fifth chapter of James for probably the same reason: that if you really take those words to heart like you're supposed to, you'll find yourself asking a lot of uncomfortable questions that might lead to heretical ideas taking root.

Yeah, I know, you probably want me to stop going on and on about James, but I always liked that book the best out of all the New Testament books and I thought the way they use James, clearly points out the fallacy of their approach to scripture in which they grasp at a few twigs while paying little if any attention to the rest of the tree the twigs came from.

On an unrelated note, here's some music to liven up this dull lecture.

Clemson says that he thinks God has better things to do than worry about him and his troubles. I could point out that technically God is the cause of all Clemson's troubles, but I've made that point so many times. Besides, I'll admit it is a little refreshing to see someone who doesn't treat God as his personal concierge/strongman. Spoiler alert: it won't last.

Clemson talks about how he often wonders if God really cares, which gives Mark a chance to say this:

“I think the reason that all this bad stuff has happened is that God cares more than any of us can imagine. He wants people to come to know him, to ask forgiveness for their sins, even though he knows that most people will spit in his face.”

Or in other words, your only hope is to be eaten first.

I know I keep using Cthulhu comparisons but they're just so damn apt that I can't think of anything else.

Clemson's like "If you're so religious, why are you still here?" and Mark says that he believes he and the others were left behind to reach the lost and bring them to Christ. I'm reminded of an editorial that Kirk Cameron wrote way, way back in 2005, ably snarked here where Cam-Cam calls for what sounds like Christian Bodhisattvas. When even Cam-Cam pales at your notion of God, you know you've created a cruel god.

For those of you wondering if this chapter is going to be one giant sausage fest, Vicki, Cheryl, and Marshall comes in just as Mark is doing the obligatory "I thought I was a good person, but I wasn't" self-flagellating and gnashing of teeth. Basically Vicki talks about how she thought her parents were a bunch of religious nutcases, but they were right and she was wrong. Though, given what I recall from early snarks about Vicki's parents, I can't blame her for not respecting them. If I had them as parents, I wouldn't respect them either.

I'm going to guess the fact that they mentioned Cheryl has many of you wondering, as I did, if they're going to mention any of the issues going on with her life and provide a satisfactory resolution to them. Oh you silly naïve fools, thinking that Ellanjay would have enough dedication to the craft to wrap up a major plotline in a satisfactory way. Don't feel too bad; I felt the same way.

Anyway, here's the extent of Cheryl's participation in the chapter. Read ahead a little to next week's selection. If you guessed that Cheryl tacitly gives up her right to be with her child because the Main Character wanted her too, and that there's little if any explanation provided as to why she suddenly changed her mind, again, congratulations on being familiar with Ellanjay tropes. Sad part is despite being an English major, I can tell you more about Ellanjay tropes than Shakespearean ones. My professors would be proud.

Anyway, here's what Cheryl says:

No one spoke for a long time. Finally, Cheryl folded her arms and her chin quivered. “Just because we believe in God doesn’t mean we’ll always make the right decisions.” She looked at Vicki and frowned. “I made a big mistake. I can see that now. And there’s nothing I can do to make up for it. But I know God is in the business of forgiving people.”

I really don't need to point out all the wrong here. I picture Cheryl giving this speech wide-eyed, an enormous strained smile on her face, because she knows if she doesn't do exactly as her captors tell her, she won't ever see her son again. Yeah, someone needs to tell Ellanjay that The Stepford Wives is supposed to be a horror movie.

After Cheryl says her line and disappears back into the collective, Mark basically asks Clemson what it will take to get him to take home a brand spankin' new Jesus today. Strangely enough, instead of getting to the Obligatory Conversion Scene, Clemson holds off. Mark does a variation on the Hypothetical Bus, saying that he could die tomorrow given how shitty things have gotten. Me, I'd have whole new respect for Mark if instead he'd just thrown up his hands and said "Look we're characters in some shitty writer's shitty masturbation fantasies. No matter which way you choose, this story will end badly for you. So why don't you choose the least shitty of the two shitty options and save us a few more pages of crappily written dialogue!" But yeah, that's not going to happen.

