Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Only Doorway

If you've read any of my other reviews, you can already see exactly where this tract is going. Published by Fellowship Tract League, we are told once again that Jesus Christ is the only thing that can get a person's sinful soul into Heaven.

Boring. But there is a bit in this one I hadn't heard or read before. Apparently, if you try "to enter Heaven some other way than through the way Jesus provided," then "you are a thief and a robber." That's right, a thief AND a robber. There's a difference, apparently. What that difference is, the tract does not elaborate on. Nor does it reveal exactly what it is you are supposed to be stealing. You could be swiping a way into Heaven, I suppose. Which implies there are other ways into Heaven, doesn't it? The tract quotes John 10:1, wherein Jesus says that if you "entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way," then you're a robber/thief. Scriptural proof from the holy horse's mouth that there are other ways into Heaven!

So the title of this tract is wrong. Nevertheless, the author spends the remaining 2 1/2 pages trying to prove it right. "There is no other way to get to Heaven," the author states, listing religion, the preacher, water baptism, church membership, being a moral person and doing good works among the many things that are "not the way." Well, of course they aren't. None of those things involve climbething.

"Don't let the devil deceive you by making you believe there is some other way," the author implores. But Jesus said we could climbeth! Does that mean He's... the Devil?!? Spooky.

Getting back to the title metaphor, we are told "you enter the door by asking Jesus to come into your heart and save you." Standard issue tract message. Nothing new here. Same goes for the Sinner's Prayer on the back. All the good stuff is on the first page, and can be used to annoy any fundamentalist who tries the "one way to Heaven" approach on you.

"Jesus is the door..." the tract states and restates, and quotes John 10:9 to make sure things are clear: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." Ahem. Sounds kinda dirty. Especially since a pasture is a place where you sow your seeds. But who am I to judge? If you can get Saved by entering Jesus, then going in and out until you sow those seeds into that pasture, go for it!

Just close the door behind you.

The Only Doorway
Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Deliverance For You

Here we have a tract written by none other than Billy Graham, one of a very select few whom Jesus has on speed-dial. He's one of those big-name American pastors, with his own ministry named after him and numerous books that were, not so very long ago, rocking the Christian bestseller lists. He's a bigger Christian household name than Oral Roberts, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell, and he managed it without resorting to sex scandals, drug abuse, or generally being an asshole.

So, a tract from this guy ought to be pretty powerful and convincing, right? Yes it should. Too bad this one isn't.

"We all know how the world has radically changed since the turn of the century," the tract begins. And no, he isn't talking about the year 2000 onwards - he means the last century. "Twenty years ago we used to go down to the seaport to watch the ships come in," Billy says, "but now it is to the airport to watch the planes come down." "Once it was the telegraph but now it is the television."

Not only is this tract seriously out of date, but Billy makes it seem like he really needs a life.

This reminiscing about the not-so-recent past does actually go somewhere. "But with all our progress," Billy writes, "man has not solved the basic problems of the human race." He narrows those basic problems down to three: Sin, Sorrow and Death. Sounds like the name of a goth band. "These three problems make up man's history," and "it all seems rather hopeless" when a person "begins to think about it." Yes, Heaven forbid we start thinking.

Fortunately, Billy has "a rainbow of hope" to "put in your heart." I don't need to tell you what that rainbow is, but I will anyway: "Jesus Christ can meet and solve these three basic problems of your life." Apparently "it has been proved millions of times over." Like most tract authors, Billy neglects to provide the tiniest hint of that proof. I shouldn't be surprised about that, and I'm not. I am disappointed, though. Should not the famous Billy Graham be held to a higher standard?

Jesus "can meet your every need, lift every burden, solve every problem." That's quite a claim, and kind of a hard sell. Perhaps Jesus "can give you hope" and "deliver you from the fear of the future," "the perils of the present trouble" and "the penalty of past sin." I can make the same claims about my glorious man-parts, but that doesn't make them true. And an atheist isn't likely to believe even a pastor of Billy Graham's stature without some kind of evidence to back such claims up.

Incidentally, the cover image of a guy at his desk, face-palming while looking at on-screen tax forms, has nothing whatsoever to do with the material inside the tract.

