Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been examining Frank Peretti’s 1986 blockbuster Chick-tract-in-novel-form, This Present Darkness. In this installment, Sandy Hogan endures a conversation that literally nobody has ever had in the history of forever, all because Frank Peretti can’t move his plot along otherwise. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the horrendous dialogue in evangelical media!
(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions! Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book.)
A Literary Lacunae From a Bygone Age.
Sandy Hogan is the daughter of Marshall Hogan. In turn, Marshall Hogan is the ruff-n-tuff NOO YAWK TAHMS JOURNAMALIST who now owns Ashton’s newspaper. Sandy had to move to Ashton with her parents, thus necessitating a change of colleges (Frank Peretti’s never heard of dormitories and out-of-state tuition). So she lives with her parents and catches rides to school every day.
(Did Peretti mean for her to be a high schooler? Maybe. To be sure, very little about her personality suggests anything but a high school student. For that matter, very little about her personality suggests she’s even a real person.)
Sandy doesn’t seem to like Ashton much. Making matters worse, her home life is a shambles. She and her controlling, contemptuous father get into constant arguments and snipefests. About all she really does like is her psychology class, which is taught by Juleen Langstrat. Capitalizing on Sandy’s near hero-worship of her, Langstrat and her Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (Or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW) have begun to sink their hooks into the young woman.
Very quickly into the book, the demonic forces behind the CSWWSW recognized Sandy’s strategic importance as a pawn. They, too, have begun to work their foul magic on her mind and heart.
Still Life With White Knights and Demons.
As Chapter 12 opens, Sandy relaxes at an outdoor table with her new friend Shawn. Remember him? He inserted himself into one of Sandy’s family disputes a couple of chapters ago. As a completely-ensorceled member of the Cabal–either as a leader or a pawn, we don’t know yet–his job is to get her neck-deep into the occult.
In terms of evangelicals’ beloved culture wars generally and the Satanic Panic in particular, Sandy Hogan represents the American teens and young adults that evangelicals thought were getting led astray by demonic forces. She’s the self-obsessed, flippy-dippy product of what they characterize as modern public education. More to the point, she’s what evangelicals imagine happens when governments deny them the power to force compulsory religious observances upon students.
This book takes for granted that Sandy is in dreadful danger now from dark, demonic forces. Its audience would take for granted that the cause of that danger was her upbringing without evangelical indoctrination.
Sure, Shawn Ormsby doesn’t seem like a dark, demonic force. He presents himself as being very similar to Sandy, just way further along on his navel-gazing quest. And he feeds her a lot of talking points that evangelicals at the time thought their enemies believed. She loves all of it, because she’s unsaved and thus isn’t protected from demonic influences.
Special Topics in Authorial Unreliability.
Shawn Ormsby is that weird guy in college who offers “neck rubs” all the time — but only to pretty young women. He’s insufferably pretentious as well as being a blithering nutjob.
I can’t read anything he says or does in this book without rolling my eyes or sighing loudly.
What a tedious OAF this guy is!
So yeah, he’s like a young Ted Cruz, back when that politician liked to put on his nice paisley bathrobe to creep around the hallway in his dorm building where the women roomed. Or like a young Louie Gohmert, aching for the opportunity to spy on women in bathrooms.
Oh wait. Both of those guys are TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
I really don’t know if Frank Peretti wanted Shawn Ormsby to come off like a pretentious wanker. But here we are.
He and Sandy sit together talking while he throws bread crumbs to the birds clustering around the courtyard. He chirps (p. 116):
“I love the way the universe all fits together,” he said. “The tree grew here to give us shade, we sit here and eat and give food to the birds that live in the tree. It all works together.”
Sandy was fascinated by the concept. On the surface it seemed very simple, almost storybookish, but part of her was so thirsty for this kind of peace.
Their conversation only gets worse from this depressing low. Warning you now.
Predicting a Wingnut’s Subchondral Craniorumpus Density.
Shawn Ormsby presents Sandy Hogan with all kinds of ideas she has apparently never encountered before now. Frank Peretti’s target audience would be howling with outrage over every one of them. They’d also be totally convinced that a real-life CSWWSW was doing its best to indoctrinate their kids into these beliefs.
And they’d be projecting again.
Here are Shawn Ormsby’s “fascinating” ideas:
- Everything that exists is unified, perfect, and harmonious, as well as being part of “God.” In fact, “God” exists in everything and everybody.
- When people “tune into” the universe correctly, they live in harmony; when they can’t, they experience strife and division.
- Religions try to explain what “God” is and how the universe works, but they all fail in various ways. It’s exactly like the story “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”
- Shawn Ormsby is so narcissistic he thinks trees came to exist to give him shade.
And now, let’s see what evangelicals think about these ideas.
