For a while now, we’ve been talking about Frank Peretti’s cringeworthy 1986 book, This Present Darkness. Its main plot centers around a moral panic called the Satanic Panic. Evangelicals started it as part of a culture war, though mostly it’s Catholics who shriek about it these days. Most of the awful traits we see in evangelicals nowadays began to take shape during the Satanic Panic. One of those traits involves their deep hatred of psychology. If that antipathy confuses anybody observing or tangling with culture warriors, this post might be of help! Today, Lord Snow Presides over a profession that could only exist if Christian culture warriors’ claims weren’t true.
(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.)
(In this post, I refer freely to “fake therapists,” meaning Christian counselors, life coaches, therapists, and the like who defang real therapeutic ideas and techniques to be more Jesus-flavored. This evaluation represents my opinion only, and represents only the defanging and not any possible fraudulent presentation.)
The Psychology Angle.
In Peretti’s handling, Juleen Langstrat provides a focus for evangelicals’ deep hatred for several of their tribal enemies. We’ve already seen how she embodies their hatred of domineering women. Today, we examine their hatred of mental-health services and providers.
At the time Peretti wrote his book, those hatreds were still coalescing into the diamond-hard, ossified tribal hatreds they are today. But it still wasn’t all roses and gummy-bear salads for therapists at any level within evangelicalism. Peretti published this book in 1986, which is when I first joined Pentecostalism. And even by then, the Pentecostals I knew already deeply distrusted and disliked the mental-health profession.
I personally knew people who needed to seek that kind of help who refused to do it because they thought demons infested psychology as a field. Instead, they earnestly begged the ceiling to magically heal them of their afflictions. A friend of mine, Marf, would get “delivered” of her depression every revival, and then be back at the ceiling-begging a couple of weeks later. She never sought real help for it that I ever saw. Instead, she took for granted that if she begged hard enough, Jesus would one day magically heal her in a way that’d last. She wasn’t alone, either.
Now, this antipathy exists only among the most stalwart of culture warriors. Plenty of Christians accept and understand the necessity of real therapy. We’re only talking about the really fundie end of the fundagelical scale.
How Peretti Introduces This Hated Enemy.
We already got a taste of evangelicals’ tribal hatred back in Chapter 4. In it, Marshall Hogan encountered Langstrat in her classroom during a lecture of hers. The lecture doesn’t even vaguely sound like anything I ever heard in any psych class I ever took, much less one aimed at undergraduates like his daughter Sandy (pp. 37-38):
“. . . so if we settle for a simple ontological formula, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ that should be the end of the question. But being does not presuppose meaning . . . and meaning doesn’t necessarily come from thinking, for some have said that the Self is not the Mind at all, and that the Mind actually denies the Self and inhibits Self-Knowledge. . .”
Frank Peretti went to college. I don’t think he graduated, but still, he went to a pretty good one–UCLA! Did he not take a single intro-level psych class while he was there? Because this sounds more like one of the more ethereal philosophy courses or something, as imagined by fundagelicals.
But he’s not trying to accurately depict what a college psychology class looks like. He’s introducing a villain here. Maybe it works to his benefit that his villain talks like a total lunatic to a class full of kids who 100% will have no idea what she’s talking about.
Why This Mumbo-Jumbo Exists.
Peretti’s villain, Professor Langstrat, exists to feed weird-sounding ideas into young adults in college. As they see it, those young adults will be defenseless against it. It will sound alluring to them, exotic, and way more accessible than the hard-won knowledge their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parents possess.
A big part of the Satanic Panic revolved around what Christians considered evil Satanic mysticism. Pretty much anything that wasn’t completely Jesus-centric–and even some of that–counted. It included but was not limited to:
- Actual spellcasting or divination (except their own)
- Any wisdom acquired from any non-Christian religion
- Rituals that looked unfamiliar to TRUE CHRISTIANS™
- Roleplaying reference books
- Yoga, meditation, and martial arts of any kind
- Literally anything that wasn’t completely focused on salvation and Jesus
That’s where Langstrat’s profession as a psychology professor comes into play.
What’s Wrong With Psychology?
Gradually, fundagelicals figured out that psychologists generally focus on their clients and how they feel. They find goals and methods to meet the client’s needs, and they do it all on the client’s time and according to the client’s growing abilities.
Instead of acting as surrogate parents to clients, reputable therapists see themselves as allies helping clients overcome their problems.
And instead of handing their clients truths and commands while expecting obedience, reputable therapists work with clients to help them understand where they are and how to get where they want. They use tested techniques to achieve those goals–from breathing exercises all the way up to medication if need be.
Their ultimate goal is helping clients to manage their own lives as much as possible with tools and skills that can be learned and mastered, to accurately assess where their problems are coming from and how to fix them, and to draw healthy boundaries between themselves and others so they’re not shouldering way more than is fair or right.
And absolutely none of that’s okay with TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Authoritarians Gonna Authoritarian.
To a Christian who values authoritarian ideals, what I described above sounds like purest madness. Worse than that, it represents madness that will have eternal repercussions. I’ll let this Christian counseling center explain what I mean:
In secular counseling, the desired result is primarily related to increasing the ability of a person to function more effectively or to become more emotionally stable. In Christian counseling, the primary goal is to enable the person to heal in order that they are able to interact with God effectively, and to be able to utilize their gifting in the body of Christ.
