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Literature / Underground Zealot

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Underground Zealot is a techno-thriller series by Jerry Jenkins (otherwise best known for co-writing the similarly themed Left Behind series with Tim LaHaye). 20 Minutes into the Future, after the world's religious conflicts escalated into World War III, a new One World Order has arisen. The UN world government, which now rules the Divided States of America, has outlawed all religions completely — with death as the punishment for unrepentant believers. Such Christians that remain have been forced underground, where they have formed the Zealot movement. To root them out is the task of the federal National Peace Organization.

The main protagonist of the story is Paul Stepola, an ex-military agent of the NPO and supporter of the regime. Yet after experiencing a series of mysterious and dramatic events, the atheist Paul comes to doubt his previous convictions, and eventually converts to born-again Christianity. He then begin a dangerous game, acting as a spy and double agent within the security apparatus on behalf of the underground Christians...

The completed series forms a trilogy, comprising the following volumes:

  • Soon (2003)
  • Silenced (2004)
  • Shadowed (2005)

Tropes from the Underground Zealot series include:

  • Aerith and Bob: Conventional American names such as Andrew or Stuart coexist with more alien/exotic ones (for example, Bia Balaam) without comment.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Paul is described as tall, fit, and handsome. Angela, a secret Christian, is "dramatically pretty." Contrast with bad gal Bia Balaam, who is described as being "rawboned" and "thin-lipped," with "psycho eyes."
  • Because Destiny Says So: After World War III, the United States is re-divided into seven states known as the United Seven States of America. There is pretty much no reason for this to happen other than it's supposed to be the fulfillment of the "seven heads" bit in the Revelation.
  • Broken Aesop: Immediately after the zealots, with great effort, manage to spread pamphlets around Los Angeles saying that "We are no threat to the government or the status quo," and asking themselves why the atheists feel so threatened by them when all they want is "the free exchange of ideas", they let the world know that they're praying for God to cut off the water supply to the city. He chooses instead to remove all water from the city, killing thousands in the process. To be fair, they didn't know (and could hardly have predicted) that this would be the result.
  • But Not Too Evil: Even though the story is supposed to take place in a world taken over by Hollywood Atheists, many right-wing boogeymen are curiously absent. For example, there are no LGBTQ characters.
    • It's also odd that in this atheist-run world of debauchery, Paul and Jae stayed together in an unhappy marriage for a decade or so rather than divorcing after Paul cheated on her.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Decades of world peace, great technological achievement, near-total elimination of disease and poverty... of course, being caught as a believer will net you a grisly execution. (Exactly how an atheist "theocracy" could manage to create such a paradise for 99% of the population, or the possible moral issues of the remaining 1% trying to overthrow that system for their own benefit, is never addressed.)
  • Coldblooded Torture: What the NPO uses whenever they can remember the advantages of finding more secret believers, as opposed to shooting the zealots on the spot. And of course what the thousands of atheist civilians killed in the LA miracle will suffer for all eternity in hell.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Bia Balaam's specialty for dealing with Christians. And every arrested Christian seems to end up dead sooner ('resisting arrest') or later (died in captivity), barring divine intervention. This doesn't seem to be official policy, every single atheist just has a seething hatred for every Christian they arrest.
    • Used on a large scale in LA, when the army claims a group of 200 Christians opened fire on the army and were all killed in the ensuing firefight. How they faked a firefight that large is anyone's guess.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Both sides. You believe in God? Death by napalm! You were trying to corner the silver market? Death by silver-themed miracle! Defaced the Hollywood sign to make it read Holywood? Death by hit squad! Heard a terrorist manifesto on the news and didn't risk life and limb on behalf of said terrorists by overthrowing the government within half a day of hearing about it? Death by dehydration!
  • Double Agent: After conversion, Paul serves as a double agent for the Christians.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: No need for an army? Donations to charity going to humanitarian relief efforts? The horror, the horror. This book puts the lack of a sizable army waging war somewhere in the world and charity donations going to relief efforts on the same level of awfulness as the banning of all religion.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Christian Underground prayed for a miracle, in the form of God cutting off the water supply to LA.They didn't expect the Almighty to remove all moisture in the entire area for everyone but His followers (it's not clear what effect, if any, this has on animals, but plants are shown to wilt and die).
  • Great Offscreen War: The radically different geopolitics of the near-future world are explained by World War III, which in this future history destroyed China and caused the United States to fragment, leaving the world ripe for a UN-dominated One World Order.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Paul, originally one member of the villainous NPO, turned into a heroic zealot.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Paul, considering that in the sect he joined are the good guys of the series .
  • Historical Beauty Update: In-universe example; someone wanting to make a movie about Bia Balaam (who is described as "rawboned" and "thin-lipped") considers casting attractive and "curvaceou]" actress Julia Peters in the role.
  • Hit So Hard, the Calendar Felt It: After World War III, the calendar was reset to 0 by the atheists.
  • Hollywood Atheist: The world has been taken over by them, though these are from Hollywood of the 50's, i.e. Obviously Evil. All religion has been outlawed, and they hunt down anybody who still practices it.
  • Illegal Religion: All religions have been banned, as religious conflict somehow started World War III.
  • Informed Attribute: Paul is supposed to have a Ph.D in religious studies, yet is strangely ignorant of many of the basics of Christian theology.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The shady silver trader gets miraculously turned to silver. The man's brother's first response to this rather Disproportionate Retribution for finanical fraud: "Ephesus! Ephesus! You've become what you loved so much!"
