26 August 2016

My first Chick tract: “Bewitched?”

After I recently critiqued a Jack Chick tract, a reader commented it had given her flashbacks from when she was exposed to the awful things when she was a kid. I know what she’s talking about. I grew up in Fundamentalist churches. Fundies love the accursed things. They already have Chick’s worldview: Everything in the world is evil and leading you to hell. Quick, say the sinner’s prayer before God has to righteously toss you in there!

Thing is, Chick panders a little too much to the Fundie worldview. As a result Fundies spread his little Tijuana bible-style tracts everywhere, believing they win tons of people to Jesus… ’cause Chick tracts are everywhere! But they’ve no idea how creepy and wrong pagans (and fellow Christians) actually consider them. See, Chick doesn’t bother with fruit of the Spirit. He may have some, but you surely can’t tell from his tracts. They’re graceless, joyless, peaceless, unkind, impatient. “God so loved the world,” Jn 3.16 but in a Chick tract, he doesn’t love ’em unless they’ve said the sinner’s prayer. After they have, they can then be as judgy and preachy as they like. You know, fruitless.

Which actually isn’t about witches.  Bewitched 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on Chick’s website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So non-Fundies read Chick tracts and are just horrified. God sounds distant, wrathful, and violent. Christians sound rude. The devil sounds ridiculous. Jesus only shows up to quote bible verses. And non-Christians sound like loony caricatures—and once non-Christians see the way Chick depicts them, they immediately realize he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And likely hasn’t the most solid grasp on anything.

Oh, and everything has a vast secret history, or devilish conspiracy, behind it. “Bewitched” falls into the devilish conspiracy category.

I first read “Bewitched” back in the 1970s. I remember finding it in the house we lived in when I was between the ages of six and eight. Don’t know how it got there. Either Mom was given the thing by people from church, or Dad found it at work and had brought it home for us Christians to appreciate. (Dad was forever in the habit of stealing finding things in the workplace and taking them home.) Regardless, I found it, and I liked comic books, so I read it.

The experience still stands out strongly in my mind. I remember it repulsed me. It wasn’t the theological content; I didn’t fully understand that anyway. No, what bugged me was the art. The devils were creepy-looking. So, for that matter, were the regular people in it. Chick and his artists specialize in creepy-looking cartoons. If the objective is to make it stick in your mind, mission accomplished.

The ugly creatures in the hijabs are supposed to be devils. Bewitched 2

The copyright date says 2000, but that’s because the art’s been updated in the years since I originally read it. I know ’cause I’ve got a better-than-average memory. The words were hand-lettered. Satan used to look like another one of the ugly-looking devils. And the reference to the TV show Bewitched originally mentioned how it was still on the air; now it says “old re-runs.” Bewitched 4 Bewitched was off the air when I read this, so even then it was out of date.

In the current version, Satan’s been redrawn to look more like Keanu Reeves from The Devil’s Advocate. But with a Van Dyke beard, ’cause cartoon devils always have Van Dykes. Someone must’ve reminded Chick about how Satan plays angel of light, 2Co 11.14 ’cause previously he was going with the old Platonic stereotype of “beauty means good, ugly means bad.”

Anyway, Satan is a huge fan of Bewitched, and you can insert your own joke about whether the cable companies are connected to hell. Me, I’ll just assume hell pirates its cable.

Satan doesn’t even have a flat-screen. Bewitched 4

If you’ve ever seen Bewitched (or its lousy movie remake) it’s about a witch who marries a muggle, which in the show they call “mortals.” See, in Bewitched, warlocks/witches and mortals aren’t exactly the same species. Witches are born with near-omnipotent magic powers, and appear to live forever.

In other words, not real witchcraft. It’s the fictional stuff, like Harry Potter. You could change “witch” to “space alien,” and it’d become My Favorite Martian or Mork and Mindy, and Fundamentalists would suddenly have no problem with it. (That is, till the space alien started talking about how our planets evolved differently.)

You’d think everybody knows there’s a vast difference between the TV show and Wicca. But Fundamentalists are convinced one leads to the other. ’Cause they know kids who quit Christianity to join Wicca. And it’s not because their parents were loveless and legalistic: It’s because of movies and TV shows and children’s books. Watch out for those Narnia books; they practice magic!