At that moment, Ryan Victor comes in humming a crude version of "Jesus Loves Me." And I have to call bullshit here. Isn't Ryan Victor one year old? I can except that he's walking and talking, but humming a tune?! I'm calling BS. While I know there's a wide range in that area of development and I freely admit to not being an expert on child development, I'm still calling it. No child is that freaking precocious!

This of course, affords Mark the opportunity to dust off Jesus's "Let the little children come to me" bit. Clemson is like "What does that mean?" and Mark points out that Ryan Victor can't do much for himself because he's a baby, so he trusts in everyone around him. The clear moral is that God wants Clemson to trust in God the way Ryan Victor trusts in everyone else.

But clearly the Kool-Aid is starting to take affect as Clemson admits that the real reason he didn't go to church was because he did bad things that the church members knew about. Those of you waiting to hear just what bad things Clemson has done, keep waiting. It's never mentioned. And given Ellanjay's definition of bad things, which can range anywhere from "not saying The Prayer with the precise level of sincerity" or "taking the Mark to keep you and your brother from starving to death" to nuking London...I think I've made my point.

Mark, seeing an opening, does the whole "We're all sinful sinners and that's why Jesus died on the cross, because we were full of sin and evil" bit. He quotes from Romans 5, later citing Romans 10:13 aka that verse that says "Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Many have pointed out how RTCs seem so much fonder of quoting from Paul rather than the four Gospels. I've got to admit, I enjoy picking on Paul as much as any other liberal Christian does, but I still think Paul would be horrified by Ellanjay's interpretation of Jesus. Paul saw Jesus as someone who would ultimately break down barriers between God and man, not some sort of Jinn who will torture you for all eternity, unless you say the Magic Words. I admit, Paul remains a frustrating figure for me in that while you see passages where he is able to transcend the mores and values of his time and really touch on the love of God, these great passages are mixed in with other passages where he stubbornly remains a man of his time. I will say in his defense that most of the really misogynistic passages that RTCs like to cite were probably not written by him and that Paul would be shocked that people were placing his letters in the same category as other sacred writ like the Torah.

Okay done talking about Paul for now. Back to story.

To wrap this all up, Clemson finally bends the knee and says The Prayer.

And that's it for this week. I've read ahead for next week and those of you wondering "WTF is going on with Cheryl?" Like I said, it's pure weaksauce in that no explanation is provided; Cheryl has just meekly accepted that she's not a Main Character and was foolish to think otherwise. No doubt now that she's somehow seen the error of her ways, she'll disappear into the collective despite the fact that, y'know, Cheryl does have legitimate concerns that warrant being addressed and dealt with, not just shuffled off-screen. I was seriously wondering if somehow the eBook had a few pages missing between this week and last week and next week's selection, because that is crap writing. Basic rule of writing: if you want to show a character changing, going from A to Q so to speak, you have to show the parts in between. Shouting "Q!" and hoping no one notices you left out the stuff in between doesn't work. You end up coming across as an eight-grader who didn't do his homework assignment and is desperately trying to wing it.

Ah, but I've talked too much about what we have to look forward to next week. Better wrap it up before this snark turns into War and Peace or something. Take care of yourselves and each other until then.


aunursa said...

I'm wondering if the LB-verse doesn't operate like The Walking Dead, where it's established that none of numerous zombie movies/lit exist in that world, which explains why all the characters act like this zombie stuff is new to them and everyone has to learn how to defeat them as opposed to just going, "Y'know this is exactly like that George Romero movie," and working from there.

The curious incident of Elementary, Left Behind, and the paradox of 'Bible prophecy'

"Just as Elementary requires the conceit of a world in which the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle never existed, so too the fulfillment of these 'Bible prophecies' would require a world in which the Scofield Bible, The Late Great Planet Earth, and Left Behind never existed."

Firedrake said...

