Hi and welcome back! It’s Monday, that magical day of the week when we turn our attention to Frank Peretti’s tiresome culture-war clarion call, the 1986 novel This Present Darkness. In this installment, we discover what happens when someone chooses the wrong flavor of Christianity — and it is a dire warning indeed, if a completely false one. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a contemporary denominational squabble that reveals all too much about its target audience.
(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. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)
In this chapter, Bernice Krueger and Marshall Hogan immerse themselves in the work of ferreting out the real-estate scam happening in Ashton. They contact potential witnesses, interview them, and assemble their information. It’s sort of a slow-burn as executed by someone who clearly didn’t know how to write a slow burn.
Bernice visits and interviews Joe and Angelina Carlucci. They’re apparently afraid that someone is keeping tabs on them. Once she’s in their home, they give her an earful about why they had to leave Ashton. (This is where we’ll be hanging out today.)
Meanwhile, Marshall meets with an old New York City newspaper associate, Al Lemley. Lemley offers him a bunch of information about Alexander M. Kaseph and the Omni Corporation that Kaseph works for/operates/whatever. In addition, Marshall learns a lot about Kaseph’s bad reputation and Omni’s shady, under-the-table acquisitions and international reach. OMG! Also, Marshall learns that Omni is tied up with a New Age group called the Universal Consciousness Society (the group that held the gala earlier). Lemley gives him a dire warning not to mess with any of these people.
Then, Bernice and Marshall come together to start talking to all the other people that Omni’s bought out of their Ashton homes and businesses. It turns out to be a lot of people. The local college denies having any involvement with Kaseph, Omni, or the New Age group. They receive more dire warnings to stay away from this story.
Naturally, they don’t listen to any of these warnings. SO BRAVE, MUCH JOURNALISM!
Meet the Carluccis.
Peretti has already mentioned the Carluccis a few times. They’ve popped up here and there, mostly in the context of this beloved, well-known couple who used to own a shop in town and then left quietly and secretly.
Joe Carlucci used to operate “Joe’s Market.” But then, very abruptly, he packed up his family, sold the store, and left town.
Remember the gross almost-rape chapter with Mary Busche, the wife of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor? Well, that scene begins with her leaving Joe’s Market! In fact, at the scene’s start she’s thinking about its change of ownership (p. 136):
Mary was not sure she liked the new owners of what used to be Joe’s Market. [. . .] What bothered Mary was how obviously secretive they became any time she asked them whatever became of Joe Carlucci and his family. As far as Mary could find out, Joe, Angelina, and their children left Ashton abruptly and didn’t tell anyone, and so far no one could be found who even knew where they went.
Of course, it’s really none of this nattering busybody’s business why Joe and Angelina Carlucci sold their shop or moved away. We’ll also ignore that there’s no real reason for the place’s management to know such private information, much less to provide it upon demand to randos. (See endnote.)
Instead, let’s focus on Peretti’s ham-handed attempt to build suspense in the dumbest way imaginable.
Nobody had to act “obviously secretive.” In Reality-Land, the workers at Joe’s Market would only have shrugged and said they didn’t know.
But whatever, yall! It’s sooooo eerie and weird! OMG, Y’ALL!
Bernice’s Visit to the Carluccis.
After Bernice sneaks her way inside the Carluccis’ home, she sits down with them to talk about why they left Ashton.
They tell her a harrowing tale! They got done dirty by the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (Or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW), though they don’t know that’s what is behind everything. All they know is that some dark and evil group of people forced them out. Some weirdos came to Joe Carlucci wanting to buy his shop. After he refused them three times, someone broke his son Carl’s hands.
(“Carl Carlucci.” Yes. That’s a thing that has happened.)
When Bernice asks who did it, the parents say nobody knows — not even Carl himself, though he’s been tormented with bad dreams ever since. The boy thinks “evil spirits” broke his hands. It soon becomes clear that Joe and Angelina agree (p. 207):
“And he never said who did it?”
Joe Carlucci’s eyes were glazed with terror. He whispered, “Big black things . . .”
“Things. Carl says they were spirits, monsters.”
Bernice isn’t sure exactly how to take this revelation. It’s hard for her to keep these two on-topic and discussing things in ways that tether to reality.
As she listens, though, her gaze wanders around their home.
Frank Peretti’s Total Ignorance About Life, Again.
omehow the County Office lost their tax payments for the year. The pair said they had canceled checks showing they’d paid, but apparently no receipts. Indeed, Joe declares amid great upset, “The people at the County Office wouldn’t listen to us!”
Angelina makes it sound like their only recourse was to pay the taxes on their store a second time.
And right there, I said aloud, BULL PATTIES. (Sort of. C’mon. You all know what I actually said.)
I’ve been in exactly this position a few times in my life. Probably most of us have. To resolve it, you just produce receipts saying you paid the bill. That definitely includes canceled checks.
But whatever, fine.
Since the Cabal was also vandalizing their property and driving away customers, the Carluccis ended up selling the shop at a deep loss and fleeing for their family’s safety.
The Wrong Kind of Christian.
As the Carluccis talk, Bernice muses quietly (p. 207):
It was clear these poor deluded people really believed something of this nature was attacking them. They were very devout Catholics, but also very superstitious. Perhaps that explained the many crucifixes on every door, the pictures of Jesus and the figurines of the Virgin Mary everywhere, on every table, over every doorway, in every window.
The Carluccis are very fervent Christians.
But they are the wrong kind of Christian.
They do not Jesus correctly at all, by evangelical standards.
Evangelicals would have caught this detail immediately. They would have known exactly what they were seeing and why, too.
