Helllloooooo and welcome back! As is our habit on Mondays, we turn once again to our longform review of Frank Peretti’s window-breaking 1986 Christian fantasy novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we check out the deteriorating marriage of Kate and Marshall Hogan. In two of the subplots given to us in Chapter 21, their relationship takes center stage. So today, Lord Snow Presides over some more evangelical projection — this time in the case of the Hogans’ marriage!
(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 block quotes or in the post itself — come from actual sources.)
Kate Hogan Is Very Upset.
(See our full synopsis of Chapter 21 if you need it.)
Kate eats dinner alone this evening. Her husband Marshall missed yet another planned family dinner with her. He’d promised he’d be there, but he ghosted to do more investigative journalism stuff.
She is fuming angry with him.
Not too long ago, her little family moved to the small town of Ashton from New York City out of concerns for their daughter. Since that move, all-new concerns have replaced her original worries, and she is just as helpless now to address these concerns as she was back in New York City.
And this time, she feels like she’s tackling these brand-new concerns by herself.
Frank Peretti has not yet explained what Kate and Marshall’s deep concerns involved. However, he provides us a hint about what might have worried them: the fact that they moved to a tiny little rural town in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve seen a lot of evangelicals who’ve done much the same thing, moving from a big city to a small rural town. Usually, they do it out of concern for their kids.
First and foremost, they express worry about their kids’ safety. Evangelicals fear and dread big cities. New York City, in particular, looms over their mental landscape like a dystopian panopticon.
Second and possibly just as importantly, though, they fret over all those worldly influences that might draw their kids’ attention away from Christianity. Evangelicals know that cities contain dangerous numbers of people who are not TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like themselves, and that cities contain lots of stuff to do that TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parents would never allow.
Thus, it’s not at all uncommon to hear of an evangelical family pulling up roots from some big city to move to a small town in the country.
There, they hope, their kids will grow up surrounded by fellow TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and completely immersed in the correct flavor and rituals of their religion.
The Hogans are not evangelical, of course. They’re barely even Christian at all. I mean, they attend church, but it’s the Evil Ecumenical church, United Christian, which is headed by Oliver Young, a member of the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).
Nonetheless, they act exactly like evangelicals. Their family structure looks exactly like a dream evangelical setup. The move to Ashton to save Sandy’s soul is itself, as I mentioned, something I’ve only heard of evangelicals doing. As well, Hogan acts like every other middle-aged right-wing nutjob in that tribe, right down to his sense of entitlement over other people’s spaces and his petulant outrage over occasionally being denied access there. He also acts super-evangelical when he displays his inability to show his wife and child his deep love for them.
We’ve seen this exact kind of projection many times, most notably perhaps in the totally-atheistic married couple in Fireproof that somehow still acted like almost every evangelical couple I’ve ever known.
Evangelicals just assume all cultures work like their own and thus suffer from the same problems and shortcomings. It wouldn’t even occur to them that all families don’t operate like theirs.
I’m reminded, reading this chapter in This Present Darkness, of that drive-by evangelical who visited us the other day. He took as a given that all marriages suffer from the extreme power struggles and utter dysfunction we see in evangelicals’ marriages. Multiply him by a few million and you get just how insulated and ignorant evangelicals are about the world outside their bubble.
The Law of Conservation of Worship applies to so much more than just evangelicals’ religious customs and beliefs.
The Big Wish-Fulfillment Scene.
More hilariously, the Hogans also behave like dream recruits for a soulwinner. So far, they’ve done everything but squint at the camera and whine that Jesus could NEVER POSSIBLY forgive sinners like them!
They’re just fundagelicals-in-embryo.
None of the Hogans seem to think much of their current church or its pastor. They attend services mostly out of a sense of habit. All through the book, Marshall in particular has wondered aloud if maybe there’s something, I dunno, MORE out there in Christian-Land, man, ya know?
After Marshall’s big panic attack in Ch. 6, he explores this topic with Kate (p. 65):
“But sometimes–no, a lot of the time, I don’t even feel like I’m going to church. I may as well be sitting at a lodge meeting or in one of Sandy’s weird classes.”
He checked her eyes. They were still steady. She was listening. “Kate, don’t you ever get the feeling that God’s got to be, you know, a little . . . bigger? Tougher? The God we get at church, I feel like He isn’t even a real person, and if He is, He’s dumber than we are. I can’t expect Sandy to buy that stuff. I don’t even go for it myself. [. . .] All I know is, this whole thing–our lifestyle, our schedule, our family, our religion, whatever it is–just isn’t working. Something’s got to change.”
Gosh, who can possibly help him out? It’s such a stumper!
