(circa March, 2001)
The Left Behind series is inspiring, in that it makes people think about serious, life-and-death situations. Yet it tends to assume that, even in the face of disaster, life for fundamentalist American Christians will center around the same values and goals that have dominated their lives up until now. In other words, people will still go to church on Sundays and work in system jobs the rest of the week, right through the Tribulation and all that comes with it. They will still be loaded with money, and they will still jet around the world at will. There is nothing in the book that speaks to the condition of poor Christians. This materialistic philosophy is practised at a time (in the story) when people should be seriously considering whether the values they lived by before the trouble began were really the right ones.
In desperate circumstances, people often see the futility of so much that they did before disaster struck. But the Left Behind series fails to suggest that there may be anything wrong with the materialism of evangelical fundamentalism. Even in the face of a choice between serving Jesus or serving the Antichrist, the book's two heroes both find themselves very much in the employ of the Antichrist. There is reflected in them the same double-mindedness that so many Christians evidence when it comes to trying to work for God and work for money at the same time. They are forced to admit that they work for money because they fear being without it, and they justify being in their jobs, on the grounds that they may one day be a "witness" where they are.
In war type movies, where people are displaced and fighting for their lives, talk of paid employment becomes fairly meaningless. Yet, the first six books in the Left Behind series suggest that paid employment is the norm for Christians during the time of great trouble. Not only are the heroes expected to keep working for money, but they are seen as getting the best jobs with the highest salaries. Against all reason, they are seen as being divinely protected in their work for the Antichrist, who, for no clear reason, keeps them on his staff even when he knows they are supposed to be representing his arch enemy, Jesus.
While Rayford Steele and Buck Cameron (the heroes of the Left Behind series) continue to serve the Antichrist, they gain nothing from it that affects their ability to serve Jesus. Because they fear opposition if they speak out for their faith, their on-the-job "witness" is also ineffective. They appear to be there for one reason, and that is for the money that it brings in. The book itself is fairly clear about that (see below).
God could call someone to infiltrate the enemy's camp for a specific purpose. But that is not so with Buck and Rayford. Year after year they do and say nothing of any spiritual significance. Consequently, they are tormented by guilt, which they (or their authors) brush aside with faint hints that they have no other choice.
The first chapter of Soul Harvest (volume 4) is amazingly honest in depicting Rayford's double-mindedness that Rayford with regard to his service to the Antichrist. Because he is the series hero, his eventual caving in to fear and selfishness tends to justify similar gutlessness on the part of other Christians, both now and presumably in the future, when the real Tribulation begins.
Soul Harvest starts with these words: "Rayford Steele wore the uniform of the enemy of his soul, and he hated himself for it." Rayford rips the coat off and beats it on the ground, in anger that the Antichrist has just destroyed thousands of lives in a needless war.
A strange sentence appears on the next page: "Rayford considered abandoning all vestiges of his connection to Nicolae Carpathia's regime, but his attention was drawn again to the luxuriously appointed arm patches." Why should luxurious arm patches cause him to change his mind?
A second explanation is given for Rayford's change of mind: "As he knelt to retrieve his coat, Rayford's maddening logic returned--the practicality that made him who he was. Having no idea what he might find in the ruins of his condominium, he couldn't treat as dispensable what might constitute his only remaining set of clothes."
So, whether Rayford decides to continue serving the enemy of his soul because he needs the clothes or because he craves the luxuries and power that go with them, he never really considers the possibility of trusting God to provide his material needs. Nor does he face the possibility of God asking him to live without luxuriously appointed arm patches.
On pages three and four Rayford threatens to tell the Antichrist what he thinks of him; but when faced with the opportunity to do so, he caves in again. Here is the phone dialogue between himself and his co-pilot:
"Don't put Carpathia on or I swear I'll..."
"Stand by for the Potentate."
Rayford switched the phone to his right hand, ready to smash it on the ground, but he restrained himself. When avenues of communication reopened, he wanted to be able to check on his loved ones.
First it is clothing, and then it is loved ones. In both situations, the Antichrist has him in his grip, because Rayford, like so many others, has never considered obeying Jesus when he said to put him before loved ones, before clothing, and even before food.
