Meet the Professor in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #110, Ch. 8)

Meet the Professor in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #110, Ch. 8) September 30, 2019

Hi and welcome back to our off-topic chat series, Lord Snow Presides! For a while now, we’ve been talking about Frank Peretti’s cringeworthy 1986 book, This Present Darkness. Most of the awful traits we see in evangelicals nowadays began to take shape during the Satanic Panic. And one of those involves their incredible narcissism: their assumption that everybody does exactly the same things they do, just with name changes. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the orgy of evidence that Frank Peretti uses to paint a professor as evil.

mid century modern maybe definitely sterile receptionist area
(Reza Rostampisheh.) Just needs a candle on the table and a Satanic girlfriend in one of the opposite chairs.

(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! Also, page numbers come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book.)

Meet Professor Juleen Langstrat.

Right after Sandy meets her new pal Shawn Ormsby, we hard-cut to a quiet, darkened apartment. There, we encounter Juleen Langstrat, Sandy’s psychology professor. She’s a lead member of Ashton’s Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).

We met her earlier, though. She was one of the people present at the CSWWSW leaders’ weird, unnecessary carnival meeting that Bernice photographed. Back in Chapter 4, we also crashed one of her psychology lectures with Marshall Hogan, Sandy’s dad. Immediately afterward, we then saw Langstrat eject the indignant Hogan from her classroom.

But now we get some quality time with her.

And as it turns out, we do so just as she enjoys some quality time with her boyfriend.

Gasp! Clutch your pearls, everyone!

Juleen Langstrat is dating Alf Brummel, the police chief!

Apparently, a Huge Need for Secrecy.

Yep, the evil psychology professor is apparently bonking (and controlling) Ashton’s corrupt chief of police!

Now, neither of them is married. But they both take as read that they need to sneak around to meet. Indeed, the scene ends with Brummel sneaking out of her apartment. However, that need for sneakiness happens in the context of the Cabal’s dirty business, not because they need to maintain secrecy with their sordid relationship.

And here, we really have to ask: why do these people need to sneak? There’s no need at all for secrecy between them. They have the best built-in excuse imaginable for being seen together: they’re dating. It’s not illegal for a police officer to date a college professor. He’d just need to make sure nobody could accuse him of breaking the law for her. Also I’m betting there are rules about what exactly he can do with his handcuffs.

Moreover, we’ve already been told that Ashton has become sadly degenerate. So they probably wouldn’t care about one more couple bonking recreationally.

As Peretti’s set up these characters and this setting, I see no reason why anybody there would care if Brummel was in Langstrat’s apartment–or if she was in his home.

But this sure isn’t the only time Peretti will create plot points that categorically don’t need to exist.

Firing Up the Orgy (of Evidence).

Storytellers utilize orgies of evidence as a way to quickly get readers on board with liking or disliking a character, as well as a way to very quickly establish a backstory or personality. (PS: TVTropes Walkabout Warning!)

In storytelling, the orgy of evidence becomes a tool for lackluster, incompetent writers to push an idea or sell an emotional grab to the audience. Instead of using a few powerful, well-chosen details, or showing rather than telling the audience something, the artist swamps the audience and hopes for the best. (See endnote for a better way.)

Here’s how Peretti describes the beginning of the Langstrat/Brummel scene (p. 77-78) (oh and I’ll add [!] next to everything that goes into the orgy):

It was dark in the living room of Professor Juleen Langstrat’s apartment [! not a house!], and very, very quiet. One candle on the coffee table [! suspiciously New Age-y!] cast a dull yellow light on the ceiling-high bookcases [! oh that’s too many books!], the strange oriental masks [! OMG ASIA!], the neatly arranged furniture [! neat people are probably Satanic!], and the faces of two people who sat opposite each other [! not canoodling on the couch like proper MURRKINS!], the candle between them [! candles sound witchy! Someone alert Scentsy, the Jesus candle MLM!].

It all made me laugh. I admit it. Like what, do TRUE CHRISTIANS™ only occupy houses, don’t keep a lot of books around, strew their furniture around, and let their places get messy?

Waving Her Arms in the Air Like She Just Don’t Care.

