If it seems this week that I'm being unbelievably anal retentive, well, that's because a large part of this front matter is Ellanjay listing world-building details, y'know, all the changes now that TurboJesus has returned, packing heat. We all know that Ellanjay suck at pretty much everything, so I thought I'd really go through the front matter, the world-building list, with a fine-toothed comb, so we can point out all the flaws and later, when we get to the actual story, we can point out the many ways Ellanjay can't keep their own world-building straight.
Now that I've said that, let's do this thing.
The first bit of front matter is a page talking about the whole 75 day interval. Since I already ranted about it in my last snark of the For Kids! version of this series, not going to spend too much time on it. Though of course, when reading Daniel 12, Ellanjay would obsess over the numbers listed towards the end and ignore the larger context of said verses. From what I can tell, Ellanjay are totally the type of people who, after hearing the fable about the ant and the grasshopper, will go hunting for talking insects. After many fruitless years of hunting for said insects, then they'll sit around and try to guess why the insects hadn't shown up, what conditions must be in place for the talking insects to show up, and from there, when they'll show up, all the while ignoring the clear and obvious moral of the fable.
But to be fair, I do often wonder how much of Christian Theology wasn't created as a means of weaseling out of, well, doing what Jesus would do. Because we keep going on and on about the Sermon on the Mount, how it's just so incomprehensible and hard to understand, but if you actually read it, it's not that incomprehensible. Jesus is being quite clear on what he expects from his followers, what he wants them to do. The Sermon on the Mount may be difficult to practice, but it's not hard to understand, no matter how much we insist on pretending otherwise.
Okay, now for the world-building list. Everyone get your pump-up music and poison of choice ready. Those of you who don't have a pump-up music of choice, first of all, what's wrong with you and second of all, you can use one of mine. Well, okay, I freely admitted it's a case of "I've got two songs I want to make gratuitous links to and I can't decide which, so I'm going to use both." First one is an awesome theme song for a series cancelled way-too-soon (why the heck they felt they had to retool the theme song is season two, I don't know. It was awesome the way it was!), but maybe you're more into rock, than a superhero cartoon, so here's some Tenacious D for you.
All right, first up on the world-building list is, well, get used to increased rates of skin cancer and cataracts, among many other health problems.
As in the days before the Rapture and the Tribulation, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. But what a sun! It will be so bright that people will have to wear sunglasses any time they are outside, twenty-four hours a day. The Scriptures foretell this in Isaiah 30: 26: “Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold.” It should not be beyond speculation that these orbs will be supercharged by the Shekinah glory of Christ.
With the moon as bright as the sun is now, people will have to get used to sleeping while it is light outside.
Well, okay, I suppose if I were to bring up the whole skin cancer issue, Ellanjay would say that there's no danger from excessive UVA radiation Because Jesus! so I probably shouldn't linger on with that one, especially since I'm more concerned with the second bit, where the moon is now as bright as the sun.
Well first of all, if the moon's now as bright as the sun, congratulations! Your paradise-dwellers can no longer see the stars at night, an activity that's been a source of comfort and wonder to humanity since we emerged the primordial ooze, because nighttime in the Millennial Kingdom (henceforth referred to as MK) is now worst than Downtown LA.
But I'm also thinking of one of Cracked's articles where they talk about some of the WTF problems with space travel that we'll have to deal with if we ever try to colonize Mars or something. The item in particular is the one about sleep. See with humans, our circadian rhythm is wired for Earth time. It turns out just being in space and dealing with watching the sun rise 10 to 15 times a day, wrecks all kinds of havoc with said rhythm, forcing astronauts to gobble Ambien, so they can sleep. And to counteract all the Ambien, they take Uppers, thus making me wonder if NASA isn't actually run by Homer Simpson.
Anyway, my point is that one of the hazards we're going to have to address in long-term space travel is, like I said, our brains are wired to Earth's cycle, so what the heck are we going to do, if we settle a planet where the days are longer than the years like Venus? People who dwell in the arctic circle already have to deal with this, dealing with months where the sun never goes down or never comes up, and scientific studies will attest that it does affect the natural human rhythms.