How could the Hogans possibly find a church that’s real and a Jesus as big as their dreams?
(Later, I’ll show you a vignette between me and Biff along these lines. OMG, these conversations are so. much. CRINGE.)
Kate’s Upset With Shawn Too.
Shawn had grown into [Sandy’s] life like a cancer, not a friend, and Kate and Marshall never did talk about it like he had promised. His mind had been totally preoccupied. He was married to that newspaper, maybe enamored by that young, attractive reporter [Bernice].
Weirdly, Kate doesn’t seem to see Shawn as seeking Sandy’s romantic attention. That’s really the most logical explanation for his behavior, but she doesn’t once reach for that as an explanation. She doesn’t think, in the above quote, that Shawn’s acting like a boyfriend, instead thinking the word “friend.”
As Frank Peretti tells it, this situation might well be thought of as pertaining to a pair of ten-year-olds, to a tween daughter accidentally making a friend who suffers from some emotional problems.
And Kate blames her husband here too, for ignoring this growing problem.
Bernice’s Utter Betrayal, Maybe.
In addition to all of these other problems Kate faces, she feels betrayed by Bernice.
Earlier in the book, Kate helped bail Bernice out of jail after the Carnival. There, we saw Kate treating her like a sort of adopted-older-daughter, much like my mom treated my friends when I was Bernice’s age. Kate acts affectionate, kind, and generous toward the younger woman.
But now, Kate starts to see Bernice as a betrayer. She’s starting to wonder if Bernice is maybe seeking the affections of her husband.
As a result of these suspicions, Bernice has gone from pitying “poor Bernice” in jail (p. 19) and offering her “a comforting hug” (p. 20) after her release to seeing her as “that young, attractive reporter” (p. 199).
Evangelical culture prizes youth, sexual inexperience, and beauty in women. Thus, I’d far more expect to see one of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ characters chasing after younger, prettier women than a worldly-wise barely-Christian like Marshall Hogan.
Of course, we must bear in mind that Kate is not a reliable narrator in this scene. Marshall vocally expresses his love for her often when she’s not around. His quest to save their daughter explains his absences. Yes, he’s definitely developing feelings for Bernice. In fact, we’ve seen him act a little too intimate with her a few times already. But so far, nothing’s happened between Marshall and Bernice that’s really out of bounds.
It’s just so remarkable to me that the changes in Kate’s feelings toward Bernice and her suspicions about her husband all fall well into the purview of evangelical women. Evangelical Christian culture constantly pits women against each other.
The book seems to want us to believe that if the Hogans only Jesus-ed correctly, then none of this stuff would be happening to Kate. All the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ marriages we’ve seen so far in the book have been happy and harmonious, loving and kind.
But that is not how things go for evangelical couples in Reality-Land.
Something Kate Isn’t Worried At All About, Apparently.
Interestingly, Kate isn’t worried at all about something that should worry her.
She isn’t even thinking about Marshall’s recent panic attack and his growing stress levels.
Our author presents Marshall’s panic attack as a real live demonic attack. However, the Hogans are not TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Kate should be thinking in secular terms, and that means a full psychological and physical assessment for her husband — and precautions for herself if something like this panic attack ever happens again.
But no. After Frank Peretti got what he wanted out of that scene, it’s like all the characters involved just forgot all about it.
That’s how Frank Peretti treats all of his characters. In this book, people are smart till he needs them to be dumb, and either way they rarely act or talk like real people do because reality won’t cooperate with the scenarios he really wants to depict. All of the characters, therefore, act like caricatures and switch traits on a dime.
Worst of all, all of his good guys act like the evangelical-dream version of evangelicals — whether they’re actually evangelical or not. There’s simply no room in Frank Peretti’s universe for a true-blue evangelical to hold all the correct doctrinal stances and pursue all the correct culture-war crusades, and yet also be a lying, abusive, thieving, woman-harassin’ schemer.
Peretti doesn’t notice or care that in real life, people tend to work in exactly the opposite ways as they do in his book. Neither do his fans.
So in this subplot, Kate was a supportive, loving wife till the moment Peretti needed her to be jealous and intractable. Now, in this subplot vignette in Chapter 21, suddenly that’s exactly what she is. I’m guessing that she’s about to become like the hero’s girlfriend in God’s Not Dead — there to artificially inflate the stakes and provide friction and pushback against the heroes. And then she’ll either do another 180 turnaround or she’ll vanish like the girlfriend did, never to be remembered again.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another non-evangelical marriage that, weirdly, operates exactly like most evangelical marriages.
NEXT UP: We look at this Summit “ministry” that Sean McDowell recommended so much. See you tomorrow!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.