book review

“The Regime”: Left Behind Review, Part 1

by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 141430577X, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

And we trudge ever on to the end of the series….The funny thing is that character development–so sorely lacking in the other books–is finally here:

We see Carpathia’s sociopathy in action.  We see how Buck became a star journalist.  We discover that Rayford was tapped as a potential pilot for Air Force One long before Carpathia needed a pilot.

It would have been helpful to know all this way back in the beginning of the series, where we wanted to know these things but were denied.

And on we go to page 15.  Irene and Rayford are arguing, yet again, over religion, because even though they’re both Christians, Irene has decided the family church is not Christian enough.

Rayford sees her personality change, and that she’s turned into a zealot.  He says, “What’s the difference between a zealous Christian and a zealous terrorist who believes God or Allah or whoever has told him to bomb buildings or kill people?”

Irene says, “Well, for one thing, have you ever heard of a terrorist attack by a born-again Christian, claiming God told him to do it?”

So Rayford throws the Crusades in her face, instead of saying, Why yes, I have: Just Google “abortion clinic bombings.”  Christian terrorism does actually exist.  So while Rayford is being mean to Irene, lumping her in with terrorists, both of them are also using faulty arguments.

On page 34, he recognizes that his “perky blonde daughter” reminds “him of himself” with her intellect and questions, yet his “many dreams” have been pinned on his son….Why no dreams pinned on Chloe?  Is it because she’s a girl?

On page 54, Irene goes to visit Rayford’s mother, whose mind has been going.  Irene says to her, “Mom, do you ever pray?”

Ray’s mom says, “Why, yes, of course I do.  I pray every day.  I am a Christian, you know.”

To which Irene wants to retort, I know you think you are.


Of course, Irene soon discovers that Ray’s mother really is a Christian because she read her Bible and found out she had to have Jesus in her heart.  But just because her view of Christianity was different from Irene’s, Irene was so quick to believe her not a true Christian!

Being a true Christian is about believing in and following Christ.  You can do that no matter what church you go to, whether you believe in infant baptism, saying the sinner’s prayer, or whatever.  You can behave like you follow Christ, or behave with no morals or values or compassion, no matter if you go to a liberal UCC church or a little Bible church.

On page 110, we learn that Buck “eschewed the standard who, what, when, where, why, and how inverted-pyramid formula and got to the point in the first paragraph.”  So–You mean his stories don’t have the necessary facts for the reader to know what’s going on?  I hate news stories like that.

On page 112, we read that Buck “had been lounging in the editorial office, gassing with a couple of photographers”–What the heck is gassing?  Are they smoking weed?

On pages 135-136, an aide at the health-care facility where Rayford’s father is, tells Irene that he led Mr. Steele to Christ.  He called in the code blue as Mr. Steele died; before the crash cart came, the aide told him to get right with God.

He did the whole Evangelical routine, asking do you know you’re a sinner, do you know Christ died for your sins, etc. etc.  Mr. Steele says he has already prayed and accepted Jesus into his heart, when Irene told him how.  (Mr. Steele has Alzheimer’s, and is not always lucid enough to respond to Irene.)

Um, are aides allowed to do this?  And how would he know if Mr. Steele was a Christian or not?  What gave him the idea he could assume?  Or does he do this to everyone he finds dying–which, again, brings up the question, is this allowed?

On pages 137-138, Irene and Rayford argue, yet again, over Irene’s sudden zealousness.  She begins by saying, “I swear, if there is no mention of your father’s faith during the eulogies I’m going to say something.”

To Ray’s, “Don’t embarrass me or the pastor,” she replies, “It would embarrass you to have people know that your father was a true believer?”

Um–What the–Why is it such a big deal to put this into the eulogy that she would embarrass people over it, if it’s not there??!!  The argument continues:

“A deathbed convert is more like it, Irene.  After your browbeating and that Filipino kid’s badgering, what choice did a confused, dying man have?  Anyway, he’s already known in this church as a true believer for a lifetime.”

“This won’t be doing justice to your father.”  This was the last thing she wanted to fight over, but it was as if she couldn’t help herself.

“Just promise me you won’t do anything weird, Irene.”

“You’d consider it weird if I merely told the truth?”

“I’d be humiliated.”