Does Billy Graham expect us to believe him simply because he's a famous guy? I hope not. If Tom Cruise can't sell me on Scientology, Bill, then you haven't got a prayer.

Deliverance For You
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Rainbows of Hope - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's Fly Away!

This is a contemporary Chick Tract, delivering the message that the world is horrible and getting worse, but Jesus makes everything better. Half of it seems to be aimed at kids, but the other half deals with very grown up issues. Ultimately, God and Jesus are presented as an escape from the troubles of the current day and age.

The story (as much as there is one) starts with the closing of a broke company. "The new regulations killed our jobs!" the former boss tells former employee Greg. "It's happening all over." Greg returns home to his alcoholic wife Delores, who freaks at the news of his termination. "Factories everywhere are closing!" Greg tells her. "The whole country is in a mess." He tries to console her with the story of their next door neighbour Herb, who lost his job, his house, his wife and his kids, but who "says everything is..." And before we can learn what that is is, a gunshot sounds from the house next door. "Herb blew his brains out!" says a dude who seems way too happy about it. The other neighbours are just as creepy - one wants to see what's left of Herb's face, and others set out to loot his home. Wow, humanity sure does suck.

Having established the state of the world as he sees it, Jack Chick introduces Greg and Delores' daughter Julie. She's got great big staring-at-oncoming-headlights eyes, and an innocence bordering on stupidity. She makes friends with Karen, the daughter of the happy smiley couple who just moved in across the street. Karen wastes no time preaching to Julie, telling her that "in God's eyes you are a lying thief!" Liars and thieves "go to the other place!" Karen adds, and we assume she isn't talking about Disneyland. Having sufficiently terrorized Julie, Karen moves in for the Save. "Jesus is coming to get us," she tells her new convert. "He'll meet us in the clouds." The two happy girls jump up and down on Karen's bed, singing "We'll fly away!" Hence this tract's title.

With that, the kid-friendly portion of the tract ends. Julie tells her parents about Jesus, but finds them less than receptive. "We hate that name!" Greg tells her. "You need a nut doctor!" adds Dolores. It seems that while Julie was getting Saved, her parents were busy turning evil. Greg now sports tattoos of skulls, snakes, and Satan's face, and Dolores has become a drug dealer. The way non-Believers do.

The tract ends with Julie jumping on her own bed and singing at two in the morning. Greg has every right to be pissed at the "rotten brat," but his decision to "give her a beating she'll never forget" seems a little extreme. But when Greg barges into Julie's room to open his can of whup-ass, Julie is gone... leaving only her slippers behind! Lucky for her the Rapture happened just in time to save her, right? Although technically, if she had been Raptured, she'd have left behind her pajamas as well. Maybe she just hid under the bed.

Let's Fly Away! paints a very bleak picture of our world, where everyone is a right bastard and life completely sucks. In fact, the whole world is that angry father, coming to our room to beat us. If only we could escape...

And that's Jesus - a magical escape from all your troubles. And eternal damnation. Can't forget that.

"Those religious jerks have made you go crazy!" Dolores tells her converted daughter. "Never mention Jesus again!" says her dad. Is this really what Jack Chick thinks unBelievers are like? Apparently. The only people in the tract who aren't portrayed as pond scum are Karen, her mom, and Julie. If you're not Saved, you must be evil. If that's how Jack sees humanity, how can we take him seriously?

"The whole country is in a mess," Greg says, and maybe he's right. It will take a lot to fix it, and waiting for a miracle escape isn't going to help anybody.

Let's Fly Away!
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - ?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In Times of Trouble

This one, from Evangelical Tract Distributors, is short and full of large type. The basic message seems to be that, when you are having problems, God will help you. As tract messages go, this one is very nice.

The tract author delivers this message by instructing the reader on what "God's Trusting Child May Say." First, it is God's Will that "I am in this difficult place," and He will "give me grace in this trial to behave as His child." God "will make the testing a blessing," and "He can bring me out again" all "in His good time" when He's taught us "the lessons He intends for me to learn."

In other words, when a Christian is facing a troubling time, God put them there to teach them a lesson. Therefore, if you become a Christian and "behave as His child," you can take comfort in the fact that any difficulty you face will be put there by God as a test. If you find that sort of thing comforting, then great.

