Terrifying Tales of the Late Jack Chick

I grew up in the 1980s loving Halloween: carving fantastic faces in pumpkins and toasting the seeds, dressing up in homemade costumes, prowling the neighborhood scaring my friends and collecting candy and treats from our moms and assorted little old ladies. The only hint of Hell was on the news the night before: the annual bout of arson and mayhem in Detroit that had been dubbed Devil’s Night. Beyond that Halloween was, for me, good clean fun.

But we kids had heard hints of another side to the sugar-fueled frivolity — of tampered candy and razor-infested apples, of pagan rites and satanic rituals, of evil origins and satanic outcomes. And as we grew older, we heard more: that rock music could cause you  to commit suicide. That books featuring wizards and witchcraft were wicked. That Dungeons and Dragons might lead you to hell.

In all those years, however, I never once heard the name Jack Chick. In fact, my first knowledge of that name came just this week, when a variety of Catholic bloggers began sharing news of his death.

Chick, it turns out, began turning out Chick tracts in the ’80s: short comics designed to draw kids (and perhaps parents) to Christ, basically by scaring the Hell out of them. He wrote from a fundamentalist Protestant perspective, weaving into his stories of fire and brimstone and souls in jeopardy questionable history, bad theology, and virulent anti-Catholicism. To his dubious credit, he reached potentially billions of people with his comics — indeed his website, www.chick.com, still promotes Halloween as the best time to reach children by sharing a tract with their treats.

I never saw these tracts in my neighborhood, but apparently countless other youngsters did. I had no idea that many of dark stories about Halloween and other pop-culture phenomena of the time were fueled and stoked by one ultra-effective so-called evangelist. (I say so-called because an evangelist shares the Good News, and these tracts are plum full of bad.)

This is not to say that some of the concerns Chick raises in his tracts don’t contain a kernel of truth. Glorifying violence and sin and dabbling in the occult is dangerous. But so is twisting the truth to scare others into believing as you do.

In the past week, I’ve read a few of his Halloween tracts online. They are frightening — damaging even — for young children. Worse still, his anti-Catholic tracts make a mockery of Catholic teaching, using scripture, “historical” texts, and the words of the Mass itself to lead children and parents to believe that the Catholic Church is actually the devil’s work, not Christ’s. And all are still widely available, still in circulation, and may actually make a reappearance this year, thanks to news of Chick’s death among his fundamentalist brethren and twisted nostalgia among former ’80s youth who were subjected to his work.

From his obit photo at the top of his webpage, Chick looks like a kindly old man who may well have believed he was doing God’s work here on earth. Let us pray for God’s mercy on his soul — and keep an eye out from Chick tracts in our children’s buckets and bags this year. I suspect they burn well.

For more on Jack Chick, Halloween, and Catholicism:

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