Hi and welcome back! It being Monday, we turn our attention to Frank Peretti’s cringefest 1986 novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we discover the literal only reason that anybody ever accuses TRUE CHRISTIANS™ of serious crimes. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the theology of false accusations in toxic Christianity.
(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)
Chapter 30 Synopsis: Part One.
Goodness, we’ve worked our way through about 3/4 of this book now! This chapter proved unsettling to read, but almost certainly not for the reasons Frank Peretti intended.
The Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW) has finally gotten to the loved ones of our two heroes, Hank Busche (the pastor of the only TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church in town) and Marshall Hogan (the editor/owner of the town’s apparent only newspaper).
Marshall’s wife Kate has already left him. Now he discovers his daughter Sandy packing to leave. As she packs, Marshall tries to talk to her to figure out why she’s leaving. He just doesn’t understaaaaaaaaaaaand what’s gotten into Sandy! She’s been totally possessed by demons, but her daddy is not yet a full TRUE CHRISTIAN™ so he doesn’t know that.
Eventually, Sandy accuses him of having raped her as a child. He is absolutely shocked by this accusation.
On her way out, she apparently hits him with a lamp, which knocks him out. Or maybe she throws it. Seriously, it’s impossible to tell with this terrible writing.
Meanwhile, Carmen (the Cabal-corrupted secretary) visits Hank and his wife Mary at home. She informs Mary that she and Hank have been carrying on an affair. Hank immediately realizes she’s possessed and begins to exorcise her. It almost works.
The strangely specifically-numbered fifteen demons within Carmen drive her to flee the house. Mary seems to completely believe her husband’s protests that no affair occurred.
What they don’t know yet is that Carmen’s heading for the police — who are CSWWSW operatives, all of them — to report that Hank tried to rape her, since her attempt to break him and Mary up failed so dramatically.
Meanwhile, Bernice (one of the newspaper’s reporters and a secondary hero in the story) finds Marshall out cold on the floor. They begin to tally up what they know about who might have bugged their personal and office phones. They figure out that Alf Brummel’s ex-secretary Sara might be a potential ally and decide to contact her.
The angels guarding the two heroes are very stressed-out by all this. Their orders involve not interfering at all unless the heroes’ lives are threatened. For some reason, Captain Tal (their leader) seems pleased and amused at the news that Kevin Weed (one of the reporters’ allies) died in a fiery car crash. Frank Peretti telegraphs that dramatic escape with a two-by-four. I’ll be shocked if Kevin really did die.
Tal also says that Marshall Hogan must “fall” for his big plan to save Ashton to work.
The Theology of False Accusations.
Given how many scandals have come out of that end of Christianity of late, it feels weird and uncomfortable to see Frank Peretti treating them as false in every single situation. In fact, he presents false accusations of rape as one of the Cabal’s standard-issue tactics — and even presents divine plans as needing these false accusations to occur.
The CSWWSW deployed this tactic to destroy several other people in the town before the events of the novel began — including Ted Harmel, the previous editor/owner of the newspaper before Marshall Hogan bought it. Often, the person making the accusation is underage. Sandy barely qualifies there, but she is Marshall’s daughter so her accusation gets those necessary ickieness points for the CSWWSW.
The book tells us to consider all of these accusations as false and designed solely to discredit heroes so bad guys can triumph over them. Not once, not ever does an accusation turn out to be true or even an artifact of perception or whatever.
No. They are all false, they all exist solely to bring down good men. And they’re all ultimately engineered and nurtured to success by literal demons.
The Satanic Panic, Redux.
By the time This Present Darkness came out, the Satanic Panic was in full swing. Peretti capitalized on the news stories of his day to create his plots. And many of those stories involved accusations of the worst kinds of sex abuse.
Starting in 1982, a number of people began accusing various daycares of sexually abusing their young charges. Most of these cases involved recovered memory hypnosis and similar pseudo-therapeutic woo processes. It would not be until the early 1990s that anybody seriously questioned the false memories dredged up with these tactics.
By then, however, recovered memory hypnosis had already totally uncovered a number of cases of what became known as Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). In turn, SRA became an integral part of the Satanic Panic. Heck, even total liars-for-Jesus got involved in hopes of scoring a piece of the Satanic Panic fame pie. All of these conjobs offered up dramatic stories of demonic possession and demonically-orchestrated abuse of the very worst and lurid kinds. Often, these supposed Satanic abusers preyed upon children.
