Saturday, September 29, 2007

How To Get To Heaven

Another one from the Fellowship Tract League, number 153. This one is aimed at kids, with instructions on how to get to Heaven.

This is a semi-cartoon tract, with pictures to back up the words and quotes. It has four pages and twelve panels, not including the title panel with a boy and a girl who both have yellow hair looking at a bright yellow temple-pyramid thingie that is probably supposed to be Heaven.

Naturally, this tract starts with rules and punishment. Panel 1 introduces the Bible and tells us it is God's Law. Panel 2 tells us about sin, with a picture of the yellow-headed kids looking shocked to discover the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal". I guess they've been doing a lot of stealing up to this point. And they looked like such nice kids. It's true that you really can't tell about anyone.

Anyway, not that the tract has laid down the law, it can get on with the serious business of Hell. What is Hell? The tract says, "Hell is a terrible place where fire is." What is wrong with that sentence? I mean, where fire is? Come on! The next sentence catches that grammatical fumble, however: "Sinners will burn in Hell FOREVER." Much better. And the bold and all caps on FOREVER is a nice touch. So is the picture, featuring three people burning in flames.

The next picture is even better - it features the two kids surrounded by hellfire. The children look unhappy. Not terrified or agonized, just a little sad. As if the idea of eternal immolation has the same punch as being denied a cookie.

The next four panels do the usual bit of preaching Jesus as the only way to escape the fires of Hell, because HE died for your sins. It's extremely familiar ground, so I'll skip past it. Although the two kids praying in Panel 8 is kind of cute.

Panel 9 features the two kids, now with Jesus in their hearts, refusing a cigarette from an evil-looking third kid. You can tell he's evil because he's frowning and smiling at the same time. EVIL!!!

So, this whole tract was just a stop-smoking ad? I know the artist had only one small panel to portray the kids as changed and Saved, but couldn't he/she have come up with something a little less lame? Maybe the kids could have been shown not stealing, to go with the theme in Panel 2.

This tract provides a few unintentional laughs, and the attempt to scare children makes it a little bit disturbing. My overall impression? Hell is this terrible tract where lame is.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3

4 Things You Should Know

Bo-ring! Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a quote tract. Published by Evangelical Tract Distributors, this one is dull from start to finish.

What are the four things you should know? You need to be Saved, you cannot Save yourself, you must choose now (Christ or Wrath for eternity), and your Part (Believe, Receive, Remember & Do it now). There, I just saved you the trouble of reading it. Besides, it's the same thing we've all heard before, just with a different title and presentation. The cover is drab and fails to catch the eye, and the red type for the scripture quotes doesn't work, either. There isn't even any offensive content!

What a waste of paper.

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 0
Ability to Hold Interest - 0
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Heaven's Gate

Is it a telling sign that this tract is named after one of the biggest box office flops in film history? It doesn't help, that's for sure.

Published by ATS and drawn by Ron Wheeler, this cartoon tract aims for the market currently dominated by Jack Chick. In it, a man stands before God at Heaven's Gate, and finds out (surprise, surprise) that he isn't good enough to get in. He argues with God, God acts like a pompous jerk, then he dispatches the guy to Hell with a wave of his hand. And he says, "See ya." If any one image can define the impression I get of God from these things, that is it.

The cartoons are nice, and very colourful. You never see God's face, just like on The Simpsons. What's up with that? Honestly, I've never understood this reluctance of cartoonists and animators to show the Lord's features. Gary Larson never had any problem with it when he did The Far Side.

But I digress. The poor guy tries to prove his worthiness to enter Heaven, but the Lord ain't buyin' it. "See-ya!" sayeth the Lord (I can't get over that!) as the man plunges down into the flames below.

Only he doesn't. Turns out he was dreaming - yes, it was all just a dream, worst cop-out ever - but it's not over yet. A Bible drops from Heaven onto the guy's noggin, and falls open at exactly the right series of quotes to tell him how to be Saved. "Wow!" he says after reading each line.

Wow, indeed. Such was my reaction at the thought that anybody would want to worship a faceless God who is so cavalier with human souls. Still, this tract has more going for it than most. It holds interest, thanks to the colourful cartoons, and there is little to be offended about. It might actually convert a few people, and I might actually have liked it if it weren't for the "See ya" bit. Oh yeah, and the whole 'do as we say or burn in Hell' message. But that's in almost every tract.

That's it for this review. See ya... ahem. Goodbye.

Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 8
Ability to Hold Interest - 8
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Mirror, Mirror

Just a quick note, in case my readers are wondering what's up with the mirror-images of the tract covers I post. The thing is, I don't have a scanner, or the knowledge to use the software that may or may not be on my wife's computer.

My method of putting pictures up involves holding the tract in front of this computer's camera and taking a snapshot. The image comes out reversed, which isn't great because I want people to be able to read the titles.

