Hi and welcome back! We’re diving once again into Frank Peretti’s molar-grindingly-bad 1986 Christian fantasy novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment of our mega-mega-review, the author lovingly describes in Chapter 6 the weakest angels in existence and shows us how his target audience works themselves up with persecution fantasies. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the Christians who are legends in their own minds in This Present Darkness.
(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; Spiritual Warfare Overview; Training Spiritual Warriors. All quoted material comes straight from sources. Page numbers come from the softcover 2003 edition of the book.)
This Present Darkness hit bookstores right at the peak of the Satanic Panic. But it also hit Christians during an incredibly important phase of their tribal development. Let me briefly set the stage, so this installment of the review makes more sense.
After World War II, Christian leaders began to detect an alarming lessening of commitment–perhaps even a sort of malaise–from their flocks. Their subsequent panic over potential losses led to the Red Scare. As they well knew, terrorizing people works pretty well to get them back into line. The moral panic they ginned up worked wonderfully: evangelicals began to dominate the public side of American Christianity.
However, this authoritarian, politicized, conformity-focused form of Christianity had another, unforeseen effect. It collided with the counterculture of the 1960s, thus spawning a whole new kind of Christian: the Jesus People, also known as Jesus Freaks.
The Jesus People.
As you can likely guess from the name, these Christians resembled hippies. Overall, they were flippy-dippy, mostly-evangelical young adults whose beliefs ranged from standard-issue to Jesus-just-loves-orgies.
They seemed incredibly hardcore in their devotions and faith, effectively one-upping evangelicals themselves. Above all things, they sought to involve Jesus in every single aspect and part of their lives. Mostly through their music, the Jesus People and their mindset filtered through to regular Christians all through the 1970s and early 1980s. Keith Green and 2nd Chapter of Acts enjoyed quite a bit of popularity in that genre. When I was Pentecostal, almost everyone I knew in church had those two linked albums of theirs.
The Jesus People’s mindset appealed humongously to a lot of Christians at the time–and still does. Of course, most Christians don’t want to go whole-hog and give away all their possessions, beg for every scrap of food and every piece of clothing, and walk from town to town evangelizing. Jesus might have told Christians to do that in the Bible in order “to be perfect,” but ugh, that’s scary and no fun.
But they felt closer to that ideal of complete fervor by absolutely surrounding themselves with Jesus swag and finding ways to connect everything about themselves to their beliefs. Then, they vocally and visibly announced that connection to everyone they could. To express their zealotry, they used phrases like sold out, on fire, radical, and–as Keith Green popularized–no compromises.
The Inevitable Collision With Reality.
Unfortunately, the increasingly grandiose these Christians’ self-conceptualization got, the harder it collided with reality.
So yes, Christians could go to church and sing about being “Christian soldiers” and “more than conquerors,” sure. But after singing their lil hearts out, they returned to their real lives. And then they got treated about the same as anybody else in their real-world positions.
You see the problem, I’m sure.
Nobody cared what they did or who they were in their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Games.
Christians’ Happy Pretendy Fun Time Games require full participation to feel real. The more people stand around not-playing, the less real the games feel. Without everybody playing along, all that SPEERCHUL WARFARE just feels out-of-context and, well, even ridiculous.
The Herd Turns Inward.
Very few people like to think of themselves as extremely weird. Instead, most people like to fit in with the people around themselves. So those wackier Christians began to retreat further and further inward as greater society looked down on their antics.
Once they’d safely built themselves a strong bubble to insulate themselves from greater culture, these Christians–evangelicals and fundamentalists, already fusing to become fundagelicals—really began to let their imaginations go wild.
That’s where This Present Darkness came in. It affirmed and amplified those Christians’ self-image. It gave them textual pictures, rudimentary mechanics, and a hackneyed narrative to go with their imaginary worlds of battle, golden crowns, and warfare. Then, to complete the deal, this book told its target-audience Christians that they were all that stood between Ultimate Evil and their world.
Frank Peretti definitely knew his target audience well. I’ll give him that. To a reader who isn’t from that culture, the constant compliments and flattery he lavishes upon fundagelicals (and his smearing of flavors of Christianity he considers not-TRUE™) quickly becomes grating. But I assure you: the Christians targeted by this routine drink in that flattery like water found by people wandering a desert. No huckster will never lose money by pandering to them.There’s no way in the world this book could have avoided becoming a bestseller in Christian circles.
Anguish For A Battle Angel.
Let’s zero in on a weird bit of action that takes place early in Chapter 6. Earlier, the Head Angel in Charge (HAIC) Tal ordered his angels to go keep an eye on Hank Busche (the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor) and Marshall Hogan (not-so-true Christian and ruff-and-tuff newspaper editor). He told them not to interfere with the night’s coming demonic attacks unless things turned lethal.
He and Guilo, one of his subordinate angels, then guard Hogan.
As demons “play havoc with Marshall’s mind and spirit,” Guilo grows increasingly agitated. Finally, he begins to draw his sword to help (p. 59):
Tal’s strong arm held him back.
“Please, captain!” Guilo pleaded. “Never before have I only watched this happen!”
“Bridle yourself, dear warrior,” Tal cautioned.
“I will strike them only once!”
Guilo could see that even Tal was severely pained by his own order: “Forbear. Forebear. He must go through it.”
This brief interaction looks so drastically out of scope with what’s actually described in the scene that I laughed out loud while reading it.
Exactly what has Guilo so upset?
A tiny little imp is literally jumping on Hogan and pummeling his head with teeny little fists while screeching scary things at him. Peretti loosely describes “at least forty” other demons hassling Hogan, but this imp represents the only specific “physical” attack. The other demons just whoosh around taunting him. And remember, Hogan can’t actually fully hear any of this brouhaha. Humans can’t hear the
spiritual imaginary realm very well. So Hogan interprets the imp’s words as someone might the internal voice of an anxiety attack. (See endnote.)
So seriously? Guilo has “never before” seen anything so devastating? He’s never once seen a demonic attack that serious? Not even once?
John Foxe might have a few words for him. Or he would, if he was alive. At any rate, we still have his book, which Guilo might find quite instructional. In fact, Christian writers have written all kinds of books about demonic attacks. Very soon after Christianity’s invention, Tertullian wrote an apologetics book which, in part, described demons and how he thought they operated. That same Tertullian link offers a couple other early-Christian writers talking about the same stuff.
So this ain’t new, baby! How is Guilo such a sweet summer child that this weak-sauce attack scene represents an impossible hardship for him to endure?
A Product of Its Time.
Much of being a right-wing Christian depends upon maintaining a whole lot of beliefs without any corroboration from reality. That’s why such Christians have such a rich internal fantasy life. It flatters them to imagine themselves as being sooooooo important that demons attack them all the time. Sure, they might not seem like much to most folks. But they puff themselves up by imagining that they are powerful warlords in their imaginary world.
This world would likely have been unimaginable to Christians living a few decades earlier.
Even the 1980s were almost too early for this kind of book, as Peretti himself has indicated. Most publishers had never heard of a book like his. They weren’t used to allegorical stories, much less outright fantasies. As he said,
This was in the days when Christian fiction was mostly prairie romances and biblical biography written for the female members of the choir. There was a little bit of fantasy out there, a little bit of science fiction, but it took up about 4 inches on the Christian bookstore shelf. As a matter of fact, fiction itself was taken very lightly. I used to hear lines like, “I never read fiction,” “Well, it’s fiction; it’s just for entertainment,” and “It’s fiction, it’s just a story, so what’s the point?” I even had trouble getting broadcast or print exposure because “It’s fiction; there’s nothing to talk about.” I felt like a leper.
Peretti had a tough time selling his book to the older book publishers of that era who weren’t used to all that fantasy quite yet and weren’t sure an audience existed for it.
But Christianity evolves, constantly. And he helped it evolve!
This Present Darkness represents a leap forward, so to speak, in the development of right-wing Christian culture. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the creation of a fantasy world matches these Christians’ growing sense of grandiosity.
NEXT UP: Multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) entangle with a verrrry vocally-Christian business–to potentially disastrous results. See you tomorrow!
About anxiety attacks: One of the symptoms of PTSD is, in fact, “intrusive thoughts.” In fact, that phenomenon feels much like how Peretti describes this imp’s attack on Hogan. So you can see why it was really hard for me to deal with. While I was Christian, I thought demons caused my anxiety and panic attacks. Afterward, when I learned those “voices” were really my mind grasping for reasons to explain my physical reactions, oh gosh, you have no idea. When I left that therapy session, I felt so overjoyed that it felt like my feet weren’t even touching the ground. (Back to the post!)
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.
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.