Nov 2003

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Torture and the Virgin Army

    I have only just found the time to read "Armageddon", the latest volume in the "Left Behind" series. It's almost 400 pages long, and I have only read as far as page 353 so far. I don't know when I'll have the time (or the inclination) to finish it; so I have decided to say some things about what I have read so far.

    As happens in each issue of the series, the subject in the title (this time, the battle of Armageddon) hardly gets a mention for more than half of the book. In fact, it all starts on page 299.

    Prior to that, readers encounter the predictable blossoming of new romances; but they also encounter something that has not been so predictable in the series so far. It is the amazing torture of Chloe Steele. To be fair to the suspense of "Armageddon", we will not say whether or not Chloe is actually executed. You can read that for yourself. But we will say that 300 pages of torture amounts to little more than missing a few meals on the part of our brave heroine. In fact, Chloe herself sums it up when the Antichrist guards protest that they have treated her quite well. She says that they have taken her away from her family, made her miss a few meals, given her a sleeping tablet, and flown her halfway across the country. How can they possibly feel that such behaviour is anything short of torture? (p. 239) On top of that, she is later made to stand for an hour in the sun without water. (p. 255)

    It is consistent with the theme from the start of the series (i.e. that true believers should be able to escape all of the inconveniences, which are reserved almost exclusively for the Jews). Like so much of what appears in the other volumes in the series, Chloe's torture reflects the pampered confusion, escapism, and lukewarmness of middle-class American churchianity.

    Here is what happens.

    Chloe finishes dinner at 7pm one night, and eventually goes to bed. Her husband, Buck, is on the night watch. This means that, from the comfort of their well-equipped underground apartment, he operates a periscope which (hidden by a bush) is able to view any movements on the surface. Lest Buck suffer too much while on watch, we are told that his periscope does not even require him to move to operate it over a 360 degree viewing circle. Just press a button and the top part rotates while Buck sits still. (It's done through a lot of mirrors, we are told.)

    In the middle of the night, Chloe starts to feel sorry for Buck. She offers to take his place, so that he can get some sleep. Buck agrees, and, after he has fallen asleep, Chloe spots a military vehicle outside. Rather than tell anyone else what is happening, she makes a decision to leave the underground hideout on her own. With no walkie talkie and one sub-machine gun, she sets out to take on the invaders single-handedly.

    Naturally, she gets caught and dragged off to jail in San Diego. When the antichrist forces discover that she is one of the top leaders in the Christian underground movement, they decide to torture her in order to get information on the whereabouts of others in her movement.

    The torture does not begin until later that morning. Her captors bring in a good old-fashioned American breakfast of pancakes, syrup, bacon, and eggs. But they tell her that she must spill her guts about her family and friends before they will give it to her. At first, Chloe is rock solid. No way is she going to betray anyone. But after half an hour without food, she slips and lets them know that she has a son. The text says that she realises from this that hunger is an effective tactic.

    To her credit, she does go without breakfast in the end... and lunch... and dinner. Well, not entirely. You see, the authors, apparently feeling sorry for Chloe, and not wanting to shock American believers into thinking that they would ever have to go through anything so painful, have Chloe's captors telling her that they will give her one energy bar, just to keep her from dying on them! Seriously! Jenkins and LaHaye apparently think that a day or two without food could result in death. Because the energy bar is healthy and not junk food, it is apparently regarded as consistent with the "torture" that she is undergoing. :o)

    Now fasting (or even eating small portions) is not my strong point. But surely, there must be Christians somewhere in America who know that a few days without food is actually GOOD for us physically, and that it is supposed to be more or less part of our routine training in Christian discipline. But, of course, discipline is a dirty word to modern-day, lukewarm, middle-class comfortable American Christianity, such as taught by LaHaye and Jenkins. Their books are big on miracles (including all-you-can-eat scrumptious manna that rains down in bucketloads three times a day if you are Jewish), but fasting is virtually unheard of. It may have been okay for Jesus and for his early disciples, but not for overweight America... not even in the middle of the Great Tribulation!

    You would, of course, imagine that the bad guys were doing many other weird and awful things to Chloe (besides failing to serve her food) during the course of that first horrible day when she was in their custody. After all, they had threatened to make her suffer. But no way. They just leave her sitting in her cell, suffering only from such atrocities as the fact that her toilet does not have a proper seat on it.

    I can well imagine anyone who has not read the book thinking that I am exaggerating about what happens. But I am not. And what I have summarised above is the primary action that takes place over those first 228 pages.

