Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jack Chick and Consistent Theology

Two new Jack Chick tracts are up. They are both pretty mediocre. "The Royal Affair" tells the story of David and Bathsheba with a pretty standard threat of hellfire and brimstone at the end. There's nothing of note in the tract other than that Jack Chick apparently thinks that the word "literal" actually means "figurative." (Memo to Jack: David didn't go through a "literal hell." He went through a figurative hell. Figurative and literal have opposite meanings. They are not synonyms.)

The second tract, "Going Down?" is standard Chick tract but with a single interesting twist. It is not uncommon in Chick tracts for someone to have a near-death experience, briefly witness the horrors of hell, and then come back to life knowing about the terrible threat of hell. This tract is an example. However, whenever this happens in a Chick tract, the people who have experienced hell always then accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior. However, in this new tract, the person who experiences hell does not learn about Jesus but rather dies shortly thereafter being dragged back down to hell. Few tracts better illustrate the utterly random nature of the afterlife in Chick's universe: in this case, the return to this world appears to almost be a divine accounting error which doesn't even serve the minimal purpose of saving the individual's soul.

Contemplating this tract also leads to another issue: Chick's theology concerning the immediate afterlife is inconsistent. In most Chick tracts, when people die they stand before Jesus and are judged. In some tracts, such as the above, they are sent immediately to hell. I am aware of no tract in which someone dies and comes before Jesus only to come back to life. In a tiny minority of tracts (such as this one) people who die without Jesus instead go to a temporary realm to wait until they are judged on Doomsday.

Why is Chick's theology of the afterlife so varied? Does he realize how contradictory his various tracts are on this matter? The most obvious hypothesis is that Chick's theology has changed over time. However, there are no chronological trends in which of the three approaches to the afterlife he takes. I suspect that Chick simply does not care about the details of the afterlife that much since the primary issue is being saved or lost; all else is secondary. Thus, a combination of whim and plot-demands control the exact depiction of the afterlife. Given Chick's apparent lack of great intellectualism he may not even have given the matter enough thought to realize the inconsistent nature of his theology.

I do hope that the May tracts are better than this set. It is a big let down given that in January we had a tract about angels fighting werewolves.

24 comments:

Phoen7x said...

Joshua, you always have facinating posts to do with math and religion. I'll admit i don't find american politics that interesting but i hope you can excuse me because they dont effect me.

Why is it though, that you waste your creative bolgging time with Jack Chick? He's a collosal idiot, and there are many more like him, so whats the point?

Jay said...

Obviously I cannot speak for Joshua, but many folks, myself included, find Chick interesting because of the breathtakingly wide scope of his paranoid theology.

Jr said...

"Why is Chick's theology of the afterlife so varied?"

The evangelical theologian answer: They are not inconsistent, since they themselves say they are not inconsistent. They are just representing different aspects of the same thing. He does not say specifically that they do not see Jesus before going to Hell right? They just strongly imply it through the narrative so it does not count.

The historical-critical scholar's answer: Clearly some of the Chick tracts were in fact not written by him but are pseudepigraphical. Probably they were forged by later followers of him to win theological debates. You can also see proof of this by noting that the earlier tracts use the word "pumpkin" more than 5% more often than the later tracts.

Johan said...

To continue on a more serious note, and apologizing for the previous joke, I find it interesting that Chick almost appears to be whitewashing God's behavior when he kills David's baby. So God "called the baby home", as opposed to "God killed him". And David knows the baby goes to heaven, unlike the actual Biblical story where nothing of the kind is said. This whitewashing is interesting coming from a person who so emphasizes the judgmental side of their god and who in general is happy to send sympathetic characters to hell.

Further I wonder how Chick motivates the idea that all babies go to heaven. It sure is not taught in the Bible. Is it because they have not committed any sins and thus do not need forgiveness? I find it hard to fit with Chick's insistence on "sola fide".

And when we are on the topic of justification by faith alone, does it actually matter that you commit adultery for your ultimate fate according to Chick? If you do not believe in Christ you are doomed anyway. And if you do believe in Christ you are saved regardless.

Shalmo said...

There are various intellent evangelicals like James White who realize fundis like this man do more harm than good.

Christianity has become a nausiating mutation of a very rich philosophical culture. Compare the Christianity of the time of the Reformers like Martin Luther to what it is today and once sees a huge difference.

Few realize there still is a more rational christianity out there: http://www.aomin.org/articles/chat.html

Joshua said...

Phoen7x,

I agree with Jay. I find extreme views in general interesting. Extreme views also raise interesting questions when one can ask people who accept similar premises but overall more moderate conclusions with "Ok, so why don't you go to the next step like _?"

And werewolves fighting angels! How can you not love that?

踢人 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jay said...

Werewolves fighting angels sounds unsettlingly like the plot for an unproduced Underworld sequel.

I've noticed a tendency amongst some Christians of a conservative stripe to automatically accept anything labelled as Christian as good and valid, even if such material is bizarre or extreme. (Witness, for example, the success of the Left Behind books.)

There doesn't seem to be a great deal of critical thought going on.