The last page has the usual sinner's prayer, there for readers who want Jesus "to take control of the rest of my life." No mention is made of Hell or damnation, only sin and the desire for eternal life.

This is, as I said, a very nice tract. It places responsibility for one's woes on God, while suggesting that He'll help you out of them. Plus, each woe happens for a reason, rather than simply being random stuff that happens. If that notion helps you deal with life... hey, why not? It proves absolutely nothing, of course, but as these things go, you could do worse.

In Times of Trouble
Likely to Convert - 4
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content – 1

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Changed Lives: Miracles of The Passion

Here’s an interesting find – a documentary about the effect Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ has had on the world since its release in 2004. Changed Lives: The Miracles of The Passion plays like an overly-long making of featurette one might find on The Passion’s DVD, describing it as “an experience like no other” and bragging that it has touched/changed 80, 000, 000 lives.

Two things I’d like to point out before I go on. One, I have not yet seen The Passion of The Christ, so I have very few comments to make about it. Two, Changed Lives is not an official product for The Passion; it is as independent from Mel Gibson’s film as, well... as this review is from Changed Lives. So to speak. Indeed, Mel’s name is mentioned more times in this review than in the entire documentary.

The film, written and directed by Jody Eldred, is divided into several chapters, each dealing with a specific story. Julie Moran hosts, introducing each story with cheerfulness mixed with awe. The stories themselves are told mostly through interviews with the people in question, and various religious experts toss their two cents in between chapters.

And then there’s the night vision stuff. As each chapter ends, we see footage of people in a cinema watching The Passion. Closeup shots reveal audience members crying and looking away, no doubt overcome by the movie’s power. I suppose these bits are meant to show the exact moment when lives are being changed.

The stories range from charming to nutty: a man who murdered his girlfriend and got away with it, only to turn himself in after seeing The Passion; the two brothers who broke a man’s jaw because he’d fired their mom, only to reconcile, hug and forgive after seeing the film; the atheist who did drugs who was affected “beyond comprehension” after seeing the movie with his girlfriend; a self-described God Hater who screened The Passion for his daughter and wondered “what if this is real?”; and a woman with lung cancer who saw it and became completely cured.

Most wacky is the story of Jan “Lightning Boy” Michelini, a production assistant on The Passion whose story “is an amazing tale of God’s hand of protection.” He was struck by lightning twice while on set, the second time sharing the bolt with star Jim Caviezel. Call me cynical, but I’d only consider it a sign of God’s protection if the lightning had missed him. Doesn’t say much about the safety standards on the set, either. Still, the guy survived unscathed, and was the reason two of the actors decided to convert. That’s something, I guess.

“We can’t get away from the fact that this is not fiction, not made up,” says Author Lee Strobel (The Case For Faith) about The Passion. “It is reflective of what the Gospels tell us actually occurred. I think that’s where a lot of its power comes from.”

“People are seeing depicted truth,” says Pastor Jack Hayford. The Truth “unsheathed, like a sword,” that is “historically reliable, spiritually dynamic.” I suspect the purpose of having these two in the film is to reinforce the idea that The Passion (and the Gospels it is based on) is verifiably true without actually verifying it. One is an author, the other a priest – if they say it is “depicted truth” it must be true!

The strangest and most disturbing of the stories is the one they show first. A Colorado couple named Mike and Krista left their baby in the bath unsupervised for four minutes, and she drowned. Luckily she made a miraculous recovery. That’s the good part.

The strange and disturbing part comes before that. Mike administered CPR, even though he admits he had no training – it was just part of the miracle. “I realized right away that this was an attack of Satan,” he says. So how did Mike defeat the evil Satan and save his baby? Other than performing a first aid technique he didn’t actually know how to do? And just what does this story have to do with The Passion of The Christ, anyway?

It seems Mike and Krista had seen The Passion not too long before this incident, and as they prayed over their daughter they visualized the scene where Jesus is flogged by a Roman soldier. ‘By his stripes are yea healed,’ the Bible says; basically, they figured Jesus would save their kid if they pictured Him having the flesh torn from his back.