But TRUE CHRISTIANS™ obviously never commit such abuse! They exist as new creations, all thanks to Jesus!
So who would ever want to see them struck down by rape accusations but demons?
Us vs. Them.
In the power- and control-obsessed world of evangelicalism, a central belief involves the method by which the powerful in their world achieve that power in the first place.
Evangelicals never want to admit that it’s just earthly politicking and manipulation (as well as membership in the correct social networks and the right last names) that brings their Dear Leaders to their positions and keeps them there.
Instead, evangelicals imagine that their god has personally engineered that person’s rise to the top. Thus, anybody in a position of power in their tribe has earned it through divine favor.
Frank Peretti just amped that belief up a bit for his two heroes. Even Marshall Hogan himself isn’t completely sure why he wanted to move to Ashton so much, and Peretti has always presented Hank Busche’s rise to power in his church as a total fluke that nobody in that church really understands.
In this worldview, demons work overtime and tirelessly to destroy this god’s chosen leaders. After all, a divinely-appointed leader can do a lot of damage to evangelicals’ demonically-controlled enemies!
Plus, ya know, a true accusation would make their tribe look really bad.
Protecting Their Leaders From Themselves.
So evangelicals do their best to protect their community leaders from accusations like rape. One local story of such defense occurred just a few months ago, and I wasn’t even surprised to read this bit in it:
In letters to the judge, the defendant’s friends and family do the same, the prosecutor said, referring to Ranstrom’s sexual relationship with an underage student as a “mistake” or “poor choice” – some suggesting that the teenage victim shared the blame.
One can almost feel the prosecutor’s disgust as he goes on to declare that neither the defendant’s family, his church leaders, nor his friends seem to understand that what happened to the case’s 15-year-old victim was, in fact, abuse.
Similarly, Jim Bob Duggar very obviously realized he needed to keep his son’s molestation of his daughters out of the news. He did everything in his power to protect his disgusting scion from the repercussions of his deeds. So did the tribe. They went into overdrive trying to minimize and rationalize what Josh Duggar had done.
Evangelicals cluster around their pastors to an even more alarming degree, as we saw when “Pastor G” got himself done for a strikingly similar case of rape back in 2015.
Nothing makes evangelicals’ own relative morality more obvious than the way they close ranks around their sex offenders. Gosh, one almost begins to suspect that the way they latched onto SRA in the 1980s might have been projection — and deflection.
It All Works Together to the Good.
Either way, Peretti’s use of false accusations here, especially in the specific way he uses them, is really goddamned tacky, as we used to say back then.
But then Peretti decided that his angels needed these false accusations to be made. Their big plot just dissolves without them.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
It meant that no matter what happened, it formed part of our god’s big ineffable plan. That included anything bad that happened to us.
But in this case, the concept plumbs new depths of tackiness. Here, false rape accusations do not constitute generic parts of a great ineffable plan. Instead, they form integral and greatly-needed parts of a very specific divine plan. In fact, they constitute real live persecution of the book’s TRUE CHRISTIANS™!
It constantly amazes me that the same Christians who accept Captain Tal’s reasoning also think their god is the ultimate good guy of the universe and that they themselves fight for all that is good, moral, and right on his behalf.
The Scariness of the Captain-Less Ship.
I guess it’s way better to have a god who’s totes fine with his people enduring false accusations of rape than one who could effectively create a timeline that didn’t require his servants’ lives to be devastated like that. Similarly, it’s better to have a god who allows his people to rape and molest victims for Jesus Reasons than to put a stop to it.
(I wish I’d realized back in my own Christian days that free will only applies to criminals, in that worldview, nor that this rationalization in no way actually solved the Problem of Evil.)
But if someone somewhere isn’t orchestrating everything that happens, then gosh, nobody’s in charge of the ship and directing its course. That’d mean that humanity’s totally on its own!
The Repercussions of Being On Our own.
And that means in turn that no invisible boogeymen are responsible for their tribe’s constant stream of scandals! Worse, it means no invisible schoolyard-bully wizards stand at the ready to help them weather those scandals!
Gosh, whatever could be causing all these scandals otherwise?
No no, it must be demons causing all these false accusations. And angels allow it because they need to make their divine plans work properly.
That must be it.
So today, Lord Snow Presides over a really tacky plot device that has aged particularly poorly over the past 3+ decades.
NEXT UP: In a tribe obsessed with the Cult of Family, fewer and fewer of them seem to be getting married lately. We’ll check out what’s going on there, and why. See you tomorrow!
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