Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jack Chick’s New Tract

Jack Chick has a new tract, “Some Like it Hot.” I’ve discussed Chick’s tracts before. This one, however, takes us to a new perspective: The entire theological system as explained by the Devil. Like all good Jack Chick tracts, even the title of the tract provides amusement. The title is an apparent attempt at something resembling wordplay referring to the 1959 movie of that title starring Marylin Monroe and Jack Lemmon. Apparently, Chick’s idea of a clever pop cultural reference is to a film that came out fifty years ago. It seems that Chick’s understanding of pop culture stopped sometime in the 1960s. This is consistent with other data, such as his continuing bashing of rock music as satanic while not addressing more modern forms of devil music such as rap.

The premise of this new tract is that a grandfather and his grandson find themselves both in Hell. While wandering around the landscape, they wonder why Henry, the intervening parent, is not there and then realize that he accepted Jesus as his personal lord and savior. The Devil then decides that he wants to talk to the two of them. The Devil gives a long rambling speech, outlining the basic theology. Jack Chick’s Devil seems to be not only incompetent, but doesn’t understand basic time management. As with any Jack Chick tract, we need some bashing of other religions. Thus, the Devil declares:

I alone control every major religion in the world! Isn’t that a pleasant surprise. We’re overrun with religious leaders down here… and all their followers! We’re “blessed” with popes galore and “holy men” like Buddha and Muhammad… all of them got here by trusting their “good works.”

This paragraph is vintage Chick. We’ve got the required Catholic bashing and we’ve got the deep misunderstanding of other religions. Memo to Jack: There’s nothing in Buddhism remotely resembling a notion of “good works.” We understand that you can only think in terms of your religion and its own theological disputes, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else thinks in the same way as you.

The Devil’s rant is accompanied by pictures of various people burning in Hell. One of them appears to be dressed as a Pope, another has peyos and a black hat, while another is wearing a turban. Apparently good Christians never wear turbans.

The Devil continues his rant, explaining that he really hates Henry because Henry saved so many souls. Since the Devil cannot take out his wrath on Henry who is in Heaven, he decides to take it out on these two and thus throws them into a bottomless pit.

This raises a number of issues. First, even Jack Chick seems to think that there’s some element of justice regarding people who go to Hell. So what theological justification allows the Devil to torture people who happen to be related to people he doesn’t like? Second, is this tract really a great argument for accepting Jesus if the most likely result is that one’s family is stuck in a burning hot wasteland where one can actually find and talk to people you know? It may be that Chick is just getting soft in his old age and so we don’t have the default setting of eternal all consuming flame while surrounded in darkness. However, if I had accepted Jesus as my personal lord and savior and had relatives who had not, I’d be tempted not to witness to people. Maybe, I’m just a horrible human being, but I’d have a lot of trouble trying to save strangers if it meant my friends and loved ones would suffer more in Hell. I don’t think that’s what Jack Chick is trying to accomplish.


Jay said...

Chick's basic reason for accepting his flavor of Christianity is the fear of the consequences if one doesn't.

That model shows up everywhere - Ray Comfort's Are You A Good Person schtick uses it, it underpins the propaganda at the Answers In Genesis Creation Museum, and if you look carefully it even shows up in the ID materials that come out of the Discovery Institute.

I've had a number of people through the years tell me that they came to their beliefs because they feared being condemned to Hell. Not because the belief system made any particular sense, but because they had "believe or burn" drilled into them at an early age.

It's discouragingly difficult to engage people like that in a rational discussion of religion - their underlying fear can be so strong that it prevents them from even considering other points of view.

sniffnoy said...

Of course, "Some Like it Hot" isn't necessarily a reference to the movie; it could just be a reference to the nursery rhyme the movie took its title from. The movie's not the only thing to use that title.

Lautreamont said...

Chick tracts, both in their actual intent as well as the type of thinking they bespeak, make me feel so sad. I have nothing helpful to say here, although I do want to add two substantial things. One, there is a documentary about Chick done in part by the IFC; it is pretty amazing and can be viewed here,-Look-What-We-Just-Got!

And two, that it is amazingly ironic Chick is probably the greatest weapon people like Sam Harris can wield against the Christian right. Indeed, while his own brand of horrifically warped world view may not be the norm. In America today, many of his beliefs from hell to abortion to antisemitism sadly are.(I am surprised Josh didn't mention Satan's "Jewish" hooked nose). Hopefully, Chick exposes all of these beliefs as the socially acidic extremism that they are.

Joshua said...

Harry, the nursery rhyme had not occurred to me. That's an excellent point. However, given that in other tracts he's complained about "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" I think my original hypothesis is more likely.

Paul, that looks like an interesting documentary which I'll have to take a look at. I didn't mention the hooked nose since a) Chick's attitude towards Jews is fairly complicated and b) I wasn't sure it wasn't just my imagination (Jews have a tendency to see signs of anti-Semitism even when they don't exist)

Jay said...