By the way, that chickenfoot on Satan’s robe? The popular Fundamentalist story, which Chick sometimes repeats, is Nero Caesar invented it as an anti-Christian symbol, a “broken cross.” Supposedly Satan slipped it into the peace symbol. Of course, anyone who knows basic history knows crosses didn’t become a Christian symbol till after the Roman Empire banned crucifixion. Certainly it wasn’t in Nero’s day, while Nero was still crucifying Christians.

The “broken cross” myth was invented by conspiracy theorists in the late 20th century, after the peace symbol emerged. (It’s actually semaphore for ND, “nuclear disarmament.”) No surprise, Chick bought the theorists’ story. So in the original version this tract, the character of Ashley conspicuously wore a peace symbol on her necklace, just to show how “deceived” she was for wanting peace. Seems Chick forgot Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Is 9.6 But that peace symbol was removed from the tract—although one of Ashley’s stoner friends still wears a peace button.

Lest you think I’m never getting back to the story: Satan calls a boardroom meeting of all his under-devils, and wants to know how their tempting efforts are going. Bewitched 5 In Chick’s universe, they—not us humans—are the cause of all the evil in the world. And they, not God’s kingdom, are advancing.

Whoops, the drug-devil just spilled all its drugs everywhere. Bewitched 6

(I just noticed the Ouija board in the left panel seems to have the letters K and W whited out. My initials. I swear; I didn’t remove them. Maybe Chick wanted to make sure nobody has a proper template for making their own board. Still, it’s an amusing coincidence.)

Chick’s devils are in charge of “spiritism” and drugs. Both areas are doing really well. Well, back in the ’60s they were. Spiritualism is still all over the place, but there’s definitely opposition to drugs. Unless the drug-devil is meant to be lying. After all, should you expect any of these beings to truthfully report their doings? C’mon, they’re devils!

Devil’s even got PowerPoint. Bewitched 7

The astrology-devil claims book sales are doing great. But its own chart contradicts it. Look closely: People whose sign is Aries are hardly buying anything. Tauruses and Geminis aren’t either. Cancers, Leos, and Virgos are only buying moderately. Seriously though, what’s with this chart?

Well, it’s to be expected Chick only used the signs for decoration, and didn’t put much thought into how they’d monkey with the chart. His typical lack of thought.

What about politics? Why, this year they’re running both candidates! Bewitched 8

Above, left panel, is the bit which offends me as a Pentecostal. Some “lady with the gift of prophecy” apparently works for the devils. No explanation is given about how there’s a difference between real prophets and fakes. ’Cause a lot of Fundamentalists don’t believe there’s any difference. There’s a substantially large cessationist subgroup among them who insist any miracles we see are devilish: God only speaks through the King James Version. Nothing and no one else.

Right panel: Satan’s graphs indicate anarchy, porn, and homosexuality are going up. In reality, anarchy is actually going down thanks to the growth of democratic governments. Porn, to be honest, is more a vertical line, thanks to the internet. And homosexuality should be fairly flat: The only difference today is it’s out of the closet. Or more so.

So what about politics? Well (assuming Satan’s only asking about the United States, ’cause why would Chick care about other nations?), the Republicans have managed to get the bulk of America’s white Evangelicals to automatically vote for it; so much so the media thinks “Evangelical” is now a political label. ’Cause the party is officially against abortion. Never mind the Republican-dominated Supreme Court has never overturned it; never mind the Republican-led Congress doesn’t touch it. Never mind all the godless materialism and social Darwinism behind nearly everything else the party does—like eliminating all the social programs which might get abortion-minded women to choose life. The Republicans are against abortion; that’s all that matters; shut up about the racism, isolationism, greed, warmongering, disregard for the needy, and horrible taste in Presidential candidates. Not saying the Democrats are better; just saying this blind adherence to the GOP comes awfully close to civic idolatry, and if Satan gets its way, that’s exactly what it becomes. All the better to alienate non-Republicans.

Oh wait; Chick didn’t say that. Should have, though.

What about politics? Why, this year they’re running both candidates! Bewitched 9

Instead it’s the usual conspiracy-theorist fears of the One World Government. (Never mind the fact their love for the gold standard effectively puts them under the thumb of the global gold market.) And the One World Church: Apparently the desire for all God’s people to become one isn’t Jesus’s, Jn 17.11 but the devil’s.