That center also perceives huge differences in how empowered the client is to make changes:
Most secular therapy sees the person as a self-empowered entity that is responsible for the changes that they need to make. In Christian therapy, the Holy Spirit works through the therapist, and within the person to facilitate the changes.
They’re not quite correct about their assumptions about secular therapy, like it sounds more victim-blaming than I’d agree with, but the meaning is clear. Christian-centric counselors/therapists try to use Jesus Power to make changes. They see their ultimate goal as making their clients stronger, more observant Christians.
Thus, they draw upon Christian ideas and catchphrases, as well as typically-Christian busy-work, to create change. When that fails, they blame the client’s sinfulness–or demons.
Oil and Water.
Psychology has gone off the rails. This field has gone literally crazy. . .
Generally speaking, these fake-therapy hucksters view real therapy as downright dangerous to Christians. That Christian site linked above thought some secular ideas were useful, but only where they don’t contradict the fake-therapy handbook.
How on earth could real therapists and fake therapists ever find much common ground? The more seriously Christians take their religious ideas, the less common ground there’ll be.
From the get-go, fake therapists rely heavily on the concept of the supernatural–imaginary friends and enemies–to misdirect clients as to the cause or source of their problems. It doesn’t matter if it’s a life coach using astrology star-charts or a Christian “counselor” ominously warning clients about demonic interference. If someone starts from the wrong assumptions, it’ll be difficult to come to correct conclusions.
And here, these fake therapists instruct clients to blame their problems on imaginary forces. These forces can’t be measured or observed in any way. They also can’t be meaningfully or reliably affected in any way. They’re intangible as well as invisible, leaving no traces of themselves anywhere. So these fake therapists’ proposed solution set for clients will run along similar lines.
The Bigger Problem.
Worse than that, though, authoritarians indoctrinate recruits with the dead opposite of tools for healthy living. They preach:
- Utter unworthiness coupled with narcissism
- Endless self-blame
- Self-soothing techniques that simply don’t work
- Magical thinking
- Blaming the wrong forces for problems
- Busy work that doesn’t affect the problem
- Boundaries = evil Satanic ickieness
- Passivity and rigid, unquestioning obedience
- Might-makes-right morality, rather than ethics
- Dependence and codependence
That programming gets thrashed hard by the techniques real therapists can teach clients. Positive self-talk, gentleness and forgiveness of self, empathy, self-care, drawing healthy boundaries, learning to recognize and reject manipulation attempts and gaslighting, all of it threatens to destroy a Christian’s susceptibility to overreach and indoctrination.
Authoritarians have no use at all for well-adjusted, healthy people with managed problems, except as enemies.
Then there’s this: if Christianity’s claims were even halfway true, it’s hard to imagine their flocks would actually need all that much help with their mental health, any more than they would with their physical health.
Christians claim to worship a god who magically heals people on demand, but somehow he doesn’t choose to lift a finger to ease the suffering of his own children.
They also claim that their social rules and group systems reliably create harmonious, happy people who operate delightfully harmonious, cohesive groups and form similar sorts of families, but somehow none of that turns out to be the case either. Even if magic healing is off the table and we accept that such claims are metaphorical rather than literal, their rules and systems sure don’t do what Christians promise.
That stuff’s just marketing and advertising; if someone actually demands these promises’ fulfillment, then Christians get quite cross.
I can easily see why seeking or needing that help–even the defanged help such Christian groups offer and allow–still inflicts a huge stigma on sufferers. Pastors, in particular, suffer enormously when they need that kind of help. They can’t seek it because they’re supposed to be the bestest lil Jesus-buddy of the entire group.
Christians have painted themselves into a corner here. They market their religion as being wonderful for one’s peace of mind and general wellness, and their god as being a magical healer or at least comfort-source. So they can’t actually be seen as needing help in that area.
The Biggest Problem of All.
Once someone’s been through real therapy with a therapist who clicks, they begin to get better. The problem resolves or at least alleviates. The client discovers how to breathe again, so to speak. Life gets easier.
And it all happens outside the context of Christianity.
The client perceives that reality-based techniques, not magical thinking, helped them get better. That person has gotten something good that had nothing to do with Jesus.
Now that person knows that Christianity does not contain all the elements anybody needs to survive and thrive. Going forward, such a person will know that sometimes one must go outside of the sheepfold to find answers and help.
That’s got to be a huge, ginormous threat to Christian leaders. No wonder they oppose real therapy so much! It’s not about which method succeeds in helping more people. It’s about how the flocks perceive their leaders and how much of a grip those leaders have on them!
Steering Sandy Away From Her Daddy.
Of course, here in this book Sandy absorbs Professor Langstrat’s wackadoodle ideas. They immediately begin to estrange her from her parents–physically and emotionally! She admires her professor greatly, in part because she likes Langstrat’s ideas.
I’m sure that’s very much part of why Frank Peretti and his crowd of fundagelicals disliked psychology as a field, and why, of all professions, Langstrat became a psychologist in his hands. She might talk more like how his tribe would see philosophers, but they didn’t hate philosophy quite as much. Her role here is to drive a wedge between Hogan and his daughter. And in that, she succeeds–because she’s being driven by a culture warrior trying to make a hamfisted point.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a field that Christian culture warriors quite rightly see as dangerous competition.
NEXT UP: The shining wire.
See you tomorrow!
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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.