Hi and welcome back! For a while now, we’ve been talking about Frank Peretti’s cringeworthy 1986 book, This Present Darkness. If you couldn’t tell, this book just fascinates me–not because of its writing or story, but because it lets readers peek at the seeds of some very ugly traits in evangelicalism. One of the worst of those traits is their deep hatred of uppity women. They call that uppity-ness a Jezebel spirit. So today, Lord Snow Presides over the Jezebels destroying humanity in This Present Darkness.
(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.)
That Jezebel Spirit.
Oh, but Juleen Langstrat ain’t just any uppity woman.
Thanks to her use of what Frank Peretti calls “the Universal Mind,” she employs actual psychic powers!
With them, our villainess cold-reads people, just like many Christians think they can do to their own victims. From there, she exerts sinuous, tentacle-like control over others, just like those Christians imagine they can do through Jesus Power. Naturally, she also communicates telepathically with other members of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW), just like those Christians fantasize about telepathically communing with their god and coordinating massive endeavors through him.
Oh wait. That Law of Conservation of Worship strikes again!
So Langstrat practices using her powers constantly. She even chides Brummel for not practicing his enough. Apparently the Cabal skillgains through using their psychic powers, in the same way that overly-imaginative Christians think helps them become more powerful Christians.
However, demonic powers face certain serious limitations. They always exist as pale, smudged reflections of whatever their counterparts are in Jesus-Land.
Among other things, that clearly means that Cabal members tend to use their powers for silly or selfish reasons. In Chapter 8, we discover Juleen Langstrat doing exactly that. Evangelical readers would also take for granted that demonic powers always fail against TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ones, bear dreadful costs of their users, and backfire in stupendous ways, but we’re not quite ready to see any of that yet in the plot.
Despite her power, Christian readers will already be expecting to see Juleen Langstrat taken down a zillion notches by the end of the story. She’s like Chekov’s gun on the wall, just waiting for the misogynists-for-Jesus to bring her down low. And even remembering nothing about the book, I already know that she will be.
We’ve already seen, though, that Langstrat combines those magical psychic powers with her own beauty and sex appeal to bring Alf Brummel to heel.
In taking control of Alf Brummel, Langstrat defies what evangelicals believe about the natural order of relationships. All by itself, her power over Brummel marks her as demonically-bound and villainous.
She has her own subtle ways. (See also this Scarlett Johansson cover.)
Peretti wanted his readers to feel alarmed and disgusted by how completely Langstrat controls Brummel. Brummel himself comes off that way, for sure. He’s disgusted with himself, even alarmed by his own helplessness. He should be the most powerful authority figure in the town as its Police Chief, but he behaves in off-puttingly indecisive, anxious, uncertain, passive ways. The natural order has been up-ended here, and he knows something’s not right about his situation.
Toxic Christian men despise their own helplessness before the raw power of women’s sexuality. They’re supposed to be way above thinking with their little heads, so to speak. And yet they prove time and again that they very much ain’t.
Frank Peretti ignores that reality. His TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men would never ever ever fall into temptation like that! Hank Busche, who sounds like a young John Wayne as imagined by a 25th-century clone of David Barton, especially wouldn’t, not ever!
Instead, Alf Brummel succumbs to his lusts. Sure, he belongs to a Christian church. But because he’s not a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, he possesses nowhere near enough Jesus Power to withstand Langstrat.
See, Juleen Langstrat commands the powers of the Jezebel Spirit.
The Roots of Hatred for Jezebel.
Many centuries ago, a Baal-worshiping Phoenician princess called Jezebel married King Ahab of Israel. They ruled together in a mixed-faith marriage. Apparently Yahweh got peevish about the couple’s open-mindedness. He told his prophet at the time to anoint a new king who’d be more theocratically strict. Eventually, she and her husband were brutally murdered by that divinely-preferred zealot.
That long-dead queen has little to do with how evangelicals think now of the word Jezebel, however. To them, her name now defines an enemy they have vowed to fight to the death.
Evangelicals’ deep hatred of what they call a Jezebel spirit permeates their worldview. Christians define this idea in various ways, but usually their definition involves women trying to rule men–particularly through sex appeal or even with offers of the kind of wild sex that the tribe would never permit.
But it goes way further than that. In a very general sense, this “spirit” manifests as up-ended lines of authority, as disobedience to rightful rulers, and as rebellion.
Drawing Upon an Archetype.
Of course, at this point in evangelicals’ evolution they didn’t use the actual term Jezebel spirit to describe this up-ending of the natural order they perceived. Peretti himself doesn’t use the term even once in the book. Evangelicals hadn’t yet evolved that far.
Back in the 1980s (when Frank Peretti wrote this novel), the whole notion of a Jezebel spirit was virtually unknown in Christian literature. One church’s now-vanished 1990 online site tells us that the Jezebel spirit is “without question, the nastiest, evil, most disgusting, cunning, and seductive spirit in Satan’s hierarchy.” In 1995, someone published a book called Jezebel Spirit that ran along similar lines; its cover has the book’s title set against a spiderweb.