And apparently that worked. The doctor who checked the baby afterward was ‘baffled’ that she was so perfect after such a trauma. “It’s the work of God. There’s no doubt about that,” Mike’s dad says. Maybe so. I personally believe they were very lucky. The alternative is to believe that an evil force, not parental negligence, put the baby in danger, and the only way to combat that evil was to bring to mind the most violent scene from a movie about their deity’s death. That, to me, is wrong and sick on so many levels.

“We know for a fact this is historic reality,” Lee Strobel says, “and that what we see played out in front of us is something that actually took place in history.” If you believe that statement, then this film (and, presumably, The Passion) is for you. If you do not, Changing Lives will seem silly. Or crazy. No attempt is made to speak to the unsaved; if you are watching, you are assumed to be the choir to whom they are preaching.

“The stories you’ve just seen are all true,” Host Julie Moran tells us, “but more importantly, they are stories of truth.” Perhaps so, Julie. And I do believe all the interviewees are sincere in the telling of their stories. After all, some of the details do not paint them in the best light. However, I refuse to believe one can resurrect drowned babies or cure lung cancer by watching The Passion of The Christ, even if it is “based on an historic event that can transform a human being’s eternal destiny.” It makes me wonder about the stories we haven’t been told, where The Passion failed to deliver.

A lot of Belief can be a dangerous thing.

Changed Lives: Miracles of The Passion
Likely To Convert - 1
Production Values - 5
Acting/Direction - 4
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content – 5

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Meteor Apocalypse

Are you ready for another blockbuster from Faith Films? The guys who brought you 2012 Doomsday and Sunday School Musical? Well, this one, Meteor Apocalypse, makes those other two look good.

Nah, I’m kidding. Nothing could possibly make 2012 Doomsday look good. Meteor Apocalypse is slightly better, but not as good as SSM. Which is like saying taking a dump is better than explosive diarrhea, but not as good as having a wizz.

But enough of that crap. Meteor Apocalypse, billed as an End Times thriller, is about the trouble that ensues when a comet threatening the Earth is blasted to fragments by the US government, only for those fragments to rain down on the planet.

David (Joe Lando, from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is some sort of emergency response person. His wife Kate (Babylon 5’s Claudia Christian, who gets top billing in spite of only being in the film for less than ten minutes) and daughter Alison (Madison McLaughlin) wish he’d spend more time with them. “Why did you bother switching to days when you’re on call seven nights a week?” Kate asks as David is called in to help deal with the meteor crisis. “It’s my Job, Kate,” he replies. “What d’you want me to do?” Having established the required amount of family drama, David rushes off to do his stuff. If only something would happen to make him realize how precious his family really is.

The first meteor poisons the water supply, and people start getting sick. David confers with his sick friend Mark, who dies just after giving him some medicine that will slow down the poisoned water’s effects. Then a random meteor shower destroys the building, but David escapes with the meds just in the nick of time.

Mark’s pal Sam in Las Vegas is working on a cure – he tells David this, and apparently no one else. The government moves in and starts quarantining the sick people, including Dave’s daughter Alison. He arrives home just in time to watch helplessly Alison and Kate are hauled away by army goons. David himself escapes, only to waste time wandering in the wilderness. Why he didn’t simply get back in his car (which was available) or the car of one of the goon-abducted sickies (also available) is a question best left for film critics.

On his way to Las Vegas to help Sam make a cure, David meets a sick woman named Lynn (Cooper Harris). She also has drama (ex boyfriend, ex job, ex dog), but it fails to make her interesting. Lynn’s function in the film is to look sickly, and it uses up the entirety of Cooper’s acting talent.

David and Lynn find a jeep and continue on toward Vegas, until another random meteor shower destroys it. Over the course of the film, David faces five random meteor showers, but emerges from each unscathed. Somebody up there must like him.

Meanwhile, Random Government People are hard at work. There are always two types of RGPs in movies like this: the ones working to solve the current crisis, and the ones who get in their way for no good reason. Both groups provide much-needed exposition.

