Friday, December 3, 2010

Can We Know?

No, we can't. But this offering from Evangelical Tract Distributors would seek to convince us otherwise. Convince us of what? What do you think? That Jesus is the only way to Heaven, naturally.

"Many preachers and religious leaders step forward boldly with their opinions," the tract writer assures us. "But eternity is too serious a matter to trust to opinions." None of those preachers or religious leaders are identified by name, of course. And even better, the words of this tract are based entirely on opinions - namely, those of the tract authors. Sure, they use scripture quotes to back their words up, but the interpretation of those quotes (and their supposed infallibility) are the authors' opinions.

Yes they are.

"Although there are many theories and opinions, there are really only two ways - man's way and God's way." And according to this tract, God's way is the way presented in the New Testament. Every other belief system is Man's way, and therefore doomed.


And did I mention that the existence of Heaven is itself a matter of opinion? I did, in another review. Secular readers won't care. But the tract authors are of the opinion that they will care.

The tract attempts to illustrate its point with a story about two men entering a temple. "One came in man's way, and the other came in God's way." One of them "will spend eternity with the lost." Can you guess who?

"Friend, are you in the right way?" Then the tract asks, "Are you trusting the right Man?" just to confuse things. They've spent four pages poo-pooing man's way, then they ask if we're trusting the right one? This will only end up confusing the very people they are trying to reach. Namely, people dumb enough to be drawn in by this kind of thing.

" can a person know the right way to Heaven?" By dying. That's when all of us find out. We certainly won't learn about the afterlife from lame tracts like this.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Free Beautiful Homes

I know I keep asking for tracts that don't just say 'you're going to burn in HELL if you don't accept Jesus'. I know I've asked that they try something new. This new offering from Evangelical Tract Distributors does both, and while that's very nice of them, the end result is so lame it is almost laughable.

If only it were laughable! That, at least, would be something.

Rather than kick the HELL can, this tract goes in the opposite direction. That's right, they're selling Heaven.

"No Water Bills," promises the tract. "No Light Bills," "Nothing Undesirable," "The Best Of Society," "Beautiful Music," "Permanent Pavement - Pure Gold" and "Free Transportation To The City" are among the promises of this sales pitch, complete with scripture quotes to back them up. Are these promises also backed up with verifiable empirical evidence? Don't be silly.

The tract briefly raises the issue of Salvation, saying it is the only way to obtain a free title to your new home. But why would one need Salvation to get this new home? The Salvation issue is just pasted on, without any context. In their effort to be different, the tract writers have entirely missed their own point. You can't just throw it in there! If you don't want to talk about Hell and Damnation and Eternal Burning In Agony and Scorching Tongues, you can't go bringing up Salvation, either. Not without a radical re-definition of the term. And we all know the church's stance on re-defining terms!

Sorry, that was a low blow, but I couldn't resist. What I can resist, however, is this lame attempt to sell me an eternal destiny that may or may not exist. It sounds nice, but so do all real-estate pitches. I appreciate them trying a different approach, but they use the same tactics, and those don't work with the approach they've chosen.

Come to think of it, the use of Bible quotes to convince the UnSaved never works. At least, it doesn't ever work on me.

Try again, ETD!

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So What's In It For Me?

There's that old expression about not judging a book by its cover. It applies equally well to tracts, especially this one. Published by Canadian Bible Society, this one has a great, eye-catching cover, but the inside is something of a letdown.

The cover features a tough-looking dude in a toque, presumably asking the titular question. It's like he's saying: "Hey, I'm just an average schlub like you, and I'm askin' the same question you're prob'ly askin', right?" The tract writers seem to assume we'll relate to this dude, and therefore find the inside material more appealing.

Well, I don't relate to him. And I wouldn't be caught dead in that shirt. Just look at it, for God's sake.

Other people might relate to him and his shirt and his toque, however, and they might open this tract expecting to find something that would appeal to toque-wearing schlubs like them.

The tract assumes you know it is a tract, and begins at once trying to convert you. It poses seven questions, then supplies answers to those questions that are supposed to convince you that Jesus is the way to go. The questions are written in schlub language, and include: 1. "What has God done for me?"; 2. "Nothing comes free in this world so why would God give me something for free?"; and 6. "What have I got to lose?"

The answers provide no facts or proof, as is common with nearly all tracts. They don't even supply the Bible verses the answers are based on! Rather, familiar lines of scripture are rewritten into modern English, presumably so schlubs can understand them.

It's as if the tract authors have figured out you can't convert someone who isn't already a believer just by throwing scripture in his/her face. Kudos to that, I say! Sadly, they don't take the next logical step. Telling someone that Jesus can forgive their sins means nothing if you have no concept of sin in the first place. For a tract like this to have any relevance, the reader must first accept the Christian notion of sin, and understand why that's a bad thing.

The tract does take a step in the right direction when addressing the question: 5. "What else do I get out of it?" "God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled." It's not often that a tract does more than offer a get-out-of-Hell pass. It's the fifth question, however, well after the sin stuff. Too little, too late.

This is one of the better tracts I've reviewed, with an above-average idea of who they are writing for. It still won't save any souls, but it shows that tracts can, ahem, evolve. Let's hope the Canadian Bible Society keeps moving in this promising direction. If they do, we just might see some decent stuff from them in the future.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 6
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 2

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Divine Revelation of Hell

Back when I reviewed Bible Man, I wrote that sometimes in my line of work I come across something so bizarre and out-there that it must be seen to be believed. Into that ever-expanding category I bring you A Divine Revelation Of Hell by Mark K. Baxter.