You touched on something at the end, Joshua, that's bothered me for a while. (This is going to go somewhat off topic, for which I apologize in advance.)

The witnessing business is problematic. On the one hand, you have evangelical Christians trying to convince others to join the club based (at least in part) on the notion that God is all loving and such. On the other hand, a significant doctrinal element in many (most?) flavors of Christianity is the notion of eternal punishment if one rejects Jesus.

The second point raises the question of what happens to people who have never had the opportunity to reject Jesus - those who were born before, those who live in parts of the world where missionaries haven't penetrated.

Often, this question is answered with the statement that God provides for such people - the term "invisible Christian" is sometimes used.

At the same time, though, many of these same people will quite readily launch missionaries into non-Christian areas, planting churches, distributing literature, and offering humanitarian aid in exchange for conversion.

In doing this, it seems that by exposing non-Christians to the message, they're setting the stage (according to their own doctrines) for the condemnation of those who don't convert.

It makes me wonder how people like Chick can sleep at night.

Joshua said...

Jay, it certainly does seem to be a very problematic doctrine. The most interesting explanations I've heard are the arguments that

a) To achieve salvation without Jesus this fashion is very difficult.
b) If someone would in fact have merited by their works to be saved then when they first hear about Jesus the Holy Spirit will make sure they accept them (or something like that).
c) there are no invisible Christians but people keep getting reincarnated until they hear about Jesus. (This is I think a notion extremely unique to a certain friend of mine and I think one would be hard pressed to find any denomination or such that takes this idea at all seriously).

I doubt that Chick would be at all ok with the notion of invisible Christians given his general doctrine and the lack of attention he pays to anything resembling justice. It almost seems to Chick that the results of salvation or damnation are more metaphysical inevitabilities that God has to work with (This seems to be somewhat similar to what C.S. Lewis sort of meant when he referred to the Deep Magic in the Narnia books although I'm not aware of Lewis describing any similar notion in his more serious theological works). When Chick says in a variety of tracts "It isn't a matter of good or bad. It is a matter of saved or lost" I think he means that quite seriously.

There's a related problem some Orthodox Jews have in regard to the status of what is called a tinuk shell nishpah, (literally a child of captivity) that is a child of Jewish ancestry who isn't raised Orthodox. It seems clear that such individuals are not responsible for their actions at least in regard to more or less non-moral law. However, some hold that if such a person then becomes Orthodox they become responsible for them and thus will be punished if they then cease to be Orthodox. If one follows this logic, one shouldn't try to make these people become Orthodox. Indeed, quite the opposite. There's not quite as big an issue here though since many Orthodox Jews consider it impossible or close to impossible to merit eternal punishment.

Johan said...

I just want to think you for introducing me to the Chick tracts with your previous posting. They are both disturbing and hilarious.

This new one was hardly one of his best however. His version of Hell isn't as frightening as it should be. Dante did it better.

A number of theological points are interesting: Chick seems to deemphasize the resurrection in favor of immediate judgement. That is not very orthodox protestantism.

It is also interesting that he includes New Testament textual criticism as one of the Devil's tools in this comic but does not take the time to bash more usual suspects like evolutionary biology.

I think he is more right than more mainstream fundamentalists to view textual criticism of the Bible as a threat to their brand of religion. Once you start using reason to decide what is in the Bible there is always the risk that you start using reason to think about the creation of the world and human origins.

Jay said...

While it's sometimes difficult to extract motivation from writings, I'm fairly confident in stating that Chick is motivated at least in large part by hatred and disgust for anyone who doesn't believe exactly as he does. He seems to particuarly dislike Catholics (I've noticed that many of the leading evangelical/fundamentalist authors have it in for Catholics...), and as you mentioned his attitude towards Jews is "complicated".

Thanks for the information on the tinuk shell nishpah matter. I had wondered if there was such a concept.

Metro said...

Latecomer with a thought:

Raised as a Catholic, I always had a problem with the notion of Hell. How was I supposed to enjoy Heaven when my friends, neighbours, and relatives might be burning in eternal torture?

Thankfully, I reached the age of reason, and no longer accept blindly the existence of heavens, hells, devils, or gods.

Jack Chick may also be a figment of someone's imagination. We can only hope.

Johan said...

For all his hatred of Catholics he seems to understand their theology better than the other religions he is bashing. One of his tracts had a explanation of transubstantiation that seemed correct to me, as a theologically interested "layman". (Of course the tract also contained wildly incorrect religious history.)

I do not think Chick is anti-semitic. Of course non-Christian Jews will burn in Hell but so will all non-Christians. Jews are mistaken but not evil in his view I would say. Certainly his anti-Catholic bigotry is of a vastly different kind.

Here is an interesting tract on the Jewish people by Chick. He does not seam to be a superseccionist.

Joshua said...

Yes, his attitude towards Jews is complicated. Certainly his attitude towards Catholicism is much more unambiguously negative. As I made clear I think in my other post on Chick, he really, really doesn't like Catholicism. That he gets the basics of the theology right is a minor point in his favor.