jesus does an exorcism
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Rolf Kranz, Wikipedia, CC-SA.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! We return now to our longform examination of Frank Peretti’s literary hairball, his 1986 fantasy novel This Present Darkness (TPD). In this installment, Bernice’s attacker has his very own Gerasene Demoniac moment, ending with a(nother) dramatic exorcism. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a millennia-old story retold again.

jesus does an exorcism
(Rolf Kranz, Wikipedia, CC-SA.) Seriously, what’d those pigs do to anybody?

(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.)

Exorcism Is How You Know It’s Working.

Evangelicals love exorcisms. Love love love them!

I can see why, too. Out of everything in Low Christianity, exorcisms must seem like PROOF YES PROOF that demons are real. When I was Christian myself, I reasoned that if demons were real then obviously the rest of the mythos had to be real as well. I’m sure that’s the thinking in the evangelicals who chase after exorcisms like cats after red laser dots.

Back when TPD got published, evangelicals luxuriated in the sheer hysteria of the Satanic Panic. Their moral panic had succeeded grandly. Indeed, the whole country seemed terrified of evildoers murdering children in the backwoods and infiltrating every level of government and every industry imaginable.

Of course, that’s a lot of demon-possessed people running around. (One Panicker leader, Pat Pulling, estimated once that there were “300,000 [Satanists] nationally.”) Thus, exorcism performances blossomed everywhere. Even my then-boyfriend-and-later-husband Biff had one. “I totally used to be possessed and then got exorcised” was the trendy 1980s testimony back then, just like “I totally used to be an atheist, you guize” is now.

A good exorcism (or even just a good exorcism story) got its subject a whole lot of attention. Attention fuels evangelicals and gives them life, not to mention at least a little local-area power (if not a lot lot lot of influence). So yeah, you can bet these Christians gloried in their time in the sun during the Satanic Panic.

Another Day, Another Exorcism.

What I describe here was the sludge that Frank Peretti oozed his way through in writing This Present Darkness. Obviously, then, he was going to feature exorcism in his book. Really, it was all but a requirement for a book about SPEERCHUL WARFARE YAWL spiritual warfare.

Now, we saw one exorcism already in this book, but here we get another. Don’t worry though! It’s just as boring and obviously contrived.

And hilariously, it falls victim to the same exact criticisms raised against one of the more troubling and hilarious stories in the Gospels: the exorcism of the so-called Gerasene Demoniac.

Here’s how that story rolled:

First, Jesus Meets Someone Demon-Possessed.

In this story, which occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus takes a boat to an area that Mark describes as “the region of the Gerasenes.”

(Note: Like Bethlehem, this town didn’t actually exist at the time the Gospels claim it did. There’s a Gadara and a Gerasa, but they’re many miles from shore. According to La Wiki, many Bible scholars now think the Gospel writers meant Gergesa, which would be near Gergesenes.)

As Jesus disembarks, a possessed man “came from the tombs to meet him.” Mark describes this stranger as incredibly strong as well as loud and self-harming. As a result, he’s been restricted (or has retreated) to the local tombs, where he can’t harm anybody but himself. But “he saw Jesus from a distance” and ran to see him.

(Note: Putting tombs full of decomposing bodies close enough to water that someone can identify total strangers at the shore? Sounds like a perfect recipe for sickness. SO GROSS. Lambchop’s got a photo of a medieval town that did that, I think.)

Jesus learned that his man’s name was “Legion, for we are many.” His demons begged Jesus “not to send them out of the area.”

(Note: Then why did he come to see Jesus at all? He could have stayed in the tombs. Then, Jesus wouldn’t have heard a word about him. But evangelicals have hand-waving for this. It makes no sense at all, but they have it.)

Second, Jesus Performs an Exorcism.

The demons begged Jesus to send them into a huge 2000-strong herd of pigs feeding on a hill nearby. And Jesus, who was such a softie with demons, “gave them permission.” Immediately, the demons infested the herd. However, the pigs freaked out, ran down to the lake, and drowned themselves.

(Note: This story represents a very small part of why I don’t think Jesus was actually a good person at all. But no no, I’m sure the villagers totally didn’t mind losing 2000 pigs so a wandering nutjob could show kindness to literal demons. Anybody else wonder what happened to the demons after their new hosts died?)