There is a special effects option that allows me to do mirror imaging, however, so I've used that. You get two images of each cover, one forward and one reversed. It's weird to look at, but at least you can read the covers the way I want.

One of these days I'll figure a way to do this image uploading thing properly. Until then, we'll all just have to put up with my lack of techie skill.

The Way To God

I've been riding the Fellowship Tract League pretty hard, and almost exclusively, since this blog began. It seems their material is a lot easier to find. Anyway, today we're going to look at The Way To God, by World Missionary Press, Inc., and give the League a breather.

This tract starts out rather nicely, being a mix of both verse and art. From the first few pages, you get the impression this booklet is simply going to talk about the Christian faith in a pleasant, no fearmongering way.

Then you get to page six, with a picture of Adam and Eve being chased out of the Garden of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword. The next page says "It was a sad day for the human race when Adam and Eve sinned," because thanks to them "sin entered the world" and now "every person is born with the sin nature."
We're only on page 7, and already we're told we are bad people.

Page 8 begins the story of Jesus, told mostly through quotes. The tract makes it clear that Jesus' purpose was to sacrifice himself to save us all from the situation Adam and Eve created. The next few pages briefly discuss Jesus' life, death and resurrection, continually reminding us that he is God, and the only way to Heaven.

Page 16 has a picture of a kid at a crossroad, with one path marked Eternal Death. The kid chooses the one marked Eternal Life, that leads up to a castle in the sky. The tract congratulates him for his choice, then asks what choice YOU will make.

The next twenty pages remind readers why they have to choose Jesus, and offer some sample prayers. The Ten Commandments are listed, and the reader is told that God is Love.

Page 39 says, "Jesus wants you to Witness to others," and features a picture of a nervous-looking girl in a classroom in-between an angry-looking girl and a praying boy.

But that's not nearly as scary as the next few pages. Page 41 shows Jesus sitting on his throne, with two groups of people on either side of him.

One group, under the words Fruit of the Spirit, look very happy. They have their arms raised in the air, presumably in worship, and one little boy is down on his knees in front of Jesus, hopefully just praying. Given the numerous scandals in the Catholic church involving priests and little boys, this image seems to be a poor choice.

Anyway, they are the Fruit of the Spirit and are, as I said, very happy. The other group of people on the right side of Jesus do not look happy at all. They are in flames, and the words above them read, Works of the Flesh. One of them has a gun. Another is trying to pull her hair out. Two biblical quotes are offered to define works of the flesh, one of which condemns homosexuals. There you have it, our first encounter with homophobia in this blog. Sadly, it won't be the last.

Then we have page 42, where we see a picture of people falling off a cliff into the flames of Hell. Nearby is a small and very thin path leading up to a city in the clouds, presumably Heaven. There is a large cross in front of this path, with a doorway at the bottom of it. The name Jesus is written on that cross. I get the impression they're trying to say something here, but that image is way too complex for me. Although I did like the really big "Help!" coming from the people in the flames. Nice touch. Funny that those good people on the Jesus path aren't rushing over to help...

The rest of this tract assures us that Heaven is real, that God will not Forsake you, and that Jesus will come again. This last part features a picture of happy dead people flying out of their graves. Another wacky image in a tract that's full of them.

It's a shame. This could have been such a nice tract, but they had to go and ruin it with Hell and homophobia. This tract is clearly aimed at kids, which makes its scare tactics and prejudices that much worse. If you find this one, toss it away. I've already shown you all the best bits.

Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 7

The Burning Hell

Aah, now this is more like it! It's still a crappy tract, but it's leaps and bounds ahead of anything else the Fellowship Tract League has done so far.

I mean, just get a load of that cover! Four unhappy faces burning away while a disembodied head with a villain mustache (presumably Satan) looks on. Is that a smirk on his face? He doesn't seem nearly as unhappy as the others, even though he's clearly in the same place. This cover also provides three statements regarding the nature of Hell, just in case the visuals don't do it for you: Thousands of Degrees Hot! And Not A Drop of Water. Tortured Lost Souls Burning Forever!

Way, way, way over the top, this cover gives Jack T. Chick a run for his money. (Yes, I keep mentioning him. I'll get to him soon, have no fear.)

But the laughs don't end there. Inside is the usual warnings about making the right choice, complete with Bible quotes, but with one significant difference. Read the first sentence of the third paragraph to see what I mean:

"One day in HELL, you will not have to be bothered by some Christian trying to give you a gospel tract."

Hi-larious! But it gets better, promising that you will remember all the people who tried to Save you while you cry and beg for a drop of water "to cool your scorching tongue."

