Thursday, April 19, 2012

Filling The Hole You Didn't Know You Had

Most tracts have a common theme, that of the need for Salvation to avoid the eternal burning flames of Hell. A few go even further, and share a more specific thread. Such is the case with the following three tracts; they try to convince their readers there is an emptiness within them that can only be filled by Jesus Christ. I'll review all three, with an eye toward their presentation of this notion.

What Fills The Void is, at first glance, a rather attractive tract. Half text and half cartoon, this tract insists that "all of us have an empty space inside that needs to be filled." According to author Stephen M. Crane, human beings "are governed by both natural and spiritual laws," that make us "grope for something to satisfy their inner hunger." Artist John Fretz illustrates some of the many things we are apparently groping: money, booze, dope, sex, recreation, sports, religion, knowledge and philosophy.
None of those things "removes the root of the problem," however, because only God "can provide spiritual contentment."

In spite of the convincing nature of John's images(the couple in the Sex picture look particularly unfulfilled), this effort from Gospel Tract Distributors fails to provide evidence for its central premise. That all of us have a void in need of stuffing is treated as a fait accompli. No effort is made to reach the reader who doesn't feel especially empty as the tract supposes.
Is Something Missing In Your Life, from the Fellowship Tract League, is even worse. The cover image of the missing jigsaw piece is clever enough, and the opening question("My friend, are you dead or alive?") is nice and weird, but the rest of the tract is just more of the same with a liberal dose of hyperbole. Lines of scripture are offered up, warning of "eternal separation from God in hell fire" unless you let Jesus "breathe life into you" and fill the "empty void and longing, deep within the depths of your soul, crying out to be filled."

I'd like to pause here to point out the enormous restraint I'm demonstrating in not using the previous sentence, or the one about groping to satisfy an inner hunger, for an obvious sex joke. You're welcome.

Do You Know My Friend, written by Modena Gelien for Evangelical Tract Distributors, isn't much better. "Hello, lonely one!" it begins. "Are you looking for a friend?" The presumption here is staggeringly insulting; not only does Modena assume we are lonely, she also implies that we have no friends! And we're only two sentences in.

"Once I was lonely," Modena goes on. "Then I met Jesus!" A young lady "introduced me to Him" by giving her a tract, and Modena "wondered if He could be my Friend, too?"

I can't help but be creeped out by the needy, clingy tone of her writing, but at least she takes a slightly different approach by presenting Jesus as everyone's Buddy. Sadly, she ruins that goodwill by saying "you are yet a sinner" midway down the second page. And she just drops it in there, too. The font size for this tract is larger than most; perhaps she had to cut all the biblical stuff about why she thinks we are sinners in order to save space.

Then there's the issue of what Jesus' Friendship entails. Modena describes her other friends as "fleeting acquaintances" who were only there "as long as I had something to give." But in order to be friends with Jesus, one must "admit you are a sinner," then "acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins," and then you "ask him to come into your heart and take control of your life." Anything else? "After that, acclaim him to the world." Seems Jesus requires an awful lot in exchange for his Friendship, doesn't it?

"If you want to know my Friend Jesus," Modena Gelien concludes, "please make that first move now." Well, my definition of a friend is someone who sees me as an equal, and I don't think her Jesus is offering that. The only move I'm making is in the opposite direction, and fast.

All three of these tracts assume there is "a vital part of your existence that isn't there." Some non-believers might feel that way, but not all of them. With no proof other than scripture, these tracts come off as judgmental and insulting at best. Void is good for a chuckle or two, and Do is entertainingly creepy. Otherwise, there's a void in my recycling box that needs filling, and these tracts will do just fine.

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

Is Something Missing in Your Life?
Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Do You Know My Friend
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 6

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