Jack Chick

It was 10th grade history class.

“Hey,” said one of my classmates. “Do you want to see a site that’s funny that isn’t supposed to be funny?”

It was the website for Jack Chick publications, a breed of gospel tract that has been around for a long time. Unbeknownst to my classmate, I’d known of these tracts since childhood. The author—Jack Chick himself—is a recluse, and there are no official photos of him. His evangelical tracts are drawn in black and white, and often feature the subject of hell.

Jack Chick is very fundamentalist. He believes in the secret workings of the Illuminati, Roman Catholic manipulation of world events, New Age conspiracies, and the evils of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s no surprise that his tracts strongly impressed themselves upon my memory when I first read them. But let us rewind a bit.

When you’re a child you do not need to see something to believe it is real. Perhaps I should rephrase that: you do not need to see something to feel it is real. There are many things that I know to be real today, but have never seen, such as Brazil, or the inside of the consulting engineering firm that I most want to work for. At the same time, I do not feel an acute awareness that those things exist, and exist even at this very moment.

As a child, I found the idea of life after death very real and vivid, even more so than other things that were described to me. This is only natural, as I had existed for only a short time, but I am now quite used to being alive (indeed, I have difficulty imagining it any other way). I thought upon the subject very often.

When I was told about heaven and hell as a child, my mind produced a picture that I cannot wipe from my memory. It is the image of two roads, one leading to heaven, and the other to hell, or to destruction. The road to heaven is narrow, while the road to destruction is wide. These two roads were suspended in pitch-black space, leading off into the cold depths of eternity. There shone the whitest, brightest light from the narrow door to heaven, but it was pale and lacking in warmth. It had no quality to it other than the brightness, and it was difficult to see anything once you became engulfed by it. The way to hell was dark, with traces of crimson red.

The path to destruction branched off from the narrow, such that one would always need to keep balance while walking towards life.

the-narrow-road

It is not that I believed this image was accurate, or that such roads existed. It was the way I first imagined something that had been described in metaphorical terms. It represented an idea that was visceral for me. Although I have become quite settled into everyday life at this point, I reflect on these thoughts with some fear and existential dread.

I did not get this idea (or this image) from Jack Chick, but it reminds me of him. This image makes me feel the same way as his comic-book gospel tracts did—with black and white depictions of heaven and hell, black and white concepts of how they would be, and the words God would say when you departed to either. It is the feeling of mystery having been replaced with something much colder, and finalities having been stripped of their purpose.

* * *

As we grow older, it seems we are increasingly willing to abandon particular thoughts that make our lives uncomfortable. We exchange dissonance for things that can be rationalized through experience, or lie comfortably beyond our capacity to understand. What we “know” is heavily influenced by how we feel about our experience, and it may be only later that the reasons—however sound they are—follow.

I can trace many concepts that have followed this route in my life. The reality of suffering in the third world, for instance, now diminishes quickly if I do not forcefully engage it. As a child, it seemed clear to me, and I often felt that I could accurately imagine myself living the lives of the desolate.

I have learned a great deal in my lifetime, but is there anything I have lost? Perhaps there is something to be gleaned from the way I once imagined the world, before my experience taught me how to regard what I have still never seen. I might even find something of worth in my ghostly image of the narrow road.

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3 Responses to “Jack Chick”

  1. “We exchange dissonance for things that can be rationalized through experience, or lie comfortably beyond our capacity to understand. What we “know” is heavily influenced by how we feel about our experience, and it may be only later that the reasons—however sound they are—follow.”

    Isn’t this called “learning”?

    I can’t believe it was YOU that I showed the Jack Chick tracts. What was your response? I don’t recall having any idea that it impacted you in a way I would never have guessed.

  2. Only some kinds of learning–I’m sure you never learned math this way. I also mean to suggest that we should regard our capacity to rationalize our feelings / experiences (or lack thereof) with some caution.

    I said something like “Oh, I know about those.”

    I’m not sure how much they had to do with the specific idea that I described in this post. I may have come up with this regardless, as I imagine things very literally when I first hear them. I even still try to imagine shoving a camel through the eye of a needle.

  3. “I even still try to imagine shoving a camel through the eye of a needle.”

    This reminds me of that game from Star Trek TNG that the crew got addicted to, where you put a disk into a funnel, and then two funnels and two disks appear, ad infinitum. I would suck at that game. I suck at basketball in real life, and my mind won’t let me sink one in imaginary space either.

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