Anyway, we continue:

One of the people was the professor, her head resting against the back of her chair, her eyes closed, her arms outstretched in front of her, her hands making gentle sweeping motions as if she were treading water.

Worth noting: I’ve associated with a lot of actual pagans and Wiccans and have never once seen or heard of anybody acting like this. But you didn’t need me to say that.

I get that Peretti’s alluding to her meditating, or as the Satanic Panickers like to call it, communing with Lord Satan. But it’s ridiculous. Her hand-dancing sounds more to me like this:

A rare, very artistic double-bird encountered in the wild.

If that gif is how the Cabal gets in touch with Satan, count me in. I bet he’d get a kick out of it.

The Mind Reader.

Brummel sits across from her performance. He’s supposed to be meditating as well, but he’s just waiting for her to finish up what she’s doing. That, at least, sounds spot-on regarding how a non-dramatic person would normally act around a very dramatic significant other.

Eventually, she runs out of steam (p. 78):

Then she began to moan and her face registered pain and displeasure. She opened her eyes and sat upright. Brummel looked back at her.

“You don’t feel well today, do you?” she asked.

WELL GEE, what clued her in? Obviously only demons could have told her that! But she claims her perception comes to her from literal demons:

He shrugged and looked at the floor. “Ehhh, I’m okay. Just tired.”

She shook her head, not satisfied with his answer. “No, no, it’s the energy I feel from you. You’re very disturbed.”

Brummel had no answer.

If she needed demons to tell her that, she’s not a very good girlfriend. I’m just sayin’. Even Frank Peretti somehow managed to make Officer Barbrady Brummel sound excruciatingly uncomfortable right then.

The Universal Mind.

Langstrat reads her boyfriend’s mind to see that he’s feeling “controlled.” He objects, but she insists that she read his mind, so she knows! She can also communicate telepathically with Oliver Young (the pastor of the evil ecumenical church in town) via something called “the Universal Mind.”

This Universal Mind sure helps Langstrat figure out a lot, in fact. It’s how she works out that Brummel is frightened–of having been photographed during their meeting at the summer carnival, of the Cabal’s plan being discovered somehow, of the Cabal’s inability to fully remove enemies from the playing-board, of how much control Langstrat wields over him…

I knew some pagans way back in the day who thought that humanity operated with a sort of universal subconscious. They attributed this idea to Carl Jung. However, I make no promises that this book’s notion of the idea operates the way Jung envisioned for his idea.

Here, it simply allows the Cabal’s more skilled members (like Langstrat and to a lesser extent Oliver Young) to enjoy the same benefits that Frank Peretti’s crowd think they receive from the Holy Spirit.

The Law of Conservation of Worship Strikes Again.

In the hands of this TRUE CHRISTIAN™ author, the Universal Mind sounds exactly like an inverted funhouse-mirror version of what that crowd calls the Holy Spirit.

I jokingly call it Jesus Power. It’s the part of the Christian Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit) that Christians imagine powers their faith like fuel does a car. And y’all, it does all kinds of things for them, or at least so they think!

As this Christian site’s listicle explains, the Holy Spirit:

  • Makes them realize they totally offended Boyfriend Jesus and need to telepathically apologize to him before he hurts them bad… real bad… like they deserve.
  • Magically “regenerates our dead inner human spirit,” making it bright and shiny-clean and totally changing the Christian, except when it doesn’tin which case how dare you expect your god to do all that work on his own, he just doesn’t care as much about a clean house as YOU do.
  • Baptizes the believer in the imaginary world, functioning as “a gift of empowerment,” which is weird considering how incapable these same Christians are of independent thought (or of resisting temptation).
  • Totally will “replenish” any believer who needs a lil pick-me-up after a hard day, and yes, they’re all just gonna ignore the awful spectre of Christians who suffer from mental illnesses.
  • Helps believers resist the temptation to do stuff they shouldn’t, as long as Christians “do not hesitate to invite Him in.” The Holy Spirit’s like a vampire that way.

Incidentally, all of these list items represent Christian claims. And all of them fail too.

SUPAH JEEZIS POWAHS.

