The Stolen Evangelism Strategy in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #108, Ch. 8)

The Stolen Evangelism Strategy in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #108, Ch. 8) September 16, 2019

Hi and welcome to our off-topic chat series, Lord Snow Presides! In this series, we’ve been discussing Frank Peretti’s punishingly-bad 1986 Christian fantasy novel This Present Darkness (TPD). Last week, we looked at projection–one of evangelicals’ very favorite offenses to commit. Indeed, very few people these days are surprised when toxic Christians accuse others of doing stuff that they themselves are guilty of doing. However, we find a very interesting example of projection in chapter 8. In fact, this projection continues for a good long while as a subplot. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the Christians who suffer from an extremely subjective, shiftable, self-focused morality–and how they defend against realizing it.

artful lampshades
(James Orr.)

(We now have a Series List entry for these reviews! Please click here to find the master list of our previous This Present Darkness discussions! Page numbers come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book.)

Projection: They’re Soaking In It!

Of all the evangelical offenses to commit, projection arguably represents one of the most annoying. It’s a self-defense mechanism, and thus functions as one kind of antiprocess. (See endnote for that definition.)

When people utilize projection, they take an error they’ve committed and push that onto someone else (who might be innocent of it). They assume that other person commits that same error. Then, they blame that other person for committing that error and get really riled up, often even demanding justice for this wrongdoing that they themselves commit.

By plastering their faults across the other person, our projectionists (if that’s not a meaning of the word, it is now) avoid confronting that fault in themselves.

The annoying part, though, is that the people projecting their faults don’t even realize that they are, themselves, completely guilty of committing those same exact offenses.

And hoo boy, toxic Christians love and adore projection as an antiprocess method.

The Law of Conservation of Worship.

At its heart, this kind of projection also represents an example of the Law of Conservation of Worship. This law states that worship and belief are neither created nor destroyed–they only change form. Thus, affected Christians assume everybody lives exactly as they live and that everybody conducts their faith journeys in exactly the same way that they do. They simply substitute words and ideas as necessary.

The mindset is so amazingly narcissistic. But it’s shockingly common. I believed it myself, back when I was Christian, and I see Christians making the same mistake all the time these days.

So if Christians read the Bible, then atheists (to pick an example at random) read On the Origin of Species. If Christians revere and bend knee to the Pope or Jerry Falwell Jr., then atheists do the same to Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Christians go to church, but atheists attend science lectures. While Christians pray, atheists meditate. Christians revere the Holy Spirit, but atheists worship gross, ickie, crass naturalism.

And if Christians pester people with evangelism to try to score sales, then obviously other groups’ members do exactly the same thing, just in the manner of their respective groups. More to the point: if Christians behave in shockingly predatory and cruel ways to score sales, then obviously everyone else does exactly the same thing. 

Now we add projection to the belief and these Christians no longer recognize what they’re doing as being bad or hypocritical in any way. It’s okay because they’re the ones doing it.

It’s Okay If You’re a Solipsist.

Toxic Christians have a superhuman dedication to avoiding the practicing of what they preach. Rules are for people who don’t rule to obey–and for rulers to enforce as they please. Only slaves follow rules slavishly. And no toxic Christians imagine themselves to be slaves.

To be a Christian like that is to see the entire world as hierarchical, and all the people in that world as standing at different levels of a ladder of power. The goal of such Christians is to climb that ladder as high as they can possibly get. They must obey without questions anybody above them–but they enjoy the same limitless power over the people below them.

The rules in such a system only exist to be exploited in any way possible. At each level, those suffering under unpleasant rules chafe and struggle against them. The goal isn’t to be the person who obeys the rules the best–it’s to slip free of as many rules as possible. At the same time, the people in this kind of system seek to force as many people to follow their own rules as they can. (See endnote.)

So yes, absolutely, members of such broken systems will default to narcissism. Their rules will sound grotesquely self-serving and inconsistent. We’ll find them breaking those rules constantly. The game they’re trying to force others to play will sound absolutely unwinnable.