She pressed her lips together and shook her head, despising that she felt so weak.  “I won’t humiliate you, Rayford.”

“Thank you.”

“I do wish your mother could be here.  You couldn’t stop her from telling the truth.”

“Depends on your idea of truth,” he said.  “People would pass it off as the ravings of an Alzheimer’s patient.”

“But I would know better.  And so would you.”

“You know what I think, Irene.  The truth is my dad has always been a Christian.  He didn’t just get religion before he died.”

Then during the funeral, instead of crying over her loss, she weeps “throughout the service” because

[w]hile all the familiar Scriptures about death and rebirth were employed, nothing that was said explained them or brought the point home.

Mr. Steele was revered, but there was no mention of his coming to a saving belief in Christ, no mention of his ever repenting of sin and putting his faith in God.

But why would there be mention of this, when he was a lifelong Christian and everybody knew this?

This reminds me of my time in an Evangelical Free church, during which I felt bad for my Lutheran husband because people kept saying Lutherans weren’t really saved.

Lutherans baptize babies, you see, and have confirmation, rather than telling people they have to say the sinner’s prayer and convert even if they’ve been born and raised in the Church.

I was also taught this growing up in a Nazarene church, that Catholics, Lutherans, etc. weren’t really saved unless they did the sinner’s prayer, because they did it “wrong” by baptizing babies and calling them Christians.

I do seem to recall mention made, during his funeral, of my own grandfather coming to Christ right before he died.  There is nothing wrong with speaking of the religious faith of the deceased.

But Irene will not be satisfied with less than a bludgeon-over-the-head fire-and-brimstone sermon saying that Mr. Steele lived his life in the wrong church, not truly believing, until he did things the way her church said it needed to be done–complete with calls for the mourners to repent of their sins before it’s too late.

This is not what a funeral is for!  It’s easy to see why Rayford was turned off to her brand of Christianity.

But his not being Raptured with her sends out a strong message from the authors: that even if Christians turned you off to the church, no matter what reason you’re not “saved,” God won’t look on your heart, won’t have mercy on you.

And all because you didn’t believe in something, the truth of which is impossible to prove in this life.  And even because you were in the wrong church.

To be continued…..


“The Rising”: Left Behind Review

The Rising by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0842361936, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

Now we get into the prequels of the Left Behind series.  I’m getting rather tired of the series, having been reading/reviewing them since 2008–but the first prequel actually held my interest.  Well, mostly; some parts dragged.

But the story of the Antichrist’s parents, and how his mother (Marilena) was first accepted by Satan’s minion (Viv Ivins) and then rejected in a horrible fashion, is fascinating.  It’s a psychological thriller.  Why couldn’t all the books have been like this one?

There are two stories going at once: Alongside the story of Nicolae’s birth and path to adulthood, is the story of Rayford Steele’s childhood, adolescence and college years.  While Marilena’s story gets more and more intriguing, Rayford’s story is the less-interesting bit which you want to wave aside to get to the good part.

But then Marilena’s story ends, and Rayford–a college kid–gets caught up in a bad relationship while confiding in Irene (his future wife).  Then it finally gets interesting, with a love triangle.

I do have a few quibbles:

On page 33, 9-year-old Rayford has dinner at a friend’s house.  His friend’s father asks him to say grace.  Ray says the prayer every child says: “God is great; God is good.  Now we thank Him for our food. Amen.”

Perfectly normal, right?  But the other kids all laugh at it.

They laugh?!

Even their father finds something wrong with this prayer, saying,

Is that how your father prays over a meal?  I mean, I’m just curious.  It’s a child’s prayer.  Uh, you’re a child, but you’re becoming a man.

YES!  He’s a frickin’ 9-year-old CHILD!  My thoughts echo Ray’s: “What in the world was it with these people?”

Ray asks if they want him to pray like his father; they do; so he says, “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly thankful.  Amen.”

But even that common prayer does not satisfy them: “Ray got the impression that Bobby and his parents were again amused but had decided not to humiliate him further.”

Ray certainly does not want to recite his bedtime prayer in front of them, the classic “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

I’m not entirely sure if we’re supposed to sympathize with Rayford about this wacky, rude family who picks his common, classic prayers apart (showing why he rejected fundamentalist Christianity), or with the wacky family dealing with such a “badly-trained” child.

