Left Behind get's beaten to a pulp.

Discussion in 'Books / Publications Forum' started by mioque, Jan 22, 2005.

  1. mioque

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  2. rsr

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    Having been gulled by Hal Lindsey as a young person, I don't even need to follow the links.
     
  3. mioque

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    L.B.: Not creepy enough

    Left Behind, chapter 1

    The remarkable thing about LaHaye and Jenkins' description of the rapture in this first chapter is how very creepy it isn't.

    The events they're attempting to describe are so audacious, so potentially unsettling, that this chapter should make your flesh crawl and the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

    But it doesn't. And that's not just because L&J are bad writers.

    Left Behind, despite its religious trappings, is part of a larger genre of earth-shattering apocalyptic tales. Contrast the opening chapters of LB with the early pages of Stephen King's The Stand, which offers a similar sweeping epic tale of the end of the world.

    King's story is genuinely frightening. L&J's is not. This is, of course, partly because Stephen King is a better stylist. But the main difference is not King's skill as a storyteller, but his objective. When you read The Stand, he wants you to imagine this is happening to you.

    The tone and objective of LB, instead, asks you to imagine this happening to someone else. The reader has no purchase, no foothold in the story -- and thus no reason to find it personally unsettling.

    L&J's approach divides their readers into two categories. You can, like the authors, consider yourself among the departed, looking on these wooden characters with a gloating scorn. Or else you must be, like these characters, the object of that scorn. Either way, there's little room for the empathy necessary to make such stories truly frightening.

    L&J's polemical triumphalism blunts any potential the story has for emotional impact. See for example the closing lines of their first chapter:

    Worse, Rayford had told Hattie he didn't know what was happening any more than she did. The terrifying truth was that he knew all too well. Irene had been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind.

    We the readers also know "all too well" what has happened -- it has been clumsily, didactically spelled out, and will be again and again in the book. There is no sense of mystery or mysteriousness, no sense of wonder. Even God and the workings of God are fully known, fully understood, pinned to a board like an entomologists specimen. There is nothing "terrifying" about such reductive, Gradgrindish "truth."

    The theme of the book is stated directly in that paragraph: "Irene had been right." Irene is Rayford Steele's prophecy-obsessed wife, the one who warned him all along of the coming rapture and tribulation and antichrist, while educated fools like Rayford had sneered at her faith, scorning her beliefs. She is the first of the authors' stand-ins, which means you can substitute their names for hers in that sentence and convey, precisely, the whole point of this series of books: "LaHaye and Jenkins had been right."

    Mennonite theologian Loren L. Johns identifies this "unadulterated triumphalism" as one of the most disturbingly unchristian aspects of the series:

    ... Fundamental to the spirit of the Left Behind series is the sense of vindication that "we" have been right all along. The not-so-subtle news headline that lies behind the entire series could well be, "Premillennial Dispensationalists Proved to Have Been Right All Along." The message of this series is unadulterated triumphalism. You can forget the business of Christians taking up the cross in this series!

    Premillennial dispensationalists have admittedly gotten rough treatment in the modern world. From a modernist or secularist point of view, the claims of a pre-Tribulation rapture of the church, followed by seven years of Tribulation, followed by the thousand-year reign of Christ just seems too preposterous to be believed. Combine that with the fact that premillennial dispensationalists have been prone to set dates for the Second Coming of Christ -- and the fact that their batting average so far has been zero -- and that well-educated theologians as a whole tend to pooh-pooh their ideas, and you quickly come to a point of eschatological frustration with the way things are.

    It is not the Lamb who has conquered in this series, but the premillennial dispensationalists! "We win!" Similarly, "You lose!"

    Johns is astute in pointing out the transparent insecurity and frustration that are the source of this fictional vindication, and how it undermines the "taking up the cross" that is the literal crux of Christianity.

    What he doesn't also mention is this: It renders the story far more dull than such a tale has any right to be.
     
  4. mioque

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    L.B.: Meet the GIRAT

    Left Behind, pp. 6&7

    It's a dangerous thing for a writer to introduce a fictional character who is, the reader is told, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time. The pitfall here is the same as if you introduce a character by telling readers he is "the absolute funniest person who ever lived."

