Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jack Chick, Native Americans and Henotheism

Everyone's favorite Christian fundamentalist tract writer, Jack Chick, has a new tract, Crazy Wolf. This tract is apparently aimed at Native Americans and attempts to show how their traditional religious beliefs are really demon worship.

The tract starts with two stereotypical Native Americans talking about how one of their own, Mary, has accepted the "White God" and how they are unhappy with her. One of them, Margaret, is particularly unhappy because Mary tried to evangelize to Margaret's young daughter Sarah. I guess Jack Chick can't quite understand why someone might be justifiably upset if someone tried to interfere with one's kids’ religious upbringings.

Margaret then discusses how they tried to get a medicine man to put a curse on Mary, but "some strange power" prevented the medicine man's curse from working. So, they decided to ask the assistance of a powerful witch named Crazy Wolf.

Notice that every individual so far in this tract has an English name except for the old, evil witch. I guess it's just a sign of how baddass he is that he as stereotypic name, or something like that. At least his name isn't "Injun Joe."

Of course, Crazy Wolf tries to use his Devil-granted powers to shapechange into a massive wolf to eat Mary. He fails because of Mary and her pastor's prayers. An angel materializes which beats up Crazy Wolf. Mary then further prays that Crazy Wolf will accept Jesus as his personal lord and savior.

We all know this part of the routine: Injun Joe, sorry, Crazy Wolf, talks to Mary and accepts Jesus as his personal lord and savior. Crazy Wolf declares that "my real name is Billie Wolf." Apparently, he has a good name, but it only gets used once he's saved. Then, as happens in so many Jack Chick tracts, he dies a violent death, as Margaret shoots him with a shotgun in revenge for failing to kill Mary.

Crazy Wolf goes to heaven and is told that "You just made it by the skin of your teeth! You believed on(sic) Me and that saved you. Billie Wolf, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Margaret of course goes to hell to burn for eternity.

This tract raises some interesting issues about Chick's theology. For example, as with some prior tracts, demonic forces are not only real, but very powerful. There's an almost henotheistic aspect to the story. Henotheism is the belief that many deities exist while only worshipping one. Chick’s Jesus becomes relevant primarily after death or during the apocalypse. In Chick’s pantheon, there are many deities but Jesus, the deity of death and destruction, reigns supreme.

Implied in this narrative is the teaching that prayer for a soul can actively lead to salvation. This is confusing. The entire point of Chick’s theology is that all that matters is whether an individual has accepted Jesus or not. If God and prayer can alter that decision, then the even minimal theological explanation of why everyone is not saved breaks down. It becomes within God’s power to alter whether or not individuals are saved. This renders the primary evangelical apologetic of such a deity non-feasible. In particular, damnation is usually defended by arguing that God cannot force people to accept Jesus as their savior. Yet here we see God apparently doing exactly that.

The importance of names is also worth noting. Aside from the not so subtle racism associated with Chick’s name choices, this is part of a general pattern in Chick's theology. What one calls something matters. Thus, for example, in previous tracts aimed at Islam, Chick argues that Allah is not just another word for God. This brings up an issue: Consider the following hypothetical: Someone is explained the entire evangelical belief system but with the words "Satan" and "Jesus Christ" swapped throughout. Then that person accepts Satan as personal lord and savior, does Chick think that that person is saved or not? If names matter then presumably Chick would believe that such an individual is not saved.

The tract of course ends with the usual warning that only Jesus saves. But the wording is worth noting: "Trusting religion, idols, ceremonies, nature gods or the Virgin Mary to save you is only chasing the wind!" That last phrase is not normally in these tracts. I suspect that to Chick "chasing the wind" sounded like an Injun phrase. This fits Chick's Jesus using the phrase "skin of your teeth" which is much less formal than how Chick's faceless, glowing Jesus normally talks.

So what is the overall lesson of this tract? The take away message seems to be that Native Americans are primitive savages but they get cool magical powers. And as long as you accept Jesus eventually, you get to play with the powers for a long time.

Note: Between drafting and posting this review I ran across another review that is worth reading.


TG said...

I disagree with your analysis. I think Chick's treatment of Crazy Wolf is consistent with the Bible's treatment of Balaam and the witch of Endor. Of course, the self-consistency of the Bible is a much longer discussion.

Also, I think it's clear in the story that it's not Mary's prayer that gets Crazy Wolf into heaven but his own honest conversion. Mark Twain had a very funny take on the ascension of the recently saved in his unfinished story, "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven." http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1044

Of course, I might just be defending Jack Chick because he "loves" me.

Joshua said...