David and Lynn reach Sam just in time to save him from some guy with a gun. They put their heads together (David and Sam, not Lynn or the gun guy) and quickly concoct an antidote to the poisoned water. And not a moment too soon! More gun guys turn up to make things difficult, but David and Lynn escape with the help of some FBI agents. Things look promising for our heroes until a bunch of bikers turn up and kill the FBI guys, only to be scared away by random meteor shower #3. One of the FBI agents lives long enough to tell them (David & Lynn, not the bikers) that a giant comet is heading for L.A. Which is where the quarantined people are! Including Kate and Alison! David rushes off for L.A., and Lynn comes with him because her character has nothing better to do.

At no point does it occur to either David or Lynn to turn their antidote over to the authorities. David’s mission is surprisingly single-minded for a Christian movie – he’s taking the cure to his daughter, and everyone else can fend for themselves. In this way, Meteor Apocalypse is very similar to Sunday School Musical – no consequences are shown for bad behavior. David does use half his supply of antidote to save a little girl, but that hardly counts; David wasn’t even sure it would work. He basically used the girl as a guinea pig to make sure the cure could help his daughter.

And, like Sunday School Musical, there is very little to suggest that this is in fact a Christian movie. David’s wife Kate asks him early on if he’ll come to church with her that weekend, and David and Lynn take shelter in a church in L.A. In that church, a priest named Pastor King (Celestial) talks to David about faith; she is the only one to mention the name of Jesus in the entire movie. It doesn’t do her any good; she and her church are wiped out by random meteor shower #4.

Back in Washington, the RGPs’ bureaucratic exposition continues. Most are in favour of saving those quarantined in L.A. However, a bearded RGP is of the opinion the sickies should be left to their fate to avoid a jurisdictional misstep. “You’re sentencing them all to death!” a good RGP cries. “If I could wave a magic wand I would!” the bearded one retorts. Clearly he’s a villain – he’s in favour of using magic! The good RGPs do manage to evacuate some of the people in L.A. before the comet arrives, destroying the city in the cheapest and most pathetic CGI I’ve ever seen.

Before that half-assed apocalypse, however, David and Lynn escape L.A. and track down the evacuated quarantined people in the mountains. Lynn tries to kiss David, but he refuses. This seems a fairly insignificant moment in the film, but according to the Bible Study questions in the disc’s special features, this is the moment when David is faced with Temptation (other questions deal with the film’s supposed Biblical accuracy). That he doesn’t give in to Adultery proves he is an upstanding Christian guy. When Lynn succumbs to her sickness shortly after, and refuses the cure so that David can keep what’s left for his daughter, she is seen to have redeemed herself for her attempted defilement of David’s marriage.

Basically, Lynn is a helpless female in need of rescuing, who becomes a Temptress for five seconds. If her entire purpose was to be a temptation for David, why did they wait for the very end of the movie? If they are trying to teach viewers about the sin of adultery, they have failed miserably.

After Lynn’s death, David is menaced by one last meteor shower before finding Kate, curing his daughter and getting rescued by a chopper. So the hell what? Joe Lando is a serviceable leading man, but the script from Brian Brinkman and director Micho Rutare (who also co-wrote Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus) doesn’t give him much to work with. This is Rutare’s second motion picture as director, and like SSM it was shot in 12 days. Faith Films, it would seem, is too cheap to go over that pitifully short schedule. I’m not sure that an extra few days would have made much difference, though. More love seems to have gone into the making of featurette; it’s the only time that Cooper Harris displays any kind of energy. Honestly, why couldn’t one of those random meteor showers have hit during pre-production and saved the world from this godly mess?

Meteor Apocalypse
Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 4
Acting/Direction - 3
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 2

Monday, July 22, 2013

Here Comes The Judge!

By now, readers of this blog will have a good idea about what to expect from that banana pudding mixture of Christian fundamentalism and overblown paranoia that is Jack T. Chick. Demons luck everywhere, trying to lead you astray. Your intelligent-sounding best friend might be the Devil in a rubber mask. Reject the Word of God, and death and Hell are only seconds away!

This overly-plotted story, however, is a right turn onto left field. It isn't until halfway through the story that a point begins to emerge.

Chick introduces us to Judge Shelton Barnstead, who "gave to charity and was loved by all," but who apparently "had a dark side that very few knew about." Having introduced his titular character, Chick proceeds to ignore Judge Barnstead for a full eight panels. Those panels tell the story of a mother, Kim Keefer, who returns home with her two kids to see a man killing her husband Kyle. It seems Kyle Keefer was a P.I., who had been investigating the Governor and had gathered photographic evidence against him. The murderer, Lance, escapes with the photos and reports to the Judge. "You messed up big time, stupid!" Judge Barnsy admonishes Lance for being caught in the act, and orders him to "bring me the photos right now!"