None of that’s accidental. Heck, none of it’s unwanted.

The game works the way its masters want it to work.

With all this in mind, let’s turn our attention to the first part of Chapter 8 of the book.

Poor Sandy.

Chapter 8 opens with Marshall Hogan’s daughter Sandy. She sits by herself at one of her college’s picturesque plazas. We zero in on her eating lunch. Or rather, she mopes while her lunch goes stone cold.

I sympathize easily with her. When her dad decided to move the family from New York City to a miserable two-bit town in the middle of nowhere, she enrolled in the local college. Chances are good that it is not exactly her first choice. One wonders what long-term plans she made that got disrupted. However, Peretti sure doesn’t care.

In previous chapters, Sandy argued with her dad a lot. Before his demonic panic attack, she slipped out of the house to mope around town.

The big problem between Sandy and Marshall is that she’s becoming ensorcelled by the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). At her picturesque college, she absorbs all kinds of evil New Age ideas and notions.

For example, she’s upset that her father can’t love her like she is.

Peretti spends a huge amount of time on Sandy’s unhappiness. He’s drawing a contrast here between the world’s love and what he imagines to be Christian love. We’ll talk more about that later on. For now, we’ll just say she’s moping because she’s bought into the totally absolutely wrong-o-riffic version of love that can never ever make her happy.

An Interruption To Sandy’s Misery.

Then, someone interrupts Sandy’s moping (p. 77):

“Uh…” came a soft and hesitant voice. “Excuse me–”

Sandy looked up and saw a young man, blond, slightly thin, with big brown eyes full of compassion.

The young man said, “Please forgive me for intruding… but… is there anything I can do to help?”

I read that and immediately thought that this was a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.

And in Christian circles, folks would have totally forgiven me for thinking that. In the context of a 300-some-odd-page-long extended Chick tract, this kind of intrusion would be completely acceptable and expected. Its only flaw is its placement so early in the book. Usually, the Magic Christian in question shows up toward the climax of the story and is instrumental to a main character’s conversion.

See, I don’t remember much at all about This Present Darkness. I read it right about 30 years ago. This re-reading only reminds me that it’s nowhere near good enough to be memorable in any way. Hell, I read Dune several years before it and remember way more of it–and I didn’t even like it much. It just contained more memorable writing.

The Magic Christian Interruption.

This exact kind of interruption figures into a great many testimonies I’ve heard and tracts I’ve read. For a classic example, check out the infamous Chick tract “Dark Dungeons“:

(Source.) Seriously. This could well be Sandy and Shawn’s meet-cute.

This trope will be familiar to any soulwinner. They specifically look for people who look desperately unhappy. When they find one, they swoop in to offer “help.” Of course, this help consists of the product they’re selling, which is membership in their flavor of Christianity. The soulwinner’s hope is that the mark will be desperate and frantic enough to try their product.

Christian soulwinners prize sales more than anything else. Thus, they go out of their way to enter places that might hold those sorts of desperate, frantic people. They eagerly vie to be that mysterious stranger who sits down and offers kindness and wisdom (and even material help, occasionally) to someone who will then convert.

It’s extremely predatory and cruel. But hey, to the Christians acting this way all’s fair in love and soulwinning.

Something something oncoming buses ZOMG something something.

The Twist!

But Shawn Ormsby, the young man who intrudes on Sandy’s sadness, isn’t a Christian.

No, this young man represents part of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).

He’s a bad guy!

Instead of steering Sandy toward TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, as in the trope, he steers her instead toward evil New Age notions like being loved for who she is and finding her own purpose and whatnot. In fact, he appoints himself her advocate and goes to her parents’ house to smooth the way for her return home.

Again, we’ll talk in way more detail about how that goes. Suffice to say that Shawn does exactly and precisely what we’d expect a paternalistic, complementarian zealot to do in the situation.

And that really surprised me.