First, let me point out that this book is supposedly nonfiction. That is, the content that Mary presents us with isn't meant to be read as fiction. Mary K. would have us believe that every word of her story is TRUE. We clear on that? Good.

A Divine Revelation of Hell tells the tale of Mary's encounters with Jesus Christ, and their repeated journeys down into Hell. Apparently, the Lord and Saviour chose her, out of the six billion of us on the planet, to accompany HIM on a guided tour of Hell for the purpose of writing a book about it. That book, the LORD thinks, will better convince people of Hell's reality, and therefore convince them to embrace Christianity.

And we, the readers, are expected to swallow that. Riiiiight.

Simply put, I do not. I'll get into why later, except to say that if Jesus really did choose her, why did he pick someone with such poor writing ability? It's not that she isn't imaginative or descriptive... okay, it kind of is. But the main problem is that, well... you kind of have to read a bit to see what I'm getting at:

"I was so thankful when we entered the tunnel. I thought, The tunnel cannot possibly be as bad as the pits. But how wrong I was! As soon as we were inside, I began to see great snakes, large rats, and many evil spirits, all running from the presence of the Lord. The snakes hissed at us, and the rats squealed. There were many evil sounds. Vipers and dark shadows were all about us. Jesus was the only light to be seen in the tunnel. I stayed as close to Him as I could. Imps and devils were all over the sides of this cavern, and they were all going somewhere up and out of the tunnel. I found out later that these evil spirits were going out onto the earth to do Satan's bidding."

Or how about:

"These are the words that Jesus spoke to me. He instructed me to write them and put them into a book and to tell them to the world. These words are true. These revelations were given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ so that all may know and understand the workings of Satan and the evil schemes he is planning for the future."


The story is simple enough. Jesus takes Mary from her home to Hell by way of a vortex, several of which hover tornado-like over the earth to catch damned souls. Hell turns out to be in the shape of a human body, complete with arms, legs, jaws and heart. Oh, and Outer Darkness, too. A chapter is devoted to each section, with a few more (like The Horrors of Hell) thrown in for good measure. Each section contains its own unique features and torments for the damned; Jesus gives the grand tour, explaining the different punishments in each area.

For example, in Hell's left leg "there were pits of fire everywhere as far as the eye could see." Jesus shows a few of these to Mary, who says "I don't know if I can go on, for this is awful beyond belief." Damned souls trapped in skeletons are burned in the pits, and when they see Jesus they beg to be released. Some of them speak most eloquently about the sins they have committed, all the chances they had to repent but didn't, how they thought they had so much time, then one day the unexpected happened and now they're in a pit burning alive. You'd think they'd be in too much agony to do anything but scream. Whatever their story, Jesus' answer is always the same: "The Judgment is set." Even Mary tries to plead with Jesus, but nothing will sway HIM.

I won't go into the other areas in any great detail - it's just more of the same. It's interesting to note, however, that Jesus abandons Mary in Hell to fend for herself. Twice. "You could never know for sure (that Hell is real) until you had experienced it for yourself," Jesus says after rescuing her from his abandonment the first time. During that abandonment, "the most excruciating pain I could imagine swept over me." She was taken before Satan, who had his demons throw her "into something cold and clammy" where "the fire burned my body, and the worms crawled over and through me." She goes through all that, and Jesus ditches her again nine chapters later! The bastard.

Also of note is the chapter on Outer Darkness, because the concept is so silly. There's a bit in the Bible about certain sinners being cast into outer darkness, and that's exactly what happens; they are loaded into a big disk, and then a 30-foot tall angel picks up that disk and chucks it into a realm called (spoiler alert) Outer Darkness. "My Word means just what it says," Jesus tells Mary.

Personally, I'd much rather ride the disk than get stuck in a burning pit.

At some point in 'writing' this, Mary K realized she'd need some filler. There's a chapter on Heaven, and a lot of space is given to Bible prophecy about the End Times. Mary is shown visions of a dire future, where the Beast has "a 'big brother' machine that could see into homes and businesses." She also sees a scene where the Beast takes an "angry man into a larger room" and lies him down under "a vast machine." What was the vast machine for? "On the top of the machine were the words, 'this mind eraser belongs to the beast, 666." I'm serious! That's what it says. You always want to have your mind erasers labeled, I guess. Wouldn't want to mix it up with the expresso machine.

But that's not the only example of Mary K's really bad writing (though it is one of the best!). She has an annoying habit of repeating things, or of interrupting the narrative to speak directly to the reader about the need to convert to Christianity. Jesus constantly reminds her that he has chosen her to write this book about Hell so that people will know it is real. Does HE really think she's going to forget? Or did Mary figure that reminding the reader of it constantly would make them more likely to believe it?

I'm not even convinced Mary K. Baxter wrote this; the book is copyrighted to a T.L. Lowery. Curiouser and curiouser. T.L. would go on to be a credited co-author on several of Mary's other Divine Revelation books (yes, it's a series), but is name is conspicuously absent on this volume.

Other oddities include the two pages of reviews for this book at the front. Nine people praise the book, which means Mary found at least nine people who thought this was the real deal! Or maybe they were well paid. It's interesting that none of the nine appear to be literary critics.

