Thursday, July 16, 2009

Analyzing a Jack Chick Tract: Creator or Liar?

I'm sure most of you reading this have seen these Jack Chick tracts, those little booklets with absurdly simplistic Bible-tuting cartoons. I hadn't seen one in years, but just ran across one I hadn't seen beforeand in flipping through it, noticed how much you can tell about the writer and his intended audience by looking carefully at what is said and how the pictures are drawn.

Let's start with the pictures. At a bare minimum, this gives away that the intended audience here is either children, thinks like children, or is illiterate. One doesn't often find adult material that has an illustration for every claim.

But even at this simplistic level, the tract is more comical than inspirational. The first picture is supposed to be God creating "the heaven [sic?] and the earth", but the picture looks like a cloud giant rolling dice shaped like the moon, the earth, the sun, and what might be a pulsar, all about the same size, and all together taking up about half the universe. Note how no child looking at this picture would get the impression that the universe is >95% empty space. They can't even get out of the starting gate with their myth without denying reality.

"He made man out of the dust of the earth" inspires frame #2. Ever wonder why God could create the entire universe from scratch, but for man some raw material was required?

In the telling of the fall, man is shown running lovingly into a dark satan's arms, and a world of anarchy and murderous violence existing prior to the flood. Once again however, reality shines a harsh light on the credibility of such a story. Never mind the flood story and its gargantuan problems. The people in the frame are shown wearing shoes, sewn clothing and fighting with somewhat sophisticated weapons. Even those meager accomplishments would be impossible with a world where everyone was a violent murderer or rapist. Once again, only a child, unaware that shoes don't just exist or grow on trees, could buy such a tale.

The frame on the post-Noah world is enlightening for those unclear on why there is such hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. The Arabs are clearly the bad guys, while the Jews are chosen people. No explanation as to why this seemingly random act was done. Again, as if an idiot or child were the target audience, there is a big finger-pointing hand in the illustration making sure you see that Isaac was father of Jacob, who was father of the Israelites. Check with the Mormons on even more colorful versions of this story.

Ah more killing, this time of the prophets. And despite being told to sacrifice a lamb to avoid God's wrath, the people refused. At this point, is anyone else wondered WTF was wrong with God deciding to create these people in the first place? They kill each other and destroy things for no reason, they are unable to follow simple instructions. Dr.s Frankenstein and Moreau were pikers compared to God.

Then comes the most confusing part, and for some reason the tract shows angels with question marks over their head, as they looked onto a giant staircase (the stairway to heaven?). God decided the way to solve this problem was for him to become a man, and be sacrificed, to himself, for man's sins. Yeah, I'd be confused too. Sounds like the landlord deciding the way to settle my debt to him is for him to work a job for himself and pay himself what I owe him. And why didn't God just change the rules and not require any atonement? Or why didn't he just destroy or let die out the morbidly flawed creatures called man, and create something more worthy of his high standards?

Anyway, Jesus left heaven to be born as a man. We know this because the picture shows an arrow coming out of a cloud aiming towards earth. Again, kids or nitwits are the audience here.

I'll let the frame for "God (the Holy Ghost) came upon her and she conceived" stand without comment. Poe's law applies.

The Jesus story runs without much entertainment value until this humdinger of a line:

"He became our Saviour: through His righteousness deposited in an overdrawn account, we are restored to fellowship with God..."

So almighty God is subject to some sort of righteousness accounting that required his omnipotenceness to go die in this manner? And, not really, because he rose three days later as he knew he would? That's the equivalent of me claiming to sacrifice my life for something because I went to sleep for a while. Sure I was "dead" in a sense, and "sacrificed my life", in a sense. But it's not something to look at in anything like a glorious sense.

The rest of the tract is uninteresting bibbling until near the end, when those who "claim Jesus was a liar" are depicted holding signs. Funny though, none of their signs say he was a liar. They claim Jesus was a mere man, or that the virgin birth and the Bible were lies, or that God is dead. And they wonder why so many of us find the story completely unconvincing...once we get past the age of 10 or so anyway, and don't need pictures in our books any more.


alex said...

"I hadn't seen one in years, but just ran across one I hadn't seen beforeand in flipping through it, noticed how much you can tell about the writer and his intended audience "
I think that everyone on earth is his intended audience.

Luke H. said...

Whether or not Jesus was a liar has little bearing on whether things claimed about him are true. It is not necessary for anyone to be a liar for the story to not be true in a journalistic, historical sense. There was never an intent to deceive, or, for that matter, to convey an accurate history in the way we would think of it. It was traditional to use stories set in an historical context or with real people to make a moral or spiritual point. It isn't even unknown today. Much of the history I learned in elementary and middle school was similarly fictional, intending more to communicate a vision of what America was and/or should be than an accurate recording of events. So it wasn't a lie from the textbook writer's point of view. It wasn't the right thing to do, but I can understand why the writer might have thought it was.

Chick does a spectacular job of portraying Christianity in a way that is truly odious. He may attract some people to the church, but surely he drives away nearly as many. I happen to believe that there is a beautiful and rational version of Christianity, beyond all the myth and nonsense -- I'll admit it may be a there-must-be-a-pony sort of thing -- but you sure won't find it in Chick Publications.

That said, Chick publications are effective to a certain audience. Maybe we need someone to do similar tracts to explain scientific concepts to that audience. It is hard though, because they so often want certainty and absolutes, and this is a universe of unknowns and choices.