    There is a THREAT or two of real torture, but it never happens, and I'll explain why. The bad guys threaten to come into Chloe's cell and do unspeakable things to her, but she tells them in no uncertain terms (and on several occasions) that if anyone comes into the cell to oppress her, "One of us is going to die." No self-respecting torturer wants to be killed by an unarmed woman while enetering her cell, and so the entire force of the Antichrist is left powerless to do anything to Chloe Steele, except refuse to give her food. Stop laughing! This really is how it goes.

    There is one other little side problem for the bad guys, which helps to keep those first 220 pages from getting too dull. You see, they want to switch Chloe to another prison (apparently fearing that her husband will storm the San Diego prison single-handedly and free her); but considering that she has threatened to kill them if they enter her cell, they are powerless to get her out. So that evening, after she has been some 24 hours without food, they come up with an ingenius way to get her out without anyone being hurt.

    They offer her a chocolate milk shake with a sleeping tablet in it. (Apparently Jenkins and LaHaye were thinking that just one energy bar to eat in a 24-hour period would be a bit too much suffering for their audience to endure. American junk food addicts might desert the faith altogether if they could not be assured that they would at least have hamburgers or ice cream to eat right up to the end.)

    So anyway, Chloe enjoys the milkshake, and then passes out, only to wake up on her way to the new prison.

    It is then that she is told that she has broken the will of her torturers. She has lasted more than 24 hours on very little food, and they say that experience has shown them that anyone who can go for 48 hours without food is virtually impossible to break through any other form of torture.

    Chloe is praised to her face by the torturers as an extremely courageous woman, and told that they will have to execute her at the end of the 48 hours without any further torture.

    What the co-authors do for 220 pages is what church leaders all over America have been doing for decades, and that is to expertly, dramatically, and awesomely say nothing. The "Left Behind" series started out as promising to give answers to the general public about the meaning of Bible prophecy. But it has gradually deteriorated into nothing but drivel. "Dry wells," or "Clouds without water" as Peter and Jude called them. (II Peter 2:17, and Jude 12)

    A columnist in Australia complained recently because Hollywood producers made two parts (and thereby, two admission prices) out of a single movie in the "Matrix" series. But LaHaye and Jenkins have been going on for more than ten volumes now without giving any real answers. It could all have been said in one volume (as we have done in "Survivors") if warning (or even instructing) the world had been their real motive. But surely by now, there could be no one fooled into thinking that the series aims to teach anything urgent or practical with regard to Bible prophecy. It's just another gimmick to make a few more million bucks.

    Or as some churchies have said to us, in defence of the series, "It was never supposed to teach anything. It's just good Christian entertainment."

    Everywhere you turn in America, there are people who boast of having read the entire series. But ask them, after having read nearly 4,000 pages of print, to summarise what the overall message of the Left Behind series is, and you'll probably find them lost for words. The books teach little, if anything, that people did not already know before they started reading it, and the real message of Bible prophecy suffers as a result.

    Paul said that such people were "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth". (II Timothy 3:1-7) A good description, isn't it!

    In the latest book, there is one laughable situation where some German Christians supposedly read a verse in the Revelation about God's people being told to come out of Babylon, because the city was going to be destroyed "in one hour", and so they travelled to the Antichrist headquarters in Baghdad just to save God the embarrassment of not having anyone inside to "come out" when the time came. Seriously! This is exactly how contrived the so-called fulfillments of various prophecies are, as far as Jenkins and LaHaye are concerned. Find a verse, weave it into a good car or plane chase, and then pretend that it is what the Bible was talking about all along.

    But back to the torture of Chloe Steele...

    We hesitate to say anything so ego-centric, but it does sound like our tiny little band of believers (the Jesus Christians) are actually being addressed in the opening pages of "Armageddon". (We know for a fact that Jenkins and LaHaye are upset about "Survivors". Their lawyers wrote to us, threatening to take action to stop our book. So it is understandable that they would be doing what they could to paint us as extreme.)

    Before Chloe takes off on her escapade with the intruders, she gives some thought to people who think that she was wrong to have a baby in the middle of the final seven years, or who question whether or not people should continue getting married and being given in marriage so close to the end. (See Luke 17:27.) The book twice expresses the thought that it is no one's business but the couple themselves, whether they have kids or whether they get married.

    (See our teachings about birth control and about the Virgin Army, in which we address both of these issues. They are teachings which the churches have tried to claim are unspeakably extreme, and so it is understandable that Jenkins and LaHaye would try to discredit them too.)

    "Armageddon" very easily could have included some sobering consequences of Chloe having a child at such a time. The soldiers could have actually captured her four-year-old, tortured him, and, in so doing, extracted information from Chloe that she would not have otherwise volunteered. It could have led to the deaths of other Christians as a result. And she could have come to the conclusion that supposedly personal decisions about marriage and having children really could impinge on the security of others in such a life and death type situation. But nothing of the kind ever happens. The soldiers make a few threats about punishing Chloe through her son, but they fall as flat as their threats to come into her cell and do her harm. Nothing ever results, and the authors just seem to lose interest in the whole subject.