One of those 'critics' states: "Mary's descriptions of hell are so real that readers will feel that they are right there with her..." Uh huh. Sure, there's a lot of imagination on display, but her descriptions are lacking. Every place is dark, has a foul odour, is full of horrors and terror. She rarely goes beyond that, so this reader never got a sense of the place. The demons get a little more attention, but that only serves to spotlight the book's frail reality. Any lazy writer can stick a jumble of animal parts together and call it a demon. One can't help but think that Mary made them up.

And Satan? He escapes all description altogether. Not one word is used to give the reader a sense of the Devil's form. For that matter, Jesus doesn't get much of a write-up, either. "I cannot find words to express His divine presence," Mary says, "but I know that I know it was the Lord." What?!?

So, divine warning or poorly-written cash grab? If you really need to ponder that one, I feel sorry for you. Still, I could be wrong. Perhaps when I die, I'll say the words that Mary K. Baxter spoke when Jesus left her in Hell for the second time: "Oh, no! I am in hell forever! Oh, no!"

But I doubt it.

Note: There is a special section of Hell for "men loving men, and women loving women, who would not repent and be saved from their sin." It involves blood, fire and chains. That's why it scores points for Disturbing or Offensive Content.

Likely to Convert - 0
Cover Art - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 8
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Indwelling: Left Behind Book 7 (Audiobook)

My review of Desecration went way longer than I should have gone, so I'll try to make this one shorter. This is the first time I've reviewed an audiobook for this blog, which makes this post somewhat special I suppose. It's an abridged audiobook, running at about 180 minutes, so that should help me chop the reviewing length down.

As with the other books in this series, the authors are Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The audio version was read by an actor named Frank Muller, who does a creditable job at reading the text and doing different voices for all the various characters.

The story picks up right where Book 6 - Assassins - left off, with the murder of the AntiChrist Nicolae Carpathia during a public appearance. Rayford Steele, who had intended to do the deed, changed his mind at the last second only to have his gun go off accidentally. Everyone assumed he'd done it, but it was in fact Chaim Rosenweitz who performed the killing blow. It seems Chaim pretended to have a stroke in the last book in order to convince Nicolae that he was harmless. His plan worked, Nicolae died, and Chaim escaped thanks to the intervention of the plucky Buck Williams.

Rayford makes his own escape, and is told he is a sinner for trying to do things his way. Rayford should have trusted that God would take care of the assassination! But he didn't, because he has so much pride. Ray prays for forgiveness, and he and Jesus are best buds once again.

Chaim also gets Saved, finally giving in to the constant preaching of Buck over the last several books. Nevertheless his conversion seems a bit sudden - the scene where he is convinced of the Wrongness of his ways and of his Desperate Need for Jesus must have been cut to make the 180 minute running time.

Meanwhile, False Prophet Leon Fortunando sets up a huge funeral for his dead boss, and hires a gay stereotype named Guy Blod to design and build a huge gold statue of Nicolae Carpathia. Leon also has super burning powers, and can call down fire from above (from where above is never spelled out) to destroy Nicolae's enemies. He uses this super power very publicly to dispose of three world leaders who weren't loyal enough to Carpathia. Cool super power, but why couldn't the AntiChrist himself have that power? I pointed out in my last review that Nicolae has to borrow a gun every time he wants to shoot someone.

Of course, Nicolae does have one awesome super power: the ability to come back from the dead. At the funeral, Nicolae returns to life in front of a crowd of thousands and on national television, proving just how awesome he really is and fulfilling the Biblical prophecy predicting his return. And, according to the Bible, the AntiChrist returns to life with Satan in possession of him. Indwelling in his body, as it were. Hence the title. Now that Satan is in command, Nicolae pretty much goes on acting like his old self. In fact, the only way we actually know that Satan is in the guy is because the Trib guys keep telling us so.

Speaking of the Tribulation Force, they have problems of their own. Their super-secure safehouse has been compromised, but they all manage to escape without a single one of them getting captured. The Tribs always seem to escape the AntiChrist's minions with an overabundance of ease. Maybe it's because they have God on their side? Even so, it's a weakness that this book, and indeed the rest of the series, suffers from tremendously.

As bad as I'm making it sound, The Indwelling was still a relatively amusing book. I listened to it on my old Sony Walkman (yes, I still have one[yes, this audiobook copy I found is on cassette]) at night before bed, and I wasn't bored. I wasn't all that fascinated, either; as good a voice as Frank Muller has, he could not convince me to keep listening once I got tired. I'd have to say that Indwelling is pretty much a lesser entry in the series. Nothing much seems to happen - and this is the book where the AntiChrist returns from the dead possessed by Satan! The entire book feels like filler. Fun filler at times, but filler none the less.

There, that was a little shorter, wasn't it? Of course, I didn't go into as much depth as I usually go, so this is kind of an abridged review, too.

Likely to Convert - 0
Cover Art - 4
Reader's Voice - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 5

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Desecration: Book 9 in the Left Behind series

You never know what you'll get until you ask. I was in a used bookstore looking for some religious nuttiness to read (and possibly review) and I found the audiobook of The Indwelling, which is Left Behind book 7. I asked at the counter if they had any more of that kind of stuff - I'm dying to get my hands on a cheap copy of Glorious Appearing, where Jesus returns to Earth and starts disintegrating sinners - and was told they had one of the books in the discount bin. Then they went to that bin, pulled it out and handed it to me free of charge!

Sadly, it wasn't Glorious Appearing. It was Desecration (book 9), and it luckily proved to be a fun read.