    You can get away with this, somewhat, if you're writing about a great painter or musician. There you can get away with simply piling on the superlatives, perhaps describing the reaction of others to the artist's work. Readers do not expect you to actually show them a painting or play for them a symphony.

    But if you introduce a character, as L&J do with Buck Williams, as a great writer and reporter, the reader has a right to expect that you will provide more than overheated adjectives. Readers want to read what the GIRAT has written.

    L&J provide only the briefest snippets of their master journalist's handiwork, and these fall far short of the buildup that Buck is the greatest writer in the world, or even a good or competent journalist.

    This is particularly glaring since Buck has been an eyewitness to some astonishing events. In the next few pages, we read of his firsthand involvement in two pieces of unprecedented, world-changing, revolutionary actions, all of which is mere setup for what happens next -- a third, overwhelmingly illusion-shattering incident that forms the premise for all that follows in the book.

    Any one of these events should serve, on its own, to invert everything everyone thought they knew. All preconceptions should be altered, the world and world-view of everyone on earth should be irreversibly shaken to its foundation and tentatively rebuilt.

    But that doesn't happen. The characters who occupy L&J's fictional world are as oblivious, self-absorbed and incurious as L&J rely on their readers to be.

    Take the second incident Williams witnesses: Russia launches a massive undeclared first strike against Israel. Why? That is never explained, and it doesn't occur to the authors or to their master investigative reporter to ask such a simple question.

    We are simply told that Russia, unprovoked, launches every missile, every warhead, every plane it has against Israel. That alone should be sufficient to reset everyone's mental calendar. Every person's internal and external frame of reference would be altered to think of the world in terms of Before and After. Think September 11 magnified by several factors of ten.

    Yet this event registers as only a flicker in the mind of the GIRAT, even though he was in Israel at the time of the attack.

    (The other characters we've met so far -- a pilot and flight attendant whose daily routine consists of international travel, and an End Times-obsessed housewife who would likely watch news about the Middle East more closely than news about her own school district -- don't even seem to have noticed that this all-out nuclear assault happened. We read nothing about any disruptions in international flights following this war. We read nothing about Irene Steele's citing this apocalyptic conflict to her husband in their many arguments about her own interpretation of the Last Days. In coming chapters, the novel becomes preoccupied with the United Nations. Yet scarcely any mention is made of how the unilateral launching of a nuclear war by a permanent member of the Security Council might alter the dynamics of that body.)

    Anyway, here's how the GIRAT reported, firsthand, from the scene of an all-out nuclear surprise attack:

    To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.

    Just remember, when L&J discuss good writing, this is what they mean.
     
  5. mioque

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    L.B.: Weird Science

    Left Behind, pp. 6-8

    Buck Williams is, as mentioned, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time:

    At thirty, Cameron Williams was the youngest ever senior writer for the prestigious Global Weekly. The envy of the rest of the veteran staff, he either scooped them on or was assigned to the best stories in the world.

    "Global Weekly" is, apparently, like TIME or Newsweek -- except with a reputation for top-notch journalism. As the GIRAT, Williams is assigned to write GW's story on the "Newsmaker of the Year," an Israeli botanist and chemical engineer named Chaim Rosenzweig. (Oddly, he's played in the movie by Colin Fox. Reading the book, I always picture Fyvush Finkel.)

    Rosenzweig has already been honored with the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and as TIME's "Man of the Year" for discovering/inventing:

    ... a synthetic fertilizer that caused the desert sands of Israel to bloom like a greenhouse. ...

    Rosenzweig's formula was fast making Israel the richest nation on earth, far more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors. Every inch of ground blossomed with flowers and grains, including produce never before conceivable in Israel. The Holy Land became an export capital, the envy of the world, with virtually zero unemployment.

    Yes, prosperity and full employment through agriculture. Thus fulfilling the biblical prophecy "Yea, and in that day I the Lord shall make the land like unto Iowa, and the heathen shall tremble."

    Israel is about the size of New Jersey -- you know, the Garden State -- so let's just consider this in terms of acreage.

