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This is sort of Heaven & Hell Pt. II, so y’all might want to settle in — though I don’t think this one will really be as insanely long. Though I didn’t think that one would be, either, so, there you go.
Anyway, as I alluded to, I like absorbing this type of media, half ironically, half just because I find it fascinating to look into other cultures, particularly sub-cultures that I’m not a part of. (This is one of the reasons I like looking at, say, Pressed Fur — not a furry, and I find it sort of intriguingly baffling, but it’s just interesting to peek in from the outside and look at this kind of stuff, particularly when it’s something written for the community, examining what those outside the community write about them. I suppose in this sense, it gets a little hall-of-mirrors-y, since I’m outside the community looking at people inside the community looking at people outside looking in. Hey, at least I’m not really writing about that kind of stuff, though, because then it’d just get too uncomfortably meta.)
However — where Christian Media Culture differs is that the furries aren’t trying to make everyone else furry; they tend to go “Hey, this is our thing; if you’re one of us, cool, if not, well, leave us alone.” Christian Media, on one hand, tends to mostly be about Witnessing — either with the intent/ideal of someone outside the culture coming across it, going “Oh, I have been so wrong! It’s all so clear now!” and joining the community, or stories for the converted about people successfully witnessing to folks.
And, of course, where TBN tends to be aimed at the latter, one of the biggest and most known of the former type is Jack Chick.
I’ve got to admit to being a fan of Jack Chick, actually. For me, it started when I was in elementary school and folks would stand outside (very rarely in elementary school, actually, though, strangely, it really picked up in middle and high school) as the buses pulled up handing out tracts (usually the old favorite This Was Your Life! but sometimes Somebody Loves Me, or one of the Halloween ones if it was seasonally appropriate), and before school started, we’d all read them. Sometimes the teacher’d try to throw them out, but we’d keep them in our desk, secret, until lulls in the class to pull them out and read them.
All of this, of course, is probably what Jack Chick sees in his mind’s eye — the teachers in the public school trying to take away the Word of Christ from the children hungry for spiritual nourishment. However, it didn’t work out the same way in real life as it did in Chick’s imagination; I’ve often said that kids are often hipper than we give them credit for, and part of this is because my childhood experiences bore this out pretty well.
We’d keep them and read them and laugh at them and talk about how silly and weird they were.
Even the kids who were evangelical Christians.
Even at that age, we realized how hilariously over-the-top they were. And I think some of us realized that Jack Chick’s theology was a little bit weird. Granted, I don’t recall ever being given the particularly strange ones like The Death Cookie, and I only vaguely remember seeing a physical copy of Where’s Rabbi Waxman?, though I fully admit that particularly fuzzy memory may be manufactured. I think for me, the strangest part of this sort of theology is the idea that Works Don’t Lead To Heaven — and I know this isn’t exclusive to Chick, of course, but it’s still one of his favorite points — where a, say, murderer will see the light right before being executed and go to heaven, where, in another tract, a guy who’s a good guy but happens to be a Buddhist gets cast into the Lake Of Fire (though, in Chick’s world, most non-Christians will only be outwardly good, but actually really rotten people in secret — making their fate more palatable while undermining his position).
For me, one of the things of religion is that it’s a handy way to, hopefully, anyway, guide people in the Right Direction when it comes to doing good on Earth; so when I see the common theology that works are irrelevant, it just tends to hit against the wall of my brain with a wet splat. Sometimes this idea is explained away with “If you have faith, you’ll do good by default because you’ll embrace Jesus and he’ll guide you that way”, which sometimes manifests itself in really disgusting ways. One of my favorite examples is a exchange on a discussion board where talking about this very topic, as to whether or not works were enough, someone told the story of their atheist neighbor who ran in and saved a family and little girl from dying in a fire, himself burning to death in the process. They mentioned that they thought it was really odd that someone, who’d done such a selfless act could be burning in Hell now just because he didn’t believe in Jesus’ divinity. One reply was “He’s actually in Heaven now, because obviously he believed in Jesus — he just didn’t admit it to anyone, and maybe not himself — because otherwise, why would he do that?” (As an atheist, I was overjoyed that my atheism absolves me of any moral responsibility, and as such, have begun kicking puppies and throwing children into the sand and laughing.) Seriously, though — it takes a lot to offend me, but, well, that did — particularly because it was clear that the poster wasn’t kidding. They actually believed this.
But that’s getting a little heavy — particularly when looking about a tiny comic book that can’t weigh an ounce. And I’m not sure if even Jack Chick would want to get into “secretly held faith”, at least in that case — as an Evangelical, he does hold that it’s Christians’ responsibility to witness to as many people as they can, but I don’t recall there ever being a tract about a True Christian who didn’t witness and whether or not they went to Hell. If anything, one can’t be a True Christian without witnessing (as shown by the various Chick tracts in which folks who identify as Christian don’t do anything other than occasionally going through the motions), and, in Chick’s world, if anything, secretly don’t accept Christ.
Of course, though, part of the fun with the Chick tracts is Chick himself; he’s a known recluse who doesn’t even go to church out of fear of making it a target from those who would seek to destroy him because of his life’s work. He naturally doesn’t give interviews, although once in a while an attempt is made to contact him.
And, of course, he’s got other fans on the web, though it seems most tend to appreciate him in the same way I do; the best, and actually, very even-handed examination of his work is The Jack Chick Museum of Fine Art, which sort of takes a loving-yet-joking view of his work, though often defending him; Kurt Kuersteiner, the curator, has also put out a book on the tracts, which is a great read. While that site also has reviews (in addition to the book which is full of them), webcomic review site WebSnark also has a Jack Chick section (though his comics aren’t technically webcomics). And, there’s his page on The High Weirdness Project, which I started, but has grown quite a bit since then. If you’re interested in his long-form work, a friend of mine post
ed a scan of Spellbound (which features both an amusing pastiche of the old Elektra logo, and reveals that master tapes to albums are gigantic cassette tapes, about the size of a big cake). And, of course, any mention of Chick wouldn’t be complete with out Josh Crowley’s Chick Dissections at EnterTheJabberwock.com.
On the other side, though, one of the most legitimately spiritual things I’ve seen — something I find just profoundly moving and beautiful is the Futurama episode “Godfellas“, where Bender’s shot into space, becomes a god and then meets God. This is a little surprising to me that it’s such a spiritual episode, considering that, according to the commentary, most of the writing staff are atheists themselves. Still, though — it’s one of the best explanations for God’s activities and choices (if one were certain to exist) and is very sympathetic to his position (particularly when Bender’s the god of two small civilizations on his body). And, of course, it’s a hoot and a half, too (I love the line when the monks are cooped up in the laundry room: “We cooked our shoes in the dryer and ate them! Now we’re bored!”), but the last line of the episode is just a perfect capper to a perfect, profound episode.