Hi and welcome back! I got so excited about writing about SCOTUS yesterday that I forgot it was Monday. Just to keep us moving on track, then, here is the post I should have written yesterday for Lord Snow Presides! In this installment, I’ll whisk us through the chapter synopsis and then look at the chapter’s central situation: an abuse accusation that is totally for realsies false forever OMG how could you think that. False abuse allegations actually run all through this book, but this one aged particularly poorly. Today, Lord Snow Presides over evangelicals’ fascination with false abuse accusations 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. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)
Chapter 26 Synopsis.
Marshall Hogan’s meeting turns out to involve way more than just Alf Brummel. ALL the local members of Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW) seem to be there — with the strange and notable exception of its sub-leader, Juleen Langstrat. In the meeting, Marshall lays out all his accusations and tells them he’s publishing everything he has on them in his paper’s next edition.
In return, the Cabal tells Marshall everything. They affirm everything Marshall has discovered about their doings in town, including their affiliation with the New Age-y Omni Corporation and its leader, Alexander Kaseph — and the Universal Consciousness Society that’s behind it all.
When the Cabal realizes Marshall won’t play ball, though, they drop their own boot on his head: they’re foreclosing on the paper effective immediately, which will stop him from publishing any stories about anything, and they’ve also persuaded his college-age daughter Sandy to falsely accuse him of abuse and molestation.
Meanwhile, Bobby Corsi gets fully exorcised at the church. He converts after being freed, and this is what happens next (p. 245):
Right then and there, Bobby Corsi became a new creation. And his first words as a Christian were, “Guys, this town’s in trouble! Wait’ll you hear what I’ve been up to and who I’ve been working for!”
Ugh. This scene represents the Satanic Panic in a nutshell.
The Big Climactic Accusation Scene.
In the first scene of the chapter, Marshall Hogan storms into his big meeting with Alf Brummel at the police station. However, it turns out to be Brummel plus most of the CSWWSW. Juleen Langstrat is busy, apparently, but most of the rest of the gang’s present — including Marshall’s own pastor, Oliver Young of the Evil Ecumenical Church in town. Marshall’s still furious about his reporter, Bernice, getting beaten to within an inch of her life, as well as about all the other mayhem that’s recently been done to what he now knows are the enemies of the CSWWSW.
I can’t say enough how inept this chapter is. Marshall yells at the men in the meeting, laying out all his accusations against them. He accuses Brummel of corruption, Young of hypocrisy and being “sold out to a lie,” and everyone else of being evil conspirators.
And in response, the Cabal confirms to Marshall that his research is basically accurate, then goes on to volunteer all kinds of other stuff they’re doing — as well as why they’re doing it. It’s so hilariously overblown.
But what got my attention was the way they proposed to shut Marshall Hogan up.
The bank owner his paper works with, who is part of the Cabal and this meeting, “lost” his newspaper’s last eight mortgage payments — which is the same ruse they used to drive out the grocery-store owners Bernice interviewed.
Even worse, they’ve somehow persuaded Marshall’s own daughter to make false sexual abuse allegations against him, just in case the financial skulduggery didn’t work!
Well That Didn’t Age Well.
Out of every single awful part of this book, its plot points involving false sexual abuse accusations might be the part of it that’s aged the most poorly.
Ted Harmel, the now-dead former editor/owner of the Ashton newspaper before Marshall Hogan, faced similar accusations. The book — and therefore its author, who maintains no distance between his beliefs and his writing — insists repeatedly that these are completely and totally false accusations. When Marshall find out about the accusations against Ted, he doesn’t seem to have ever taken them seriously. And when he meets Ted in person in Chapter 20, the abuse charges get brought up immediately — and then dismissed, just as immediately.
When Ted brings up and then denies the abuse charges, Marshall’s only response sounds perfectly evangelical (p. 189):
“Why did it happen, Ted? What did you do to bring it on yourself?”
Marshall’s completely on Ted’s side. He very obviously believes Ted, just like the victims of all evangelical abusers hope to be believed by their group leaders. At no point does Frank Peretti indicate that Marshall has any questions at all about Ted’s innocence.
Those mean ole Cabal members! They trumped up false abuse charges! Grr! Meanies! And poor little Ted, falsely accused and all!
False Abuse Accusations in the Evangelical Mind.
Leaders are visible, and visibility attracts slander.
Similarly, the book presents the threat of Sandy’s potential abuse accusations as contrived and trumped-up to silence Marshall — who is the book’s focal point, a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in every way except in professed beliefs.
In the book so far, Marshall’s just a light-switch flip away from converting. He’s already whined several times about how disappointing his flavor of Christianity is — and how he thinks there just oughta be more somehow to his beliefs and faith. He just hasn’t been told about TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ yet. Until then, he’s just a conversion waiting to happen.
(I’ll show you how this trope shows up in Lee Strobel’s Unchurched book later on. Oh yes. I finally got my copy in the mail today, so we can really go to town on it. Bother has already thoughtfully pre-chewed the cover for me. I think the book’s previous owner must have had kitties, cuz Bother was utterly fascinated with it.)
When false accusations come up against TRUE CHRISTIANS™, typically the first thing that happens is their churches rally around them to denounce these “false accusations.” It doesn’t matter how much evidence prosecutors lay down — somehow, the accusations are always false! Often, the accused person and his supporters even try to claim that actual literal demons stand behind these totally-false accusations.
Gosh, y’all. Who among us could have guessed that demons would turn out to be so good at faking evidence?
Well, That Subplot Didn’t Age Well.
I wonder who outside the tribe now would doubt an abuse accusation laid against one of their number? Probably not many. The denunciations of “false accusations” keeps the money train rolling for years past the time when everyone should have disembarked.
Reading those subplots definitely made me feel uncomfortable. The men accused of abuse were very much presented as not officially part of the evangelical tribe. But as mentioned, they might as well have been true-blue evangelicals. Sure, the way Frank Peretti wrote them as characters was likely drawn from his own experience as the son of an evangelical pastor. This is far from a well-written story.
All the same, Marshall and Ted walk like evangelical ducks and quack like evangelical ducks.
By presenting abuse accusations as the product of demonic plots to achieve world victory, Frank Peretti may have done his community way more harm than good. In general, the Satanic Panic only masked that the real abusers were the ones making their own false accusations against others — and using books like this one to bolster their claims.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a particularly hamfisted plot contrivance that aged way worse than the rest of the lot of them.
NEXT UP: What impressed evangelicals so much about Unchurched. 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 sweet white cat who died in 2018. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.
A Last Note:
After I came back from Japan and moved to Portland, I still banked at a local little bank in Friendswood, Texas. And this bank legit lost of my three car payments in a row right after my move. I’d begun paying by money order — because depositing money there was so inconvenient that I’d become a cash economy. So my money hadn’t gone where it should have. My car got repo’d, which is how I discovered the issue!
My response: I sent them a fax (this was 1994) with photocopies of my receipts. They found the money, put it where it belonged, and I had my car back that very evening, very slightly the worse for wear. My MIL recently resolved a very similar issue with property taxes in exactly the same way.
This is how lost payments work in Reality-Land. The takeaway: don’t trust fundagelical businesses, I guess, because obviously things work differently with them. Everyone in TPD acts like once payments are lost, they’ve disappeared into a black hole and there’s no finding them again, oh well, gotta pay a whole second time or ELSE. It’s one of the weirder plot holes in the book.