    Right now, only about 17 percent of Israel is arable land -- about 854,000 acres. But, with Rosenzweig's miracle formula, it all becomes arable. So make that 5,024,000 acres. Plus, in the world of Left Behind, the occupied West Bank has been absorbed into L&J's Greater Israel (don't ask how -- they don't really explain this). That adds another, roughly, 1,500,000 acres. (Only a negligible amount of which was arable before Rosenzweig.)

    So, okay, we're looking at 6,524,000 acres of fertile farmland. Not just fertile, mind you, but super-duper fertile. Let's guess (L&J don't say) that it's sooo very fertile that the industrious Israeli farmers (can you call farmers "industrious?") are able to plant 4 crops a year on every acre of this land -- a miraculous harvest every season. That would further leverage Israel's agricultural might to the equivalent of 26,096,000 acres!

    Or, to put it another way, their agricultural output would be slightly less than the current output of China's peasant farmers. (Source for all the above is the invaluable CIA World Factbook.)

    And, anyway, this idea that exotic new produce is the path to economic development -- wasn't that part of the Dukakis campaign? Something about Belgian endive?

    A more convincing plot development would have had Israel finding envy-of-the-world prosperity through, say, cold fusion in a jar, or through some miracle mineral discovered in the poisonous depths of the Dead Sea. But L&J were constrained to have the miracle be agricultural prosperity because they see this as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. (It's hard to say which prophecy, specifically -- the whole desert-blooming, flowing with milk and honey motif is really a pretty boilerplate blessing throughout scripture.)

    What's really interesting here, though, is the science. There isn't any. The writers of Star Trek recognize that a sci-fi explanation doesn't necessarily have to be detailed and highly plausible, but you've got to give us something. Let Geordi LaForge mumble some gobbledygook about "tachyon pulses" and I'm in -- disbelief willingly, happily suspended. But L&J feel no compunction to provide even the slightest scientific pretense.

    It's hard to tell from their description whether Rosenzweig's potion works by science, or by magic. It sounds like magic. They are, after all, growing crops not from soil, but from sand -- producing organic material out of inorganic rock. (What's next? Fishing in the Dead Sea?)

    But what's telling is that LaHaye and Jenkins can't seem to make a distinction between science and magic. When you're afraid to engage anything that might challenge your belief that the earth is only 10,000 years old, you don't end up reading a lot of science. This keeps you clueless enough about biology to think it's perfectly plausible that a few drops of Dr. Rosenzweig's Miracle Gro can turn sand into soil. And clueless enough about economics to think that agriculture would be more lucrative than Israel's existing high-tech industrial economy.
     
  6. mioque

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    L.B.: The Babel Fish

    Left Behind, pp. 10-15

    We turn now to the worst crime against plausibility in Left Behind's early pages.

    I've already said quite a bit about LaHaye and Jenkins' description of the massive, all-out, leave-no-warhead-behind nuclear surprise attack that Russia and Ethiopia launch on Israel. (A war motivated, they suggest, purely by spite and envy.)

    What I haven't mentioned yet is that this massive nuclear assault produces not a single casualty in Israel. The only thing damaged, we are told, are the Russian planes and warheads themselves, which are destroyed utterly. Thus Buck Williams is able to provide his account as an eyewitness from ground zero of a nuclear war:

    ... The building shook and rattled and rumbled. And yet it was not hit.

    Outside, warplanes slammed to the ground, digging craters and sending burning debris flying. Yet lines of communication stayed open. No other command posts had been hit. No reports of casualties. Nothing destroyed yet. ...

    Thousands of planes swooped down on the tiny country's most populated cities. ...

    The sky was afire. He still heard planes over the din and roar of the fire itself, and the occasional exploding missile sent new showers of flame into the air. He stood in stark terror and amazement as the great machines of war plummeted to the earth all over the city, crashing and burning. But they fell between buildings and in deserted streets and fields.1 Anything atomic and explosive erupted high in the atmosphere ...

    Then came chunks of ice and hailstones big as golf balls ... The earth shook and resounded ...

    Miraculously, not one casualty was reported in all of Israel. Otherwise Buck might have believed some mysterious malfunction had caused missile and plane2 to destroy each other. But witnesses reported that it had been a firestorm, along with rain and hail and an earthquake, that consumed the entire offensive effort.