See, lots of Fundies are Darbyists. In the 1960s and ’70s, most of ’em were saying the same things as Hal Lindsey: The world will turn to crap, then Jesus will return, kill the sinners, and rule the world. Meanwhile Darbyists embrace a siege mentality, with the idea Christianity is losing. Not gaining. Doesn’t matter what statistics and trends say. Christianity is spreading everywhere, and crime is going down, but Darbyist theology always trumps real stats.

So, Satan is on its way to conquering the world… but wait! One of the devils reports there’s one woman praying for her granddaughter! And she’s fasting! Holy crap, this has to stop. Bewitched 10 This one person, out of everyone in the planet, immediately seizes Satan’s attention. Everything gets dropped to focus on her. Um, devils… big picture? You don’t realize once you take over the world, you can have praying grandmothers rounded up and shot?

But let’s back away from Chick a second and ask: Okay, in real life, how does the devil stop a praying grandmother? C.S. Lewis actually outlined the usual way it works in The Screwtape Letters.

  1. Get her to idealize her granddaughter. This way, she’ll no longer be praying for an actual human being. It’ll be an imaginary kid who bears no resemblance to the original.
  2. Get her to pray for ridiculous, specific things which in no way resemble handing her over to God. It’s what Grandma thinks best, not “thy will be done.”
  3. Get her to believe the only thing she need do is pray. Certainly no making real-life personal contact with her granddaughter, sharing with her the love Jesus—and then telling her about him.
  4. If she ever does make contact, get her to be nothing but angry and judgmental, and quickly alienate the girl.

Prayer’s not a problem for the devil, so long that faith and action are entirely divorced from it.

Now let’s look at how Chick thinks temptation works.

Seems Satan has files on everyone. Worse than the NSA. Bewitched 11

The dossier doesn’t say anything about Ashley’s current spiritual condition. Like what she currently believes about God—and how it can be twisted into something which looks so little like him, she’d never turn to him. Or whether she knows any friendly heretics who can lead her astray. Or anything about her spiritual advisers.

Really, it’s all superficial data. Devil’s been slacking on intelligence-gathering.

Time to crack down on Grandma. Bewitched 12

Satan knows Ashley once “pretended to accept Christ.” Except look at that image in the left panel. Does that look at all like someone pretending to turn to God?

In real life, when kids pretend to turn Christian, it’s because their parents, authorities, or peers want them to. So they play along, just to get them off their back. People don’t pretend to themselves to turn to Jesus. They either turn to him or they don’t.

Ashley’s in a jam, and trying to strike a bargain with God. Maybe she has no intention of actually following him hereafter, but even that’s not “pretending to accept Christ.” That’s typical human behavior. Sometimes God takes advantage of it.

(On a side note, this panel’s a subtle reminder this tract wasn’t drawn recently. Note the headband. Note also that nowadays a teenager can easily get a pregnancy test, and if it’s positive or false positive, she can get school permission to visit Planned Parenthood to discuss her options. Even during school hours. Even without parental notification. For that matter Ashley would’ve had 21st century sex ed classes and known what to do. …Well okay, maybe not so much in the Bible Belt.)

Wait, how’s that work again? Bewitched 13

And now, a moment of Reefer Madness. Apparently mixing LSD and speed can cause your brain and arteries to “gel.” Whatever that means. Turn to gel? Fuse together? What’s the chemistry? Has this happened to anybody in real life?

’Cause I’ve known folks who’ve experienced a lot more than 60 acid trips. LSD doesn’t kill you unless you take it mixed with toxins, or do something to yourself while on it. Some of my ex-acid freak friends also experimented with cocaine and speed and all sorts of substances. Yeah, a lot of them have health problems, but they’re in their 60s and 70s. Still, even clean-living folks get health problems at those ages.

But let’s give Chick the benefit of the doubt, and assume Ashley has a pre-existing heart condition that the acid and speed aren’t helping.

Stoner logic. Bewitched 14

Of course if Satan wanted to whack Ashley quickly, a drunk driver would do it easily. Or, since Ashley hangs out with stoners, tempt these guys to take PCP or a similarly dangerous hallucinogenic, get ’em paranoid and homicidal, and have ’em throw Ashley off the roof.