I don't think either of those are very good comparisons in so far as neither uses spirits alien to God or anything of the like. Balaam isn't using any active spirit counter to God. The Witch of Endor meanwhile (aside from the whole living with Eewoks thing) is simply using some form of necromancy. There's no implication that that power stems anything other than just the rules of how the universe operates happening to include necromancy.

But yes, some sections of the Bible are henotheistic (look at the phrasing of the Ten Commandments). Yet others aren't. And I would be inclined to argue that the level of power associated to other quasi-deities by Chick is substantially higher than can be justified from a simple reading of the texts.

Reading Stormfield now. Had not read it before.

Lautreamont said...

Man, I love this cartoon for the one reason that it elicited such an elegant and witty little essay from you Josh. And TG, "honest conversion"?? Cmon man, it was Mary's prayer and the thorough ass beating Crazy Wolf received as a product of it which fomented his conversion. I don't think Twain considered people who have been assaulted half to death by god's henchmen as "recently saved."

Shalmo said...

The word Allah is actually older than the word God

Remember the famous My God, My God why have you forsaken me?

The aramaic used by Jesus was "elah" which is the same as Allah in arabic

Shalmo said...

"Implied in this narrative is the teaching that prayer for a soul can actively lead to salvation."

Its interesting. In studies of the Gospel of Thomas (routined as the "5th" Gospel) what I find interesting is not what the Gospel includes, but what it excludes.

No mention of cruxification, no original sin, no trinity, no modalism, no resurrection, AND NO VICARIOUS SACRIFICE!

In fact it states that to achieve salvation one simply needs to concentrate on the words in the Gospel itself starkly contrasting Paul's view on sacrificial atonement.

Inttriguingly it also states heaven is not some place in the upper sky as many christians think, but that its something that always existed with us, and Jesus only came to show us where it was. Link this with where Jesus says "the kingdom of heaven is within" in the canonical gospel(s) and one gets the idea of just how diverse early christianity was on salvation before Paul's repugnant ideas came onto the scene.

Joshua said...

Shalmo, anyone with half a brain knows that the entire bloody English language is much younger than Arabic (or Hebrew or Aramaic) so the point doesn't seem to matter much.

Although for that particular word there is some interesting history. There's linguistic evidence that the word "god" itself may be surprisingly old. See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06608x.htm (and also the OED entry on the word which I can't find an online linkable copy of)

Lautreamont said...

"...one gets the idea of just how diverse early christianity was on salvation before Paul's repugnant ideas came onto the scene."

God, Shalmo, I never thought I would say this again after that homosexuality post but Amen, Brother. You are hardcore right. Paul was honestly one of the biggest pieces of shit to ever live. I can't even continue this entry because of how unhappy he makes me.

Johan said...

Apparently the view that other gods were really demons was quite common in the ancient world especially among monotheists like Jews and Christians.

Certainly, if you heard that some religuous leader you disliked was performing miracles you were probably more likely to blaim demons or magic than suggest the reports were mistaken. I venture that today it is different even among most fundamentalists crazies who decry the Enlightment mindset.

I am not sure Jack Chick goes any further than the early Christians did. Certainly the demons in the New Testament that Jesus expells appears to be able to do quite serious harm to people. They are also powerless against Jesus, just like Jack Chicks demons.

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Anonymous said...

I agree with your analysis that Jack Chick's theology is henotheistic. The "Crazy Wolf" tract strikes me as a reworking of an earlier tract The Traitor, this time aimed at Hindus.

The Hindu tract is really such a mixture of stereotypes, parody, and Jack Chick's imagination that it bears very little resemblance to real Hinduism. A Native American told me that "Crazy Wolf" is "So wrong that I don't know where to begin", so I think that must be the same.

This begs the question of what the purpose of these tracts is. Anyone knowing real Hinduism would not be encouraged to convert in any way by "The Traitor", it would just be a demonstration of Chick's ignorance. I suspect the same is true of the other religions. The only thing that I can think is that this is aimed at the already converted to show them "how bad" other faiths are, and undermine any interfaith dialogue or universalist thoughts.

I like your analogy of reversing Jesus and Satan, I have thought the same of many fundamentalists

Johan said...

Why can not Chick actually believe that his own stereotypical portrayal of other religions?

Consider that most Americans do not know much about Indian religion (either kind) and add to that Chick is horribly prejudiced and I find it perfectly believable that he would come up with grossly inaccurate beliefs about how Hinduists or Native Americans practice their religion.

He seams to know some Catholic theology but I suspect it is because he has read Protestant apologetics. The authors would of these would know a least the basics of Catholic theology.

But when it comes to religions that are far removed from Christianity his only source of information is probably the media and his own imagination.

I am not sure this tract is all that effective in preaching to the choir. Wouldn't someone be just a little bit tempted by the power you obviously get if you worship the Native American demons?