Desecration, by authors Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, begins the way a good sequel should not - it leaps straight into the action without any regard for readers who haven't been following this thing from the beginning. Fortunately I've seen all three movies (and read the original novel so I had something to go on. I soon got the gist, which is as follows:

The Tribulation Force, led by plucky Buck Williams and Rayford Steele, are trying to help fellow believers stay alive during the reign of the Antichrist. They are also trying to Save as many non-believers as possible before they take the Mark of the Beast and become forever damned to Hell.

The Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, has been having an interesting time. Going from UN representative to the ruler of the world in three and a half years (and eight books), he's now risen to the level of deity. And he was assassinated. And rose from the dead three days later, now possessed by Satan. A global dictator, religious leader and divine being all in one, he remains blissfully unaware that his entire life (and death) have been prophesied in the Book of Revelations. You'd think he'd give that a look-see.

The Trib Force dudes certainly have. So much so, in fact, that they know what Nicky's going to do before he does. This time out, they know he's going to desecrate the Temple Mount (hence the title). At the same time the Tribbies are hoping to convince and convert the Remnant (the title of the next book), all the people of Israel who are not loyal to Nick. If they can get them all to Petra, they will be safe all through Armageddon (Book 11), according to the Bible. And in this universe, the Bible is infallibly true. Even the contradictory bits.

Anyway, the story. Buck and his buddies want to make sure the Prophesied events unfold the way they should, even though their source of prophecy is infallible... oh, never mind. Buck and Chaim Rosenwitz (a recent convert to the cause, and the dude who assassinated Carpathia, among other things) are in Jerusalem to help get the Remnant out. God has 'called' Chaim to assume the identity of Micah (which apparently means something) and confront Nicolae to negotiate the terms of his not shooting the Remnant while they are high-tailing it to Petra. God sends a plague of boils onto all who have taken the Mark, putting them all out of action. Chaim, or Micah, says God will lift the boils if the Antichrist lets his people go.

Nicky's not happy about it, but he agrees. Besides, he's got a temple to desecrate, which he does by slaughtering a pig. The same pig he rode into the temple upon. Don't ask. This makes a lot of non-boiled people mad at him; it seems killing a pig in a holy site and then messing around in its blood strikes more than a few as a little nutso. For some reason, their reaction takes Nicky by surprise. For a world-dominating demigod possessed by Satan, he's kind of a dum-dum.

He's not much of a bad guy, either. Nicolae Carpathia never rises above the level of Saturday morning cartoon villain. I mean, he's frickin' Satan, for gosh sakes, and yet he has to ask his staff for a gun every time he wants to kill someone! Dr. Evil has more style.

But I digress. Rayford Steele is just dying to be part of the plot, so Jenkins/LaHaye give him his own mission in Petra. The GC (Global Community) soldiers have arrived at this supposedly safe haven ready to tear it down, but they're all covered in boils and aren't up to destroying and killing anything. Rayford shares half that sentiment - he is not prepared to kill - but blowing stuff up is fair game. He and his buddies fire these high-powered superguns at the GC vehicles and armaments, destroying them but leaving the itchy soldiers alive. This sequence is one of the best in the book, going into detail about how the big guns work, how loud they are, what the recoil is like, and the damage they do. You really get a sense of what firing one would be like for the first time.

Most other parts of the book aren't nearly as interesting. For example, when Chaim makes the transition from scared old man into the authoritative Micah, the reader doesn't even get a peek into his mind. What is it like to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to the point where you have no fear, complete moral certainty, and the ability to paralyze people with your mind? And take a bullet from point blank range and remain completely unharmed? We experience none of it, and are meant to simply witness it the way Buck Williams does.

Back to Rayford. He's in charge of getting the Remnant air-lifted from spots around Jerusalem to Petra using a fleet of helicopters the Tribbies have acquired over the last three years. Before he can do that, however, he has to deal with two GC soldiers who didn't up and run when their vehicles blew up. Those guys kill David, a really important Trib guy I knew nothing about (I haven't read the book where he was introduced, and Desecration assumes I already know him). Those GC soldiers might potentially kill more important but underdeveloped characters, so Rayford shoots them with his supergun. This violates his own no killing rule, and the bang leaves him deaf. More attention is given to his deafness than to his moral anguish. This is the man who, three books earlier, tried to assassinate Nicky Carpathia and felt really bad about said attempt afterwards. Maybe that was even the reason for his thou-shalt-not-kill rule to the other Tribbies. Or maybe it was some line from the Bible. Either way, any moral agonizing over the deaths of those men is glossed over in favour of his ears.

And then, no less an authority than the Archangel Michael appears before him and heals his ears, which pretty much rules out any further moralizing right there. If the Angel of the Lord heals the injury you sustained killing some guys, then it must be okay.

Over to Carpathia. Even though he said he wouldn't attack the Remnant on their way to Petra, he does anyway. You can't even trust the Antichrist these days! And, even though leaving the Remnant alone was a condition of Chaim/Michah/God's for the lifting of the plague of boils, God lifts the plague anyway, leaving the GC troops fully healed and able to carry out the attack! But God's no dum-dum - he has it covered. The bullets from the GC's weapons pass harmlessly through the bodies and vehicles of the Remnants and Tribs, and end up destroying more GC stuff (and people). Oh, and random miraculous earthquakes swallow up the landbound GC, and in one scene an entire squad is gobbled up by the ground just seconds before they could run all the good guys down. With all this divine supernatural intervention, one wonders why the Tribulation Force even bothers to show up.