    Had it been a divinely appointed meteor shower? Perhaps. But what accounted for hundreds and thousands of chunks of burning, twisted, molten steel smashing to the ground in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jericho, even Bethlehem3 -- leveling ancient walls but not so much as scratching one living creature?4

    All of this is rather remarkable, to say the least, but it is also, arguably, the most plausible thing to happen so far in the book.

    I say "plausible," not "realistic." And in this case, there's a difference.

    What we have here is a deus ex machina -- the direct, miraculous intervention of the gods. Or in this case, of God. I'm okay with this. Since the ancient Greek dramatists, this has been a legitimate literary device.

    L&J have the right, as authors of a work of fiction, to make Almighty God a character in their story. When they decide to have God arrive, descending on a wire, swatting aside thousands of nuclear warheads with supernatural hail and brimstone as a kind of holy missile shield, it would be churlish of the reader to object. It's a deus ex machina, a convention -- go with it. You don't want to be the sort of person who walks out on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream just because you don't believe in fairies.

    But there's still a problem here. Having invoked the authorial privilege of deus ex machina, L&J fail to abide by the rules of the convention and it is here that they stumble into the most absurd and bizarre implausibility.

    At the end of Euripides' play Orestes, all hell is about to break loose, the armies of Sparta and Argos are about to wreak horrible destruction and death. Then presto -- the god Apollo arrives, orders everyone to make nice, sends Menelaus home and fixes up everything before carrying ("rapturing," if you will) Helen off to Olympus.

    Imagine an epilogue to this scene in which the soldiers explain that, despite everything they have just seen, they still don't believe in Apollo. They have just witnessed the blatant, irrefutable appearance and activity of the god himself, forever altering their lives and the history of their nations, but they prefer not to think about it too much.

    That is what happens in Left Behind. Here you have God appearing center stage. A direct, incontrovertible divine miracle witnessed by millions. Absolute, doubt-destroying, skeptic-shattering proof of the existence of God. There's freaking divine flame in the sky. Yet it produces nary a ripple of wonder, awe or spiritual searching. Alone among the millions who witnessed this event, Buck Williams is slightly prompted to be more "spiritually attuned."

    The people in this novel are not human.

    Imagine, in a world of humans, if a single Russian warhead had been launched toward Israel, but was destroyed harmlessly by a freak hailstone high in the atmosphere. That alone would be sufficient to launch a global debate about miracles. Here you have an entire arsenal destroyed, with the secondary miracle of the harmless falling debris, and there's not a peep. (Remember too that this occurs a year before all the devout are snatched away, meaning L&J would have us believe that such an event could occur without even the televangelists noting that it seems to have been a miracle.)
    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    1. A few pages earlier, L&J told us that "every inch of ground blossomed with flowers and grains." So where did all these "deserted fields" come from?

    2. I know almost as little about the strategy of nuclear war as L&J do, but it seems to me that if you're about to rain thousands of ICBMs down on a target, you probably don't want or need to send thousands of planes as well, unless you don't particularly care for your air force.

    3. The West Bank cities of Jericho and Bethlehem are mentioned here as part of "Israel," underscoring once again the remarkable transition in which, "Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors." By "made peace with," apparently, L&J mean "absorbed the territory and overthrew the sovereignty of." L&J portray this as occurring with the cheerful acquiescence of Israel's Arab neighbors.

    4. UPDATE: In the comments to this previous post, Grimgrin provides a lovely overkill of detail about the overkill of L&J's fictional assault. Grimgrin calculates that the Russian arsenal packs about 2541.75 gigatons of explosive power, sufficient to strike every square kilometer of Israel with 122 megatons. (And that's not including the additional firepower, ahem, supplied by Ethiopia.)
     
  7. mioque

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    Our heroes, isolated from the world aboard their transatlantic flight, have thus far received no news from the outside world, and are still unaware that the mysterious disappearances are a global phenomenon. That changes when, "Finally [Rayford Steele] connected with a Concorde several miles away heading the other direction."

    Left Behind was published in 1995, so the authors' failure to foresee the end of commercial Concorde flights is understandable. Compared with their other bizarre predictions and otherwise miserable record of prognostication, this is a minor failing.