Do you think perhaps the author (Dwite Watkins) is a little ticked at having people tell him to buzz off when he tries to shove his beliefs on them? Do you get the sense that he's perhaps a little frustrated? I think he's secretly hoping people won't read his tracts, so that he can lord it over on them when he's in Heaven having a giggle.

He'll definitely laugh at me, because I'm only giving this tract a D-. Points for entertainment and unintentional humour, and an awesome cover, but not much else.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What If You Had Been Here?

Yes, the Fellowship Tract League was not above using the horror of 9/11 to push their agenda. This tract is offensive by its mere existence.

Saying the usual stuff about how you are a sinner who needs to repent, this tract starts by asking the title question - what if YOU had been in the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001? "You would have gone to Heaven or Hell forever."

Wonderful. So the families of people who lost their lives in the attack are told that their loved ones might be burning in Hell, if they weren't Christians. This has to be one of the most insensitive things I've ever read. What's next? Are they going to do a tract about New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina? Or how about the tidal wave that hit Indonesia?

I'm so mad at the makers of this tract. I mean, just look at the cover - you can see the second plane exploding! Honestly, how low can you go? Sadly, this tract might just end up converting a few people - fear can have that effect. If you find this tract, burn it. It deserves the very Hell it suggests the 9/11 victims went to.

Likely to Convert - 5
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 100

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hip Hop

Some tracts leave you shaking your head and saying, what?!? This is one such tract. It's an 8-page cartoon tract from Good News Publications, and it very much wants to appeal to black culture.

The tract starts with two African American boys discussing hip hop. One wears a backwards baseball cap, and the other wears a hoodie. That's how you can tell they're from the hood. The hoodie dude is an insufferable know-it-all, determined to Save his ballcap-wearing friend.

Hoodie declares that hip hop can be found in the Bible. He backs up this dubious claim by telling a story about Jacob, who spent one night wrestling with a stranger who turned out to be God. According to Hoodie, God ended the fight by touching Jacob's leg, instantly dislocating the hip. "Jacob hip-hopped from then on," Hoodie says, making one of the worst jokes in history.

"The rest of his life," Hoodie continues, "Jacob's 'hip-hop' reminded him that God's way was best."

What?!? God beats up a guy, then breaks his leg, just to prove he's the best. Is that the message? That we should do what God says, because otherwise he might break our legs? Very inspirational. And why did God beat Jacob up, anyway? Some context would have gone a long way toward having this story make sense. Of course, squeezing in some context might have necessitated the cutting of the hip joke.

And Hoodie isn't done with lame jokes. Next, he tells his ball-capped buddy to R.A.P. - Recognize you haven't done things God's way, Admit there's only one way to clear your sins, and Pray for God's forgiveness. Ball Cap announces he is "down wit that". Not down WITH that, down WIT that. Because that's how they all talk, I suppose. While Ball Cap prays for his eternal soul, Hoodie proceeds to break the fourth wall and talks to the reader, saying that we "can have eternal life, too."

This tract achieves the rare status of being so bad it's good, or at least more interesting than most. I'm willing to bet large sums of money it was written by a white guy, someone who thinks he knows something about black people but really doesn't know squat. I hate to be the one to break it to you, dude, but stereotypes do not a culture define.

I'd be curious to see how black people will react to this tract. Will they be swayed by Hoodie's story and R.A.P.? Or will they do like I did, shake my head and say, What?!?

That would be fly. I'd be so down wit that.

Likely to Convert - 0h, please!
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Intentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Have You Believed Another Gospel?

Woah! With this one, the Fellowship Tract League makes the leap from annoying and insensitive into full-blown offensiveness. In this tract, they firmly state that their beliefs are the only Truth, and all other religions are nothing but lies.

Pictured on the cover is a man looking at a signpost that has signs pointing to many other religions. Those signs include Buddhism, Islam, Humanism and Hinduism, and even two Christian faiths (Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses). Curiously, there is no sign for Judaism. This tract is arrogant and insulting, but at least it isn't anti-semitic.

Inside, this is another quote tract, but with a difference. Instead of providing quotes to answer the usual questions like 'how can you be Saved?', this tract's quotes back up phrases like 'Another Gospel Deceives Your Mind' and 'Another Gospel Damns Your Soul'. The author provides his own commentary, saying "To teach any other way of salvation is to deny God's word." If that weren't bad enough, he also says, "The only message of real value is that salvation comes by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Hear that, Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus? Your message, according to this tract, has no 'real value'! Can you believe this stuff? It doesn't commit the sin of being boring - I keep wondering what offensive stuff this thing'll say next.

Unfortunately, this is one of the milder tracts I've read. Certain other ones take this idea much further. It's almost laughable that the author of this tract thought he could convince anyone to swap faiths based on this little ditty. Almost. For its arrogance and bigotry, this tract has a bright future as a toilet paper substitute.

