Last night, I read pages 950-1000 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I have two items:
1. My comments on this item will overlap with my post on The Stand for yesterday.
Yesterday, I said that people on the good side (the Free Zone) and the evil side (Randall Flagg’s team) both do good and bad things, and I thus wondered what exactly separates the good from the evil. In my reading last night, that point was fleshed out some more. Dayna and Tom Cullen are spies from the Free Zone, and they have infiltrated Flagg’s team in order to learn if Flagg is mobilizing to attack it. What are the impressions of Flagg’s team that Dayna and Tom Cullen have? Surprisingly, the impressions are good. They find that there are nice people on Flagg’s team. Dayna notes that people on Flagg’s team work hard and do not have a problem with drugs, whereas there is more laziness in the Free Zone, plus the Free Zone has a drunk who continually causes problems for the community. Flagg’s team has a school for the young, in which people with teaching certificates teach the classes. Lloyd, Flagg’s right-hand man, “who had quit school after repeating his junior year for the third time, was very proud of the educational opportunities that were being provided” (page 951). Tom, a developmentally-delayed man, likes one of the kids and his mother, and they like Tom. And, in my own reading, I see a human side to the people on Flagg’s team. Lloyd, for example, gives chocolate to one of the kids.
And yet, Dayna and Tom have reservations about Flagg’s team. Dayna, in her mind, compares Flagg’s people to the Nazis, who were charming, athletic, and did not go to night-clubs, yet had a dictatorship that killed millions of people. Dayna observes that people around her are scared to death of Flagg, and she did not see that sort of fear in the Free Zone. Tom Cullen genuinely likes the people on Flagg’s team, but he senses that there is an inner monster inside of them. Why exactly are they on Flagg’s side? My hunch is that they believe that Flagg will triumph, and they want to be on the side that wins.
There are a lot of issues here. One issue that comes to my mind is how goodness and grace can promote laziness and laxity, whereas sheer terror can scare people to behave, and yet goodness and grace are preferable. But this is not an absolute, for a high morale (in response to being treated right) can also encourage productivity and efficiency. This issue comes into play in Christian discussions on faith, grace, and works, including Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which I recently read for my church’s Bible study group.
2. I’ll turn to another issue, now. A theme in my reading last night is that Flagg is slipping, or his feet of clay are becoming manifest to people. Many who are on Flagg’s side assume that Flagg is omniscient and has control of everything. Indeed, Flagg is able to see things—-as he enters into animals and spies on people, or as his eye looks at what’s going on. But his clairvoyance is slipping. For example, he is aware that Mother Abagail has died, but he does not know what she told the people around her deathbed (namely, to go West to confront Flagg). Nadine, Flagg’s future wife, convinces Flagg to mercifully dispose of Harold by causing a road accident rather than by causing Harold to go crazy before he dies, and she is shocked when Harold is about to shoot her right after the accident. She considers that Flagg may have been allowing Harold to do that in order to scare her into remembering that she belonged to Flagg, but then she reflects on the possibility that perhaps Flagg had no purpose for it: that it took him by surprise, too. Nadine’s reflections reminded me of how many religious people try to seek some righteous and divine purpose behind the evils and accidents that occur in the world, whereas there are others who hold that there is no purpose: that God is not in control and cannot defeat evil or prevent accidents, or even that there is no God.