    The Concorde pilot informs Steele that he will not be able to land in London, and should turn around and head for Chicago, one of the few places he still might be able to land. Airports are closing because of the chaos following the mass disappearances, which the Concorde pilot says are "all over the world."

    "We lost nearly fifty," passengers from the Concorde, he reports.

    Keep in mind that this is the Concorde we're talking about, a plane that catered exclusively to the literal jet-set. This was one of the priciest tickets in the air -- one available and availed of only by those with swollen bank accounts and a swollen sense of self-importance. This super-elite carrier of the overclass seated an even 100 passengers.

    LaHaye and Jenkins would have us believe that nearly 50 born-again, evangelical Christian millionaires were visiting Paris and were willing and able to spare no expense to return to New York City as fast, and in as much luxury, as humanly possible. This seems unlikely.

    It also contradicts L&J's insistence that evangelical Christians are a marginalized and persecuted minority. If they're such a despised and disenfranchised group, how did they come to comprise nearly 50 percent of the super-elite passengers on the Concorde?

    The Concorde pilot is at least thinking straight. He compares the disappearances to:

    ... the old Star Trek shows where people got dematerialized and rematerialized, beamed all over the place.

    It was about time somebody mentioned this. Even if you're not Jim Trafficant or a fluent-in-Klingon obsessive, if you see people everywhere suddenly beam up and disappear, one of your first mental reference points is going to be remembering those transporter scenes from Star Trek. Your next logical thought should be that this would seem to imply someone, somewhere, doing the actual transporting and you might start scanning the sky for the mothership. No one in LB does this, however, because as already noted, all the characters in this story have read the book jacket and they know they're in a story about the rapture.

    "What do we do now?" the Concorde pilot asks Steele:

    "Not a blessed thing."

    "Good choice of words, Pan Heavy. You know what some people are saying, over?"

    "Roger," Rayford said. "Better it's people gone to heaven than some world power doing this with fancy rays."

    Who, one has to ask, are the "some people" who have been saying this? So far, Rayford -- whose wife seems to have committed the collected works of Hal Lindsay to memory -- has thought this, but even he hasn't actually voiced this opinion. And everyone else on his plane seems to have accepted the mass disappearances with a bovine incuriosity -- they haven't speculated at all let alone speculated about this being "people gone to heaven."

    More about this later, but it's worth noting here that there's another phrase we often use for people who have gone to heaven. We say they died.

    Rapture enthusiasts stake their hopes on being whisked off to heaven like Enoch or Elijah. Technically, I suppose, that patriarch and prophet didn't "die," but this seems a rather fine distinction. L&J's raptured saints have taken their mortal coils with them, but they have still shuffled off; they have met their maker; they have joined the choir invisible; their earthly life has ended and they rest in peace. L&J cling to the hope that there is a shortcut from life to resurrection without that messy step in between.

    Anyway, the Concorde pilot provides us the first description of the global scope of the disappearances and of what awaits our heroes back on the ground:

    People everywhere have disappeared. Orly lost air-traffic controllers and ground controllers. Some planes have lost flight crews. Where it's daylight there are car pileups, chaos everywhere. Planes down all over and at every major airport. ...

    L&J seem to be setting the scene for the chaos and catastrophe our heroes will encounter in the pages ahead. But if you're wondering how they will face this scene and respond to all this carnage and suffering, you're in for a disappointment. Our heroes actions once they touch down are astonishing, but not in the way L&J seem to intend.
     
  8. mioque

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    L.B.: Scream 2 morality

    Left Behind, pp. 50-53

    Here we learn the sad fate of co-pilot Chris Smith. Ten pages earlier, Smith established himself as a villain by violating Rayford Steele's odd notion of chivalry and accepting the airline's offer of a bus ride back to the terminal.

    I noted earlier (see "Scream morality") that:

    Left Behind has its own moral rules that function like the rules for slasher flicks that Jamie Kennedy's character outlines in Scream. By violating those rules, Smith dooms himself as surely as that teenager who says, "Don't believe those crazy stories. Let's sneak off into the woods and have sex."