Evangelicals firmly believe that someone can be extremely fervent, and yet still be completely vulnerable to demonic attack if they don’t Jesus the right way.
Not Free at All, Amirite?
As the Carluccis’ story comes to a close, Joe and Angelina get agitated because Bernice obviously doesn’t believe their stories of supernatural harassment and demonic mischief. Angelina tells her “defiantly” (p. 209):
“I tell you, windows don’t break by themselves, and groceries don’t fly off the shelves by themselves. It was the Devil himself in our store!”
Bernice had to reassure them. “All right, I’m not arguing with that. You saw what you saw, I don’t doubt you–”
“But don’t you see, Miss Krueger?” Joe asked with tears in his eyes. “We knew we could not stay. What would they do next? Our store was failing, our home was sold out from under us, our children were being tormented by evil people, spirits, whatever. We knew it would be best not to fight. It was God’s will. We sold the store. They gave us a good price . . .”
Bernice knew that wasn’t so. “You didn’t get half of what that store was worth.”
Joe broke down and cried as he said, “But we are free. . . We are free!”
Bernice had to wonder.
Evangelicals would not wonder at all. They’d know the score there.
Joe was not free, and he wouldn’t be till he Jesus-ed correctly.
The Anti-Catholic Culture War of the 1980s.
Long ago, evangelicals fused with Catholics to wage their culture wars together. This fusion must have come about after I deconverted in the mid-1990s, but I know that by the 2000s it was done. By now, it’s impossible to tell if a given culture warrior is Catholic or evangelical — unless they name specific doctrines they believe.
Things were really different in the 1980s.
These were the heady days of anti-Catholic tracts and comic books screeching about ZOMG SEE WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON IN CATHOLICISM!!!
Back in the 1980s, conspiracy-theory-minded evangelicals saw Catholicism as ancient and demonic evil, the Pope as an eldritch horror (which, I mean, okay), and Catholics themselves as delusional simpletons who didn’t realize they engaged in witchcraft every time they attended Mass — and had no idea what their leaders were up to behind closed doors.
Frank Peretti clearly alludes to that contemporary squabble in this chapter.
Comparing and Contrasting Christianities.
Back in Chapter 6, we saw two characters going through panic attacks — well, Frank Peretti presented them as demonic attacks, I suppose. At the time, I compared and contrasted the two.
Marshall Hogan’s panic attack ends with him almost attacking his wife Kate with a baseball bat. Afterward, they drink warm milk together and talk, but Marshall isn’t settled out by it at all.
Hank Busche’s panic attack ends with him banishing literal demons from his home by invoking Jesus as a magic spell. Afterward, he and his wife Mary-the-Busybody pray together. He ends feeling fairly encouraged, though uncertain at the idea of future attacks.
Well, much the same thing happens here. The Carluccis faced a demonic attack, but because they can’t invoke Jesus properly in their spellcasting they don’t get angelic protection or help. Those angels hovering all around Ashton? They flat ignored the Carluccis, as far as we know. They let demons break a little boy’s hands, let the Cabal terrorize a whole family, and eventually turned away while that family lost everything and had to flee.
Oh, but a newbie pastor like Hank needs a little sumpin-sumpin to keep his first pastoral gig afloat a bit longer? The angels will all crowd into the church for that.
Nice Soul You Got There.
If the Carluccis had Jesus-ed correctly, would they have gotten some help? I strongly suspect so.
If nothing else, they’d have gotten comfort from their god and his angels, like Hank and the other TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have gotten all through the book.
Believe the correct way in the correct doctrines using the correct rituals, Frank Peretti all but coos to his readers, and just look at how much better things would go for you.
I don’t see much difference between the angels and the demons, is what I’m saying.
Winning the Denominational Fight Through Seigneurial Fiat.
But there’s one part of this equation that never sits right even on the book’s own dubious merits.
As the author of this mess, Frank Peretti can paint his own tribe as receiving divine aid. He can make them the winners by fiat, because he’s the one writing the story.
In reality, however, there’s no divine aid being given to anybody. Both Catholics and evangelicals face trials in life, and no gods are helping either group get through them or lessening the number of trials they face in the first place.
So this denominational infighting only reveals yet again that Christian claims are just hot air by showing us a world where those claims are actually true. The real world doesn’t even look remotely like what Christians paint in their fantasies and dreams (or claim in their testimonies, for that matter).
Today, Lord Snow Presides over an old denominational squabble that accidentally reveals way more than Frank Peretti should ever want to show anyone.
NEXT UP: Sad and worsening statistics for evangelical leaders reveal a very serious dealbreaker problem for their tribe that they just never want to talk about, much less resolve.
Regarding real estate sales disclosures: I once bought a house with an ex. At the signing, the lady selling the house wasn’t even there, only her lawyer. It was like everyone was going to pains to keep us from learning anything at all about her.
As it turns out, the seller lived with her adult daughter. The daughter had acquired an especially-terrifying stalker. Because he was only escalating in his activities, the two decided to pull chocks and flee. They had not told us any of this.
The stalker showed up at our new house a week or so after we’d moved in to ask if we knew where they’d gone. We had absolutely no information to give this scary-looking, scruffy guy, not that we would have anyway. Thankfully, he went away amid much snuffling and performative sadness about how much he missssssssed his friennnnnnnd. Even more thankfully, we never heard from him again.
A month or so later, the seller contacted us to fess up. I’d suspected, but finding out for sure really freaked me out. I’m very glad they escaped, but I wish I’d known before buying.
Mary Busche’s busybody intrusions here come off as super-creepy. Look, I want to tell her: if they wanted anyone to know where they went or why they left, they would have made that information available. It ain’t none of your bizwacks.
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