God also turns every ocean into blood, killing all marine life. I guess the fish were sinners.

The plot is basically over by this point, but Jenkins & LaHaye still have another 150 or so pages left to fill. Chloe, Rayford's daughter & Buck's wife (and Kenny's mom) ventures out of the Tribulation Force's safehouse in Chicago to investigate a flickering light in a distant building. The city's been abandoned and is supposedly irradiated (a cunning ruse to keep the GC away from the safehouse), so Chloe wants to know if there are more people out there. Nobody knows where she's going, so if those people are bad Chloe could be in some real trouble. Luckily they turn out to be Christians eager to join the Tribulation Force. Good for Chloe, bad for the reader. A potential source of suspense is diffused just like that.

Fortunately in Greece some actual bad stuff happens. This Greek character tries to get a couple of teenagers into the hands of the Tributaries, but what was supposed to be a routine operation turns into a trap. Everyone gets killed except for George, the guy who was supposed to get the kids through the airport to safety. Rather than relying on Jesus, George turns to his military training to get through his capture and torture, and his inner dialogue provides for some good reading. No doubt his rescue will become a major plot point in book 10.

Desecration ends on a cliffhanger, the way most books in this series seem to do. Tsion Ben Judah, the Trib Force's rabbi turned evangelist, travels to Petra to address the Remnant, only for Nicky to drop a billion bombs on their heads. Has the Tribulation Force finally met their doom? Or will God, Jesus or Archangel Michael save their butts at the last second, yet again? Book 10 is called The Remnant, so what do you think?

Not all of the Trib's last-second escapes and/or victories rely on supernatural help. They have a few friends in the enemy camp, one of whom (Chang) is a teenage computer wizard. Not only can this kid use the GC network against them while simultaneously covering all of his tracks, he's also managed to bug all of the Antichrist's 'secure' locations. Any time the bad guys get together for a secret talk, Chang and the Tribbles are listening in. How lucky Buck, Rayford et al are to have such a useful person so conveniently placed! There is nothing Chang can't do with a computer, and no way he can be traced. Even when Nicky realizes there is a mole in his organization and takes steps to smoke him out, there is no danger at all that Chang will be caught. Quite the tension killer, is Chang. The only interesting thing about him is that he's got the Mark of the Beast on his noggin. He chose Jesus, but his parents knocked him out cold and had him branded, leading him to wonder if he's damned like the rest of the baddies. It's a legitimate concern, one which even Ben Judah can't figure out. This would have provided some great tension, but Jenkins & LaHaye diffuse it quickly. No good guys go to Hell. At least, not on the page.

And yet, for all of its flaws in plot, storytelling and character development, Desecration was an entertaining read. I wanted to know what would happen next, and never felt bored. Jenkins has a decent style, too; the book isn't hard to read. It's such a shame that Jerry B. Jenkins hasn't used his talent for evil. Imagine what he could accomplish without Tim LaHaye holding his leash.

Morally, this book has a few issues that bother me. Ben-Judah points out that, once a person has taken the Mark (or rejected Christ's advances one time too many), God will harden their hearts to him. In plain English, that means that people who have taken the Mark (some out of loyalty, most to avoid death by guillotine) will never be convinced to accept Jesus. Even if they turn against the AntiChrist, they will not be able to turn to God.

What kind of a whacked up God is that? Well, the same kind of God who would put the whole end-times Tribulation nonsense into effect, I suppose.

Desecration, and indeed the entire Left Behind series, gives a revealing look into the born again/evangelical mindset. And that's about it, really, if you're not a believer. There are better thrillers out there, and they don't rely on divine intervention to stop bullets or swallow army vehicles in miraculous earthquakes. This book is so lame, I feel like going to the Temple Mount to kill a pig.

Likely to Convert - 0
Cover Art - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Monday, May 24, 2010

And Now... Books!

Tracts are easy to review because they are so small and short, but I like to have some variety now and then. It is, after all, what I've been promising from the beginning. And I'll get around to reviewing some websites eventually.

For now, though, I want to take a look at some Christian-themed books. Or, to put it another way, books that are essentially very big tracts, in that they seem to share the tract goal of converting readers. To that end, I doubt my rating system will have to be changed much. I might substitute Artwork for Cover Art, although one of them has some nifty diagrams.

I've recently come upon some extremely cheap used copies of several Left Behind novels, one of them in audiobook form. I've also found something that rivals Bibleman for whackiness! Stay tuned, everyone; as with the videos, these reviews will take just a little bit longer to produce. I can, however, guarantee my usual reviewing standards. Enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Ten Commandments

You'd think a tract called The Ten Commandments would, I don't know, LIST those commandments somewhere in its' pages. But no, you'd be wrong. This offering from Fellowship Tract League chooses instead to explore what the Commandments show. Without actually showing the Commandments.

"There is a lot of confusion about the Ten Commandments," the tract begins. "Many people believe that they must follow the Law so that they can go to heaven, but the Bible does not say that!" Just like this tract doesn't... sorry. "God never intended for us to keep (the Commandments) in an effort to go to heaven." Instead, God gave us the Ten Commandments in order to show us four things, displayed as paragraph titles. "The Commandments show our SIN," they "show our SUFFERING," they "show our STUMBLING," and they "show us the SAVIOUR." And you thought they were all about not coveting your neighbour's ass, huh?