But it’s clear that the wacky family considers Ray to be “badly-trained” and spiritually lacking because he prays these same prayers which *I* prayed every single frickin’ day until my adulthood, in a fundamentalist Christian family which made sure I was trained properly.

Prayers which I have taught my son and which he still prays at 9 years old.

I don’t do the “truly thankful” prayer, but I’ve heard it often, and I can’t fathom why this family has a problem with it–or what on earth kind of prayers would satisfy them.  We never do hear the family’s version of a “proper” prayer.

But this dinnertime humiliation is not enough: The boy of the family, Bobby, badgers Ray about his prayers later on, too, saying, “That’s how you pray at your house, eh?…And it’s those made-up, rhyming prayers?”  Yes, and that’s probably how the kids pray at most other Christian houses, too!

Then Bobby starts getting after Ray, saying that if he doesn’t do the Sinner’s Prayer he’s not actually a Christian–the usual thing which is used to beat Catholics/Lutherans/Episcopalians over the head with how they’re not really Christians, even though they’ve been raised in the church, baptized, confirmed, and truly believe in Christ.

On page 47, we go the other way.  Ray tells his parents what happened, and his dad jumps right to,

Holy Rollers.  Wouldn’t surprise me if they were snake handlers….Some people, some churches, just take everything a little too far.

They take every word of the Bible literally, believe Jesus has to crawl inside you, that you have to bathe in His blood.  If the Bible says you can handle poisonous snakes if you trust the Lord, they do it just to prove the point.

Okay….So now we jump from wacky family who ridicules a child for saying a child’s prayer, to knee-jerk dad who thinks every fundamentalist is a snake-handler.  It’s no wonder Ray turned away from religion, only going back to church for the sake of his own children.

I hope this is the point the authors are trying to make, that we are supposed to see the wacky family as overzealous.  That we aren’t supposed to think they were right to be overzealous and ridicule a 9-year-old’s prayers.

On page 339, when Irene and Rayford are engaged, he wants sex but she doesn’t before their wedding, even though it’s a while yet until they plan to marry.

She’s not a virgin, but she’s also not a Christian, so it’s not clear why she wants to wait so long–except, of course, to make them act like Christians without actually being Christians, the same as with Buck, the 30-year-old man-of-the-world who was also a virgin before becoming a Christian.

Her only explanation is that she wants to wait.  Keep in mind this is set in our future, not in the 1950s, so the sexual revolution and acceptance of premarital sex would have long since happened.  For Irene to be so steadfast for so long without a well-defined moral reason, especially when she’s had sex before, is not realistic or believable.  After all, once you’ve had it, you begin to crave it if you don’t have it again for a while.

So when she continues to resist–and won’t even go beyond the occasional hug or peck on the cheek–heck, she won’t even hold his hand!–you have to wonder if she’s not actually attracted to him.  Is she secretly gay?  No, in the future, it’ll be okay to be gay.  Maybe she’s just as much a gold-digger as Ray’s ex-girlfriend, then.  It seems like the author wants Irene to be a Christian before she even becomes a Christian!

On page 342, we discover that Rayford’s parents “Having married late and waiting to have Rayford, his parents were already pushing seventy”–Considering that Rayford and Irene married in the spring of Rayford’s senior year of college, and the ages of the parents were “pushing seventy” within a year of the wedding, they had Rayford when they were both around fifty–HOW?  The authors are aware of the normal age of menopause, right?

On to the next book!  Just three left!


Reading The Brothers Karamazov

On December 26, I wrote to a friend that I had just started reading The Brothers Karamazov.  I was on page 60 and I loved it so far.  The writing style, the humor–and all the Orthodox stuff! Icons, a monastery, even a starets (the elder, Father Zossima).  I already identified with Alexei Karamazov.

On December 31, as I wrote, I spent part of the afternoon reading The Brothers Karamazov, the first 100 pages of which are so wonderful I want to savor every word:

The rich characterizations, the humor of the narrator, the character Alyoshev (Alexey)–whom I identify with….

The father, Fyodor Karamazov, is a narcissistic sociopath….

