Hello friends, and welcome back to Lord Snow Presides! Dive back with me into our longform review of Frank Peretti’s 1986 literary arrow to the knee, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we examine how one side character ended up joining the bad guys. Peretti presents it as an awful and bad thing, ominous and scary, but wow, it really struck me as a projection! Today, Lord Snow Presides over a recruitment that sure looks a lot more like an evangelist’s dream proselytization.
(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. All quoted material — in blockquotes or in the post itself — come from actual sources; I don’t use scare quotes without telling you I’m doing it.)
Fresh Out Of Where TF.
Susan Jacobson zooms out of nowhere to become a side character in the middle of the book. We learn, in bits and pieces, that she once roomed with Bernice Krueger’s sister Pat. Nowadays, she works for the fat businessman, Alexander Kaseph. He refers to her as his “Handmaiden,” because that’s not creepy and weird at all. In that capacity, she carries out his bidding and helps the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (Or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).
Really, though, she’s a bang secretary.
However, she seeks to escape Kaseph’s group. The angels know about her and are trying to help her do it — in the weirdest and least effective ways imaginable. Instead of just escaping (which she could easily do at one point in the plot that we’ve seen already), she seems to be trying to destroy the Cabal — even though she doesn’t seem all that interested in doing that. It never makes sense for her to go to all this trouble.
In Chapter 19, we learn a bit more about her backstory — via her stoner ex-boyfriend Kevin Weed. Kevin dated her right before she joined the Cabal and became Kaseph’s bang secretary. I’m warning you now, though: her backstory won’t make all that much more sense after this scene.
How Susan Met Kaseph.
Kevin, in talking to the crack journalists at the Ashton newspaper, tells a disjointed story about how his then-girlfriend Susan joined the Cabal.
It all began with the night classes taught by Juleen Langstrat. These classes involved various really whackadoodle New Age concepts. Langstrat doesn’t seem to have come up with the idea of teaching them all on her own, however. Kaseph seems to have been involved at a very early stage and at a very fundamental level. Peretti writes (p. 182):
“They [Langstrat and Kaseph] were teaching some night classes together, I think, the ones that Susan was going to. Kaseph was a special guest star or something. He really had everybody wowed. I thought he was spooky.”
I cringed a little here, because this whole situation sounds a lot like every single fundagelical fakey-fake social event I ever attended as a teenager.
Literally, the 1980s:
Back in the 80s, when Frank Peretti wrote this book, these events happened all the time.
Here’s how they went: some pastor went “OMG! We should do this!” and plunged about $500 into the youth group. The youth group printed up tickets for a “pizza blast,” or a “prayer lock-in,” or a “dating seminar,” or a “movie night,” or even a “free concert,” then distribute those tickets to the local high schools.
Teens back then didn’t have that much to do that wasn’t crawling around the malls or roller skating (or extracurricular stuff at school), and most of us were Christian already and didn’t realize how predatory these events were going to be. So generally speaking, the tickets and buzz from the church’s evangelism-minded students rustled up a good crowd.
Once the crowd had assembled, the evening’s hard-sales evangelism could take place in earnest.
These events, for churches, functioned exactly as Juleen Langstrat’s night classes did, and they had the same exact goals: finding new recruits.
I’m in This Photo And I Don’t Like It.
Shortly after Susan began to attend these classes, Kevin relates, she changed dramatically:
“And she got crazy, and I mean crazy. Man, she couldn’t have been on a higher trip with mescaline. I couldn’t even talk to her anymore. She was always way out in space somewhere.”
Weed kept talking, starting to roll a little on his own. “That’s what really started to get me, how she and the rest of that bunch started keeping secrets and talking in codes and not letting me in on what they were talking about. Susan just kept telling me I wasn’t enlightened and wouldn’t understand.”
See, this is exactly what happened to me in the 1980s when I converted to a Southern Baptist church. And it happened even more dramatically after I left that church and joined a Pentecostal one. In every single way and in every single detail, I acted like Susan. My friends were just as confused and concerned as Kevin was here.
I used different words, but the details are exactly the same. And me and my fellow recruits knew we were acting in alarming and strange ways. We knew our friends felt very concerned about these changes. We laughed and thought the alarm was funny. See, we were all new creations. We’d been reborn. Naturally, people wouldn’t understand. Of course they wouldn’t. Until someone experienced the second birth for themselves, none of it made sense. But if they joined us, the Jesus Code we used to communicate would make total sense to them. Until then, it would obviously all sound like demented gibberish.
This was almost exactly how it went.
So here, too, Frank Peretti accidentally describes the perfect new recruit to a fundagelical group.