Right afterward, the pigs’ tenders ran back to town to tell everyone what they’d seen. Probably, Jesus’ outright theft and destruction of their property figured into those tales. So the people there asked Jesus to leave.

The now-cured and still-unnamed demoniac wanted to go with him, but Jesus told him to go back to his own homeland instead to spread the news of his healing.

(Note: It strikes me now as weird that Jesus told him nothing about his cosmology. Instead, he just ordered him to talk about the exorcism. Also weirdly, I guess the demoniac didn’t talk to that many people because no records exist of him.)

(See endnotes for how those other two Gospels handle this story.)

And this story represents how evangelicals think exorcism works.

How Far Did This Demoniac Run?

Now that we know about the myth that inspired a thousand-thousand exorcisms, let’s return to TPD.

“The man in black leather” attacked Bernice in the last chapter while she explored Kevin Weed’s apartment. His attack was so brutal that she’s hospitalized and in very bad shape, but he didn’t rape her.

Kevin Weed lives nowhere near Ashton. He lives in a nearby town called Baker, which Peretti describes (p. 226) as “about seventeen miles north on Highway 27.” His apartment is two miles closer, so the attack occurs 15 miles away from Ashton.

Now, suddenly, we see “the man in black leather” running frantically through the streets of Ashton.

The important part to remember here is the distance involved.

After attacking Bernice, “the man in black leather” is now suddenly back in Ashton.


Nowhere do we see any cars he might have used. Did he hoof it? If so, was he literally running the whole way?

Seriously, y’all, I love this book. It’s so stupendously pants-on-head nonsensical. When I realized how similar this story is to the criticisms of the Gerasene Demoniac, I began laughing and laughing.

A Little Help from Angels.

As this demon-possessed guy runs like a maniac, with frightened demons trying to cling to him and keep up, he collides with six angels hanging around Ashton, not far from where Hank Busche and Andy Forsythe pray.

These two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have made a habit of walking around Ashton to pray for it. Four other dedicated angels accompany them.

The random town-guardian angels guide the demoniac to those two men. One of their guardians, Krioni, declares that it is now time for “an object lesson for the man of God.”

What, was the exorcism in the alley just chopped liver? Or the panic attack demonic attack Hank dispelled through Jesus Power alone?

Whatever the case, the demoniac runs right into them.

OMG, Y’all! It’s Bobby Corsi!

Immediately, Andy Forsythe identifies “the man in black leather.”

This is Bobby Corsi!

We saw Bobby mentioned at the wingnut meeting that got totally out of hand in Chapter 21. His parents, Dan and Jean Corsi, sobbed about how their son seemed to be falling into some very bad company. He’d been gone without any word for a week by then.

At that meeting, his parents said they were growing more convinced by the day that Bobby had been possessed by demons. Hank Busche barely wrangled everyone under control again after that display of drama!

Well, here Bobby is, and apparently, yes he has been.

How Demoniacs Act, Totally.

Bobby behaves exactly like evangelicals think demon-possessed people behave like. He’s all but frothing at the mouth (p. 231):

He looked at nothing ahead of him, then looked at Hank and Andy, then looked again at his unseen enemies. He screamed, standing still where he was, his hands clawlike and trembling, his eyes bulging and glazed.

And, of course, when Hank and Andy move toward him, he screams:

“No!” Bobby screamed. “Leave us alone! We want no business with you!”

Aww, see that subtle sly reference to Legion? It’s adorbz.

The Exorcism Begins: Hank Uses His Power Word.

Hank Busche knows how to deal with demons by now, though:

Hank stepped forward quickly and said firmly, “In Jesus’ name, be quiet!” Bobby let out one more scream. “Be quiet!”

Bobby grew still and began to weep, kneeling there on the sidewalk.

Oh yes, that’s right, this scene occurs somewhere around downtown Ashton. Anybody else who was evangelical around the 1980s remember how much fun especially-ostentatious fundies had by freaking the mundanes with religious showboating?

But an important part of demonology involves demons’ utter vulnerability to the power words that exorcists have popularized. “Jesus,” obviously, remains the favorite power word of all. Even I knew it in in my adolescence. Usually, exorcists deploy it wrapped in a spell format like “in Jesus’ name” or “in the name of Jesus.”