But yeah, I know if I were to ask Ellanjay how the heck people in MK sleep or anything, they'd just say, "Because Jesus!" and say something about how the people of the MK no longer need to sleep again, Because Jesus!
And of course, the "Because Jesus!" thing just further illustrates the chief problem with the world-building of this series: not just how unimaginative it is, but how damn boring it is. Basic rule of fantasy or sci-fi or any story with superpowers: you have to have rules and limits and you sure as hell have to stick to them. Because if the hero doesn't have to sweat for it a little, then congratulations, you've surgically removed any potential conflict and made your story as boring as hell.
You can quibble about Superman's many many powers, talk about how they make no sense, you can argue over whether his weaknesses make any sense (Kryptonite, Red Sunlight, Magic) either, but generally so long as they're consistent in what the hero can and can't do, I'm willing to play along.
Heck, as much as I love, love the hell out of Captain America in the MCU*, there were still moments where I'm like, "Seriously?! What the Hell?!" I keep trying to figure out what the heck the Captain's superpowers are supposed to be, because I thought the whole Super Soldier Serum thing just puts him in peak human fitness in every category, but so many times I was like, "The only way the Captain walks away from that is if he has a Wolverine-style healing factor." As awesome as the character is, I wish Marvel would pin down the nature of his abilities a little more. Again, argue about the realism of Superman, but there is some consistency to the "Nigh-Invulnerable Alien Super-Being" concept. You can argue about how much consistency, but at least, you know, "Okay that looked painful, but Superman will shrug it off and will generally be okay and...aw fuck, is that shiny green rock what I think it is?" Knowing the boundaries makes it easier to know the stakes and adds to the suspense.
Again, it's one of the basic rules of plotting: while you don't tell the ready everything that's going to happen, they do need to know the rules of said fictional universe and of course, the stakes. I admit that I talk mostly about superhero stories because, and I know this will come as a real shock to my readers, I'm a huge fangirl who loves the hell out of them, but that rule of plotting applies to any story. All fictional universes have rules that they must follow and when the reader gets to the big climax, even if the climax is working up the nerve to ask that girl out or tell off someone who needs to be told off rather than stop Evil Bob from using his doomsday device to destroy the world, the reader should have some idea of why this is important to the protagonist and what will happen if said protagonist fails.
For those of you going "tl;dr" it can all be summed up by this quote by H.G. Wells: “If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting.”
Next on the list, well, if any of my readers are supreme nerds (and I'm certain a few of you are) who spend their time debating whether mathematics or music is the universal language, according to Ellanjay, in the MK, Hebrew is. Ellanjay use Zephaniah 3:9 to support this theory. In true Ellanjay fashion, you know they make sure to ignore the eight verses that come before that one, because yeah, that would make them uncomfortable and the last thing Jesus or any prophet would want to do, is make wealthy, well-fed religious people feel uncomfortable.
There's some stuff in there related to the Trinity, but I'm not even going to try to take that on. Better theologians than me have tried and failed to explain the Trinity. I'm honestly wondering if it isn't meant to be something akin to a Zen koan designed to clear the mind of conscious thought. So trying to research and explain it, would be missing the point entirely. But then again, the Unitarians might be onto something. They take the Gordian knot method of problem-solving when it comes to the Trinity and I'm totally in favor of that method of problem-solving. You could solve so many of life's problems by slashing them with a sword, but people, for some reason, go around calling said strategy such unpleasant names like Murder and Vandalism.
And now for the physical features of the MK. I look forward to my more science-minded readers stepping in and tearing Ellanjay a new one.
Between the Tribulation and the Millennium, it appears He will be content to take His time. Jesus will have as His canvas an entire globe that has been shaken flat— except Israel. Around the world, debris from the planetary earthquake will lie hundreds, sometimes thousands, of feet deep. Rock, foliage, buildings, and water will create a residue that coats the earth, leaving everything at sea level. That means, naturally, that in some places the altitude of the sea will have increased with the leveling of mountains. In others, the sea will disappear under new landmasses.
The only place elevated will be the Holy City itself, where the Mount of Olives will have been rent in two and Jerusalem raised hundreds of feet. How appropriate that the new, holy capital of the world should stand high above all other cities and nations, more than a thousand feet high and gleaming, pristine, and ready to be redesigned and decorated for and by the Lord Jesus Himself. Every day the landscape will change as full-grown greenery appears.
We'll probably run into many instances where Ellanjay screw up on this part, but my issues with all this are more akin to the Tiger Problem, as illustrated by Calvin and Hobbes. Later on in the world-building, they talk about all the farming we're going to do, but really, Heaven pretty much sounds like a gated community.
Plus, the obvious problem is what if you're not that into farming? Maybe you're an Inuit, who has known nothing but life in the arctic circle. While I wouldn't last very long under those circumstances, the Inuit managed to sustain themselves and be happy for centuries with their way of life, at least, until the Europeans showed up and started insisting, "No, no, there's only one right way to live and it's our way." That mindset is ultimately going to doom us, the way we insist on a one-size-fits-all model, despite the fact that said model does not, in fact, fit anyone and even those who come closer than others to fitting it, are profoundly damaged by trying to squeeze themselves into such narrow boxes. As many environmentalists will point out, said model also only works so long as the oil keeps flowing. If the worst of all the peak oil predictions come true, let's just say places like Phoenix, Arizona or Las Vegas, Nevada, will be forced to come to the painful realization that they are, in fact, located in a desert, and you can't sustain a massive population and provide all the comforts modern citizens have become accustomed to (heat/air conditioning, fresh fruit and veggies year round, etc.) without a massive system of infrastructure that would quickly break down if something were to affect the supply and distribution of oil. It's like the BBC docudrama Threads says, "In an urban society, everything connects. Each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable." Or in short, basically, all you'd have to do is throw one little wrench into the system and it would break down fairly quickly.
Oh, okay, sorry about getting all preachy, there. But the point is, while Ellanjay would be quite comfortable in a gated community-type Heaven, the same isn't true of everyone. Because part of growing up (and from what I can tell, not many people have reached this part), is accepting that people aren't one hundred percent identical, have had different experiences from yours, and from there, have different likes and dislikes. Someone who has known nothing but life in the Amazon Rainforest, for example, would be baffled if you were to throw them into the gated community Heaven. Because while life in the Amazon is rough and hard, it's what they know. However strange and difficult the life of an uncontacted Indian in the Amazon may be to us, they've managed to make it work for them and are overall content with their life and the stresses they endure. So if you have an uncontacted Indian and Jerry Jenkins switch places...okay, we can debate over who would adjust faster to their new living circumstances, but the point is that the two would have very different ideas as to what constitutes a good life and neither would be too comfortable living the other guy's idea of a good life.
Okay, for all you going "tl;dr" let's just sum it up with this quote by Charles Addams and move on: “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
As though anticipating my criticisms, in the next bit, Ellanjay try to take on the "Wouldn't Heaven be boring?" conundrum.
Do you ever wonder whether this thousand years that precedes the new heaven and the new earth might be boring? Yes, Jesus will be there, He whom we all have longed to see and worship in person ever since we became believers. But with only the like-minded there— at least initially— what will everyone do? Sit around and worship?
Perhaps. But imagine euphoria that shows no sign of abating. We’ll feel full of the glory and presence of God through Jesus. In our current lives, we are aware of our sin and lowliness. But in the presence of Jesus, the contrast between us and our Savior will be even starker.
There are moments in which you must bow your head and admit defeat, let far more skilled snarkers than you handle this. Under these circumstances, I'm going to defer to Mark Twain and his "Letters from The Earth." To be more specific, read number two, though they are all worth reading. Because if there's some kind of Snarker's Pantheon where only the truly great can ascend and become one of its gods, Mark Twain would totally be in it.
The next paragraph where it basically says, "God will fill our days with joy and wonder and we'll spend our time worshipping him," makes me, of course, think of a bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Because really that just sounds boring for everyone involved, not just the humans, but God as well. Because creators of any stripe, are driven to create for a reason. Yeah, a large reason is often "Because I've got to pay the rent," but given how very difficult it is to pay the bills by being an artist, they wouldn't keep plugging away, were it not for some masochistic desire that just eats at them and won't let them go.
And of course, the chance any storyteller of any stripe takes, is that once you've created your work and put it out there for the public to see, there's really no way of controlling how they're going to react to your work and what they're going to do with it afterwards. There's a reason the TV Tropes page called Misaimed Fandom exists.
Either way, my incredibly belabored point is that God, like any other creator, had a reason for creating. Whatever someone's motives for creating, most would insist that the interaction between creator and creation is akin to a dance. Anyone whose ever created any kind of story, regardless of where they fall in the great Plotter vs. Pantser debate**, will admit that one of the great moments in the craft comes when you put your character in a situation and they respond in a way you hadn't quite intended for them to, thus opening up new storylines/possibilities. So the idea that God would create us for the sole purpose of having us stand around and loudly praise him for all eternity, makes him sound less like the loving all-powerful creator-god and more like whatever nutbar is currently running North Korea.
Oh in the MK, Jerusalem will also expand, even though in the LB-verse, Israel has already swallowed up much of Jordan and Syria, and no one seems that bothered by it. Those of you who know anything about the quagmire in the Middle East, are laughing and laughing bitterly.
In the MK, TurboJesus will rule with a rod of iron, but in no way will the MK be a dictatorship, even though it sounds like a more expanded version of the dictatorship set up at Petra, where God's representative feels okay with siccing his strongman in the sky on anyone who disagrees with him.
And here's Ellanjay, talking about the eating situation in the MK:
During the seventy-five-day interval between the Glorious Appearing and the actual start of the millennial kingdom, every day, everywhere we look will bear the divine handiwork of Christ. Everything will be perfect, from the plants and shrubs and trees to the grasses and fields and orchards. The earth will teem with produce and animals of all kinds.
Strangely, all of us will lose any desire to eat meat. Animals will no longer be our meat. Our sustenance will come from the bounty of the trees and bushes and vines and from what we ourselves harvest from the earth.
Again, even if we ignore all the obvious "But what if you're a scholar or you don't particularly like farming" that I brought up earlier, there's still plenty to tackle.
On the no eating meat part, well that leads to me wondering what exactly the animals will do in the MK. Later on, we get the infamous "steaming pile of produce" scene so the MK dwellers aren't going to be strict vegans (consuming milk or butter is kind of a no-no), but what about pigs and such.
Because I don't object too much to the farming part of the MK. I think so many of our issues with food stem from the fact that most people, with only a few exceptions, are very removed from the production of food. Most (and I am including myself in in this) have little to any idea what's required to produce the plants and animals we eat every day. It would probably do everybody some good to start a garden of some kind, even if it's just growing a few herbs in pots or something.
My objections stem mostly from, well, y'know that Ellanjay have no idea either and they will massively botch their explanations as to how all this works. I'm having flashbacks to a passage from Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" where she talks about how while she agrees with the vegans and vegetarians in some ways (she shares their opposition to factory farms), she has to part ways with them on other stuff. The book is damn good and I could quote huge chunks of it, but I'm going to try to restrain myself and use only a little.
Recently while I was cooking eggs, my kids sat at the kitchen table entertaining me with readings from a magazine profile of a famous, rather young vegan movie star. Her dream was to create a safe-haven ranch where the cows and chickens could live free, happy lives and die natural deaths. “Wait till those cows start bawling to be milked,” I warned. Having nursed and weaned my own young, I can tell you there is no pain to compare with an overfilled udder. We wondered what the starlet might do for those bursting Jerseys, not to mention the eggs the chickens would keep dropping everywhere. What a life’s work for that poor gal: traipsing about the farm in her strappy heels, weaving among the cow flops, bending gracefully to pick up eggs and stick them in an incubator where they would maddeningly hatch, and grow up bent on laying more eggs. It’s dirty work, trying to save an endless chain of uneaten lives. Realistically, my kids observed, she’d hire somebody.
Forgive us. We know she meant well, and as fantasies of the super-rich go, it’s more inspired than most. It’s just the high-mindedness that rankles; when moral superiority combines with billowing ignorance, they fill up a hot-air balloon that’s awfully hard not to poke. The farm-liberation fantasy simply reflects a modern cultural confusion about farm animals. They’re human property, not just legally but biologically. Over the millennia of our clever history, we created from wild progenitors whole new classes of beasts whose sole purpose was to feed us. If turned loose in the wild, they would haplessly starve, succumb to predation, and destroy the habitats and lives of most or all natural things. If housed at the public expense they would pose a more immense civic burden than our public schools and prisons combined. No thoughtful person really wants those things to happen. But living at a remove from the actual workings of a farm, most humans no longer learn appropriate modes of thinking about animal harvest. Knowing that our family raises meat animals, many friends have told us—not judgmentally, just confessionally—“I don’t think I could kill an animal myself.” I find myself explaining: It’s not what you think. It’s nothing like putting down your dog.
Most nonfarmers are intimate with animal life in only three categories: people; pets (i.e., junior people); and wildlife (as seen on nature shows, presumed beautiful and rare). Purposely beheading any of the above is unthinkable, for obvious reasons. No other categories present themselves at close range for consideration. So I understand why it’s hard to think about harvest, a categorical act that includes cutting the heads off living lettuces, extended to crops that blink their beady eyes. On our farm we don’t especially enjoy processing our animals, but we do value it, as an important ritual for ourselves and any friends adventurous enough to come and help, because of what we learn from it. We reconnect with the purpose for which these animals were bred. We dispense with all delusions about who put the live in livestock, and who must take it away.
Sorry if it sounds like I'm picking on Vegans or Vegetarians; I didn't mean to. What I was more trying to do, was pick on Ellanjay's naïveté, how they believe that we'll all just switch to farming and becoming Vegetarians Because Jesus! without putting any thought into how this will all work. Heck, the infamous "steaming pile of produce" bit is just emblematic of how they haven't given any thought. While the Internet wasn't ubiquitous when the first LB book came out in 1994, by the time Kingdom Come was released, it damn near was. They could have just Googled "vegetarian recipes" and pulled up many examples of delicious, meat-free dishes or anything that would sound more appetizing than "steaming pile of produce." Given that they can't even be bothered to do a damn Google search, that shows how impressively lazy Ellanjay are.
Plus, as Kingsolver also points out, any form of agriculture involves the taking of life. Even if you're a purist and are one hundred percent organic, so you don't use pesticides, when the earth is plowed and torn up for planting, the process kills many insects and worms and other life forms. Maybe said lifeforms aren't as cute as bunny rabbits, but you are still taking lives when you plow a field. Though I suppose you could be like Bronson Alcott and start a commune called Fruitlands, where you are so passionately devoted to the cause of animal rights that you won't even plow your fields in fear of hurting the poor worms and insects. Spoiler Alert: Fruitlands didn't last long. My point is, you live and survive off of the lives of others, no matter how much you may want to pretend otherwise.
Ellanjay closes with this bit:
You may be a stellar student or an athlete or even a bit of a techie, but you will not have to be good with your hands. You may not be a gardener let alone a farmer, and perhaps you always pay to have carpentry, wiring, or plumbing done around the house. But in that day God will plant within you the desire— and the acumen— to do all those things yourself. On the first day of the Millennium, you will exercise new muscles, new ideas. You will plant vast acres, tend massive orchards, and build houses. All the knowledge, and the desire, will be poured into you.
You will meet for worship and praise with friends and loved ones, joined by new acquaintances of all colors and nationalities. Some will be compelled to tend animals, and not just tame ones. You will need fear no creature anymore, as “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together” (Isaiah 11: 6).
To give some credit where credit is due, some of it doesn't exactly sound that bad. It does come close to what I theorized about Heaven, in my last snark of the For Kids! version. Trying to write about transcendent bliss is something that has tripped up even good writers, so I freely apologize if I'm not up to snuff, but my theory was that Heaven was more or less what someone knew and loved in life. So for an African Elephant, Heaven is the African Savanna because that's what they knew and loved on their life on Earth. If you were to put them in a gated community or some other environment, like the Amazon, they would be utterly baffled because they were built and conditioned for the Savanna.
So the idea of Heaven as a placed where the barriers that keep you from accomplishing what you love, are removed, isn't too bad an idea. Though I kind of go further with the idea than Ellanjay. I see Heaven more as, if you're a scholar, who loves nothing more than hanging around libraries, Heaven will be a massive library with every text you could ever want to read. Since the curse of Babel will be gone, you could even read the stuff written in dead languages like Sumerian or languages archeologists haven't managed to translate. Though I also see Heaven's library as being akin to Dream's library in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, so in addition to every text every published, Heaven has all those novels and works that never existed outside of dreams. So if learning is what you loved best, get ready to enjoy all the learning. And yes, you pervs, that means if you love having sex, Heaven will look like that, but can we move on now?