- Omnipresence: Christians think their god is literally everywhere. Also, they think he’s perfect.
- By “tuning into” their imaginary friend, Christians can live in harmony. Otherwise, they experience strife and division.
- When I was a Christian, my leaders taught me to use “The Blind Men and the Elephant” to explain away the various contradictions and inconsistencies in the Gospel myth of Jesus’ resurrection. Shawn Ormsby alludes to Plato’s Cave, as well, and to that I answer: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; [one day] we shall see face to face.” (1 Cor 13:12)
- That’s called teleological promiscuity. It’s a stage very young children go through as their minds develop. Religion hijacks that process and has believers making all kinds of wild assumptions and guesses about why stuff happens and how it relates to themselves.
Toward a Convergence of Enlightenment.
Of course, the big problem isn’t that Shawn Ormsby’s spewing talking points we find constantly in evangelicals. That part’s just hilariously lacking in self-awareness.
It’s that the dialogue is ridiculously contrived. No characters in this literary abomination actually talk like people actually talk. (Recently, we encountered the same shortcoming with Only God Can.) It’s a pity that while Frank Peretti was in college himself, he didn’t do what all the Creative Writing majors at my college did and go camp out in a courtyard or common room with a notepad and just take notes of the conversations he could overhear.
I can’t imagine anybody college-aged who’d put up with Shawn Ormsby’s navel-gazing blathering. He talks like a nitwit trying way too hard to impress a girl, and if that’s all he was and all he was doing, and if his target had reacted realistically, then the scene would have been ten times better.
But Frank Peretti demands that we see Shawn as this amazingly compelling figure who piques Sandy Hogan’s curiosity in ways that nobody ever has before now. The kid’s already charmed the pants off of Sandy’s parents with his pretentious faffing-about. In fact, not one character sees him as anything but an amazingly well-spoken, super-intelligent, wise-beyond-his-years young man.
So now, here, Sandy hangs on his every word. She accepts everything he’s saying without argument, and even lets him squeeze her hand at the end. She realizes she’s “thirsty” for the “peace” he describes himself as having.
I’m here for #FreeSandy. Who’s with me?
The Metaphysical Dialectics of Stone Fruit.
These contrived conversations are all but a requirement in Christian media these days. Usually, they center around Jesus, not around occult blahblah, but it makes sense that Christians would assume that their tribal enemies would have similar conversations. That’s the Law of Conservation of Worship right there!
However, they don’t happen much–if they happen at all. Back when I was Christian, we all ached to have conversations like that, but the heathens simply never cooperated!
From what I can tell, the situation’s only gotten worse for Christians. No matter how hard they showboat and bait responses (like saying “LIVING THE DREAM!” when asked how they’re doing), their marks just don’t follow the script at all.
But nope, here’s Sandy, just kitten-eyed with wonderment about these lowest-tier of all philosophical dribblings.
I’ve met more than a few men in my life who acted like Shawn Ormsby. Most were Christian, though a few were pagan and at least one was an atheist with really wackadoo leanings (and incredibly obscure and esoteric diagrams). Regardless, it didn’t take long to see through their act.
These pompous blowhards all shared a couple of traits in common, though, and these traits transcend religion:
They all thought they were far superior to and more knowledgeable than the women they sought to impress. And they all had way too high of an estimation of themselves. Nobody’d ever fascinated them quite like they themselves always did! In their scripts, their audiences’ role was to offer admiration and agreement.
Ooh! It’s an 80s political cartoon: I’m Bluto, the guitar is navel-gazing apologetics, the women are evangelicals as a group, and the singer’s William Lane Craig.
Through a Mirror, Darkly.
If this courtyard scene had taken place in the real world, Sandy would have rolled her eyes so hard she pulled a muscle, made an excuse about a class, and left Shawn to try to impress the birdies.
But here, she falls right into place as a pawn of demons and the dark Cabal. Because that’s what heathens do when they’re not TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
See, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would never fall for false talking points fed to them by smooth talkers. Nope, never! That’s a trick that only non-believers would ever fall for.
(Something something gift of discernment something something a word from the lord something something….)
Today, Lord Snow Presides over painfully-stilted dialogue that accidentally reveals a whole lot of irrational thinking in evangelicals.
NEXT UP: Evangelicals feel misunderstood, the poor widdle dears. Let’s see how good/generous/caring/friendly/etc they really are! Seeya soon!
Please Support What I Do!
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com! (Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures. About 99% of my insta consists of Bumble and Bother being adorable.)
Also check out our recent Graceful Atheist podcast interview! It was a blast.
If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is email@example.com (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. You can also support this blog through my Amazon Affiliate link–and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media! Thank you for anything you wish to do.
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.
If you’re wondering WTF was up with the subsection titles, they’re all riffs on super-obfuscated academic language.