But because both Chick and stoners tend to be foolish, here he stumbles into a sorta realistic scenario. When Ashley notices her heavy flashbacks and concludes they may be a problem, she turns to her useless stoner friends. Their suggestion? “I know a psychic. Maybe she can talk to your dead mom.” (Try imagining it in Tommy Chong’s voice. It’s more fun.)

Now, what good would Mom be? Did she ever take LSD? Was she a doctor, able to give a proper medical diagnosis? “Oh Ashley, your brain is beginning to gel (whatever that is).” I mean, realistically, people don’t ask the dead about such things. They ask ’em about the afterlife. Or who killed ’em. Or where they hid the secret family treasure. Or whether they ever loved you—sure, they never told you in life, but maybe they got some enlightenment in the hereafter, so they’ll finally open up.

Since Ashley is a stoner herself, stoner logic works for her. Off she goes. The psychic conjures up Mom, who tells her nothing useful.

As if the Great Beyond knows anything about medicine. Bewitched 15

For that matter, Chick tells us nothing useful about spiritual discernment. He only states a “Bible Warning” which consists of that verse to not monkey with psychics. Lv 19.31 There are way better passages to quote, namely the one about testing spirits to see whether they’re really from God. 1Jn 4.14 But testing spirits implies we should therefore listen to valid spirits—namely the Holy Spirit. And remember, Darbyists tend to be cessationist: They don’t want us talking to any spirits, good or bad. It’s why the only spirits who talk to Ashley in this tract are devils.

Meanwhile Grandma’s been praying.

Prayer gets Ashley home. Bewitched 16

I suppose the prayers are working, ’cause Ashley decides to go visit Grandma to tell her about seeing “Mom,” which is just the thing the devils don’t want.

Yet check out that right panel. The devil’s trying the “What about your friends?” line… while hitchhiking along with her. It’s got its thumb out. Why’s it helping her hitchhike?

For that matter, isn’t this devil supposed to be invisible? So not only is it ineffective, it’s stupid.

Grandma explains seances to Ashley. Bewitched 17

Of course Grandma knows seances are trickery. The devil is dumbfounded by Grandma having such knowledge; more proof it’s stupid. Anyone with a bible could tell you seances are trickery. The devil should know this by now; hasn’t it been tempting people for centuries? Shouldn’t it know the world is full of books which contain God’s warnings against such things?

True, the scriptures never say exactly how seances work, nor whether real ghosts are called up or not. After all, the psychic who called up the prophet Samuel for King Saul actually produced a ghost, which accurately predicted Saul was gonna die. 1Sa 28.3-20 Since the proof of a fake psychic is an inaccurate prediction, bible scholars debate about how to interpret the story. Some say the ghost was a fake; some say the reason the psychic freaked out was because (for once) it was the real Samuel, and not some fakery she invented.

That story aside, the scriptures generally assume psychics are con artists. Same as false prophets. But instead of quoting any of those passages, Chick quotes a verse which says psychics should be killed. Lv 20.27 It’s hardly a verse which proves they’re fake. Chick should be using verses which prove psychics are fake. Instead he keeps using verses which state they should die. What’s that all about?

Well, I have a few ideas. But for now I’ll just point out Chick doesn’t know how to quote anything.

And a flashback nearly kills Ashley. Bewitched 18

Remember how I said it’d be easier just to bump Ashley off? Well, finally the devils try that, and trigger a massive flashback where Ashley imagines her face is melting off. Just like that creepy scene from Poltergeist where the parapsychologist pulls his own face off. I read this tract years before I saw Poltergeist, but even so this panel creeped me out. It made me worry demons could make me hallucinate. They can’t; but what do kids know? So if I believed this, and ever did start hallucinating, I’d wind up trying to pray it away, instead of seeking proper medical help. And y’know, a lot of Fundies do exactly that.

More indications this was drawn in the ’60s: Ashley has a massive heart attack, and the doctor makes a house call. (Since HMOs took over in the ’70s, they rarely bother.) This doctor, despite doing no tests yet, tells Grandma she “won’t make it,” long before can give Ashley the appropriate tests to determine whether she needs a bypass or transplant.

But even though he just said Ashley won’t survive, he contradicts himself and tells Grandma to come to the hospital at 8. They’ll “know by then.” Man this doctor sucks. Makes me wonder if he wasn’t working for one of those rare ’60s HMOs.

