Who Rules You

I’m not trying to make every consideration of my fundamentalist history this year focus in some way on The Locked Tomb but it’s just very helpful, and since it’s what put it in my mind, I figure it’s what I’m going to be using as my lens. Particularly because as I engage with that fandom I hear people, totally normal and regular people, react to things in the book that reveal to me more ways in which my upbringing was in fact, completely and utterly horseradished.

Let me talk to you of John Gaius, the Emperor Eternal, God with a soft G, and his part in my upbringing.

John Gaius, Jod for short going forward, is a major character in the story of The Locked Tomb. It may constitute a spoiler to inform you that those books feature a character with that name and that title and that he’s, like, a dude who shows up in those books and is kinda a dick, but I don’t think that’s the kind of spoiler for a book series that merits a serious warning. However, in my effort to be nice to people who are big crybaby wenuses about this kind of thing, I will say, here and now, beyond this point, I’m going to talk about a character in a book. I’m going to imply that the guy who became the God-Emperor of Mankind and the Undying Necrolord may have done some fucked up shit.

You will cope.

When conversation about the world of the Locked Tomb turns to John Gaius, a few things come up pretty quickly. One, that the Emperor fucks, two that the Emperor looks like Taika Watiti and therefore, well, duh, and then three that God was a twitch streamer and how weird it is, how unexpected this is. For this end I’d like to let you know that cults form over communication networks in which you can isolate people, ideally without leaving them feeling like they’re being isolated. Cults have been formed over the radio, cults have been formed via pamphlets and newsletter. Cults have been constructed through every means of interface, and there are already multiple examples of cults being formed, via youtube and twitch.

I completely seriously mean this when I say that one of the major political parties of the United States is functionally, a cult that got its operation happening thanks to twitter.

This led to my first realisation: A lot of people don’t really realise they’ve seen a real bastard before. There’s I think an impetus for people who haven’t dealt with them up close to see the humanity in everyone, to see ways to forgive and be kind to a lot of people. This is usually brought up in the context of prison, as if prison is somehow a reasonable system for finding bad people, and it sort of white-washes together criminals and bad people, two groups that don’t really have that much overlap.

Our cult leader was, well, unremarkable. He was heavy set in the middle, bald, had glasses, a wife, a daughter, and a kinda-adopted daughter, I never got the long and short of that scenario. The dude could quote scripture and espouse ideas and present rhetorical frameworks that were consistently good at making you think he’d answered you, and then build over and over again on that impression such that you could very easily think that maybe you had gotten an answer and just not understood it. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would stand up to an inquisitive, concentrated and confrontational mind, but the good news is that cults select away from that kind of thing. Fundamentalists drive out those to whom critical thinking comes too easily because they can’t be happy under fundamentalism.

Our church signed onto a pledge that specifically stated its goal was to isolate us in our communities. The phrasing was different – it was that to defend our beliefs in the truth of the Bible, we had to do what the Bible said, and quoted a bunch of verses:

1. Separation from doctrinal schismatics and apostates;

a. “Mark them” (Philippians 3:17-18)
b. “Avoid them” (Romans 16:1718)
c. “Identity them” (I Timothy 1:20; II Timothy 1:15; 4:14)
d. “From such turn away” (II Timothy 3:5)
e. “Reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11)
f. “Have no fellowship with them”(Ephesians 5:11)
g. “Be not unequally yoked together with” (II Corinthians 6:14-16)
h. “Come out from among them” (II Corinthians 6:17)
i. “Reject” (Titus 3:10)

2. Separation from disobedient saints and appeasers;

a. “Note that man” (I Thessalonians 3:14)
b. “Withdraw yourself”(II Thessalonians3:6)
c. “Have no company with”(II Thessalonians 3:15)
d. “Rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13) [20] 
e. “Admonish him as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:15)
f. “Count him not an enemy” (II Thessalonians 3:15)
g. “Keep not company” (I Corinthians 5:11)
h. “With such an one not to eat” (I Corinthians 5:11)

And while adhering to this separatist position, that we “let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1)


This was an isolation tactic, done to ensure that we in our churches saw any dissent from our fundamentalist worldview as being an attack on our faith. We had to drive away those people, because the Bible said we had to, as stated by our articles of faith that were written and drawn out by men.

Notice though, the framing? Check out there, one of those quotes: “Mark Them.” Phillippians 3:17-18. How the fuck is that one two-word phrase in two verses? Does one end with ‘mark’ and the other begin with ‘them?’

The full quote is this:

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark those who so walk, as ye have us for an example.

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even with weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ.

Notice the phrase ‘mark them’ is used to evoke the idea of eschewing contact with the apostate. This is not what these verses present. These verses literally say ‘follow together with me and mark those who so walk.’ It’s talking about who you include, not who you exclude. Adding on verse 18 says that there are people who walk as enemies of the faith, but that’s not saying anything about what to do with them. And this is just one grabbed citation at random, where any of the others are almost certainly just as mis-handled.

Jod is a bad person. You can tell, because of all the bad things he’s done. You can really tell because of how he frames doing the bad things he’s done as inevitable, or necessary, or the responsibility of the people who drove him to do it. This led to a second realisation: People aren’t used to being lied to. Our pastor told families in the church he was approaching them in secret for help with his money problems from his pyramid scheme, and he didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was, and every single one of them wound up signing up and giving him giant chunks of money in the name of the church because he was their pastor.

When he told us that he’d been doing it, and that he couldn’t pay, and he was leaving, he didn’t set up anything. He didn’t apologise. He just… left.

Just fucked off.

The person telling you the story is a person telling you a story. Jod in the Locked Tomb tells an extensive narrative about what he did and why he did it, but you gotta remember he’s the one telling you that story, he is literally giving you a version of events that he gets to shape. There’s stuff he leaves out and stuff that’s inconsistent and such a focus on things that build empathy like his frustration and his sadness and his need for vengeance that all are explicitly trying to manipulate his audience which includes you.

The third realisation, which makes sense to me because Muir has mentioned cult upbringing too, is that even if our experiences differ, cult experiences fuck you up in ways that rhyme because they’re all fundamentally about environments of control. I was not a subject, directly to our pastor. I was a kid a few steps removed; my mother was directly important, my dad secondarily important so me and my sister were tertiarilly important and we could be used to turn those other gears.

Jod is a great character. Really well written. Very authentic, very true to life. He’s not unique. He’s not singular. He’s a shithead of a type that exists, in the world, today, and who is probably just looking for the right way to put people he wants under his control.

Study him and study the ways he thinks he can fool you.