If you are old enough to have gone on road trips in the 1960s and 70s, surely you remember them. You couldn’t miss them. Every smelly gas station restroom … the kind where you borrowed a key, connected to a big wooden paddle with MEN or WOMEN scrawled on it, to get into the rickety door to the outside bathroom … had them. They were lying next to the sink faucet soaking up spilled water and soap. Or on the windowsill amidst the cobwebs and dead flies. Or lying on the floor, blown around every time the bathroom door opened. Or maybe even on the top of the toilet paper holder in the stall! (Talk about a “captive audience”!)
“They” were Chick Tracts. Little pocket-sized booklets printed on cheap paper with a single bright color on the front setting off the black and white printing.
Inside each short booklet (about 24 pages usually) was a single, short story illustrated in comic-book style. And what bathroom reading material they made! Their pages were filled with graphic illustrations of … Sex! Drugs! Rock and Roll! Every sordid, sleazy side of life.
The whole purpose of these little “Chicklets” (as I have decided to dub them … short for “Chick booklets”) was to share an aspect of what their author/illustrator, Jack Chick, believed to be the Gospel of the Bible. The Chicklet was a piece of bait, easy to chew, to get people to the end of the story where they would be presented a choice to accept or reject Jesus as savior. A number of topics were addressed in the series, such as homosexuality, Roman Catholicism, evolution, and abortion. But the hottest Chicklets that most folks remember are the ones that ended up with the protagonist tortured by demons and tossed into an everburning hell—or barely escaping such a fate by saying the Sinner’s Prayer.
Like the ending of this masterpiece.
The main character is pronounced clinically dead after an accident, gets a taste of hell, revives in the hospital morgue, and calls for a chaplain, who leads him to the Lord.
His description of Hell is vividly illustrated in an almost Mad Magazine style.
He was obviously in a holding tank, for then a big door opened and he was shown his ultimate fate.
This Chicklet had a happy ending, after the chaplain led him in the Sinner’s Prayer, and his ultimate destiny immediately became heaven. Many of them didn’t end so cheerily.
Although I’ve used the “past tense” in talking about Chicklets above, I was shocked to find in recent years that Jack Chick is still around. In fact, he has a website for his Chicklets, is still writing and illustrating new ones, and has sold over 400 MILLION of them since he began churning them out in 1961. Since I haven’t seen one in a restroom in over thirty years, I can only suppose that the more “modern” methods of distributing them target other venues. At least in the US … they are printed in many languages and are distributed even in third world countries, and I can still imagine them in ramshackle bathrooms there. From what I read on the Web, lots of folks in the US distribute them along with candy on Halloween. And the website even shows you how you can “imbed” digital versions of the Chicklets on your own website. It also has a whole section on creative ways to use the tracts in daily evangelism, including this list of suggestions for how to use them while out shopping:
- Hand a tract to the cashier
- Leave tracts on the shelves in the stores
- Place tracts in the dressing rooms
- Place a tract in the pockets of the clothes
- Hand tracts to the passengers on the elevators
- Leave a tract next to the handrail on the escalator
- Place a tract under the windshield wiper on the cars in the parking lot
So Jack Chick’s version of the fate of every person in the world and throughout history who does not embrace his personal version of evangelical Christianity continues to be very influential in the world. And his graphic description of what that everburning Hell is like is equally influential.
But is it biblical? Seek as I might, I’ve never found any description in the Bible of a place where “ugly, hideous, smelly” creatures laugh at and hurt those who have recently died. I have seen such things in fancier art than Jack Chick’s though.
Jack Chick has spent quite a bit of his publishing career attacking the Roman Catholic Church. Thus I have to admit it is almost humorous that he seems to have gotten his inspiration for what he no doubt thinks is his most effective evangelistic work NOT from anything in the Bible, but rather from the art of medieval Catholics!
No, the Bible says absolutely nothing about demons … smelly or not … torturing people in Hell. Just like many other aspects of the “popular culture” version of the afterlife both inside and outside Christian circles, people have been deceived for two millennia about what the Bible actually does have to say about the topic of Hell. And the deception has not come from atheists—it’s been promulgated directly by people who consider themselves dedicated, zealous Christians.
By the way, Jack may even have had some other influence over his hellish drawings besides medieval art. The Back from the Dead Chicklet shown above has a copyright date of 1982. That means he really could, as I am suspicious he may have, drawn a bit of inspiration from modern popular culture. For when I first saw these scenes …
… they immediately reminded me of another scene I’d seen.
Obiwan Kenobi didn’t call the denizens of the Cantina on Mos Eiseley in the first Star Wars movie smelly, but hideous and ugly works for me. As does “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”