Whatever you think of the faith vs works argument (and a lot of these books are about that, trying to suck in people who are already within the Christian memeplex rather than convert outsiders), most of the "faith" side of it asserts that good works are still a good thing; they're not what gets you into heaven, but rather they occur as a side effect of being the sort of person who will get into heaven. Which is fair enough, until you meet people like this to whom faith is all, and so good works are actively a bad thing because they distract you from the important business of getting saved.

It reminds me rather of the "beware of people who say peace, because they're secret warmongers, but people who say war are just dandy thank you" that we got in discussion of Li'l Nicky.

As for "didn't become a believer in God simply because of information", that always smells to me like a tactic of last resort against all the sensible and logical arguments for not being a believer. (Especially in a world like this where being a believer really is a matter of simple choice.)

"Cthulhu? Who's that?"

Actually my mental model of Cthulhu is very like that of this LBGod. Cthulhu doesn't care about your troubles. To Cthulhu you are a mouse in the field, when it came time to bring in the corn. And Mark is a cultist, picking up on any little coincidence to show that Cthulhu does care about him, he's important, really he is!

Clemson is like "What does that mean?"... and someone points out that LBGod slaughtered all the little children, not just the ones who believed in him? No? Nothing about the plasticity of neural tissue in the prepubertal brain which makes it more suitable for use as components in… I've said too much.

A gin-scented tear trickled down Cheryl's nose…

Patrick Phelan said...

Actually my mental model of Cthulhu is very like that of this LBGod. Cthulhu doesn't care about your troubles. To Cthulhu you are a mouse in the field, when it came time to bring in the corn.

This is one reason I was puzzled there was a "Contact Cthulhu" spell in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. What's it going to say? It's like that combine harvester driver having a mouse climb up onto the chassis and say "squeak squeak squeak". Combine harvester driver is not going to care.

Hello Mouse! I have spent the last three days reading through the archives and being completely horrified by our heroes and everything and considering writing The Amazing Story Of All The Negelcted Characters Particularly Ryan Taylor And Hassina Hooking Up With Necromancy Also There Is Slash Somewhere. Thank you for providing all this high-grade snark!

In brutalmoose's fantastic* review of fantastic** Christian ministry game Captain Bible, he draws attention a few times to our hero's LB-like principle of slaughtering everything that tries to provide him a different viewpoint (and wasn't Tsion sending a bunch of "we want to see the people who are actually helping people" rebels straight to hell just DANCING all over the moral event horizon right there?), even though Captain Bible gets Not Completely Horrible points because his enemies are robots. At one point there's a horrifying moment - brutalmoose, not Captain Bible, because the makers of Captain Bible don't seem nearly as horrible as the Left Behind people - of children singing Jesus Loves Me over the sound of horrifying death screams. Whenever LBKids! mentions singing, especially Jesus Loves Me, that's exactly what I picture, now. It's definitely the soundtrack to the firefighters' scene.

* genuinely fantastic
* not fantastic

Speaking of Jesus Loves Me, that kid is developing way too fast. He is a Twilight vampire kid. Someone better cut his head off right the hell now before a werewolf imprints on him.

What I really like about James 2:19, I have to say, is that "Good!" or "you do well"; it's the only time to my memory that the Bible sounds completely sarcastic, and I can picture the author slow-clapping over it.

It's not just the jumping from A to Q, is it? That's a HUGE part of it, but it's also the bits where some of it's still on A, while some of it's on Q. Like Carpathia being all about peace and love and tolerance AND television having Winner Kills Loser shows. It could work if it was intentional - one of those things Taylor would call out about discrepancy between words and deeds - but given everything that's going on, it's very clearly not. It's just not thought through. It's bad writing.

Which, comes to think of it, might be another good reason to defy God in these books. "You say your God made this world and this universe and all of us? Then your God is a shitty writer!"

Patrick Phelan said...

(Ah, peas, didn't edit my footnotes. Brutalmoose's review of Captain Bible is genuinely fantastic. Captain Bible is not fantastic. Though it's actually redeemably flawed, and I spend my time looking at it thinking of how to improve it, not - as I do in this case - that it's unsalvageable because it's taken the Mark of Being Terrible Revenge Fantasies.)

Anonymous said...

Charles Schultz agreed with you about James, apparently: