Sunday, February 13, 2005

# Posted 5:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APOCALYPSE, PART FINAL? I just finished the book a few minutes ago. Just like fans of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, I can't wait to read the next book in the Left Behind series, entitled Tribulation Force. After that, there are eleven more. (And since I'm a grad student, I'll be borrowing them from the library instead of paying for them at the bookstore.)

For the moment, I'm just going to provide a few more comments about the tensions within the novel's partial embrace and total rejection of secular intellecualism. In the pages leading up to the novel's climax, both Cameron Williams and Chloe Stole, the most skeptical and secular of the book's protagonists, embrace Christ and become born-again Christians.

At first glance, the conversion of Cameron and Chloe simply represents the authors' semi-fantastical hope that the standard bearers of America's secular elite will abandon their skepticism. Yet the conversion also indicates just how badly the authors want to finding highly intelligent, perhaps even intellectual spokesmen for the born-again movement.

In other words, the condescension of the secular elites has had a profound impact on at least two important spokesmen for the movement, and they feel compelled to respond. They also feel compelled to defend themselves from the common accusation that proselytizing is an inherently offensive behavior. Before Chloe's conversion, her father thinks to himself that:
The disappearance of God's people was only the beginning of the most cataclysmic period in the history of the world. And here I am, Rayford thought, worried about offending people. I'm liable to "not offend" my own daughter right into hell. (Page 343, emphasis in original.
To be sure, this sort of response won't comfort those who resent proselytization. But it shows that the believers are aware of the dilemma they face. Thus, Rayford forces himself to be patient with his daughter.

Rayford is also patient with Cameron, aka "Buck", who discovers the truth while interviewing Rayford for a story on the Rapture:
Buck sat without interrupting as this most lucid and earnest professional calmly propounded a theory that only three weeks before Buck would have found absurd. It sounded like things he had heard in church and from friends, but this guy had chapter and verse from the Bible to back it up. (Page 384)
A secular reader might wonder why citing Biblical verses is at all persuasive to a journalist like Buck, who is presumably aware of scholars' conviction that the Bible is the product of human hands. Yet for the authors, citing such verses is constitutes rational and intellectual behavior, the kind one might asociate with a "lucid and earnest professional." Once again, we see how badly the authors want to endow their Christianity with the intellectual legitimacy possessed by secular wisdom and science.

The text of the novel seems to indicate that presenting arguments about faith in a calm and rational manner is essential to the conversion of the skeptic. Thus, after talking to Rayford,
Buck did not sleep well...if this was true, all that Rayford Steele postulated -- and Buck knew instinctively that if any of it was true, all of it was true -- why had it taken Buck a lifetime to come to it?...

Yet even Captain Steele -- an organized, analytical airline pilot -- had missed it, and Steele claimed to have had a proponent, a devotee, almost a fanatic, [i.e. his wife] living under his own roof...

The Holy Land attack [when Russia attempted to destory Israel] had been a watershed event in [Buck's] life...he had known beyond a doubt for the first time in his life that unexplainable things out there could not dissected a and evaluated scientifically from a detached Ivy League perspective. (Pages 393-394)
As Buck approaches the brink of conversion, he admits to himself that
He had always considered the "born-again" label akin to "ultraright-winger" or "fundamentalist." Now, if he chose to take a step he had never dreamed of taking, if he could not somehow talk himself out of this truth he could no longer intellectually ignore, he would also take upon himself a task: educating the world on what that confusing little term really meant. (Page 396)
Here we see the authors attempting to challenge the conventional wisdom that born-again Christians are, by their very nature, extreme and irrational. Yet in order to do so, they must abandon the anti-intellectualism they embraced just two pages earlier and assert instead that Buck's intellecutalism is precisely what led to him embrace Christianity instead of ignoring it.

Is it possible to resolve this contradiction? Perhaps one might argue that intellectualism is only viable and sound when built on a foundation of religious faith. Thus secular intellectualism is condemned to fail.

Yet if faith must precede intellectualism, how can one justify faith on intellectual grounds? Within the context of Left Behind, the answer is simple: World events have provided miraculous and incontrovertible evidence of the Bible's literal truth.

In our world, a different answer must be found. What this novel seems to suggest is that if born-again Christians learn to speak in the calm, detached manner of secular intellectuals, they can overcome the negative stereotypes that that have subjected born-again Christians to so much condescension and scorn.

Although there is a certain validity to this hypothesis, one must also address the more fundamental question of whether the actual substance of the born-again faith is somehow inherently offensive to both secular intellectuals as well as those intellectuals who embrace the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths.

Naturally, one can't expect a novel to resolve the eternal conflict between reason and faith. Yet this novel directly raises such issues. Therefore, I hope that the next books in the Left Behind series do more to address such issues in a substantive manner.
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