Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why He Died

I love story tracts. They tell you a tale to illustrate the need for Salvation, but due to a tract's limited paper space they have to cut a lot of narrative corners. Such is the case with this 4-page piece from Evangelical Tract Distributors and author Oswald J. Smith.

Why He Died tells the story of a young man who killed a guy, got caught, was tried and sentenced to die. The governor takes pity on him and writes out a pardon for the fellow, then dresses like a priest to go and see him. The young man doesn't like priests, so he tells the governor to take a hike. After the governor leaves, the warden tells the young man that the priest was in fact the governor come to pardon him. The young man goes to his death realizing he had been offered salvation for his crime, but he had rejected it.

Get it? Huh, huh? Get it?

Assuming you have more brains than a tin of spam (quite a lot of brains, really), the point of the story is clear. What is not so clear is why the governor dressed like a priest. Author Oswald never tells us he is a priest. He tells us the governor is a Christian, yes, but not all Christians are priests. For all we know, the governor might have been on his way to a Halloween costume party, but had to stop off at the prison to deliver the pardon first.

Also unclear is why the young man murdered the dude at the beginning of the story. It seems "he was playing a game of cards and he lost his temper. Picking up a revolver, he shot his opponent and killed him." Quite an overreaction for a character who "had never done anything very wrong." What made him angry? Why did he have a gun close at hand? For that matter, what game were they playing? If it had been solitaire, he'd have shot himself and the tract would have been much shorter.

The young man's "relatives and friends got up a petition for him" and that "everyone wanted to sign it," including folks from "all over the state." Why? "Because of the wonderful life he had previously lived."

To recap, this young man lived a life so wonderful that he touched the lives of people throughout the state he lived in, and yet he owned a gun and was so unstable that he shot and killed someone over a game of cards. Riiiiight. And then that same man tells the governor to get lost because he thinks he's a priest? Are these the actions of someone who lived a "wonderful life" of never doing "anything very wrong?"

Oswald Smith, if this tract represents a sample of your best work, then boy do you suck. From one writer to another, if you are telling a story in order to illustrate the need for people to accept Jesus as their saviour, that story should not be full of holes. If readers can't suspend their disbelief for your tale, how can you expect them to swallow the claims of Christianity?

Make your story Holy, Oswald, not holey!

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


If there's one thing that's guaranteed to pull in converts like a vacuum cleaner in a dust factory, it's biblical phrasing. Year ye him, this tract instructs us, over and over again. Well, eleven times, including the title. I'm certain that Atheists will look at those words and immediately fall to their knees and beg forgiveness from a god they didn't believe in only seconds before. Muslims will smack their foreheads and proclaim, "gee wizz, we've had it wrong all this time!" Buddhists will be all, "Buddha-schmudda!" And Hindus...

Well, you get the point.

This Fellowship Tract League offering does get points for the bloody Jesus carrying his cross on the cover, but that's about it. Otherwise this tract offers the same tired Scripture quotes, preceded by "Hear ye Him!"

Doesn't 'ye' have an 'a' in it? As in yea?

The tract author has put a lot of faith in those three words. It's as if he or she really does believe that anyone who reads them will be swayed instantly. Witnesses will say "Jehovah? Shmeshmova!" Mormons will say "Joseph Smith? Shmoseph Schmith!"

If that does happen, then I'll give up sarcasm. But don't hold your breath.

Hear yea Me!

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

This Could Be Your Last Five Minutes Alive

"It has been estimated that three people around the world will die every second." So begins this cheery little number from the Fellowship Tract League, who have taken yet another turn for the morbid.

But before I get into the aforementioned morbidity, let me congratulate them. The above sentence about three dudes croaking every second, is credited to the Population Institute of the United Nations. I know! Here is a tract that has actually backed up one of its' claims! And with something other than a Bible quote, too! Way to go, League. Kudos, and all that.

Sadly, that's the only claim they attempt to validate. The rest is all Psalms this and Ezekiel that. It is a step in the right direction, though, and such efforts must be encouraged.

The tract continues from this noble beginning by asking the reader to pretend they are experiencing "your last moments alive." Why? Because "someone in your city will likely die in the next few minutes. It could be you. Why not?"

While the reader is swallowing that bitter pill, the tract spends the next paragraph detailing the journey of your corpse to the grave in more detail than is strictly necessary. "People will come to the funeral and shed tears over your lifeless body," and at the cemetery "the men will cover your casket with dirt and a tombstone." This bit takes up more than half the first page.

Even the tract author seems to feel he's wasting the reader's time, "so I must get to the point." That point involves the final destination of your soul, Heaven or Hell. "Oh, yes, you will be in one place or the other." Hell is easy to get to, but Heaven requires a lot more work. First, the uncredited author states, "you must believe you deserve to go to Hell," which can't be good for the reader's self-esteem. After that, you must acknowledge that you are the sinning type, and do the whole repentance bit.

If you do like the tract says, "and your life ended right now, you would be in heaven for the rest of eternity." To sum up, you might die at any time, and the only thing that matters is where you'll go afterward. Makes life itself seem rather pointless. I guess if you decide to repent, you might as well kill yourself.

This tract started well but quickly became boring, offering the same tired preaching as every other Fellowship Tract League offering. If you know for certain you have only five minutes left to live, don't waste any of it on this tract.

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