The brothers and the people who visit the starets (elder), Father Zossima, have the same questions and concerns I do–the same overriding question, How can we prove immortality does or does not exist?  And the scenes from Russian Orthodoxy are very appealing to this convert….

On January 28, I wrote that my very same doubts and questions about God and immortality, are expressed in The Brothers Karamazov.  Though Dostoyevsky was a Christian and loved his Orthodox faith, he, too, suffered from doubts.  In the foreword of my copy of the book, written by Manuel Komroff, page xv reads,

The theme and philosophy of The Brothers Karamazov occupied Dostoyevsky’s mind for many years.  In a letter to a friend he writes:

“The chief problem dealt with throughout this particular work is the very one which has, my whole life long, tormented my conscious and subconscious being: The question of the existence of God.”

What if God does not exist?  Then for Dostoyevsky the world is nothing but a “vaudeville of devils” and “all things are lawful,” even crime.

I also found a lovely quote on jealousy: “One might wonder what there is in a love that has to be so watched over, what a love can be worth that needs such strenuous guarding.  But this the jealous will never understand” (p. 440).

As I wrote here,

In The Brothers Karamazov, the character Grushenka had been mourning for years for the love of her life, after he married someone else.  But the wife died, and he came back, wanting to marry Grushenka.

However, in the course of one evening, Grushenka discovered that this guy was actually a scoundrel and a con man, who only wanted to marry her because she had done fairly well for herself financially.

That evening was sufficient to break her of her grief, and make her wonder how she could have spent all those years mourning this guy who clearly did not deserve her love.  Then she was free to pursue her passion for Dmitri Karamazov.

It is the same when we mourn a narcissist.  I have grieved and waited for exes to come back to me, exes who lied to me, who abused me, then dumped me.  When it finally hit me just what I was grieving and waiting for, the grief began to go away.

I have grieved and waited for Richard to come wanting to restore a friendship with us.  Two and a half years I’ve waited for this!  But when the character of the narcissist becomes clear to us, we can finally stop grieving and move on with our lives.

I am now finished with the book.  I especially love how Orthodoxy is woven into the book.  So many things I understood instantly because of their connection to the faith.  Things that, ten years ago, before my conversion, I would have missed.

Such as, understanding why they were so devastated when the starets immediately began stinking after he died: They expected him to be incorrupt, because in Orthodoxy, many dead saints are discovered to be incorrupt long after burial, with healing myrrh streaming from their bodies.  Yet a little child who died did not decay after 3 days.

It was a huge crisis of faith for the town after the starets died and this happened.  Those who loved him, questioned their belief in God and miracles; those who hated him, were smug.

Alyosha is the mystic of the family, and very close to the starets.  Yet he does not seem to abandon his beliefs.

As I read in the foreword, Dostoyevsky was called by Turgeniev the most “evil Christian” he had ever met.  And yet I had felt such a kinship to him when I read the religious sections.  He wrote Alyosha so well for an “evil Christian.”

I sense from what I read here of his biography that if I knew him, I would not like him, because of his bad fruit: He was wicked, vicious, unfaithful to his wife, abusive to servants….

If only he had repented of these things and done as his faith required, the faith he loved so fervently.  If only he had been more like the righteous characters he created.

But fortunately, I only have to deal with his writings.  So far, I loved Crime and Punishment, and I love The Brothers Karamazov.

Converts to Orthodoxy also love Karamazov, mentioning it often on online forums, which is how I heard about it in the first place.  No, wait, I did read part of it in a college class, but did not remember where it came from.

In short, I recommend it.

Clarissa & Sociopathy

If you want to get into the mind of a sociopath, I suggest reading Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.  Or the quick version, watching the movie (with dreamy Sean Bean).  🙂  The DVD is available for purchase.)

But the book–all 1500 pages of it–goes far more into the psychological drama.  It was written in the 1740s, but is surprisingly modern, with a thorough understanding of the sociopathic mindset (and a feminist character, Clarissa’s friend Anna, who refuses to “obey” any man).

You get into the heads of everyone, including the sociopath (Lovelace) and his prey (Clarissa).  He alienates her entire family and engineers an impossible situation, so that she finally feels she must throw herself on his protection.

He then proceeds to gaslight her, and use various unsavory characters to hold her captive in a brothel.