Hank continues to use his magic words to bring Bobby under control. When a demon tries to cover Bobby’s ears to make him unable to hear anybody talking to him, Hank commands it to “let go of his ears” — and it does, because demons are just super-vulnerable that way.

No No, Let’s Not Call the Police or Anything.

Once Hank gets the demons away from Bobby enough to have a conversation, Bobby begs him for help (p. 232):

Bobby muttered, “I’ve just done a horrible thing . . .” He began to weep. “You gotta help me . . . I can’t stop from doing this stuff.”

In response, Hank and Andy do what evangelicals the world over do when a demoniac talks like that.

Yes, indeed! They hustle him to their church:

Hank spoke quietly aside to Andy. “Let’s get him somewhere where we can deal with him, where he can make a scene if he has to.”

“The church?”

“Come on, Bobby.”

They took him by the arms and helped him up, and the three, and the five, and the six, and the four headed up the streets.

I kinda liked that last bit; it’s a stylish flourish in a book that boasts very few examples of stylishness. However, it masks a seriously incompetent blunder on the part of its author.

Hank and Andy do not check to see if Bobby needs to see a doctor, nor do they call for police aid. And at this point, Bobby should look like he needs both. He just beat the holy living tar out of a much smaller person. Thus, he should have blood on him somewhere. His fists should be bruised, since he used them and not a weapon to attack Bernice. Plus, he apparently just ran fifteen miles at top speed.

Indeed, I had a boyfriend once who got into a mild altercation that led to a fight. He won it very easily. He wasn’t badly injured at all. But I could tell at a glance that he’d run into some kind of trouble — and he had bruises and scratches across his knuckles that lasted for days. It’s hard even to imagine what Bobby should look like after committing a brutal attack, but nobody even notices anything weird.

Waiting for the Redemption Arc.

That real-world stuff doesn’t interest Frank Peretti at all. He’s in it for the SPEERCHUL WARFARE angle. He’s as disinterested in Bernice’s welfare as he is in Bobby’s appearance after the attack.

Similarly, it always amazed me that Satanic Panickers never called the police when someone confessed to doing something horrible. Like listen to this story told by Glenn Hobbs, totally an ex-Satanist y’all, and marvel that neither he nor his interviewers have ever, ever gone to the police with this story:

YouTube video

From “Halloween: Innocent Fun or Spiritual Deception?” The whole video can be found here. Also, we talked a lot about it here. Find more Glenn Hobbs fun here.

Similarly, getting professional help never even occurs to either Hank or Andy, any more than it did to anybody in my old crowd. Back then, evangelicals could hear someone confess to the most heinous things imaginable, often involving actual crimes that could get anybody arrested, tried, and locked up for life, and they would just swoon in anticipation of the coming Jesus Redemption Arc.

And it seems like that reaction continues to be the standard one today, just as it is in this book. Here, Andy and Hank bundle Bobby up and help him into their church. Both men clearly anticipate a good ole fashioned EXORCISM. And so, too, do readers.

On that cliffhanger, Frank Peretti ends this scene, and there too we close for now.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the way evangelicals’ obsession with demons collides with their total disinterest in actual reality.

NEXT UP: Working our way through Lee Strobel’s dumb listicle about the unchurched. Now we’re finally getting to this huckster’s real goal! See you tomorrow!


This amused me: The other two gospels shift the story around, as we’d expect of storytellers. In Matthew 8, we get not one but two demoniacs and Jesus never asks their names. Also, it takes place “in the region of the Gadarenes,” which is Gadara I think, but again, Gadara’s like 6 miles from any shores. Then, in Luke 8, we’re back to one guy and in “the region of the Gerasenes,” which also again was even further from any shores than Gadara was.

However, Luke adds one key detail the other two stories lack: his demoniac is naked. After the exorcism, he wears clothes again.

Tally this up with when these books were probably written: Mark (66-70 CE), Matthew and Luke (85-90 CE).

That said, I love that all three stories have the villagers asking Jesus to go away. If this story had actually happened, Jesus would have been lucky to escape alive, free, and intact after potentially impoverishing an entire village by stealing and destroying their livestock. (Back to the post!)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...