The SIN paragraph says "the Commandments were given to show us that we are sinners." Huh, you say? I believe they mean it like this: God gave Moses the Commandments not to provide guidelines for living, but rather to show us the sins WE'D ALREADY COMMITTED. In other words, when Moses saw the Commandments for the first time, he must have slapped his forehead and said, "So that's what I've been doing wrong all these years!"

Does that make any sense to you? Me neither. Nevertheless, this is the premise the tract author embraces. "All men are under the curse of death in hell for breaking God's Commandments," says the SUFFERING paragraph. The STUMBLING section is broken into two subsections, which tell us the "two things that the Law cannot do." The Commandments can't forgive sin or give righteousness, both of which are prerequisites for a non-hell eternity. "If you think that you can become righteous by following the Commandments, you are replacing Christ's work on the cross with your works." Shame on you!

It almost seems as if the tract author is advocating a life of lawlessness. After all, the Law is only there to show us what we've done wrong. Following the Law is a non-starter; there's no point in keeping the Law if it can't do anything for you! I'm gonna go do some serious ass-coveting as soon as I'm done here.

The SAVIOUR section, as I'm sure you've guessed, tells the reader about Jesus and provides a get-Saved prayer. That, apparently, was God's plan: show people they are sinners by giving Moses the Commandments, then wait a few thousand years to become Jesus and finally give the people something they can do about their sinfulness. Too bad about all those people who died before Jesus came along, Moses included! God does work in mysterious ways, doesn't HE?

Still, I have to give this tract credit for one thing - at least they found a new approach to the Salvation story. Like The Fortune Teller, and unlike I Must Tell You This. And what a bold stand, declaring that the Ten Commandments are essentially useless! Poor Moses would be spinning in his grave, if he weren't burning in hell with Adam, Eve, Abraham, Ruth, Samson, King David, Joseph and his coat, and everyone else who lived before Jesus came along.

And do I even need to point out that this tract makes no attempt at all to prove its claims? No, I didn't think so.

"If you have been trusting the Commandments," the tract says, "you are not saved." Uh huh. And if you trust this tract, you're a dum-dum.

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Must Tell You This

"I know something so wonderful that I must tell you!"

So begins this lame and predictable effort from the Fellowship Tract League. Gee, what could this wonderful something possibly be?

"Let me emphasize that this message is absolutely true," continues the uncredited author, "because God said it." Uh huh. Before the reader can wonder if the author actually spoke to the Almighty, said author reveals that the message "is an exact quotation from God's word, the Holy Bible." Too bad. Reading that a tract writer actually heard the voice of God would have at least been something new and different.

The message is John 3:16, the bit about God lovething the world so much he gaveth his only begotteneth Son, so that people who believeth in him should not perisheth but have everlasting life. Eth. "Did you ever hear such wonderful words?"

Yeah, I've heard them many times before, but I don't consider them particularly wonderful. Or relevant to my life. When it comes to wonderful words, I think of the words my wife said when I asked her to marry me ("Of course!"). I also think of phrases like: "We'd like to publish your book," or "There's a sale on at Toys R Us!" or "No, I can't finish my steak, would you like the rest of it?"

But no, I don't think it is wonderful that a deity sacrificed its only child so that the creatures it created won't have to burn for eternity in a fiery realm the deity also created, all because of some damned apple. Come on, how wonderful can it be that 'God' created a way out of the trap HE put us in?

To a Believer, the words of John 3:16 must be brilliant indeed. I do not think they are enough to encourage conversion from non-believers, who are clearly the intended audience for this tract. I doubt they'll make it past the second paragraph.

"Your time on earth is short, but your decision for Christ lasts for eternity." Maybe so, but you'll have to do better than this tract, League, if you want them to decide in your deity's favour.

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

The Fortune Teller

Here's a wacky and offbeat tale from Moments With The Book, yet another tract publisher. I found this and other MWTB tracts in a Christian bookstore on Finch, where you can buy batches of tracts to hand out anywhere to the Unsaved.

I have to give Moments With The Book credit for this one - finally, someone (the author is credited as W. L.) has found a new and different way to tell the same old story.

Five guys on a train are playing cards, and they ask a friend of WL's to join them. He declines, but he does offer to tell them their fortunes with the five of spades. He warns them that "it may not be very flattering," but the five card players insist that he go on. WL's friend (let's call him Smug Bastard) asks them for a Bible, but the card players don't have one. "You had one once," Smug Bastard says, "and if you had followed its precepts you would not be what you are today." He then produces his own Bible, suggesting he only asked them for one to gain a morally superior position. You see why I'm calling him Smug Bastard?

Smug tells them the five spades on the card represent their eyes, mouth and knees, then he reads Revelation 1:7 where Jesus comeths with clouds "and every eye shall see him." "The eyes are your eyes," Smug says, "which will see Him when you stand before Him to be judged. That is the future of your eyes." Smug Bastard reads another bit of scripture at them, foretelling "that your knees will bow to Jesus, and your tongue will confess that He is Lord of all."

But Smug ain't done, not by a longshot. He has another reading of the card for their listening pleasure. "These five spades," he tells them, "represent five actual spades that may, before long, dig the graves of you five sinners." Wait! There's more. "Then your souls will be in hell crying in thirst for even a single drop of water." Smug goes on to give them the Salvation pitch, assuring them that "I was no doubt worse than you all, and you will escape this terrible fortune if you will do what I did." Immediately after his pitch "the train then stopped, and the five rushed out as if the car was on fire." Can't say I blame them!