Food also gets a mention, on page 62 of the same volume. Rayford is feasting at a sumptuous buffet at the Antichrist's private hideout while the rest of the world is being decimated. Referring to his faith, Rayford says to Mac, "Carpathia knows where I stand." Mac replies, "He likes you. Maybe he feels secure knowing you don't hide anything from him."
Next paragraph: "It might be the enemy's food, [Rayford] thought, but it does the job." The italics in are not mine. The authors obviously do not want readers to miss the point. The "job" is his need for food. Compromise with the enemy had met that need. It did the job.
His decision to join the Antichrist in the shelter was made with full knowledge that Rayford was turning his back on the suffering that was taking place outside. The closing words of the first chapter of Soul Harvest state: He'd seen awful things in his life, but the carnage at this airport was going to top them all. A shelter, even the Antichrist's, sounded better than this.
In his "heart", of course, Rayford is always convinced that his true loyalty is to Jesus. But in his actions, everything he does is a total contradiction. His guilt leads him to experience so much hatred for the Antichrist that he personally plots to kill him. Powerless to wage a proper spiritual battle for truth, Rayford Steele contents himself with fighting a useless battle with a carnal weapon.
If we study the behaviour of the hero, to find the underlying lesson in the Left Behind series, we learn that Christians can (and probably should) serve the Antichrist in order to save themselves and their loved ones, and in order to live a more comfortable life in this evil world. As long as they profess loyalty to Jesus with their lips (out of earshot of the AC of course), it matters little what their actions say.
The enemy of our soul wants us to praise him too, and so the series is loaded with titles that the Antichrist and his cohorts give themselves, each one more pompous than the one before. This too angers Rayford, but he continues to do whatever it takes to keep his job.
The nearest thing to insubordination is when he refuses to return to base immediately, because he is looking for his wife amongst the ruins. The Antichrist says he will overlook such behaviour; but he notes that Rayford has not used the term Potentate (most powerful one) when referring to his leader. Carpathia says: "Now is no time to neglect protocol, Captain Steele. A pardoned subordinate is behooved to address his superior..."
Rayford shoots back, "All right Potentate Carpathia..." (Again, the emphasis is not mine.)
On page 142, Rayford objects to calling Carpathia His Excellency. "You are using a title that has for generations been limited to religious leaders and royalty," he says to an A.C. assistant.
But in the end Rayford uses that title as well. (e.g. page 423: "Your Excellency," he said, swallowing any vestige of pride, "I'm assuming you'll need Mac and me to get you to Israel tomorrow.")
Rayford and his co-pilot discuss the expediency of sharing their faith on their job, and they decide that they should not, despite an earlier statement that Christians must be prepared to confess their faith publicly to be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) "You're supposed to tell lots of people," Rayford had said. (page 133) But he admits that the other hero, Buck Cameron, kept his faith secret outside of church meetings. "He thought it best to keep that to himself, so he could be more effective," Rayford explained. He suggests that Mac do the same. (page 183) Mac asks, "What about that verse about confessing with your mouth?" Rayford replies, "I have no idea. Do the rules still stand at a time like this? Are you supposed to confess your faith to the Antichrist? I just don't know."
After a particularly sinister speech from the Antichrist, their fellow employees are drawn to almost worship him. This is recorded on page 214: When the Global Community employees in the mess hall leaped to their feet, cheering and clapping, Rayford and Mac stood, only to keep from appearing conspicuous. Mac's attention was drawn to someone else who was slow to stand; it is a clue that the other employee must also be a secret believer.
What would Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have thought of such faith? If they had merely gone through the motions (somewhat hesitantly) when ordered to bow down to the image of the Antichrist in their day, they could have escaped the fiery furnace. (Daniel 3:10-18) But what kind of a witness would it have been?
The kind of faith that Rayford Wetnoodle practises is the kind of faith Satan would like to see more of in the church. The Left Behind books are just another part of Satan's worldwide deception, teaching even supposedly staunch fundamentalists that compromise is OK in any situation where it may cost you something to obey God.
(See also Survivors)
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