Hi and welcome back! We continue our examination of the terrible Christian bestselling book This Present Darkness. In this installment, we discover Magical Christian Jesus Powers that only TRUE CHRISTIANS™ can possess–and the mystical evil heathen powers deployed in turn by the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). Today, Lord Snow Presides over a pair of confrontations that reveal the insecurities–and the most feverish fantasies–of the Christians who loved this book.
(Previous chapters: Marking an Era, the Stereotypes, the Persecution Fantasies.)
The Three Scenes in Chapter Three.
Part of me wonders if Frank Peretti planned Chapter Three to contain exactly three scenes. Probably not. No way, no how is he that good of a writer. Nor could he keep up that kind of pattern anyway. Anyhoo, in this chapter these three scenes unfold:
- A “plump middle-aged man” has a conversation with his secretary while they ride in a black limousine just outside of Ashton (the setting for the book).
- Big tough Noo Yawk Tahmz editor Marshall Hogan confronts Alf Brummel, Ashton’s chief of police, about his reporter Bernice’s arrest for prostitution earlier.
- Alf Brummel confronts the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor, Hank Busche, over his refusal to reinstate Lou Stanley, the adulterer who was disfellowshipped before the book began.
As usual, each scene consists of extremely poor writing and editing. Also as usual, we get plenty of sexism in that HAW HAW kind of way that Peretti obviously finds absotootly hilare.
The Limousine Scene.
In this very short first scene, our businessman doesn’t remember receiving a package mailed to him by “the professor.” He’d really like to have it, so he asks his secretary to find it for him.
We do not learn any of the names of any of these characters. However, it’s worth noting that the description of the secretary does match in a general way one of the people Bernice saw meeting with Evil Ecumenical Pastor Young at the festival:
- Woman at festival: “a ghostly-looking black-haired shrew in sunglasses”
- Secretary: “a tall and slender woman with long, jet-black hair and a pale complexion”
Similarly, the “plump middle-aged [business]man” himself might be the “short, pudgy old fellow” Bernice described.
The businessman asks the secretary to make a note for herself to find the misplaced package “back at the ranch.” In response, the secretary pretends to write down the note as requested. In reality, however, she doesn’t write anything down at all.
OH NOES! WHAT IS THIS!
This scene feels jarring and completely out of place. It feels like a prologue in a draft novel written by someone really inexperienced (which, to be fair, Peretti very much still was at the time). We’ll cover some of this scene later on, but it’s here in Chapter Three so I wanted to mention it at least in passing.
Now, let’s move on to the serious meat of the chapter.
Confrontation #1: the Magickal Devil Powers of the CSWWSW.
After a lighthearted bout of casual sexism involving a police department secretary, Marshall Hogan heads into Brummel’s office.
He starts off the confrontation determined to find justice for Bernice.
SOMEHOW, he ends it completely cowed by Brummel.
In Frank Peretti’s hands, Brummel comes off as a stereotype of the incompetent, buffoonish small-town cop who doesn’t know where his own shoes are half the time and he guards the town’s secrets more than he cares about the law. Hot Fuzz sent up that stereotype in stupendous fashion, but Peretti doesn’t have the know-how or the desire to do that because he’s just an incompetent and buffoonish small-town writer who doesn’t know where his own shoes are half the time and he guards his tribe’s mythology more than he cares about crafting a good story.
I’m not kidding about Peretti’s desire to guard fundagelical mythology.
Thanks to that mythology, Alf Brummel suddenly turns into the snake Kaa from The Jungle Book.
Yes, but also don’t miss Scarlett Johansson’s glorious rendition of the song.
This is Your Brain on Demons.
Brummel reimburses him for the bail money for Bernice, apologizes profusely, and says if Bernice can figure out what officer it was who arrested her, he’ll get right on reprimanding the fellow.
It all sounds about right, to an extent. But very quickly, things get weird–and for absolutely no necessary reason. What I’ve described up until now was all that Brummel had to do to conclude the meeting in a way that was satisfactory to both parties. But because Christians need their enemies to be blithering idiots, Brummel has to mind-screw Hogan.
In the middle of Brummel passing on gossip about Bernice’s fight a while ago to get to the truth of her sister’s death (ruled a suicide by Brummel’s constabulary), suddenly the police chief asks:
“Do you understand now?”
But Marshall wasn’t sure he did. He wasn’t even sure he’d heard all of it. He suddenly felt very weak, and he couldn’t figure out where his anger had gone so quickly. And what about his suspicions? He knew he didn’t buy everything this guy was saying–or did he? He knew Brummel had lied about not being at the carnival–or had he? Or did I just hear him wrong? Or… where were we, anyway?
See? This demonstration represents the awesome power of Satan: even an incompetent small-town police chief suddenly gains the ability to confuse New Yorkers. Checkmate, atheists!
At the end, Hogan capitulates completely. He says Brummel has “nothing to fear” from him, and leaves, completely befuddled at his own behavior but curiously not inclined to investigate anything further.
Confrontation #2: JESUS POWER.
After this encounter, Alf Brummel initiates the next confrontation, which occurs between himself and the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor Hank Busche. Remember, Alf Brummel attends Busche’s church–though Busche has no idea why, since Brummel doesn’t exactly act like a Christian powerhouse. He even entertains half a suspicion that Brummel just likes to “destroy” pastors like him, so that’s why he remains a member there at all.
Brummel calls Busche’s little rental bungalow right when Busche is repainting his vandalized outside wall. Busche indulges in a little fantasy of applying some of that paint to the police chief (HAW HAW! What TRUE CHRISTIAN™ doesn’t sometimes fantasize about retaliatory violence? Right? Right?). But they soon get down to business.