I really don't believe this story actually happened. For one thing, WL adds details about the five card players' thoughts that are suspect at best. When Smug Bastard tells them he used to know how to play cards a long time ago, WL writes: "Thinking they could win his money, they continued to coax him..." How did WL, or even Smug Bastard, know what they were thinking? That's guesswork, but WL includes it as if it were fact.

Smug Bastard also makes a lot of judgment calls on the five men. He calls them sinners to their faces, and assumes that they must be so because they don't have a Bible on them. If they had, "you would not be what you are today." Would anyone really make such comments to total strangers? Well, yes, if they were smug bastards.

The story ends ten years later, with one of the five card players catching up with Smug Bastard and wishing him a good evening. "It is a good evening," Smug replies, "if all your sins are forgiven." What a dick. The card guy, let's call him Twerp McStupid, tells Smug "that three spades had already dug their graves, and that the fourth man was anxious to be saved from the fortune he had been given." Twerp had already found Salvation; by a contrived bit of happenstance, his mother had died at around the same time as the fortune telling on the train. Her last words to the junior McStupid were, "Behold He cometh with coulds; and every eye shall see him." Exactly what Smug Bastard told Twerp on the train! Coinkidink? Twerp McStupid didn't think so. Those words followed him everywhere, even though he "tried to drink them away," until one final time that was "more than I could stand."

I know how you feel, Twerp. This tract was almost more than I could stand, too! Like I said, WL provides a new and fresh take on the Jesus message, and for that I say, kudos. However, the intolerable smugness of Smug Bastard wipes those kudos away. Why can't we have a tract in which the Believer doesn't judge people, and is actually open to other points of view?

I guess such a thing just isn't in the cards.

Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3

Friday, April 9, 2010

After Death, What?

I thought I might have already reviewed this one, but I haven't. I guess after a while the majority of these things start to look the same.

Which gives you a pretty good idea where I'm going with this review, doesn't it? I hardly need to go into any detail, but I will anyway. Some of it is too good to pass up.

Basically, this latest from the Fellowship Tract League tells you that, after death, you will either be in Heaven or Hell. "How many times have you looked into a casket, seen the face of the deceased," the tract begins, establishing the morbid tone. "If the deceased died in a lost spiritual condition, his troubles have just begun. The instant his soul leaves his body, it goes directly to hell to burn for ever and ever."

I'm sure those well-chosen words will be of great comfort to the deceased's family.

It gets better, too. "Suffering does not end at death for a lost person," the tract tells us. "After ten million years of eternity, he will still be burning." This author knows how to lay it on thick!

"You are not promised another day on this earth," the tract says. "Your life might end before another hour passes and your soul will be somewhere for eternity." Naturally, a version of the Salvation prayer is included at the end.

This tract scores for unintentional humour, but not much else. It doesn't even live up to its title, not really. It gives a few nasty images of Hell, but not much of Heaven. After Death, What? is more about what to avoid, instead of what to expect.

"Right now, while there is still life in your body, will you repent of your sins...?" Or will you wind up "screaming from the pits of hell" instead? The same questions every tract out there poses, with slightly more hellfire than most. And nobody needs any more hellfire.

Try again, FTL.

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 2

And God Answers!

And another short one from Evangelical Tract Distributors. It's a quote tract, displaying scripture verses that supposedly answer the important questions.

The questions themselves are presented in large red type, the better to draw your attention to them. They start with "Must I Give An Account To God?" and end with "What About Death, Eternity?" Exactly the kind of questions you might ask yourself on your way to work.

That's really all there is to it. A handy reference to have on hand if you've ever wondered "Am I A Very Bad Sinner?" or "Can I Be Saved Now?" For people who don't wonder that stuff, however, this tract won't make much difference. I appreciate this tract's brevity, but brevity alone doesn't make for a religious conversion.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

The Sinner's Prayer

This one is not a tract so much as a business card. It has a couple of Bible verses, a prayer usually found on the back of every other tract, and a clever little poem ("No Jesus No Peace Know Jesus Know Peace" Catchy, huh?).

And that's it. Not that there's room for anything else. Except for the dove. But that's more of a background watermark.

Simple, efficient and to the point, with all the info you need to get Saved. Of course, with a little more space they could have told the casual reader why he or she needs Salvation. Then again, even tracts that do spell out the terrors of unSavedness rarely manage to be convincing.

Not bad, but not great, that's what I say. Good concept, but if you're going to do a business card tract, make every word, every image and line of scripture count. With so little space, it's all about presentation.

No presentation no converts
Know presentation know converts

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

1000 Years From Now

Here's another effort from Evangelical Tract Distributors that gets to the point quickly and wastes very little of one's time. The first page asks "what will it matter whether you..." did any of the things on the list that follows "1000 years from Now." Will it matter, for example, if you "travelled by car, or bus?" Or "used solid silver, or plated-ware?" Or "lived in a mansion, or a cottage?" The point being, a thousand years from now you'll be dead, so it really won't matter if you were stinking rich or desperately poor.

"But," says page two, "it will make a mighty big and eternal difference whether you are a Lost Soul or a Saved Soul." Most of that is printed in bold red letters, but the Lost and Saved Soul letters are huge, black and attention-getting. And, to make sure e get it, the words "Heaven or Hell" are in brackets just below. And the words "Lost or Saved" are in brackets below that. And following that are a couple more messages and a Bible quote to hammer the message home.