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 5

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Where Will You Spend Eternity

Let's take a break from the Fellowship Tract League and go after someone else for a change. After all, the League aren't the only players out there - just wait 'till I get to Jack Chick!

Published by Robert J. Patterson of the Christie Street Baptist Church, this tract is two-thirds smaller than the average, and two-thirds less interesting. It's another annoying Bible quote tract, filled with verses that supposedly point the reader in the direction of Heaven.

It has two notable features. One, there are 3-leaf clovers on the cover. Two, the tract purports to direct the reader to Heaven from Ireland (on the cover), and from Canada (1st page). Why these two countries are singled out is anyone's guess. The clovers must be there to relate to Ireland (plus, all the writing is in green), but otherwise it makes no sense. Why the Ireland connection? What have 3-leaf clovers got to do with eternity? And why am I still reviewing this one?

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 0
Ability to Hold Interest - 0
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

The Blood

Another one from the Fellowship Tract League (#172, for those of you keeping score), this one is boringly predictable. The theme is that Jesus' blood will wash away our sins like spiritual Palmolive, with the usual guilt that HIS blood was shed for you.

The cover is what you'd expect - a hand (presumably Jesus's) with a nail sticking out of the wrist, and blood trickling all over the place. Yep. That's appealing. The only colour is red, for obvious reasons. This is a Bible quote tract, where the middle two pages are made up of lines of scripture that tell you what Jesus' blood can do for you, and what you should go and do with it. Basically, the same thing that every other tract says. The back page has the usual prayer to save your soul, with space to fill in your name and address if you want the League to know you've been Saved.

Dull, utterly unoriginal and forgettable in the extreme.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 1
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Romans' Map To Heaven

Today we look at The Romans' Map To Heaven, published by the Fellowship Tract League (#127, to be exact). It's a pretty standard by-the-numbers tract, with only one small difference - it quotes only from the Book of Romans.

The cover is nothing special - a picture of roman-related doodads (a centurion's helmet, a sword and a shield) on a yellow background. The middle of this tract is composed only of Bible quotes, each one answering a specific question (Who is good? What is the eternal cost of your sin?) or theme (you cannot save yourself). The back page provides the standard prayer for accepting Jesus Christ as your saviour, and a place to fill in your name and address so the Tract League can send you more free stuff.

I wasn't impressed with this tract. Apart from the unique feature of quoting from only one book, it doesn't say anything new. Who would have thought the Book of Romans had enough quotable material to fit the entire Christian agenda? Kinda makes the other books - including the Gospels - look superfluous (though not nearly as much fun as Revelations). Other than the Roman angle, this tract doesn't try to be different, or even interesting. We've heard it all before, so who cares what book you grabbed it from? And quoting tracts are so dull! The tracts that tell metaphorical stories at least provide an amusing diversion.

Nice Roman gimmick, but even that can't save this tract from a big, fat F. Here are my grades (out of 10):

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 1
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Biblical Proportions

Welcome to Biblical Proportions, the blog dedicated to reviewing religious tracts, videos and occasionally websites. For the time being, my focus will be tracts; there are so many of them, and chances are good you've read at least one. Once I get into the swing of this, I'll add in a few videos and the like.

So, what is a religious tract? A tract is a small pamphlet of writing and sometimes artwork, created to promote the Christian religeon. There don't seem to be any tracts created by Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus, at least not that I've seen. The only slightly non-Christian ones are those created by Jews For Jesus, but there's not a lot of fundamental difference in their message. So if it seems like I'm taking an underhanded potshot at Christians, just remember that they are the only ones creating and distributing them.

Another good question is, why would I bother to write reviews of tracts? Collecting tracts (and other forms of religious propaganda) is something of a hobby of mine. I write fiction, and a number of my stories deal with the world of angels and demons, heaven and hell. Sometimes I get story ideas from tracts. Other times their content makes me angry. Some of them make me laugh (unintentionally), and others disturb me greatly. I've been meaning to do something with my collection for a while (I have a whole bag full of them), and this blog is the result.

But it's not all about mocking them. I intend to treat each tract as a work of art, or at least a work. Someone took the time to create them, with the intention that people should read it and be influenced to choose Christianity as their religeon. So, I will judge them on that basis. To put that another way, I will say in my reviews how likely a given tract is to achieving its desired effect. I will also rank tracts in terms of Artwork, Unintentional Hilarity, Ability To Hold Interest, and Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content.

Like I said, the chances are good you've seen at least one tract lying around somewhere. Some are handed out on streetcorners, others are left in places where they are likely to be found. If you're curious about them, and want to know if the one you've found is worth reading, then this blog is the place for you. Enjoy, and please share your comments. Also, if you've seen a tract that hasn't yet been reviewed, and you think it should be, let me know and I'll try to find it.

And to those who would be offended at the very idea of this blog, all I can say is... try to be a good sport.