Hi and welcome back! Today, we dive back into Frank Peretti’s terrible 1986 Christian fantasy novel, This Present Darkness (TPD). Chapter Six contains a pair of vignettes about demonic attacks on people–and how those attacks turn out if the target happens to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. This chapter also contains a very important primer on conducting spiritual warfare. If you unfortunately lack this absolutely essential skill, then hop aboard and strap in!
(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; Really Dumb Demons. All quoted material comes straight from sources. Page numbers come from the softcover 2003 edition of the book.)
Christian vs. Christian.
Frank Peretti himself belongs to evangelicalism. However, he’s well aware (as are most of his tribe) that the way evangelicals do church doesn’t look much at all like other flavors of Christianity. In the 1980s, evangelicals ramped up their politicization and polarization. Along the way, their extremism grew as well–as did their condescension and antagonism toward those other flavors.
Thus, This Present Darkness contains two different kinds of Christians.
One type is TRUE CHRISTIANS™. They Jesus perfectly and to the correct degree. They hold the correct beliefs, perform the correct devotions in the correct amounts, and care about the correct causes. Naturally, they haven’t been caught doing anything really unforgivable yet either (in the judging Christian’s opinion). Hank Busche represents this type.
By contrast, the other type is wishy-washy. These Christians don’t hold correct beliefs. They fail to perform the right devotions in the right ways. Perhaps they reject the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ culture wars. Sure, they might not be lukewarm, but they’re definitely not up to snuff in the judging Christian’s opinion.
Most of all, though, in the judging Christian’s opinion these Christians care more about what the world thinks than what Jesus supposedly does. Worldly is Christianese for everything that isn’t specifically contained within the Christian bubble. Thus, that’s a very serious accusation for any Christian to fling. Alas, it’s one that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ never tire of flinging. Just last night, I saw a Christian accuse Josh Harris of this exact failing! That’s how au courant that accusation still is. In TPD, Marshall Hogan represents this second type.
TRUE CHRISTIANS™ squabble with these second sorts of Christians about as hard as they do with atheists. Hell, maybe harder. This outgroup feels way too similar to themselves not to be hated with everything evangelicals can muster.
The Attack on Hank Busche.
First, Peretti describes the demonic attack on Hank Busche, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church in town.
After a hard time falling asleep, Hank awakens with a start. He had a bad nightmare! Peretti provides the usual details we’d expect from a demon-inspired dream (?): screams, chaos, blood, etc. (See endnote.) It ends with a very detailed vision of a demonic face above his bed.
After he fully awakens, he hears weird noises from his house. One, a “clatter. . . in the kitchen,” moves him to action.
But he doesn’t go into the danged kitchen to investigate.
No, he instead begins to pray.
Cuz that’s how TRUE CHRISTIANS™ roll!
A Quick Aside About Demonic Dreams.
Now, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ almost universally believe that demons constantly pounce on them in their dreams. (Obviously, they also almost-universally believe that their god sends them magical or prophetic dreams. Very little is as tedious as a fundagelical who insists that some dream they had was totally A SIGN, Y’ALL, A MEERKUL!)
When I was Christian myself, I can’t even count how many times I had a dream that I thought
might have had been “sent” into my head by demons trying to mess with me. My peers reported the same, and to the same degree and extent if not more.
Of course, I believed that I held 100% immunity from demons. Thus, I always considered these demons’ silly attempts to “steal my joy” to be a total failure. They couldn’t even come close to affecting me or my faith in any way. I knew that like I know the sun will rise tomorrow.
Technically, I was completely correct here. In fact, everyone enjoys the same immunity from demons, since supernatural beings don’t actually exist. That said, it’s rare for me to encounter other Christians who think like I did.
Well, this rare: I’m sure some of these rare birdies must exist, but I’ve never once personally encountered another fundagelical Christian who believed what I did.
Consequently, demonic attacks through dreams are one of the most common supernatural claims you’ll ever encounter in Christianity. (See endnote.)
Compare and Contrast.
Marshall Hogan represents the non-TRUE™ type of Christian. He attends the Big, Evil Ecumenical Church in Ashton. And he has roughly the same kind of nightmare.
However, while Hogan certainly believes in supernatural stuff, he (correctly) doesn’t think supernatural beings invade people’s homes–or dreams. So his response conforms to reality. He handles his fears like most people would. Thus, when he awakens from his dream, his response to overwhelming fear and odd noises is to get out of bed, arm himself with a baseball bat, and go check his home for intruders.
He discovers that his college-age daughter Sandy has slipped out of the house, but otherwise everything seems quiet.
All the same, Hogan’s anxieties mount.
Peretti provides us a glimpse into the supernatural world during Hogan’s anxiety attack. Instead of it just being a perfectly natural and normal fight-or-flight reaction amped in the mind after a scary experience, it’s literal demons attacking him. One “imp” launches a very literal attack (p. 59):
One demon, an ugly little imp with bristling, needle-sharp quills all over his body, leaped upon Marshall’s shoulders and beat upon his head, screaming, “You’re going to die, Hogan! You’re going to die! Your daughter is dead and you are going to die!”
Remember from the angels’ meeting when Tal ordered angels to watch Hogan and Hank? Well, he and Guilo watch the imp’s attack without interfering. Tal insists that Hogan “must go through it.”
This whole chapter is seriously so, so STUPID. And it’s gonna get even worse in a minute.
Resolving Fear, Un-TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Style.
I’ll cover Marshall Hogan’s post-attack recovery first, since it’s easier and way less wackadoo.
Hogan raises the bat to attack, feeling overwhelmed on all sides. But–HAW HAW!-he almost slams the weapon down onto his wife Kate (who awakened and got up right after he did).
HAW HAW! Who ain’t been there?
After they each establish who the other is, Hogan informs her of their daughter’s absence. They sit down and talk for a bit about how to handle Sandy’s recent behavior.
Then, Bernice (Hogan’s young ace reporter) calls to say she got her film developed and knows for sure that Evil Ecumenical Pastor Young was at the recent weekend fair meeting with a few weirdos. She describes one of the people there, and Hogan realizes it’s Sandy’s Evil Liberal Postmodern College Professor. OH NOES!
The angels totally rejoice because Hogan’s got a fire lit under him now to figure out what is happening in Ashton–and fight against it if necessary. The demons completely made a wrong move in hassling him.
Hooray Team Jesus!
(We will dissect this whole bizarre situation soon.)
Resolving Fear, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Style.
Now, everything in the last subsection sounds like how many people might handle a bad dream. Nothing weird there at all. If Peretti hadn’t literally written demons into the equation, there’d be no reason at all to suspect demons were behind any of it. That’s probably why he had to include them so prominently.
But now we move to the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ half of the equation to see how Hank Busche handles his own demonic dream-attack.
Since we last checked in on him, he’s stopped praying and gotten up to investigate the clatter he heard in the kitchen. He quickly discovers that a spatula fell onto the floor from “the drainboard.”
But Hank Busche is absolutely blithering terrified of entering his living room.
When he actually steps into it, he has what really sounds like a full-bore panic attack. His hair stands on end, he falls on his face, and he can barely breathe for the sudden pressure he feels in his body. He even loses his senses of sight and hearing.
Then he manages to squeak out an audible prayer–and hears, in response, what he is positive is a message from his god (p. 60):
His next thought, a tiny instant flash, must have come from the Lord: “Rebuke it! You have the authority.”
He does this, and suddenly the pressure holding him down vanishes. He sits up on the floor and begins bellowing at the demons he knows must be there.
Now, I’ve been there.
The Pagan Orgy.
I wrote about my own strikingly similar experience years ago. To recap briefly, I became a Pentecostal, then deconverted before my 17th birthday. Then, when I was 17, my then-boyfriend Biff converted to Pentecostalism. But I took some months to decide to join him back at my former church.
Toward the end of those months, I attended a weekend event with friends who had access to a very nice lake house. These friends threw a huge party there, which I also attended. And during that party, someone decided to hold a Wiccan (or Wiccan-like) ceremony of some kind.
I was scared to death during the ritual. I’d gotten very overheated at the event, was more than a little tired out, and it’d been quite a wild evening already. But I still considered myself at least nominally Christian, and pagan rituals were a bit out of my emotional scope right then. And really, the person holding the ritual really should have asked if everyone present was okay with it (and shooed the underage people out).
Biff had suggested to me that someone might do something like this. And he suggested I take action very similar to what Frank Peretti suggests. Of course, this whole thing happened well ahead of either of us even knowing about this book. That’s just me showing you how ingrained Peretti’s ideas were in the culture already.
So while I was tucked down out of sight of everyone else (my head was literally under a couch right then because that’s the only place I could fit it), I whispered Biff’s offered incantation: “In the name of Jesus, I banish all demons here!” I felt so stupid doing it, but I did it–and to my shock, all hell broke loose at the lake house. The ritual stopped immediately, the person holding it declared that demons had interfered, and everybody had to go take showers to “ground” themselves.
At the time, I was dead convinced that I’d called for divine help–and gotten it. And that’s exactly what Hank Busche thinks in this scene.
SPEERCHUL WARFARE, YAWL.
The kind of prayer I prayed that night–and that Hank Busche prayed after his collapse in the living room–is often called spiritual warfare. In it, the Christian chants magic spells that drive away demons and end demonic attacks.
After Hank’s rebuke, his wife Mary awakens and goes to find her husband. Both being quite terrified and aware that they are under demonic attack, they pray together. Hank fell so hard that he hurt his head, but obviously (in this book’s universe, at least) the real danger was far greater than a bump to the noggin. In fact, Hank feels “thankful to have escaped with his life.”
Anybody else suddenly thinking of that Ouija board scene from Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit!” show? The cringeworthy part where the three Salem witches actually ZOMG contact the other world and are all degaussing (“grounding”) afterward amid relieved sighs at having escaped with only mild emotional boo-boos?
No? Just me? Okay. Then check this out:
Extremely, extremely edited version of the scene.
Christian Day, about 3:49 into the above video: [This Ouija ritual performed just now] is one of the most draining experiences I have had. It is something I would not do every day. But I am glad that I took part in it.
Still just me? Okay.
Unlike Marshall Hogan, Hank Busche knows for 100% sure that demons just attacked him. But neither he nor Mary can figure out why.
They both lack object permanence, you see.
They’ve both forgotten that Hank started a huge
dick– Bible-waving contest with his new church. Remember? He disfellowshipped a longtime member for being a known adulterer. The other people in the church are secret plants of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW), and so they’re not TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like Hank is. Instead, they’re fighting hard to get this adultery-committing cabal member reinstated. But Hank, flush with the heady power-rush of leading his very first church, stands fast against their demands.
I’m just surprised neither Hank nor Mary make the connection between a totally-for-realsies demonic attack and Hank’s squabble with his new church.
So the pair hold hands at their kitchen table and pray for a long time. Their prayers do not “bounce off the ceiling,” as the Christianese goes. No, this time they totally feel like they totally connected with their god. Totally.
Hooray Team Jesus!
What on EARTH.
FFS, what a nothingburger of a chapter. Two nightmares and a Christian screaming at his ceiling. I’m so amazed to think about how my tribe idolized this writer and his work.
Neither character actually suffered at all. Literally nobody in real life gets injured or killed by demons. It’s never once happened! So in the end, both Hank Busche and Marshall Hogan end up at exactly the same place: a bit shaken-up by their near-lucid dreams, with Hank nursing a bump on his head from falling down and Hogan shaken by having nearly brained his wife with a bat during his own night terrors.
But an hour later, you know that Kate and Marshall were likely getting back into bed, sharing sheepish smiles. By contrast, Hank and Mary were still panicking and mumbling at their kitchen ceiling.
When someone’s distressed about invisible boogeymen attacking them, the worst possible thing anyone can tell them is “Of course you are, and you should be! There’s lots more where that one came from. Come recite magic spells with me to keep them all away.”
But that’s what happens to wingnuts. Once you already believe something untrue, it’s painfully easy to buy into something else that’s untrue–and that something else will probably be even more wingnutty. Without a way to check in with reality, to touch base with objective truth, the sky’s the limit when dreaming up scenarios like spiritual warfare.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over Christian play-fighting that goes way too far overboard and ends up looking very silly indeed.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, I want to show you what it’s like being around Christians screeching out spiritual warfare prayers. Then, next time, I’ll show you a scary encounter with a complementarian guy who thought I was totally divinely destined to be his wife. See you soon!
About how common this claim is: It’s easy to find Christian sites, even very large ones, that push back against the idea of demonic dream attacks, like the evangelical-leaning Got Questions does. They even correctly suggest seeking medical help to Christians who suffer from disturbed sleep or a lot of nightmares.
Unfortunately, Got Questions finds itself wayyyyyy outnumbered on this one. Author Karolyn Roberts has a listicle of five different kinds of demonic dreams. Some Christian guy on Medium blames porn for his demon-sent dreams. A bunch of Christians report dreams they mistakenly think were totally sent by demons. Randy Alcorn, an evangelical I vaguely remember as someone I don’t like, offers magic incantations to protect against demonic dream attacks. Crosswalk is totally into the belief. So is The Gospel Coalition. One fundagelical church I found hedges by saying demons can’t literally be IN anyone’s dreams, no, but they can totally influence them. Oh, and some guy’s even written a book on this subject and I’m sure it’s not the only one out there. (Back to the post!)
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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.