  • Magical Negro: Stuart "Straight" Rathe, who exists to lead Paul to Christ, drive Paul to chess tournaments, give Paul Biblical relationship advice, and get Paul in touch with other underground Christians. And provides Ho Yay by the truckload, all the more noticeable due to Paul's hatred towards his actual wife.
  • Meaningful Name: Many of the characters' names are references to something in the Bible. For example, "Paul Stepola" is a sort of anagram for Saint Paul. Villainess Bia Balaam's name is more transparently adopted from the evil prophet Balaam in the Book of Numbers.
  • Metaphorically True: The atheist world government claims to have established world peace ... so the military of the new regime is said to be engaged in "merely minor skirmishes in third-world countries" and domestic suppression of the Christian underground, but nothing that could be considered "a real war" since World War III. This propagandistic interpretation leaves open whether the new order is really any more substantially peaceful than the standard Cold War, or if it only claims to be.
  • Moral Myopia: Atheists kill Christians? Horrible. Christians kill thousands of atheists via dehydration? A-OK. And what's more, it's even okay to kill "false" Christians - read: people who don't profess the same beliefs as Paul.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: The atheist agents (even those too young to remember organized religion) will kill any Christians they find, rather than drill them for information on other Christians or publicly put them on trial. On a global scale, the government apparently agrees with these fatality rates. On the flip side, the zealots somehow know for certain that they have the full support of the almighty God and can ask for literally anything. Do they ask for supernatural protection, to command the safety of the Christians via a loud booming voice or the smiting of those personally responsible for killing them? Nope! They ask God to cut off LA's water supply, an attention-getting but relatively harmless act that could not happen naturally. Instead, God chose to remove all water from L.A, possibly forever, killing thousands. And those thousands are likely the sick and old civilians who needed liquid medicine or lack the ability to evacuate on foot, rather than the well trained and disciplined soldiers who would have a much easier time marching out of the affected area.
  • The Moral Substitute: In-universe example; "Wintermas" is the atheist "moral" alternative to Christmas.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: The only thing more striking than the brutality of the government's oppression of Christians is its efficiency. Every person they nail actually was a believer. Their only failure is not spotting Paul for the obvious double agent he is.
  • Omniscient Morality License: On the one hand we have the global government, enjoying overwhelming support from its population, which picked up the pieces of a world devastated by a religiously inspired World War III, and have successfully eliminated war, disease and poverty. On the other we have a small group of leftover religious figures who wish to overthrow this government and aren't any less callous about the deaths of thousands in the process than the government is. But since the author made sure that his interpretation of the Bible is true, the Christians are completely justified in their every action while everyone who supports the atheist government deserves death and eternal torment.
  • Path of Inspiration : The pseudo-Christian cult in Las Vegas. It's leader is involved in drugs and prostitution although both those things are legal, so why the man would risk forming an illegal religion is unclear.
  • Plot Armor: The only reason Paul isn't found out and executed within days of his conversion, seeing how poorly he hides it.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality:
    • Paul Stepola treats his wife like crap. He yells at her and belittles her to the point where she packs up the kids and goes to her mother's for awhile. When she comes back, guess who apologizes to whom?
    • Two hundred Christians get mowed down in a church? The most horrible thing ever to happen in the whole wide world. Thousands of atheists die of dehydration? They had it coming. (The Christians even prayed for God to dry up the city!)
  • Secret Police: The National Peace Organization, which "rose from the ashes" of the FBI and CIA.
  • Sergeant Rock: Command Sergeant Major Andy Pass, Paul Stepola's old NCO in the Army Special Forces, who has an interesting history. Much like Sergeant Kelly in Kelly's Heroes, Pass apparently got demoted to private as a young lieutenant, then stubbornly worked his way back up through the enlisted ranks instead, and ended up in the top NCO pay grade.
  • Significant Anagram: Many names are anagrams for something else. "Paul Stepola," for example, is an anagram for "Apostle Paul."
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: A very clean and nearly utopian future, at that. Neurally implanted phones, highly efficient solar power and reduced pollution, homelessness and cancer have been almost completely eliminated... The Atheistopian future is pretty sweet for the random citizen.
    • Partially lampshaded in that as the books' plot continues, futuristic tech shows up less and less: phone implants give way to cell phones and a landline phone shows up at the end of the third book, hydrogen-powered cars are replaced by gas guzzlers, and so on. No explanation for this is given. Then again, Word of God has it that by the following one or two generations, technology will have reverted to mid-nineties level as the Christian faction gains power.
  • United Nations Is a Superpower: After the destruction of the old world order in World War III and the downfall of the superpowers, the UN became the nucleus of a new world government. Among other things, they declared religion to be illegal, and apparently a capital offense.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Both sides really. The only difference is that the atheists actually have their utopia and are trying to keep it that way, while the Christians are trying to overthrow it and replace it with their utopia.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The UN has decided to nip war and violence in the bud by completely outlawing what they believe is its biggest cause: religion. The USSA's own National Peace Organization lethally punishes those who break this law.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The zealots urge newly converted Paul to keep arresting all other religious groups, even Christian ones, instead of trying to ally with them against the world-spanning regime who's trying to annihilate them all.
  • World War III: In the book's backstory, all of the world's religious wars somehow escalated into this, and resulted in the destruction of China and some other parts of the world. After it was all said and done, the new UN world government made it a capital offense to be religious.
  • You Mean "Xmas": In-universe example; the holiday of Christmas has been replaced with a completely secular substitute, Wintermas.