Out of everything I didn’t remember, I didn’t remember another TRUE CHRISTIAN™ showing up in the story. As far as I knew, Hank and Mary Busche are the only ones so far. So I read ahead, which is how I know he’s actually a bad guy.

Meanwhile, in Reality-Land This Is How It’d Go.

In Reality-Land, though, chances would be good that the young man is trying to sell her something besides religion–an essential oil “opportunity” or, well, himself as a potential romantic partner.

And that opinion very much depends on anybody interrupting her at all. For the most part, people studiously avoid someone expressing great amounts of sadness in public. It often comes off as attention-seeking.

The only people who would approach such a person, usually, are those with something to gain from someone in a state of emotional distress. When we must display great distress in public and someone approaches us like this young man does in the book, we are understandably suspicious of their motivations.

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but evangelism-minded Christians have a lot to do with exactly why we feel that way.

Christian-Zoned.

Many of us can point to a time in our pasts when we’ve been approached in a manner like this–and that person’s show of kindness turned out to be the intro for a sales pitch.

Whether it’s Christians seeking new recruits (or simply wanting some martyrbation using nonconsenting bystanders), huns hunting for new downline blood for their multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), zealots needing to beat around the bush for a few weeks before condemning someone, or people taking advantage of our state to get close to us romantically, most of us have had that dubious pleasure of making a new human connection only to discover that the other person was motivated by self-interest somehow.

Heck, friendship evangelism has a lot to do with how I even ended up in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the first place.

Some of these predators can put on a convincing facsimile of friendliness. Worse still, these greedy opportunists can turn nasty on a dime (like Nice Guys!) when their victims refuse to follow along with the soulwinner’s script. The best-case scenario is them simply ghosting the victim.

Lampshading.

What makes me laugh so much right now is that no way, no how was Frank Peretti lampshading or inverting that Christian trope (TVTropes Walkabout Warning). He really seriously presents a member of the enemy tribe doing exactly what his own tribe members do.

Even better (from my point of view, not his of course), Peretti makes it very clear in the text that what Shawn is doing is quite predatory. He goes out of his way to make crystal-clear that Sandy’s at her weakest and most vulnerable point in that college plaza, and that Shawn wants to exploit her distress.

Thus, he presents Shawn’s actions as a bad thing.

Oh, but when Christians do the exact same thing? Oh, that’s perfectly fine. That’s dandy. All’s fair in love and imaginary oncoming buses. In fact, though these Christians’ victims might be angry now that someone tricked them into listening to a sales pitch, the victims of these ruses will totally convert one day. And then, they’ll totally thank their hunters–once everyone’s in Heaven. Ugh, these people…

Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another hilariously un-self-aware presentation of toxic Christian predation, projected onto yet another toxic Christian enemy.

NEXT UP: One of the ickiest aspects of HumanGate: Al Mohler’s weird amnesia around the cultural shifts affecting family size in this past century. See you tomorrow!


Endnotes.

Antiprocess: Just as processing information means to take it on board and engage fully with it, using it to arrive at conclusions and decisions, antiprocess involves finding ways to avoid that engagement. Antiprocess happens (for the most part) at a subconscious level. The people using it filter out unpleasant or challenging information and perceptions, often before they’ve even really become fully aware that something of that nature even exists. (Back to the post!)

About slipping free: If the phrasing here reminds you of forced-birthers’ outraged squawking about abortion, it should. Listen to them talk, and you’ll soon see that they’re enraged that their victims have found a way to slip free of what forced-birthers view as women’s rightful punishment for having had unapproved sex. In one sense, the fight against legalized abortion comes down to forced-birthers’ indignation about women making this extremely important intimate decision for themselves without caring what these aspiring lords-and-masters think. They’re furious that that they can’t definitively prevent or even influence that decision. For that matter, they have the same problems with no-fault divorce. (Back to the post.)

Unrelated postscript: We’ll be talking about “planting seeds” at some point in the future.


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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.

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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