Deconstructing Chick Tracts: Totalitarianism On Earth As It Is In Heaven

I think it’s curious how closely the judgment day narrative in Chick tracts (such as in “This Was Your Life“) follows the narrative arc of secular totalitarian terror. First, notice that death tends to arrive as an arrest without warning, out of the blue—and without particular rhyme or reason—as if you were K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, and you were suddenly taken by authorities:

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Angels then play a role akin to secret police: they take you to an undisclosed location where you discover—to your horror—that you’ve been under close 24 hour recorded surveillance for crimes against the Dear Ruler. As in George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother has been watching you. Everything you’ve ever done in your life is archived on film—and is now being played back to you to convict you of law breaking:

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You are then taken to a holding room overseen by a cold, flat-expressioned policing angel from whom you try to pull some answers and empathy, and where you anxiously await your turn before the Dear Leader—who also acts as the Supreme Judge:

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After appearing before a larger-than-life judge with capricious and overwhelming powers, you are summarily dispatched by his angelic police agents en masse to a place where you are given the Dick Cheney treatment forever. It’s hard not to see in this a spiritual analogy to the ovens of Auschwitz:

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And notice how the above narrative also possesses its shadow: the one world “End Times” government of the Antichrist. You are either subject to one inescapable system possessed of overwhelming force (God’s), or you are subject to another (Satan’s). Here’s a scene from a Chick tract depicting the “Last Days”:

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And out you go:

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The fact that so many human beings are drawn to this literalist narrative in the form of fundamentalist religion—or, in the case of the American Tea Party movement, as a projection of global socialist conspiracy fears—suggests that a lot of people feel their lives to be completely out of their control and subject to the yoke of large institutional forces that are inimical to them. Psychologically, it is as if people imagine themselves to be the children of Israel in Egypt (“Let my people go!”). I find this all very sad. Fundamentalist religion and one world government conspiracy paranoia are symptoms of a tragic sickness at the heart of contemporary global society. It is the sickness that accompanies Modernism.

And I even hear in fundamentalist narratives the Stockholm syndrome, in which people who feel themselves to be held hostage begin to identify with certain of their captors. This is where fundamentalist clergy exploit their congregants psychologically and emotionally, making their captors feel loved and protected. Here’s the implicit (and sometimes explicit) narrative:

If you love our authoritarian God and do exactly as He says you will find community and relief from the unbearable condition that you perceive yourself to be in. But the only way to achieve resolution from the tension that you feel is to join us.

In other words, the religious group stoking your fears and making the hard sales pitch is the same one saying “we love you”:

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Feel better now?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Deconstructing Chick Tracts: Totalitarianism On Earth As It Is In Heaven

  1. It’s not surprising that christians give suport for slavery for so long. Not only the Bible endorses it, but their god in fact, by this narrative, is a slave owner.
    Or a capo de tutti capi, a Don Corleone of sorts.
    All this talk about free will “there is evil because there’s free will”, “god give us free will…”. It’s a strange ‘free will’, you have ‘free will’ as well as you don’t use it. The momment you do, you are condemned to ethernal damnation. As if a gangster put a gun on your head and says “do as I say or I’ll blow your brains out…but it’s your choice…you’re free to choose not to do as I say, but if you don’t do as I say I’ll blow your brains out…you’re free ya know?…your choice…” Funny isn’t it?
    Not to mention the ‘for ever and ever’ part. We live finite lives, so no matter how “bad” (despite the fact that ‘bad’ here is not really bad, as to cuse harm to others, but just don’t worship god as we suposed to) we behave, that ‘badness’ were finite, limited, but the punishment is unlimited? Infinite? How fair is that?

  2. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    There’s a song by the Flaming Lips that I like that has this line in it:

    “If there ain’t no heaven, maybe there ain’t no hell.”

    One benefit of being an atheist or agnostic, as you imply, is there is no serious dread of hell. You might not hope for eternal life in heaven (or at least think the idea highly unlikely), but you also don’t carry the heavy psychological anxiety of hell.

    Personally, I know people who carry that anxiety in a way that has, in many ways, ruined their earthly lives: they are constantly obsessing over whether they are really “saved.” It is a game of the heart and chasing the self: how sincere am I, really? Like any other self-chasing game, when you look too closely the self appears to vanish. It’s an old Buddhist trick in meditation on emptiness that in the Western world turns into salvation anxiety.

    —Santi

  3. It’s a lot of unnecessary sufering isn’t it?
    Maybe that explain why religion don’t seem to give any relief or confort after all, as no matter how faithfull, people are scared to death of death as anybody else. What should put to rest the claim that religion is needed as a way to give relief, and confort to people. It don’t seem to work.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    That’s an interesting observation. I hadn’t thought of it like that before: if the self, on Buddhist inspection, is found to be empty, it might prove terrifying to discover that emptiness, especially if one is religious and in fear of hell for insincerity. Death would prove terrifying for the religious on terms similar to the nonbeliever. We’re all in the same empty boat. Nothing works.

    —Santi

  5. The other day my wife and me were watching on TV an interview with one of our country’s most disticnt poets, Ferreira Gullar. He said something interesting
    (quoting from memory, my trasnslation from portuguese, so it’s not scientificaly acurate, but the spirit is this, I think):
    “Nothing makes sense at all, but this is terrifying, we can’t bear it. We as human beens, we need things to makes sense, when in fact there are none, so we give meaning to things, and we invent something to give everything the ultimate meaning, that make everything to makes sense: God…. That way we get rid of chance as well, as to live with chance is as frightening as, and God is the opposite of chance.”

  6. Pingback: Dear Leader Megalomania « Prometheus Unbound

  7. Pingback: 11 reasons I think that people are attracted to End Times woo « Prometheus Unbound

  8. Dave says:

    totalitarianism in heaven is and always will be much better I’m afraid :)

  9. Pingback: Hell Belief | Prometheus Unbound

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