But I have to part ways with Ellanjay. Not only because not everybody enjoys farming or building stuff, but the fact he said that God will plant the desires/skills in you to do those things...Again, have no problem with the idea of Heaven being a place where you can practice your craft without any of the limitations of Earth. So if you like building stuff, in Heaven you get an infinite number of resources and can just go to town building whatever you want, like Zoo Tycoon or one of those games where you're put in charge of a simulated business that you can shape however you like.
Where I part ways is that it sounds like Ellanjay is insisting that God will completely rewrite your personality and make it so you will build and plant things, no matter what. Yeah, I'm going to point y'all towards 1 Corinthians 12. Whatever quibbles you may have with Paul, and I understand why you do, he was right on the money. Just as you can't have a body that's entirely eyes, you can't have a community that's all farmers, herdsman, and builders. At least you can't, if you don't want God to be all disturbingly Orwellian and have him rewrite his followers' personalities, so they will tend the earth, regardless of if they enjoy it or not, or be anything other than just paper dolls for God to drag around wherever he likes, like a four-year-old with his action figures.
Though all that stuff about tending animals...what exactly would those who prefer to be tending animals, be doing? Okay, I suppose they aren't completely Vegan, so animals that produce milk will still need to be milked, and probably still need to gather eggs. I'm assuming they don't have any issues with their characters sheering sheep for their wool, but what about pigs? Pigs were pretty much created solely for meat. But if nobody eats meat, neither the humans nor the animals, what reason would you have to tend or do anything with pigs and other animals of their ilk?
Now if this MK worked more like the Garden of Eden on The Simpsons, where you can just help yourself to whatever meat you like with no harm to the animal, tending animals would make a little more sense.
I suppose I could put in some dig that given Ellanjay's politics, do you really think that their version of Heaven would have them hanging out with people of all races and nationalities. I'm just saying, it seems a reoccurring theme on the Right: scratch any of them and you find a bigot longing for the days when certain folk weren't allowed on the golf courses, buried not to deep. So forgive me, but I couldn't resist the dig.
Okay, I'm pleased to announce we've made it through the Mothereffin' Front Matter. Next week, we'll get to the actual story with Bucky-boy and Ray-Ray, such as it is. Sorry for all the preaching/philosophizing. To borrow from Dr. Seuss, I wasn't afraid to be preachy, but I was afraid of being dull. Hopefully I managed to pull that off. In the mean time, feel free to add your own thoughts about the stuff I've brought up here, tell me if I'm right on the money or full of shit or whatever.
*Yes, I have seen Captain America 3: Civil War. You have no idea how unbelievably deliriously happy I was that all my "Please don't let this suck" prayers/song-and-dances paid off. I was so scared they would repeat all the mistakes of the comic book version, but they didn't. The writers paid attention and learned from the mistakes of those who came before. Say what you will about whether Team Iron Man or Team Cap was right, the conflict that unfolded felt like an organic extension of their personalities. You could understand why Steve and Tony would make the choices that they did. And Iron Man didn't turn into Nazi-Tron like he did in the comics, though for the love of God! Someone get Tony Stark some therapy before the next movie! And by therapy, I mean with an actual licensed, ethical therapist, not the Marvel equivalent of Dr. Hugo Strange. Heck, if the MCU wants confirm any part of The Incredible Hulk as being canon, we could hook him up with Doc Sampson. From what I heard, he's probably the one psychologist in any comic book universe who isn't evil or incompetent as heck.
**In the great debate, if I must label myself, I'm totally a pantser, though really writing involves elements of both. Mine approach is more "I make this shit up as I go along then edit the sucker until it makes coherent sense" though if we must be more poetic about it, "I leap off a cliff and build my wings on the way down." I have an idea of where I want to begin and a vague notion as to my end point, but the stuff in between is much more nebulous, coming closer to the Underpants Gnomes' Plan for riches, rather than anything too detailed.