Hello and welcome back! Lately we’ve been examining Frank Peretti’s attempt at an evangelical fantasy, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we learn who the remnant are, meet a Lucky Charms angel, and explore some Peak Christianese terms. Today, Lord Snow Presides over more evangelical narcissism in This Present Darkness.
(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.)
Meet Scion. He’s Irish.
Right after or while Shawn Ormsby seduces Sandy Hogan to the dark side of occultism, our intrepid angels assemble at the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church.
Tal, their leader, is as happy as a pig getting forked. His troop of angels has grown. In fact, it’s more than doubled! And this growth comes entirely from the prayers of TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Somehow, they’ve begun praying like crazy.
Tal refers to these Christians as “The Remnant.”
Right as he says those words, another angel comes up to him. This is Scion, described as “a red-haired, freckled fighter from the British Isles.”
I face-palmed when I saw that. Red hair and freckles are apparently not that common in Ireland.
And the situation worsened considerably when Scion opened his mouth to talk.
Och and Begorrah! Demons Are Always After His Lucky Charms!
See, Frank Peretti gave Scion a I-kid-you-not Lucky Charms accent in text (p. 119):
“They’re out there, Cap, and there’s plenty o’ them, but these are the ones we’ll be bringing in for sure.”
Tal read the names. “John and Patricia Coleman–”
Scion explained, “They were here last night and spoke up for the preacher. Now they’re all the more for him, and they drop to their knees easy as droppin’ a hat. We’ve got them workin’.”
“Andy and June Forsythe.”
“Lost sheep, you could say. Left the United Christian [Evil Ecumenical Church] here in Ashton out of sheer hunger. We’ll bring them to church tomorrow. They have a son, Ron, who’s searchin’ for the Lord. A bit wayward now, but reachin’ his fill o’ his ways.”
Now, not one of the other angels uses an accent. Some get cloaked in person-of-color skin or funny costumes. Some even sport vaguely African or Asian names. But none of them get accents. Only Lucky Charms here gets that.
Peretti might just give us an Italian angel spouting this-a this and that-a that and talking with his hands as much as with his mouth, or a French angel in a beret and smoking like a chimney, but I doubt it. I think this is the only angel we’ll see who gets an accent.
We’ll probably never find out why Scion has an accent when no other angel does. Nor will we find out why Peretti saddled him with a name with Middle English and Old French roots, rather than one that’s at least vaguely Irish-sounding.
Scion explains that he’s got the Remnant workin’ overtime on prayers.
The term the Remnant is very important here. It means the Christians who remain faithful when all the others have faffed off to do their own thing.
And hardline Christians, especially culture warriors, LOVE LOVE LOVE imagining themselves as the Remnant.
Literally any time someone brings up their continuing and increasingly-worsening decline, they sniff disdainfully that they’re glad those fakers have left. See, now they, the Remnant, can sing out: “Let’s get down to business (to defeat the Nones)!”
In addition to being a core underpinning for Seventh-Day Adventists, the idea of being part of a remnant informs much of Catholicism and Protestantism these days. As this Catholic priest explains–after describing the decline in attendance in Catholic churches as “stunning” twice–it’s totes fine if tons of people leave Christianity. Remnant Theology teaches that the Christian god totally “prunes” the number of his followers from time to time to get rid of deadweight. Then the priest talks about pruning his rosebushes — “on purpose!”
So all the Christians remaining are the TRUE CHRISTIANS™, and really everyone should feel wonderment that their god “allows so many to stay,” not that he allows so many to leave. (His post also serves to remind us of how far Catholic theologizin’ has fallen down in recent decades. His commenters are pure dingbats if they bought that awful reframing attempt.)
We see much the same chatter coming out of evangelicals. Ed Stetzer explains how Remnant Theology can backfire in a May 2018 post:
In some areas of the country and in some circles of Christianity, there is a re-emerging growing remnant mentality. There is an attitude of “We’re the remnants; we’re the few and everyone else is unfaithful.” This view results in the pervading, but often unspoken belief that anyone who grows is doing something wrong.
Back in my day, the reverse was true–and I encounter the reverse more often than what Stetzer describes. But hopefully that’s given you an idea of how Christians use this all-important term.
They use it to feel like the ragged, beleaguered underdogs in their vast and strangely Manichaean battle between Ultimate Good and Ultimate Evil. It helps give them false bravado enough to continue attending church and spending their dwindling resources on a losing game.
More Peak Christianese.