    Rayford's indignant response at the time makes it clear that LaHaye and Jenkins want readers to regard Smith's accepting of a ride as an unpardonable sin. "Rayford glared at him ... 'I should write you up for this.'"

    But it's difficult to puzzle out exactly what Smith did that was so wrong. The airline sent a bus to pick up its flight crew and Smith was willing to accept this privilege. Steele later accepts special privileges afforded to pilots (a special phone line, a helicopter ride home). And Buck Williams, the book's other protagonist, regularly cuts in line and takes advantage of his status as a privileged customer and club member. The lesson, I suppose, is that our heroes are allowed to be selfish because they are our heroes. Other people, like Smith, are not.

    So just like the peripheral characters who die for their "sins" in a slasher movie, we know that Chris Smith is doomed. The next time we see him we can expect he'll be dead, another bloodied corpse in the woods of Camp Crystal Lake.

    Sure enough:

    [Hattie] turned and spoke into his ear. "They wheeled him past us while I was going into the lounge. Blood all over! ... I think he was dead!"

    Rayford shook his head. What next? "Did he get hit or something? Did that bus crash?" Wouldn't that be ironic!

    Here again is the major theme of the book. "Bad people" break the rules and die horribly. "Good people" see this as poetic justice and enjoy a chuckle.

    The helicopter pilot fills Steele in on all the amusing details: Smith arrived at the terminal and learned that "his boys had disappeared and his wife was killed in a wreck." In grief, loneliness and anguished despair, Smith slashed his wrists and died.

    Isn't that ironic?!?
     
  9. west

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    I have not read any of the Left Behind books .But when LaHaye is on a TV talk show .Like Larry King etc..He really lifts up Jesus and says .You may not agree with my beliefs on the end times but you must accept Christ .I heard him talk to Mike Horton of the "Whitehorse Inn radio progam and he LaHaye was the same way .
     
  10. mioque

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    The thing that disturbed me most about Left Behind when I read it was not the end times scenario, but the fact that after Buck and Rayford become Christian they don't change for the better. They are equally obnoxious before and after. No growth whatsoever.
     
  11. Terry_Herrington

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    I LOVE the "Left Behind Series." I have all twelve books and have recently started reading them over again. Probably some of the best fiction I have ever purchased.

    So although this author has an opinion different than millions of others who have bought this series, so what? You know what opinions are like don't you?
     
  12. mioque

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    "You know what opinions are like don't you? "
    "
    They are like bellybuttons? As in everybody has one.

    "so what?"
    "
    I found much of that criticism rather profound, to be honest.
     
  13. Terry_Herrington

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    Sorry, I don't understand what you mean. :confused:
     
  14. ccrobinson

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    Here's another opinion, take it for what it's worth.

    These are terrible books. Everybody is certainly entitled to their opinion, but just because millions of these books have been sold does not equal validation.

    Mioque, Thanks for posting the link above.
     
  15. Terry_Herrington

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    You people act like it is sinful to even read these books. How foolish!
     
  16. ccrobinson

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    "You people." This is a phrase sure to engender warmth and good feelings.

    I didn't read anybody implying that it was sinful to read these books. I myself stated that they're bad books. They are full of bad theology and terrible writing.

    I can also do without the foolish comment.
     
  17. chipsgirl

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    I love these books actually. It is just someone's idea of end times. Maybe we all don't agree but we shouldn't bash someone elses ideas. I like that this series is so popular. You have to wonder how many people were saved as a result of these books.
     
  18. mioque

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    Terry_Herrington
    I tried to say that in my opinion the criticism voiced in the articles raised some vary valid points.
     
  19. mioque

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    chipsgirl & ccrobinson
    "They are full of bad theology and terrible writing."
    "Maybe we all don't agree but we shouldn't bash someone elses ideas."
    "
    I think there is no reason to bash the notion of The Rapture as presented in the books (allthough I don't hold to it myself).
    I think there is a some ground to critique the, it doesn't matter wether you are good or bad it only matters whose side you are on theology, that infects (by accident I believe) the books a little.
    I think the books deserve a thorough trashing for being badly written.

    "You have to wonder how many people were saved as a result of these books. "
    "
    I fear about as many as were saved by Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Not many at all.
     
  20. chipsgirl

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    How do you figure that?
     

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