At first, Brummel pretends to be concerned about Busche’s feelings after the rough committee meeting last night at the church. Very quickly, however, he moves into his real reason for calling. He pretends to be very upset about all the strife that Busche is stirring up in town–and in their very tight-knit church. Why, he even invokes the Great Commission:
We’re here to help people, to reach out to them, not drive a wedge between ourselves and the community.
But then, something miraculous happens:
Hank Busche appears impervious to Brummel’s mind-sorcery.
TRUE CHRISTIANS™ Can’t Be Played Like That!
No matter what Brummel tries to do to ensorcel Busche, the newbie pastor sticks to his guns. Why no, he cannot reinstate Lou-Stanley-the-adulter. His orders come straight from the invisible man in the big invisible chair: disfellowshipping is the penalty for that sort of crime. Why no, he cannot stop running the church the way he imagines the Bible tells him to. And why no, he won’t stop acting like the congregation’s Designated Adult. He tells Brummel:
“I want to save souls, I want to convict sinners, I want to help newborn believers grow up in the truth. If I don’t do that, I’ll have a lot more to fear than you and the rest of the board.”
“I don’t call that love, Hank.”
“I love you all, Alf. That’s why I give you your medicine, and that goes especially for Lou.”
Brummel also intimates that the church might sue Busche “for damages, slander, defamation of character, mental anguish, who knows what else?” (WHY? Why not just fire Busche?) All that suggestion does is make Busche silently pray “for patience and wisdom.” We don’t see any angelic
mana transfer “ministering” this time, but he ends up sticking to his guns all the same.
Finally, having failed utterly to cow his second victim, Brummel informs the pastor that the committee has called another big meeting about the topic on Friday night. He recommends that Busche attend it. Then, he hangs up “and wipe[s] the sweat from his palms.”
Don’t be like Alf Brummel, kids!
I doubt it’s any kind of accident that the two confrontations occurred when and how they did.
First, we see Brummel’s incredible mind-sorcery in action. He manages to completely confuse-and-lose the ruff-and-tuff Marshall Hogan. Like, completely, utterly, unequivocally.
Then, we see Brummel try the exact same mind-sorcery on Hank Busche, only to fail completely to accomplish a single one of his goals aside from announcing the upcoming meeting.
Peretti doesn’t pound too hard on exactly why these conversations go so differently. He doesn’t even make it that obvious. But it’s hard to imagine a fundagelical Satanic Panicker missing the points being made: strong principles don’t mean anything when the CSWWSW comes a-sorcelin’, if they aren’t TRUE CHRISTIAN™ principles.
It all comes down to Jesus Power: that mystical force that fervent Christians believe they can cultivate through intense devotion, correct beliefs, and pure zealotry. The more Jesus Power Christians have, the more easily they can resist Satan’s wily, wily wiles.
The Mating Call of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
The characterization of Hank Busche very much appeals to the kind of Christians who love and adore This Present Darkness. Indeed, he’s exactly what they imagine themselves to be.
If they read a Bible verse, they apply it 110% literally and completely to their lives (except when it’s really hard to do that). They refuse to back down on their principles, ever, no matter what (unless it seriously impacts their comfort). And TRUE CHRISTIANS™ might indulge in the occasional violent fantasy about their enemies, but gawrsh, they’d never actually do anything bad to anybody (not counting heathens, of course).
And, of course, Hank Busche knows all the good zingers–the ones that Christians have been taught work all the time against their ideological enemies. It’s hard to imagine any of these actually working on someone firing on all thrusters, but Alf Brummel probably does actually represent the ideal target here.
This book shows us what fundagelicals think about themselves and their world. They really do think that Jesus Power protects them from all harm, including mental fidgy-widgy-ing at the hands of enemies of the greatest evil imaginable–and that it’s us heathens who stand at great risk of being misled by demonic wiles.
What’s Actually Going On Here.
Hank Busche isn’t actually holding firm to any principles.
In reality, he’s behaving exactly like we’d expect an authoritarian leader to act when his power’s been threatened. Heck, we saw Thom Rainer overreacting and mishandling a similar challenge in exactly the same manner recently. It’s Busche’s way or the highway in that little church he now pastors. He’s forgotten entirely that he’s there at the sufferance of the board who hired him.
Instead, he now considers himself their ruler–and his word is law. That he shunts the responsibility for his miscalls to an imaginary friend matters not at all in the long scheme of things; the results look exactly the same either way.
By mindlessly parroting catchphrases and talking points at Alf Brummel, however, he does manage to squeak through an uncomfortable confrontation.
It’s hard to successfully engage with people who literally can’t think for themselves, which might explain why so many obnoxious Christian commenters communicate only through out-of-context Bible verses and culture-war talking points–and why so much of their apologetics runs along exactly those lines.
I truly don’t remember that style of communicating being something we did back then, when I was fundagelical (Southern Baptist, then Pentecostal). I don’t think that it was. However, nowadays I see evangelism-minded Christians doing it constantly.
If nothing else, it keeps their minds firmly locked down. Hey, it worked for a very, very long time–and today, this strategy might well represent the very best Christian leaders can manage.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a pattern set in stone by means of evangelical Christians’ moral panic over imaginary dangers.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, I outline the weird questions about Hell that I somehow never thought to ask when I was Christian. Then, we move on to a resurgence of a weird little cartoon from the 1980s–and how it ties in to the Satanic Panic that some Christians are trying to restart. See you soon!
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