And that’s how Frank Peretti portrays Juleen Langstrat: as a poisonous spider. She ensnared Alf Brummel in her web, and now she’s going to devour him. Peretti describes her as:
- embracing with arms that seem “like the tendrils of a vine”
- “cold and frightening”
- “immensely hideous” despite possessing “such beauty”
- offering to “have [their relationship] terminated”
- “cutting [Brummel] to pieces”
- giving a “slow, vampiric kiss”
- “freezing [Brummel’s] blood with her eyes”
- expressing anger thusly: “if she had fangs, they would have been showing”
She barely even seems human in this author’s hands.
No, No, I Mean the Real Roots of Hatred for Jezebel.
Modern evangelicalism, at its heart, functions as a process of totalitarian control of others. It grew from humble beginnings with slavery-advocating Christians in the Deep South, morphed into a sickeningly misogynistic national phenomenon, and now openly serves the political interests of the 1% at the expense of literally almost every human being alive.
The sheer hatred evangelicals feel for every single marginalized demographic in America (even and perhaps especially any they themselves belong to) cannot be overstated, nor the sheer naked grasping ambition they feel to become part of the 1% to gain the perks they see their Dear Leaders’ enjoying.
Their god just so happened to grant men–particularly wealthy white men–the ultra-superior position in society. In any relationship, if one person happens to be male and the other isn’t, then that person can claim the leadership position and there is nothing whatsoever that the other people in the group can say about it. All anybody below those men can do is try to reach their level, if they fit into the correct demographic slots. If not, obedience is all those men will accept from those beneath them on the ladder of power.
The Glee of the Conqueror.
This scene of Brummel squirming under Langstrat’s sadistic glee comes off as the best and most real-to-life writing in the book so far. Indeed, Langstrat acts exactly how I saw Christians in my tribe–both men and women–acting when they gained power over others: with glee, like a cat who got into the cream. Brummel, on the other hand, acts exactly like Christians forced to obey orders they don’t like.
In the world of evangelicals, power represents a zero-sum game. Only so much power can be had. If one person in a relationship gains power over the other, it happens at the other’s expense. Those without power always want more, while those with power guard theirs as jealously as any dragon guards its hoard.
This viewpoint leads evangelicals to engage with others in starkly shallow, confrontational, transactional terms. They seriously believe that there must always be a leader in any group, with followers who obey that leader instantly and without questions or backtalk. It simply doesn’t occur to them that some relationships function lots better without those clearly-marked lines of power. They can’t imagine, say, a marriage conducted on completely cooperative terms. Thus, they never learn to work cooperatively. Why should they? If they loosen up for a moment, someone else will only take advantage of them.
That’s because in their world, one person always wants something that the rest of the group doesn’t. Therefore, for that person to get what they want, the other folks’ desires or objections must be trampled underfoot somehow. And no better way exists to suppress another person, in evangelicalism, than by claiming that a shared imaginary friend demanded it be done.
Why Minding Our Own Business Doesn’t Work on Culture Warriors.
You can’t appease culture warriors with anything less than full capitulation. It sounds like Jezebel found that out to her detriment.
When evangelicals encounter someone who should be below them on the ladder but isn’t obeying properly, they seek to destroy that person.
If their wrath is thwarted, they hate that person all the more.
And then Jezebel comes sashaying along with her wild hair and saucy little smirk. Evangelicals neither understand her nor can ignore her. She doesn’t fit into their little boxes, even if she wanted to climb into one, which she does not, and they can’t force her to do it.
Evangelical men lust after what she represents and rage at her refusal, while evangelical women resent her and pretend to coolly pity her (while sneaking into their husbands’ phones to check for illicit text messages to her). She represents not only unapproved sex itself, but perhaps also our very human desire to reject silly rules and incompetent leaders.
No wonder she’s evangelicals’ dread enemy.
Going to Hell in a Gingham Handbasket.
I’ve seen any number of evangelical leaders’ hand-wringing posts and sermons claiming that women’s rights are destroying America. What they really mean is that feminism destroys evangelicals’ dominance, and thus their control of America. They can’t regain America without also completely subjugating women. And they know it.
That sentiment is why, well into their decline, evangelicals haven’t yet even once seriously questioned the doctrine of complementarianism. That doctrine allows them to feel justified in oppressing all kinds of people, but most especially it grants them absolute power over women: over dangerous, saucy Jezebel.
Back when I was Pentecostal, when this book first came out, evangelicals were already well into their decades-long smear campaign against feminism. However, a lot of other stuff was still in flux. Women in my church worked outside the home, put their kids through public school, used whatever contraception they damned well liked, and wouldn’t have dreamed of fretting about what it might do to their hothouse-flower husbands’ fee-fees if they voted.
And we were the weird fundamentalist fringe group back then! (Now, of course, evangelicals have way outpaced them.)
In this book, we can almost see evangelicals’ battle lines forming against women–all swirling around the character of Juleen Langstrat.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a book that represents a trumpet-call to fundagelicals to join a battle that still hasn’t ended.
NEXT UP: We’re coming up on Spooky Day! To kick it off, let me show you how to fool a monster. See you soon!
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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.