While insisting that the angels not leap into any fights, Tal orders Scion to send messengers (which are weaker angels, as opposed to warriors, who are his strongest angels). Their job involves inspiring the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to start praying more often. He refers to this inspirational power as burdening, which in turn comes from the Christianese a burden for something.
Many Christians use this word, so it’s useful to know what it is. A burden is a need to do something, a feeling that one must undertake a certain task. But it’s a need and a feeling coming straight from Jesus. It’s not just that you want to do X, it’s that your god has told you to do X. It’s orders from the top.
Very often, they’ll describe someone as having a burden for something. Someone who has a burden for children wants to get involved in children’s ministry or do youth evangelism or something. Someone with a burden for missions will want to help missionaries out somehow or go on missions. They also have a burden for the people of X Country, which means they’ll want to do whatever they can to convert the people there. Biff had a burden for atheists, for one real-life example.
So here, the angels want to give their Christians a burden for prayer “for their loved ones here [in Ashton].” Obviously, even TRUE CHRISTIANS™ can’t be counted upon to pray enough to give the angels all the power and numbers they need.
I can see why so many evangelicals looked down their noses at the theology informing this book. Everything in this post would represent the worst kind of heresy to a lot of those folks.
On that note, I’m pretty sure my old pastor would have said that only Jesus assigns burdens. It wasn’t hard at all for me to find other Christian leaders who’d have agreed, like this guy. They don’t talk about the Archangel Michael giving them a burden for stuff. They talk about their god having a burden for them to take up.
This chapter also makes clear that prayer can, in addition to knocking swords out of demons’ hands (as Edith Duster demonstrated), draw more angels to a cause. It sounds like Peretti’s alluding to a late-90s trend I heard about in computing where someone would set up a massive distributed computing projects to utilize multiple remote computers (like one of the first public projects, SETI@Home), or maybe Bitcoin mining. But this time, humans’ prayers act as a beacon that generates angels, then increases their Angel Power. Yeah, that entire notion would probably offend a lot of evangelical hardliners.
That said, a lot of evangelicals at the time ended up moving their imaginary battle one step over into Reality-Land. They saw themselves as fighting imaginary demons still, sure. But they began to see the demons as influencing actual real people whose rights and liberties had to be destroyed to help Jesus win the imaginary fight. In the same way, they began to use their votes in ways that hurt millions of people, all so their imaginary fight could end in a proper Tribulation and Rapture.
And that attitude still pervades evangelicalism today. The weird, creepy Endtimes fantasies of the Christians who loved This Present Darkness in the 1980s and 1990s lasted all the way to our current year. Nowadays, those fantasies wear cloaks of Dominionism and Reconstructionism, as well as a disturbing obsession with Israel. Any evangelical who rejects any of these doctrinal beliefs can expect to be labeled a heretic.
The worldview contained in This Present Darkness has become the doctrinal yardstick.
But most of them don’t reject any of it.
What’s a little heresy in one’s fiction when it comes to needing to feel superior to everyone outside the tribe? Or to revel in false flattery about one’s own importance in the grand scheme of things?
This Present Darkness spoke to evangelicals like nothing else could have at the time. Right as the Satanic Panic hit its peak, along came a book that told the people responsible for that moral panic that they were destined to win that imaginary fight because THEY HAD JESUS POWER. It told them not to give up–ever–because success was inevitable and being on the wrong side of that imaginary fight would be absolutely disastrous. And it told them that they played integral, one might even say absolutely essential, roles in that imaginary fight.
Sure, their role was just as imaginary as the fight itself was. They didn’t have to get up off their rumps and do anything, not really. Certainly they didn’t have to do anything they weren’t already doing: thinking at the ceiling, paying money into their private country clubs, maybe occasionally starting or attending the odd revival (a bit of self-congratulatory Christianese we’ll dive into on Thursday).
At most, this imaginary fight’s leaders simply asked the flocks to do more of that stuff, just harder and with more fervor.
The more imaginary the fight, the more nebulous the tactics and the more impossible it is to tell if its participants have won or lost. But in the bizarro world of Christian-Land, that sad truth becomes a good thing–for culture warriors’ leaders, at least. Alas for them, sooner or later Christians might begin noticing that despite all their victories in the
spiritual imaginary world, they seem to be spinning their wheels in the real one (<— that link gives me a flare of hope).
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a magically-delicious angel spouting dearly-loved evangelical Christianese about a fight whose rules are just as made up as its engagements are.
NEXT UP: What do Magic Christians wield? Equally magic sales pitches! I’ll show you what those are next time. See you soon!
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