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

JR: Full of win.

Josh: Admit it, you just really enjoy human folly. You do have a point in your comment. It is interesting to probe the boundaries of what beliefs people will subscribe to.

Joshua said...

John,

Given that the primary reason I haven't yet wrote an entry on modern-day flat-earthers, you are probably closer to correct than I'd care to admit.

sniffnoy said...

Given that the primary reason is what?

Joshua said...

Er phrase missing there.

Should have been "Given that the primary reason I haven't yet wrote an entry on modern-day flat-earthers is lack of time, you are probably closer to correct than I'd care to admit.

cipher said...

I cannot understand the fascination people have with Chick. Many even seem to find him amusing. The man is an abomination; I'm angry that he even exists. He should be put down like a mad animal; the world would be a much better place without him.

Jr said...

Really, the last comment is disgusting.

Jack Chick is an idiot and his teachings are deeply repulsive. But to speek of "putting him down" is to cross a line that should not be crossed.

Joshua said...

Jr, I agree.

Cipher, talking about killing people simply for them having stupid views is not helpful. Chick has much of a free speech right as anyone else.

cipher said...

His views are beyond stupid. I see someone like Chick as a spiritual terrorist. Joshua, I never descend into Godwin territory, except for when I'm discussing Christian fundamentalists. They're worse than the Nazis. The Nazis wanted to exterminate us; most didn't give a damn about what happened to us afterward. The evangelicals, on the other hand, are perfectly happy with the idea of us, along with billions of "unsaved" gentiles, being tortured unimaginably for all of eternity. Millions of them anticipate it eagerly; they genuinely believe that the large part of their heavenly reward will consist of hanging around on a mezzanine in heaven, chugging beers with Jesus and Dubya, peering over the balcony into the bowels of hell, watching you and me and everyone we've ever cared about being roasted alive forever and ever. They get off on it. Trust me, Joshua; I'm about twice your age, I've been at this for a long time and I know what I'm talking about. They are the worst people in the world.

Moreover, they've spent the past thirty years voting into office the criminals and lunatics who've gotten us into the mess in which we find ourselves. Due to the interconnected nature of the global economy, as we continue to go down, we'll be taking everyone else down with us. They've proven to be absolutely toxic to humanity.

Regarding Chick specifically - I think an argument can be made that his material is a form of propaganda that gets the fundies all worked up and helps to fuel their theocratic impulses. I know you won't agree - so let's just concur that he's excrement and leave it at that.

(If I can get him to leave dirty comments on a Jewish girl's blog and call her at home - then can we kill him?)

Joshua said...

Cipher, having hateful views has little to do with whether you have a right to kill someone.

From a purely practical standpoint, someone thinking that I'm going to burn in hell for eternity is pretty obviously different than someone trying to kill me. The first doesn't actually lead to any problems except in their mind. And by and large, those who believe that sort of claim are trying to save us from that fate.

Voting in bad candidates is also not something which justifies killing people. Voting even criminals doesn't justify killing people.

And regarding your reference to Jacob Stein, I'd prefer if some threads did not deteriorate into a discussion about that nutcase. But you don't have any good reason to kill him either.

Frankly, I suspect that some of what you've said is hyperbole for the simple fact that you haven't killed any of these people. That suggests that you understand at some level that you killing Jack Chick or Jacob Stein would be wrong.

cipher said...

Joshua, of course I'm not going to try to kill either of them! However, if something were to happen to either of them, I certainly wouldn't be upset about it. I'd regard it as a positive turn of events.

And by and large, those who believe that sort of claim are trying to save us from that fate.

It's offensive they believe it in the first place, but, leaving that aside - don't make that assumption. Again, I've been at this for a long, long time. I daresay I've encountered more of them then you have, and probably ever will. You have no idea what's out there.

Anonymous said...

Have you all seen the film which has nine adaptations of Jack Chick tracts? It's called "Hot Chicks" and it's great. My favorite is "Bewitched" done with puppets. There is also "Somebody Goofed" and "Doom Town" and a bunch more. I found my copy at www.316now.com.

Joshua said...

Cypher,

You'll have to forgive me if seeing someone say something like "He should be put down like a mad animal" sounds pretty close to a desire to have the person killed.

Anonymous, I have not seen it although am familiar with it. Thanks for the pointer.

cipher said...

You'll have to forgive me if seeing someone say something like "He should be put down like a mad animal" sounds pretty close to a desire to have the person killed.

Well, you aren't far wrong. As I said, I wouldn't kill him, but I certainly wouldn't be upset if someone else did. I don't buy into the notion of b'tzelem elohim. (I'm an atheist, and, as is well known, we have no basis for morality!) I agree with Bill Maher; I have no problem in seeing the lives of some as having greater inherent value than those of others. Chick is a piece of garbage who, in my opinion, has pretty much forfeited his membership in the human family - to the destruction of which he's contributed far more than his fair share.

Joshua said...

Cipher,

I don't think that people in general can forfeit their membership in humanity. And regarding people that way generally leads down very dangerous paths.

cipher said...

Yeah, well, as I said - atheist. No basis for morality.