Fights With Friends.
As Susan continued her downward plunge into the Cabal, eventually beginning to date Kaseph and get more and more involved in the group’s activities, her pre-cult social connections began to suffer. Kevin tells us (p. 183):
“Uh . . . she and Pat [Krueger] were good friends, for a while anyway. But you know, Susan left us all out in the cold when she started following after that Kaseph bunch. She kinda pushed me off, and Pat too. They didn’t get along very well after that, and Susan kept saying how Pat was . . . heh . . . just like me, trying to get in the way, not enlightened, dragging her feet.”
Marshall thought of the question and didn’t wait for Bernice to ask it. “So, would you say that this Kaseph bunch may have regarded Pat as an enemy?”
Kevin’s answer is very roundabout and involves the many and intense fights that Pat and Susan got into over Susan’s newfound friends.
Yeah. About that.
I never really got into fights, but conflicts definitely happened over my conversion and gung-ho involvement in Pentecostalism. I converted thanks to the “88 Reasons” Rapture scare. Thus, I operated in a cloud of anxiety and terror for most of my waking hours. I tried hard to get my friends as scared as I was, so they’d convert like I had. And sure, some of them didn’t care for my evangelism. I can’t even half blame them for pushing back a little. Many families and friends circles do the exact same.
Sometimes, before I converted, I’d hear my friends at school talk about my bestie Angela before her conversion. Angela was the one who invited me to the “special night” at her Pentecostal church where I heard about the “88 Reasons” nonsense. She seemed just ethereally spiritual to me, with a super-intense relationship with Jesus. But before she’d converted, she’d been the quintessential 80s party girl. She dressed like Madonna, wore copious amounts of makeup, danced, went to parties, drank, dated, smoked weed, and all that other stuff one expects of a wild child teenager in the 1980s.
Afterward, they said, she seemed like a whole other person. They no longer recognized her at all. She didn’t even talk the same way.
To me, this shocking 180 turnaround was a sterling example of what I might expect to experience in her denomination. Angela had become a living, breathing sales brochure.
To them, though, they described someone who’d died, someone they’d once loved, someone they truly missed. She no longer talked to them without issuing a sales pitch. She never visited them anymore, even just to talk, or called them.
And to both her tribe and outsiders, Angela carefully hid the deep terror she felt about missing the Rapture, about failing to show perfect modesty at all times, about somehow failing to make a sale that Jesus had ordained.
You know, I wish I’d known a bit more about humans back then. I really do.
Things Get Real.
Susan Jacobson soon learned that involvement with Kaseph and his Cabal had a very dark side. By then, she’d abandoned her previous friends group — and with them, her social support network. It doesn’t sound like Kevin or Pat had any idea what was happening behind the scenes. When Pat got too nosy, she soon ended up dead. Kevin took the hint and dropped out of school, running to a nearby town to take up a career as a lumberjack. It’d be some time before Susan finally gained enough courage to contact Kevin at the city’s annual carnival.
And this part of the story, too, sounds eerily familiar.
Cults and other terrible groups don’t flat-out tell people what’s going to happen to them as recruits. If they did, nobody would join! Instead, they start off small and mild — with one escalated boundary-violation after another. By the time a recruit realizes exactly what they’ve gotten into, it’s almost too late to escape.
Luckily, escaping the group proved easy: I just stopped attending church. Ta-da! Escaping the man proved much more difficult, thanks to the shocking life-instructions he’d absorbed from his fellow fundagelicals and taken to their logical ends.
But other fundagelicals have a very tough time escaping the group. I wasn’t more than a glorified extra, a peripheral player. Others are involved in ministry, or know others in the the tribe have leverage over them. I’ve heard some real cloak-and-dagger stories over the years from some of them.
It’s so weird that when I got involved in paganism, it operated nothing like Peretti’s Cabal. Nothing like it!
So, More Projection Generally.
Once again, we discover a situation in This Present Darkness where the baddies actually operate exactly as real-world fundagelicals do. This level of unconscious, oblivious, constant projection really is what makes this book so interesting all these years after its initial publication.
Out of all the reasons fundagelicals have given for not liking this book, though, its level of projection has never once come up, weirdly enough. If I could list for them reasons why they shouldn’t like this book, the uncomfortable light it shines on their own shenanigans and shortcomings would be near the top of that list. But I guess if they had real self-awareness, they wouldn’t be fundagelicals at all.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a story that sounds uncomfortably like the one I could tell about my own conversion to fundagelicalism.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, we look at exactly how positive thinking can backfire. See you then! Stay safe and wash your hands lots! <3
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