Judge Barney gets the photos, but Lance gets himself arrested. In response, the Police Chief plants "a stash of illegal drugs" in Kim's home, then has her arrested for her husband's murder. Kim appears before Judge Barnstead, who gives her 50 years (40 for her crimes, and 10 for calling him a "devil").

All clear so far? The Governor did something bad, Kyle took pictures of him doing it, and the Governor used his extensive list of henchmen and cronies (Judge B, the Police Chief, Lance) to cover his ass. The Governor's next move is to have Judge Barnsy taken care of, and one exploding cafe later the not-so-good judge finds himself in hospital.

And it is here, finally, that the plot... not thickens, exactly, but becomes slightly less runny. Conrad, Judge Barnstead's well-groomed but big-nosed house servant, pays his employer a visit in intensive care. Even though Barnsy treated him "like trash since day one," Conrad feels compelled to tell him "about the awesome Judge you must face after death." Barnsy is unable to speak, having been wrapped up mummy-style, but his fearsome eyebrows make his feelings plain.

Conrad preaches about Jesus, then he goes on to tell his boss about the End Times as well. It's as if Chick stuffed the first half of his tract with his complicated plot, then needed some extra material to fill a few more panels. "So what's your decision, sir?" Conrad asks, and he actually hands the judge a card with Yes and No tic boxes on it! Chick gets in a decent joke here - instead of ticking Yes or No, Judge Barnstead writes "You're fired" on the card. Conrad, and Jesus, take that as a solid No, and anyone who rejects Christ in a Chick tract is doomed to an immediate death. Two panels later a bearded, eyepatch-wearing henchman finishes Barnsy off; his soul "was carried away" and "his muffled screams went unheard." The context suggests the screams took place after his soul's departure; maybe Chick was referring to the judge's agonized cries from Hell. The picture of him burning in flames is small by Chick's usual standard, although his eyebrows aren't nearly so terrifying any more.

Oh, and apparently Judge Barnsy didn't go to Hell for his part in the whole murder/theft/conspiracy deal with the Governor. Chick identifies his sins as that of "stubbornness and pride." Readers are then warned, "Don't make the same mistake!" So it's okay to kill someone and take their stuff, blow up cafes, manipulate the law, plant evidence, send innocent people to jail, and whatever the heck it was the Governor was caught doing in the first place... all that stuff is just fine with the Lord as long as you aren't prideful and stubborn? And how was Judge Barnstead prideful and stubborn, exactly? For rejecting Jesus? How do we know he didn't reject Jesus because he thought his house servant Conrad had gone to the nutty store to buy a pair of crazypants?

Jack T. Chick's tracts are usually obvious to the point of being insulting. Here Comes The Judge is so full of plot that the message is hopelessly lost. You blew this one, Jack. That's my verdict.

Here Comes The Judge
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - ?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Glorious Appearing: The End of Days

This is it, the final volume in the Left Behind series! Except, of course, for the three prequel novels. And the novelizations of the Gospels. Oh, and the final, final novel set 1,000 years after the events of this one.


Okay then, how about this - at the time of its publication, Glorious Appearing was meant to be the concluding chapter in the AntiChrist vs. Tribulation Force story. The Seven Year Tribulation - and its accompanying curses, plagues, disasters, soul harvests, improbable human-headed scorpion locusts, and other assorted trumpet and bowl judgments – comes to an end, and we finally witness the Second Coming of the Son of Man of the Hour, Jesus the Christ.

And boy oh boy, does the Prince of Peace ever let them sinners have it! Jesus quotes the Bible at them, and His Voice acts like a death ray:

“And with those very first words, tens of thousands of Unity Army soldiers fell dead, simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses.”

“With every word, more and more enemies of God dropped dead, torn to pieces.”

“Rayford watched through binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.”

“…and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor… their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.”

