Jack Chick is dead. Chick Publications announced on Facebook that the infamous cartoon “evangelist” has passed away at the age of 92.
Chick was an American original. His theology, such as it was, was a Manichaean stew of pure righteousness triumphing over pure evil. And evil, in Chick’s view, was a very large category — broad the path that leadeth to destruction. Chick believed that atheists, LGBT people, Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, Catholics, rock musicians and their fans, “evolutionists,” intellectuals, and anyone who preferred an English translation of the Bible completed after 1611 were all damned to Hell and rightly deserved to be so.
Chick’s cartoons were infused with the abominable fancy — the idea that the supreme delight awaiting true believers in Heaven would be that they got to watch the eternal torment of wicked sinners in Hell. That was pretty much the essence of Chick’s faith. Nowhere in his ubiquitous cartoon pamphlets would you find any hint of love for God, love for Jesus, or love for neighbor. That wasn’t what animated him. He was driven, instead, by the eschatological hope that one day God would settle all the arguments he was never able to win here on earth — settle them with remorseless, bloodthirsty finality.
It was an ugly religion often portrayed in an aggressively ugly, misanthropic style of art — like a curdled version of second-tier R. Crumb.*
Chick’s tracts presented themselves as evangelistic tools. Like all such gospel tracts, the idea was that an “unsaved” person might read the message contained therein and be persuaded to choose to become “saved.” But Chick’s cartoons never quite accepted that evangelistic framework. He didn’t portray the unsaved as untold or unpersuaded, but as defiantly, perversely rejecting the obvious truth that they already knew, deep down, was right. Chick didn’t think atheists were genuinely atheists, but that they were people who really knew that God exists — his own precise sectarian idea of God — and stubbornly chose to pretend otherwise because … well, that wasn’t always clear, but sometimes it was because he thought they were cashing in on some imagined Secular Humanist/Evolutionary Industrial Complex gravy train.
Chick seemed to view adherents of other religions the same way. This sometimes teetered on the edge of something quite nasty, and other times embraced that nastiness enthusiastically. He seemed convinced, for example, that Jews all secretly knew that Jesus of Nazareth was divine and the Messiah (and Protestant), but simply pretended otherwise for nefarious Christ-killing reasons of their own. That notion, combined with his tendency to portray Jewish characters as hideous stereotypes gleaned from German WWII propaganda, was one of the many reasons that Chick can’t be dismissed as a harmless crank, as something like Frank Hoyt Taylor’s kooky “outsider artist” from Junebug.
Chick was certainly a crank, but he was anything but harmless. He hurt people. His tracts did and still do real harm to the many people in all the groups he attacked as literally demonic. And his life’s work did real and ongoing harm to all the Christians who read them and believed them. They swallowed Chick’s flattery — you are special, righteous and blessed, everyone else is a servant of Satan deserving of torment — and developed a taste for it. And that stuff is soul-killing poison. There’s a reason pride is considered the cardinal sin, as the gravest threat to the cardinal virtue. Chick’s tracts helped turn his Christian followers into creatures of pride, incapable of love.
I do not believe that anyone ever converted to Christianity as a consequence of reading any of Jack Chick’s gospel tracts. But I do believe that thousands of Christians were converted by them into something else — something more like the ugly dishonesty and nasty triumphalism that were those tracts’ main attributes. He helped persuade such Christians that bearing false witness against their neighbors should be the hallmark and cornerstone of their religion.
That stunted, hostile form of religion was expressed not just in Chick’s tracts, but in the way those tracts were employed as a kind of passive-aggressive “evangelism.” This was never primarily an attempt to “seek and to save the lost,” but rather a way of fulfilling some perceived minimal obligation that would exculpate believers from any responsibility for the longed-for damnation of others. These tracts, in other words, don’t seem to be distributed in the hope that others will read them and “get saved,” but with the idea that they will make it impossible for the doomed and damned to claim they were never told. They weren’t an attempt to nudge others toward Heaven, but to amplify the case that they deserved Hell.
When someone gives you a Jack Chick tract, it’s not because they don’t want you to go to Hell, it’s because they don’t want you to be able to blame them for not warning you before you do. They’re just hoping to dispel any potential guilt that might one day detract from their full enjoyment of the abominable fancy. They want to look down from Heaven and watch your eternal torment in Hell unbothered by any lingering regret.
I like to think of Heaven as a place where we will all encounter the grace that the Apostle Paul found on a street called Straight. I like to think that Jack Chick will arrive in Heaven and be greeted by Ananias himself, who sits waiting with a crowbar and a can of WD40 to at long last tear the scales from his eyes. Only in Heaven, I think, could there be grace enough to allow a man like Jack Chick to see himself and others without such scales, and to survive the sight of it.