The last page of the tract is devoted to the usual I'm-a-sinner-Save-me-Jesus prayer.

This tract isn't bad, if a little depressing. A thousand years from now, how many of us will be remembered? And if not, do our lives in fact matter at all? It makes you think... which is the exact wrong thing for a tract like this one to be doing. If you want readers to swallow the notion that Jesus is the only thing in their lives that will ultimately matter, the last thing you want is for them to start thinking! Still, there's bound to be a few readers out there who won't, who will be so depressed about not mattering that they'll latch onto the big black words and get Saved. A few, for sure, but not many.

I wonder, in a thousand years' time, will people still be trying to convert other people to their view of spirituality, or will we have evolved beyond that? Will my reviews still exist on whatever the Internet becomes? And will they still be relevant in the year 3010? Food for thought. And that's more than most tracts provide. Well done.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Monday, January 25, 2010

Man's Most-Asked Question!

Barefaced arrogance can be quite entertaining in the right context. This cartoon from the Fellowship Tract League assumes that every human being on the planet asks one question more than any other: "How can I get to Heaven??" How pig-headed do you have to be to suggest the question on every man's mind is one specific to your belief system? And, that this question eclipses all others, including but not limited to: Is there a God? What happens when we die? I'd ask those before pondering the existence of Heaven, let alone whether or not I can get there. Or how about: Why are we here? Is there life on other planets? And don't forget: What's for lunch? Are you going to finish that? And, of course, Are we there yet? That last one should be the winner in the most-asked category by virtue of its repetition.

You could argue, I suppose, that the question "How can I get to Heaven??" could be interpreted to imply all forms of the afterlife, and thus relates to all religions. The context of the rest of the tract, however, squashes that argument flat. "The Bible tells you how," the tract says in the very next panel, making clear that only the Judao-Christian Heaven is under discussion. And by the tract's end you see that the Judao part can be scratched, too. "I've always believed in Jesus," the cartoon man says. "I'm not a heathen, you know." So while he's being told that mere belief in Jesus isn't enough, that the requirement for Heaven "is a total commitment to Christ," the rest of the world gets the very clear hint that non-belief in Jesus = heathenism.

Like I said, arrogance.

Man's most asked question, then, is how can one get to the Christian Heaven.

I wonder what Woman's most-asked question is?

But once you get past the arrogance (and sexism), you can better appreciate what this tract has to offer. The cartoons are nice but nothing special, depicting a guy in a suit responding to an 'off-screen' narrator. Pretty much like Are You Good Enough For Heaven?, but the uncredited artist doesn't have Ron Wheeler's level of talent. Still, the artist does manage to convey the man's terror upon learning "Everyone in the world is a... sinner?!?!"

The rest is pretty much what you'd expect. The man is told he needs to get Saved, and by the end he's prayin' his guts out. The cartoons enliven what is in essence a fairly pedestrian tract. It's got the usual fear-mongering (the word HELL appears on page 2 in big, fiery letters) and Salvation-explaining, and the arrogance takes it up a tiny notch in terms of entertainment value and offensive content, but that's it.

Forget the most-asked question. Tract makers need to find a way to spread their message without resorting to the most-preached formula.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Great White Throne of Judgment

"The judgment day is a fixed, definite, future event in the calendar of God," begins this offering from Evangelical Tract Distributors, proving beyond all doubt that you can never have too many adjectives. The author, who remains anonymous, wants us to believe that the Biblical Judgment Day (Revelation 20: 11-15, helpfully printed on the cover) is actually going to happen, and "you'll never laugh the fact away."

I love it when they talk about facts in tracts. The thinking seems to be that if you use the word 'fact', you don't actually need to provide any to back up your claims. This tract certainly doesn't.

But adjectives and 'fact'-deployment aren't the author's only weapons. He also uses repetition. "Every one of God's predicted judgments in the future is going to come true," we are told, twice. In the same paragraph. The author also uses his extensive knowledge of this supposed "fixed, definite, future event". "I know," he says, "you're twenty-four hours nearer to it than you were yesterday." But wait! There's more: "I know you have twenty-four hours less chance to prepare for that judgment than you had last night." Convincing stuff!

And that's just the first two paragraphs. They are very important paragraphs, because they are the only two that actually discuss the Judgment (or, for that matter, the Great White Throne). Two paragraphs out of eight, not including the cover. That's all the titular subject matter gets. No wonder it needed all those adjectives.

The remaining six paragraphs veer off into Rapture territory, starting with the title TOTAL EVACUATION INDICATED in bold red letters. "We are to evacuate the area," the author says, "that the enemy might be completely wiped out." The rest of the tract uses terms like 'the enemy', 'battle', 'soldiers' and others, and speaks of tactics and plans for fighting this enemy, who apparently "will drink the wine of the wrath of God and be tormented forever."

I could take some time to discuss the author's use of Capital Letters on Certain Words to make them seem More Important, but why bother? This tract is its own worst enemy, and hasn't a chance of converting anyone. That's okay, it isn't trying to; the intended audience seems to be Christians who aren't quite devout enough. You know, the ones who don't believe in "the Air Lift, which will deliver many into the Home Country" instead "of Shadow Valley."

Entertainingly melodramatic is about the best thing I can say for The Great White Throne of Judgment. Otherwise, the tossing of this tract into a blue bin is a fixed, definite, future event.

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1