Hi and welcome back to our ongoing review of Frank Peretti’s horrible 1986 fantasy novel This Present Darkness. In Chapter 5, we encounter two supernatural meetings. Last time, we covered the first of those meetings, a muddled-up and confused-sounding one held by angels. Today, we examine the second meeting–and see some important truths about the culture warriors who love this book. We’ll see how they see themselves, and more importantly how they see their enemies–which includes not only demons but also you, me, and everybody else who rejects their simple message of control-lust, cruelty, division, and authoritarianism. Hop aboard for a demonic meeting, as filtered through a culture warrior’s lens!
(Previous LSP reviews of TPD: Marking an Era, the Stereotypes, the Persecution Fantasies, Magical Christian Jesus Powers, Magical Evil Demon Powers; Meet the Women and the Sexism; the Sad Decline of Ashton; A Muddling of Angels. All quoted material comes straight from sources. Page numbers come from the softcover 2003 edition of the book.)
The Venue Is So Important.
As anybody who schedules meetings knows, the venue for the occasion matters enormously. (Sorta. Sometimes. I mean, to some extent?)
Earlier in the chapter, the angels held their meeting in the sanctuary of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church. Sure, they had absolutely no real reason to do that. They could have met in Taco Bell and it would have mattered about the same in terms of what happened during the meeting. But holding it where they did lent essential gravitas to their upcoming mission of doing absolutely nothing but making sure their two chosen heroes don’t die.
Now, then, that little demon Complacency–having almost gotten killed by an infuriated angel while oppressing one of those heroes–drifts into the venue for his own meeting.
The demonic meeting occurs at the university.
Where else could our demons congregate?
Not at the Summer Festival fairgrounds. Not where people literally, Peretti tells us in the book’s first story page, “get drunk, pregnant, beat up, ripped off, and sick, all in the same night.”
No way! That’s all good clean family fun, to Christians.
The demons need to meet at the university, where (Peretti informs us) students get told to disobey authority figures, blame their own parents for raising them all wrong, and gad about in useless, expensive classes to learn stupid stuff and find themselves (when their parents could have easily told them who they were, GYAHHH). Complacency’s targeted victim that day, Marshall Hogan, particularly despises this university for what he thinks it’s done to his daughter Sandy.
Not only do the demons meet at the university, but they meet at Stewart Hall. Earlier that day, in fact right before Complacency’s attack, Hogan tangled with Sandy’s evil professor in that selfsame building.
And not only do the demons meet at Stewart Hall, but they meet in its lowest basement level. There, Peretti tells us, administrators and the “private offices of the Psychology Department” muddle along in “this dismal nether world.”
The Dear Leaders.
For the angels’ meeting, Tal–a Captain of the angelic Host–led the confused-sounding festivities. Sort of.
A likewise high-level demon leads the infernal meeting in the university basement: Lucius, the Demon Prince of Ashton.
Now, you and I might wonder–rightly, I think–why a teeny tiny town like Ashton merits a “Demon Prince” to administer its demons’ activities. Doubtless we’ll find out his presence has something to do with the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). But it’s still baffling. None of Ashton’s human townsfolk so far have seemed like they need a lot of prodding to be truly awful people. How many demon princes does Satan have to fling around like this?
But Lucius is fingerling potatoes compared to the real Big Cheese coming in to take the reins for the demons’ upcoming project. Ba’al Rafar, the Prince of Babylon, shows up in short order to do exactly that.
Both demon lords are interchangeable. And they’re the only demons so far who merit proper names from Frank Peretti, even if those names don’t sound too much like any classical demons’ names. He names the lesser demons according to whatever they do for a living: Complacency, Lust, Deception, Murder (not Murderous Intentions, notably). If he hadn’t slipped “Ba’al” in there, no way would anybody know this was a demon’s name.
Of course, the angels all get proper names, albeit daffy ones.
An Inverted Leadership Style.
No, sir! I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again!
Colonel Sandurz, Spaceballs
The angels’ leader, Tal, comes off as muddled but well-intentioned. He behaves kindly and warmly toward his subordinates.
So obviously, we need the demons to be super-mean to each other.
Complacency almost gets roughed up and/or killed by some other demons on his way to find Prince Lucius–because demons just can’t work together! HAW HAW! All that strife and divisiveness, amirite? TRUE CHRISTIANS™ never act like that!
When the little fella finally finds his leader and tries to warn him not to mess with Hogan, Lucius almost kills him on the spot.
First, Lucius screams at Complacency for daring to speak to him without being invited to do so.
Complacency, however, behaves very bravely. He pushes forward to warn Lucius that Hogan is the wrong guy to rile up right now. This is how his leader takes that cautionary note:
Lucius immediately became a small volcano, spewing forth horrible cursings and wrath. “You accuse your prince of a mistake? You dare to question my actions?”
When Complacency tries one last time to warn him, Lucius backhands him into the middle of next week.
HAW HAW! Ain’t that just like a demon? Can’t accept feedback at all! Lucius ends the encounter by insulting Complacency and drumming up validation for his actions from the other demons.
As we all know, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would never, ever, ever behave like that toward people who try to stop them from doing disastrous or ill-advised stuff.
Enter the Dragon.
I see that your Schwartz is as big as mine. Now, let’s see how well you handle it.
Dark Helmet, Spaceballs
Ba’al Rafar shows up while Lucius is peacocking around. His first action involves kicking Lucius’ ass around a little to take him down a few notches and establish whose Schwartz is larger. He absolutely humiliates the Demon Prince of Ashton.
(You know, Hank Busche, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church’s pastor, did much the same thing when he arrived in Ashton. He immediately disfellowshipped one of the church’s longest-attending members for adultery and refuses to reconsider the idea, even though the entire church stands against him for doing it.)
Then, Rafar finds out that Ashton isn’t quite ready for the demonic takeover he has in mind. In fact, Lucius accidentally allowed Busche to slip into that church’s pastor position! The demons all express their absolute terror of “a man who prays.”
The Big Plan.
Rafar orders the demons to continue messing with Sandy to get to Hogan–and orders attacks on both Hogan and Busche that night “to see what they are made of.”
As plans go, this one’s ridiculously stupid. Rafar rightly orders the demons to figure out how strong their few enemies are in Ashton. But he also orders them to attack the two men without having any idea how strong they are. Such an attack potentially gives away the demons’ game and alerts their enemies to the presence of hostile forces.
I suspect Peretti wanted to have the demonic-attack scene soon because his book has had very little real action in it so far. But it really sounds like the worst excuse possible for a fight scene.
Tal’s plan didn’t sound a lot better than Rafar’s, but at least he understood the importance of keeping out of the demons’ line of sight.
We’ve sure never seen TRUE CHRISTIANS™ come up with half-baked schemes that don’t seem like they’ll work very well.
The Need for Stupid Demons.
So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.
Dark Helmet, Spaceballs
Culture warriors tend to have a very specific self-image of themselves. And they apply an inversion of that image to their enemies.
They see themselves as strong, noble, gracious, kind, supportive, loving, and cooperative.
Therefore, their enemies become the opposite: weak, craven, cruel, backstabbing, hateful, and filled with strife.
Culture warriors see themselves as fulfilling a divine plan that simply cannot fail. Their god orchestrated this plan from the beginning of time, according to some interpretations of their mythology. And his side was always going to succeed in that plan.
Such Christians pride themselves on having recognized their powerlessness before what they see as the greatest authority of all. In their world, might makes right, and their god happens to be the mightiest–so he’s also the rightiest!
Demons, however, fight against what is, at least in their worldview, an infallible plan and an unstoppable foe.
Who would even do something so doomed to failure unless they were stone-cold idiots?
Using Demons as Scapegoats for Fun and Profit.
You’ll find no shortage of Christians opining about how ridiculously stupid Satan and his demon legions must be. One Calvinist Christian thinks it’s because they’re so “incorrigibly sinful.” Some Christian lady in Ireland doesn’t “get how STUPID a demon really is,” after having watched tons of reality TV shows about hauntings and possession (really).
These folks love amusing themselves by thinking about how inferior demons are to themselves and their own imaginary friend in the sky. It makes them feel strong by association–like conquerors, even if they haven’t conquered anything lately except their own alarm clocks. If they didn’t care so much about being on what they think is the winning team, they wouldn’t have gotten involved with that end of Christianity, nor the culture wars.
These same Christians also think that people who aren’t Jesus-ing sufficiently hard have allowed these silly, stupid demons to control their lives. Thus, to these Christians we have become that kind of stupid.
Poor, poor heathen dears! Bless our hearts, we just don’t know what’s best for ourselves!
Recasting the Demons’ Meeting.
Far from being a pure projection of how way too many Christian churches operate, the demons’ meeting in Chapter 5 confirms and reinforces a lot of the false ideas percolating in Christian culture warriors’ minds.
Peretti has set up a proper dualistic structure here for his angels and demons. One side’s nice; the other side’s nasty. One side acts in ways that Peretti’s readers will mistake for loving and wise; the other behaves rashly and violently.
This is how Peretti’s fans see us, folks. This is how they think our world operates. They don’t fully perceive the flaws in their own culture; instead, they project those flaws onto our own cultures.
One of the reasons they think their side will win the imaginary big battle they think is coming soon is, precisely, how dysfunctional they think non-Christians’ groups must be thanks to the imaginary control that dysfunctional demons exert over us. They don’t realize that it’s really their own groups that stand as sterling examples of dysfunction.
The Accusations Have Purpose.
Thinking of us as muddled, demon-possessed simpletons who can’t think straight has benefits, for culture warriors. They get to look down on us–and to try all the harder to control our lives and every intimate decision.
Best of all, they feel they can safely discard all of our objections to those control-grabs and all that abusive treatment.
Out here in Reality-Land, we recognize that all people have basic human rights, including the right to consent. But in Christian-Culture-Warrior-Land, where denizens view consent with suspicion if not outright disbelief and scorn, they think they are entitled to more control over people they view as inferior. The more inferiority they can assign a person, the more power Christians think they should have over that person.
If we refuse to bend the knee to their imaginary friend, then we move ourselves all the way down the ladder of power, as far as culture warriors are concerned.
That’s why it’s so vitally important that we push back hard against their attempts to control others–and thus deny them the dominance they crave.
Frank Peretti accidentally drew the lines and showed us the stakes. He forgot his mic was live and that we could hear him–and so has his audience, for years now.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a decades-old novel that shows us once again that once bad ideas enter Christians’ canon, they never leave.
PS: Send Help.
The cat now wants rides in bags and boxes several times a day. If someone goes into the bathroom where the laundry machines are, Bumble hops into the hamper, hunkers down, starts purring loudly, and waits patiently for someone to pick the box up by the handles and swing him around.
PPS: Good Omens did demonic meetings so, so much better. Just saying. @ me.
NEXT UP: Speaking of seeing one’s enemies as subhuman idiots, we’re tackling the complementarian hate for no-fault divorce next. See you tomorrow!
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IMPORTANT NOTE FOR DRIVE-BY CHRISTIANS: Nobody here seriously thinks this novel represents serious theology. But we do note with concern that it is painfully easy to warp that theology into pretty much anything someone wants.