Me, I gotta wonder why Grandma didn’t get in the paramedics’ faces and insist on going with them to the hospital. Even if this was the ’60s. She actually stays home and waits to visit at 8 p.m.

Come to think of it, earlier in the tract it was established Ashley’s dad is an alcoholic, and her mom’s in hell. Bewitched 11 I don’t know which of these parents is Grandma’s kid. Either way, Grandma isn’t doing so well in the child-rearing business. Or the mother-in-law business.

Grandma’s prayers drive off the devils. Bewitched 19

These devils are sore winners. So as Grandma prays, they taunt her with “She’s going to hell because you never led her to Jesus!” And “Curse God!”

In real life, a devil’s gonna tell you, “Oh good; she’s gonna recover. This means there’s still time. So you can put off sharing Christ with her a little longer. Meanwhile try to make her love you. That way she’ll be more receptive to when you do share Jesus… later.” Always later. They know better than to drive you to desperate acts which might turn against their goals. Apathy works way better.

Of course, this “make her love you” advice is really awful. When we try to make people love us with a hidden ulterior motive, we try too hard, and always come across as wrong and off-putting. Which people see right through, won’t trust us, and become even less receptive. That’s why people always refer to their proselytizing friends as “phonies.” It’s totally phony.

That’s how temptation works. But these devils are idiots, and just told Grandma exactly what to pray for. So she does. And as God’s angelic bouncer drags the devils away, all one of them can complain is that it hates how Grandma prays.

After all the melodrama, one single panel for the gospel. Bewitched 20

Despite having a praying grandmother, it’s likely this is the very first time Ashley hears the gospel. On her deathbed.

And she accepts Jesus so quickly, I gotta to wonder what on earth is wrong with her grandmother. Had she done her job years ago and talked about God, maybe Ashley could’ve avoided all the drugs, and wouldn’t have had to needlessly die from fictional LSD-induced heart problems. Truly awful.

Deathbed conversion. Bewitched 21

Ashley’s conversion came just in time for Nurse Ratched to kick Grandma out of the hospital, and deny her the last four and a half hours of her granddaughter’s life. Bloody HMOs.

When I was a kid, this didn’t strike me at all as a happy ending. Ashley was dead. Going to heaven, maybe, but dead. Shouldn’t a happy ending involve Ashley getting cured of her ailment or something?

Okay, in real life there are deathbed conversions, and not everyone survives their drug-induced health problems. But kids don’t know this. So, between the ugly devils, the confused girl, the glimpses into hell, and the generally unhappy mood of the whole Chick tract experience, it bothered me a whole lot. I could just never put my finger on why.

Although Satan is about to torture that devil Jack Bauer style. Bewitched 22

But nowadays the problem is ridiculously obvious: The love of Jesus is nowhere to be found in this whole twisted story.

Yes, it’s in the tract… once. John 3.16 gets quoted. Bewitched 20 But Grandma doesn’t quote it; Chick printed it at the bottom of the panel. Ashley didn’t hear of it. Grandma has it—it’s why she’s praying for Ashley—but doesn’t display it to the girl beyond greeting her, and finally sharing the gospel with her, although somehow love isn’t part of this gospel. And don’t expect to see it from Satan and its devils.

Love just isn’t there. Shouldn’t it be front and center?

But it’s not how Chick evangelizes. Look at that last panel. Which words are in bold? The bit about how everyone not in God’s book of life goes into everlasting fire. Rv 20.15 That’s what Chick uses to motivate people to turn to Jesus: The threat of hell. Not love. Fear. The antithesis of love.

Fear’s a powerful motivator, and fear’s the only motivator you’re gonna find in a Chick tract for why we should turn to Jesus. Not love; never love. God is a righteous, angry deity who has zero tolerance for sin, and at this rate you’re going to hell. Rarely does God’s desire for a relationship with us come up. Or his desire to be our Father and us to be his kids. Or Christians loving one another. Angry Christians get downright bothered whenever evangelists bring up love and forgiveness, even though it’s all over the bible. For them, love isn’t the full gospel. Love’s the up side, but they insist the full gospel includes the down side, hell. Problem is, the way they present their “full gospel” resembles Chick’s tracts: They forget to include the love, so it’s all hell.

That’s why I call them “hellish little things,” and tell Christians to stop using ’em.