In addition to those universal Christian powers, the Holy Spirit also grants a few very special Christians gifts of the spirit. These gifts function as out-and-out super-powers. As such, they include but are not limited to:

  • Clairvoyance
  • Telepathy
  • Precognition
  • Super-strength
  • Magical healing abilities
  • Astral projection and bilocation
  • Mind-reading and thought projection
  • Second sight
  • Incredible, uncanny wisdom and discernment
  • Prophecy

For REAL.

And if any single item on these two lists were actually true, Christianity wouldn’t be having so much trouble right now keeping people’s butts in their pews.

As it is, they really think that their enemy, Satan, grants exactly the same sorts of powers to his own followers–who are all the people rejecting their sales pitch. They’re usually presented as a debased form of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ones. Often in Christian folklore, these powers get their users into very serious trouble that Jesus then helps resolve. (See endnote about these powers though.) And Satan’s armies must earn those substitute powers, while Christian servants to Jesus get ’em for freesies.

SEE? SEE? If you want the REAL power, go with Jesus!

(What Actually Happens in the Scene.)

Langstrat learns through her super-powers that Alf Brummel ain’t feeling his Cabal membership or their illicit relationship. They confirm the need for secrecy in meeting and briefly discuss the upcoming big meeting and subsequent confidence vote at Hank Busche’s (and Brummel’s) TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church.

Brummel tells Langstrat about Sandy Hogan having run away from her parents’ home. We learn that Brummel was behind Bernice’s arrest, as well as the one who destroyed (or ordered the destruction of) her film containing the photos of the Cabal’s meeting at the carnival that night. But Brummel’s not sure now that either of those moves was a great idea.

Brummel also dumps some exposition about how the Cabal eliminated the previous pastor there, as well as the previous newspaper editor.

Langstrat ain’t worried about the vote, nor about Hogan, the new newspaper editor.

They hug and kiss before he leaves. Afterward, Langstrat looks over her dossier of Marshall Hogan’s family. When she sees Sandy Hogan’s photo, her eyes “glinted maliciously.” Oh, and a demon wearing lots of bling stands behind her and talks to her, though she can’t see it or, presumably, hear its voice directly.

I guess the Universal Mind power still lands its owners some botches sometimes on the ol’ perception check. Why would she bother dating Brummel when she’s got Blingmaster 9000 right there?

Utterly Unnecessary Super Powers.

At any rate, the Universal Mind grants Juleen Langstrat the same basic powers, and she reveals a few of them in this scene with Alf Brummel.

The problem is, none of it’s even necessary. Her weird behavior–being as it is a display of her super-powers–only unnerves and discomfits her boyfriend. And if she couldn’t tell how he’s feeling through body language and verbal cues–or simply by asking him–then she’s not much of a super-villain. This entire scene is completely pointless.

Frank Peretti simply needed to give his book a puppy-kicking villain, and he couldn’t think of any other way to do it. We see his incompetence in dozens of other places in the book as it is. He has his Cabal leaders meeting in absolutely ridiculous places. He provides them tooth-grindingly silly dialogue. Their big evil plot is so obvious a child could perceive it (and foil it).

Just as people in the real world only exist as props and extras in evangelicals’ personal movies, his Cabal exists only to provide a backdrop for the evangelical-pandering story Frank Peretti wants to tell.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over super-powers that aren’t real and villains that are dumbed-down enough to function as a Bible-verse-written breakthrough banner for equally weaksauce heroes–all because running through the banner is what Frank Peretti actually wanted to talk about.

NEXT UP: How Christians talk about their doubt to each other. Then, I’ll show you a question Christians vastly prefer. See you tomorrow!


Endnotes.

A well-chosen detail: I can’t remember anymore where I saw this. It was in a book I read decades ago about writing techniques, so my memory might not be perfect here. But here goes: A male character sits alone at a bar in the middle of the day. He’s carefully wetted all four corners of a bar napkin and anchored them to the bartop for his bottle of beer. I’ve always been impressed with that. (Back to the post!)

About those powers: In reality, these Super Jesus Powers seem so remarkably pedestrian. Who needs flying, super strength, or the ability to feed the world, solve the global climate change disaster looming over our heads, or end war or cancer or child abuse forever? Forget that mess! Mrs. Pepperpot needed to know that her adulterous affair was totally wrong! (NOT KIDDING. That happens all the time in Christian-land.) (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.

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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