    And when the Chloe story is finished, the very next thing that happens is the marriage of yet another couple (Ming Toy and Ree Woo), and further plans for marriage by another couple (Chang and Naomi) (p. 267), with a clear understanding that if they survive Armageddon, they'll be able to stay married for a thousand years and "have lots of kids". (What ever happened to Matthew 22:30... "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.")

    One of the other annoying things about the book is that no one with any faith in God seems capable of speaking for themselves. Whether they be American heroes or 15 foot angels, all they can do is quote verses from the Bible. The Bible is a great book, and God often speaks to us thorugh it, but if I were facing death, I should think that I could give a personal testimony and not have to quote something Paul said as though it was coming from me.

    There is a disturbing scene where Chloe hankers to be able to speak on television (even though the oversized angel has already spoken at great length, during which the bad guys have been entirely powerless to pull plugs anywhere in the world). Chloe wants so badly to jump on the same bandwagon that she can just about taste it. So her captor offers her a microphone and says, "Taking this microphone also means taking the mark..." The very next line says: "She took the microphone." How pathetic! and how brazen of the authors to suggest that one could give the impression that they have denied their faith in order to win favours from the Antichrist. (p. 258)

    By page 270, the believers are bidding for a contract with the Antichrist, installing wiring in his palace, and even collecting payment for their services, despite the fact that they do not have the Mark of the Beast, without which Christians are not supposed to be able to buy or sell. "We are now on [the antichrist] payroll," Chang boasts to Rayford. (p. 270)

    A few pages later, we learn that Chang, who is still in his teens, has such total control over the international television broadcasts of the Antichrist, that he can totally take them over, and even override efforts by the enemy to shut stations down to prevent the public from hearing what the Christians have to say. But what is most astounding is that, having all of this power, Chang chooses to let the Antichrist continue to use it for his own blasphemous broadcasts virtually 24 hours a day. Chang even produces an ad which tells the rest of the world that what the antichrist teaches has been SPONSORED by the Christians, as an expression of their "mercy". (pp. 285, 287)

    One of the saddest incidents in the book is when their spiritual leader, Tsion Ben Judah (from whom my pen-name of Zion Ben Jonah is taken) announces that he is going to abandon his teaching in order to take up a weapon and kill enemy troops in defence of Jews who have not accepted Jesus. He says, "I want to be taught to fight, to use a weapon, to defend myself... I hope to be [a warrior]." (Note: I say that this is a sad scene, but it is seen as heroic by the authors.)

    Tsion is told that the elders are praying about whether it is the right thing that he is doing, and will he wait to hear from them. His reply: "Do I care what they come back with? Only if it is a yes." The next line: "Buck couldn't believe it." And neither could I.

    There are so many little hints like this that the authors themselves do not believe what they preach. They, like Tsion, do not really care about what God's will is, if it does not conform with their own. Even talk of heaven, eternal life, and resurrected bodies offer them cold comfort, because of their stubborn unbelief.

    For example, Chang talks about joining in the battle to save the earthly city of Jerusalem, and possibly being killed. He says that he must do so to obey his conscience. His girlfriend, Naomi, says, "We want to survive so we can be together for a millennium. Let's not risk that for the sake of your conscience." Seriously! (p. 311)

    Rayford tells the supposedly Christian commander of the so-called Christian troops who are assigned to protect a million people at Petra, "We could be among the first to witness the Glorious Appearing." Their leader shoots back, "Tell that to a fighting force outnumbered 1,000 to one." (p. 339) The wife of that same leader gives a similar response when Rayford tries to assure her that even if the troops die, they will be resurrected. She says, "Don't say it. Too many of the wives try to comfort themselves with that stuff about how their man will be in heaven a day or two, maybe less, then [Jesus] is coming back. That doesn't help." (p. 353)

    All of these comments are made without any suggestion that there is something wrong with the people saying them. And these are not some lukewarm new recruits who are saying these things. These are the top leaders and their wives/girlfriends.

    The fact that Rayford has been married twice gives him some pause for thought about how he is going to go about joining in on all of the marital activity that everyone else is looking forward to in the Millennium (p. 346). He does not come up with any answers at that time. Certainly the theme of this volume, if it can be said that there is one, must be to get married and have kids, and not let anyone tell you that there is anything worth forsaking those pleasures for.

    How sadly contrary to the message of the One whose "glorious appearing" we look forward to!