He makes her think the brothel is a respectable house, while the inhabitants, who are carrying on the charade and are his abusers-by-proxy, think Clarissa is his frigid wife.  They help him arrange a rape.

She tries again and again to escape, but he keeps following and recapturing her, telling everyone she is his wife, so they will put her back with him.

I first read this book in 1992, and it’s been a favorite ever since.

In my diary and letters from 1992, I gushed over the book, which I found in my college library.  I read some of it while sick with the flu, since I had nothing else to do.  Over Christmas Break, I had no homework and nothing else pressing (except lunch dishes).

This was a wonderful, wonderful book; since my massive version (1200 pages) was abridged, I didn’t yet know that there were even more wonderful parts to it which would explain parts of the plot even more.

I read 100 pages a day–which for me is a tremendous amount, since normally I probably would have gotten through 50 at the most, even reading all day long–and finished on New Year’s Eve.

I loved the Gothic feel of many scenes, such as Lovelace showing up in Clarissa’s hotel as a gouty old man.  I’m not sure if it’s called pre-Gothic or Gothic; it’s been described both ways.  On Masterpiece Theatre, which showed the movie version in the spring of 1992, it was called a Gothic.

It came out before the supernatural tales of the 18th and 19th centuries, but had the traditional elements of an old Gothic: A young, virtuous virgin is abused and locked up by a dirty, usually old, man.

Richardson’s book Pamela, an earlier work, had a similar theme, except that the dirty man was young and handsome, and eventually “reformed.”  In this one, the man was young and handsome, but did not reform.

The book was far more intense and intricate than the movie could possibly have depicted, with a remarkable understanding of psychology and the thoughts/motives of each character.

I laughed when Clarissa’s coffin arrived and she had it dragged up the stairs to her room.  She shocked everyone in the hotel, who said, how could she bring her coffin into her room?

She said, how could they be so surprised, since it was just a box to hold her earthly body?  She expected to die and go to Heaven, where everything would be beautiful and peaceful.

Two songs became associated in my mind with Clarissa.  The first was “Unchain” by Whiteheart, on a CD I got for Christmas.

I listened to it over and over during Christmas Break, and the beautiful melody seemed to fit somehow as I read.  Maybe it was the plea for God to “release my soul” and to “unchain.”  After all, Clarissa kept pleading for Lovelace to release her, and no longer keep her a prisoner in the brothel where he had taken her.

The second song was “Ordinary World” by Duran Duran, a song which came out over Christmas Break and was played over and over as I listened to the radio while reading.  I also taped it.

The melancholy music and lyrics fit Clarissa well.  The song may have been about a breakup, but Clarissa’s sadness was due to the rape, betrayal and abuse from someone who said he loved her.  When she died, all the pathos made my eyes mist and my nose tickle.

I drew pictures of the characters, to help me visualize them and their period clothing, since characters are often a blur of emotion and action as I read.  They rarely take on a concrete appearance unless I can look at a picture.  This may be because of NVLD.

I based the first picture of Clarissa on a plate in the “Fashion and Clothing” article from our 1960s Collier’s encyclopedias.  This was my masterpiece.

I somehow got her hair color mixed up: I thought she was a brunette and her friend Anna a blonde, though it was the other way around.

But Clarissa’s features–based on beautiful British actresses I’d seen over the years–were lovely enough to fit her description.  I tried to draw Lovelace, but I preferred the one in the movie, Sean Bean.  I’ve never been good at drawing men.

I admired Clarissa, the paragon of virtue, and the ending brought me close to tears.  I admired her as my ideal.

Maybe I connected with her on a subconscious level, since I knew what it was like to be lied to, lied about, and emotionally abused by men, though I did not yet know just how bad it could get (Phil, a year and a half later).

I had no clue why this happened.  I suppose the natural gullibility caused by NVLD, and the ostracism I’d often experienced throughout my schooling for no reason I could see, made me an easy target.

Boyfriends were never easy to find, especially when my faith said they had to be Christians–and even the Christians could be jerks.  I wanted to stop the abuse, but had no idea how.

Here are two of my best “Clarissa” pictures.  The bottom one was drawn in 1997.  When I showed the first one to my friend in South Bend, she grabbed it with an “Ooh!”: