Evangelicals’ Projection in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #107, Ch. 7)

Evangelicals’ Projection in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #107, Ch. 7) September 9, 2019

Hi and welcome back! Lately on Mondays, we’ve been talking about Frank Peretti’s punishingly-bad 1986 Christian fantasy novel This Present Darkness (TPD). In this installment, we get a pointless meeting to tell us stuff we literally already read about a few pages ago so Peretti can get a much-needed zinger delivered to his enemies. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the Christians who project their own faults onto their enemies in This Present Darkness!

(Hasan Albari.) I love this cat. Love love love. She’s a Turkish street cat. They’re amazing.

(I finally broke down and made a series entry for the TPD reviews. Please click here to find the master list in our series guide page!)

RUFF and TUFF! RAWRR!

In the last bit of Chapter 7, we encounter a meeting between Marshall Hogan and Pastor Oliver Young of the big Eeeeevil Ecumenical Church.

It occurs after Hogan finally got a look for himself at his reporter Bernice’s photographs. In those photographs, she captured Young meeting with Alf Brummel, the town’s corrupt chief of police, and some other people she didn’t recognize right offhand. She and Hogan have also tentatively identified one of those people as his daughter Sandy’s evil liberal psychology professor, Juleen Langstrat, who makes his dominance-boner as a mediocre white American man feel very sad.

Remember, Hogan’s supposed to be Frank Peretti’s Ruff-and-Tuff NOO YAWK Journamalistical Dude. I say remember because nothing in the text could possibly give you that impression, so I need to bring it up.

So far, we’ve really only seen Hogan fold like one of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s alleged pool boys. Literally the only time Peretti calls back to his own stated description of this character as tough-but-fair is when Hogan’s being unnecessarily gruff to his employees and subtly throwing misogynistic shade at Bernice for not being feminine and cutesy-poo for Daddy.

If you were wondering if this upcoming meeting changes anything, much less advances the plot in any real way, it really doesn’t.

In Case We Needed It: Pastor Young Is EEEEEVIL and Also ECUMENICAL.

Really, the meeting only happens to reinforce that Pastor Young is ecumenical. Thus, he’s entirely evil. And thus, he’s a part of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). People can’t just not like anybody or just not get along. There must be some supernatural imaginary friends and enemies making it all happen. So much for free will, amirite?

But we already knew about that. After Marshall Hogan’s panic attack demonic attack, he and his wife Kate discussed what a completely inadequate leader Pastor Young is. They attend his church, you see, like almost everyone in their town does. Hogan’s NOO YAWK Journamalist spidey-senses tingle about his pastor, though. The photos that Hogan’s seen, confirming that Pastor Young was indeed at the carnival meeting with nefarious strangers and the police chief, in no way seem to affect anything, really.

But in this meeting scene, Hogan displays absolutely no assertive self-confidence. Indeed, he starts hemming and hawing like a tween boy at a school dance. He just has no idea what to do with himself.

Finally, under patient prodding, he asks the pastor’s advice about how to handle his daughter Sandy’s rebelliousness. WTF?

He’s RUFF and TUFF! — Till He Isn’t.

It’s just baffling to me as a reader. There’s no way he respects Pastor Young enough to ask this question in a sincere way. I’ve known plenty of people from New York City. None of them would simper at a pastor and beg for advice about handling their own children. Certainly nobody RUFF and TUFF would. Nor would anybody who didn’t respect their pastor in the first place.

In response, thought, Pastor Young warbles about Sandy needing to find herself and follow her bliss, etc. (p. 74):

[Young] put his hand on Marshall’s shoulder and asked, “Do you think she’s happy, Marshall?”

“I never see her happy, but that’s probably because she’s around me every time I see her.”

“And that could be because you find it hard to understand the direction she’s now choosing for her life. Obviously you project a definite displeasure toward her philosophies. . . Marshall, it sounds like she’s just exploring, trying to find out about the world, about the universe she lives in. . . She’s a very bright girl. I’m sure she just needs to explore, find herself. . . It’s not for us to determine what another person must do with himself, or think about his place in the cosmos. Each person must find his own way, his own truth. If we’re ever going to get along like any kind of civilized family on this earth, we’re going to have to learn to respect the other man’s right to his own views.”

I clipped out some of Hogan’s inept, led-by-the-nose replies. But this is really what Frank Peretti thinks EEEVIL ECUMENICAL pastors talk like.

I have to say, this whole scene sounds like projection to me.

Projection: Echo and Response.

When it comes to canned responses that don’t even seem close to adequate to the need, nothing beats Peretti’s crowd. I heard a song a while ago that mentioned “Sunday School answers.” This Christianese phrase means parroted thought-stoppers, like the ones people hear most often in Sunday School classes. They’re not meant to explain. They’re meant to shut questioners up and stifle curiosity. (See endnote.)

Hogan rightly feels unsatisfied with Pastor Young’s explanation.

In fact, his pastor’s smug, self-satisfied little speech sounds exactly like the lecture Hogan tried to crash at Sandy’s school–the one being given by Professor Langstrat!

So he asks Pastor Young if he’s ever met Langstrat.

Of course, Pastor Young says he hasn’t. In fact, he claims that he only attended a smidgen of the carnival at all. To avoid that uncomfortable topic, he brings up Sandy again.

Yep, cuz I’ve never once met any evangelical leaders who didn’t lie like rugs or change subjects to avoid getting nailed down on something incriminating. Nope, never! (/s)

(Remember the “married atheists” in Fireproof who acted exactly like married evangelicals? Fun times, fun times.)

Why Pastor Young Sounds So Weird.

Pastor Young warbles on about open-mindedness (that’s how he spells it). He claims that Jesus really just wanted everyone on the planet to search for “knowledge, wherever we may find it.” The truth depends on every person’s individual perspective.

I couldn’t help it. I kept rolling my eyes here. Peretti might as well have named this character Evil Liberal McStupidPants.

Oliver Young is the embodiment of evangelical Christians’ hatred of their outgroup. Their outgroup, of course, consists not of atheists, cuz atheists are way too different from them. Rather, the outgroup for TRUE CHRISTIANS™ is Christians who differ with them on what they view as dealbreaker doctrines.

Pastor Young represents a far greater danger to these Christians than all the atheists in the world combined. They respond accordingly: not by turning the other cheek (that’s boring!), but by going on full offensive blast.

So yes, Young’s going to talk like no Christian pastor ever talked, ever. Even the ground of being Christians who barely worship anything identifiable as Jesus and the most ethereal of Catholic apologists don’t talk like this guy does. Liberal Christians also have more respect for counseling as a profession; they either do the job right or they make referrals.

But Peretti pours all his contempt and hatred for his tribe’s outgroup into this character.

Hogan’s Zinger Game is Tryhard.

Then Hogan uses Pastor Young’s own words to wedge in a tryhard zinger, like any proper evangelical would. Zingers really are the lifeblood of evangelicals. These verbal backhands-to-the-face reaffirm their feelings of dominance and superiority over their opponents.

Sure, zingers do not represent loving behavior. (But what’s love got to do with it, do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion?)

In this case, Marshall Hogan sets up his cattle chute of questioning. He uses the time-honored evangelical strategy of ersatz Socratic questioning (p. 75):

“So,” Marshall said thoughtfully, “you’re saying it’s all a matter of how we look at things?”

“That would be part of it, yes.”

Notice please: Young didn’t 100% agree. Anyone who’s ever engaged with a street evangelist or Disqus rando will recognize this whole tactic. They think they’re courtroom trial lawyers!

Hogan doesn’t care that Young didn’t buy-in 100%. He plunges ahead:

“And if I might perceive something a certain way, that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to see it that way, right?”

“Yes, that’s right!” Young seemed very pleased with his student.

Notice also: That’s beyond-obviously a loaded “just asking questions” sorta question. No truly intelligent opponent would let Hogan get away with something so juvenile, dishonest, and telegraphed.

Out of the history of stuff that’s happened, this is the conversation that happened the most.

Zinger Located In His Sights!

So Hogan oh-so-slyly slips in a question about the night of the carnival. See, he’s way too RUFF and TUFF as a street-smart NOO YAWK journamalist to care about details like false equivalence:

“So. . . let me see if I’ve got this right. If my reporter, Bernice Krueger, perceived that you, Brummel, and three other people were having some kind of meeting behind the dart throwing booth at the carnival. . . well, that was just her perception of reality?”

OMG HE’S JUST SOOO CLEVAR, YOU GUIZE!

Young pulls back, though, repeating that he wasn’t there. Then Alf Brummel arrives for a meeting with the pastor (weird, given that Brummel doesn’t attend this church–he’s one of Hank Busch’s congregants at the little bitty TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church). Hogan acts like they don’t know each other “very well” and makes a big production of introducing them to each other before he leaves. It’s over-the-top obnoxious–and beyond cringey.

I’ve sure never met any evangelicals who could resist making total boors of themselves in service to a tryhard zinger that only they care about in the first place. Nope. Never. (/s)

Frank Peretti needs to just admit it. This dialogue represents the retconned conclusion to a conversation he had that went very poorly in Reality-Land.

The Unnecessary Meeting.

So, allow me sum this meeting up:

Marshall Hogan goes to Pastor Young’s office to talk about his daughter and the photographs. Even though he knows 100% that his pastor held a clandestine meeting at the carnival, he remains coy about it and instead asks this man–who he knows is up to something nefarious–how to handle his teenage daughter’s rebellious phase.

Mostly he just talks about Sandy to get ammunition to fire at Pastor Young about the meeting that he already knows happened.

This meeting should never have happened.

What should have happened is something closer to a request asking Young for a statement about the photographs.

What definitely shouldn’t have happened was asking him for personal advice in his capacity as a pseudo-therapist with personal authority over him.

Boundary Issues.

Why is Hogan mixing personal matters with official newspaper business? This sounds hopelessly unprofessional to me. Over at New York Times’ journalistic ethics page , we see this:

Even though this topic defies hard and fast rules, it is essential that we preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias. Staff members may see sources informally over a meal or drinks, but they must keep in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship. A City Hall reporter who enjoys a weekly round of golf with a City Council member, for example, risks creating an appearance of coziness, even if they sometimes discuss business on the course. So does a reporter who joins a regular card game or is a familiar face in a corporation’s box seats or who spends weekends in the company of people he or she covers. Scrupulous practice requires that periodically we step back and take a hard look at whether we have drifted too close to sources we deal with regularly.

Offhand, I doubt that Marshall Hogan, who is described by the author as being from New York City, with past employment with this exact newspaper (p. 14 first mentions it), would ever in a million years conduct this conversation with his own pastor.

Maybe we’ve lucked into why Hogan had to relocate to a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the dude got his tuckus fired for not maintaining professional boundaries with the people he investigated professionally.

And that lack of boundaries and unsavory blurring of personal and professional lines belongs very firmly in the laps of evangelicals, not those of their dreaded enemies.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the projection of TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Given the headlines of late, though, this particular quirk of their character comes at quite an interesting time, eh?

NEXT UP: Speaking of which: Oh me oh my, we must make a quick detour to talk about this Jerry Falwell Jr. situation. See you tomorrow!


Endnotes.

About canned prayers: When I was Christian, my tribe thought Jesus himself had decreed that his followers shouldn’t recite canned, premade prayers. It was one of the many reasons why we looked down on Catholics! Of course, we still utilized canned, premade talking points constantly. Those were totally okay. (Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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