And it actually gets worse from there. Jesus leads no less than four separate campaigns against the AntiChrist’s army, one after the other, before finally chucking AntiChrist Nicholae Carpathia and his False Prophet sidekick Leon Fortunato into Hell. Why, you might ask, does the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (which is actually written on his robe! For real!) need to go to all that trouble? Couldn’t HE just, I don’t know, blow them all up and be done with it?

No, HE can’t. That’s not what the Bible says. Or, at least, that’s not what authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins say that the Bible says. They say that the Bible says that Jesus fights four battles with the AntiChrist’s army, so HE has to fight all four battles. Wouldn’t want to contradict Biblical prophecy, now would you?

And that is one of the main problems with this book, and indeed the entire series; every Biblical I is dotted, every Gospel T crossed (see what I did there?). If it’s in the Bible it has to be accounted for, no matter how small or silly or detrimental to the plot.

For example, in the middle of Jesus’ slaughter of Nicky’s troops, there is a storm of giant hailstones. As if the poor guys didn’t have enough to worry about, what with the whole getting annihilated by GOD HIMSELF. These great chunks of ice crush several more unbelievers and then melt, and Nicholae’s humvee gets stuck in the ensuing flood. Leon Fortunato has to get out and push, a situation that becomes fraught with comical hijinks.

Comical hijinks? Seriously?!?

Yes, seriously. The AntiChrist and the False Prophet are played largely for laughs in this book, most of it due to Leon’s clumsiness and Nicholae’s cowardice. Are these two really the same guys who kept the world in a state of terror for seven years and eleven previous volumes? For the reader, this is less than satisfying.

But that isn't nearly as bad as the hand that’s dealt to our plucky Trib Force heroes. Things start off interestingly enough – we witness the death of Buck Williams, and the scenes involving the search for the wounded Rayford Steele contain genuine tension and pathos. The others wait at Petra for the AntiChrist’s imminent attack…

…but the moment Jesus appears in the sky, all of them become useless. They follow Jesus and the AntiChrist and watch the remaining prophecies unfold, allowing readers to witness those events through their eyes... and that's it. None of the characters that readers have journeyed with up until that point have any kind of important role, any plot-resolving function, any longer.

So, having usurped the role of Main Character for HIMSELF, what does Jesus the Christ do with it? He obliterates his enemies in his infinite mercy – we’ve covered that. Otherwise, he has two roles to play, which I’ll call Nice Jesus and Mean Jesus. Nice Jesus gives comfort to his flock, speaking to and hugging each of them, assuring them they have done well. Mean Jesus divides the entire population of the planet into Saved and UnSaved, and sends all the UnSaved people to Hell. It’s hard to believe they are the same deity.

The Trib Force characters don’t care. They’re delighted when their Lord adds their names to a bit of Scripture-quoting, and all of them have a Wayne’s World-esque “we’re not worthy” moment. They happily (and passively) sit back and watch the Lord do his stuff.

The last quarter of the novel is like an Academy Awards Ceremony for the faithful, with Old and New Testament guys like Moses and Paul getting their pats on the back for jobs well done. We are told that Rayford et al suffer no weariness or boredom during the event. The same cannot be said for this reader!

I’d like to point out here that the book The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church was Left Behind by Robert M. Price does a far better job of critiquing Glorious Appearing, and the rest of the Left Behind books, than I ever could. If you like my reviews, do pick this book up, you won’t be sorry. I won’t go into detail about most of the points Price raised, because I didn’t think of them before reading his book. I am trying to limit my reviews to my own impressions, and I won’t go and pass his thoughts off as my own.

I will, however, discuss one of his excellent observations: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don’t present Jesus as being all that different from Nicholae Carpathia. Both demand worship and loyalty, both make grandiose claims about themselves, both punish those who fail to obey them, and both plan to rule the world - in Jesus’ case, with an iron rod: Revelation 12:5 ‘She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.’
“That rod of iron sounds like He’s going to take no baloney from anybody, doesn’t it?” says a character too unimportant to be worth naming. I find the similarities between Nicky and J.C. both hilarious and disturbing, and I wouldn’t want either of them to get their hands on my eternal soul.

Neither, I suspect, would any secular reader. Then again, if a non-believer has been willing to read all the way to book 12, I have to concede their conversion is a possibility, if not a very big one.

Glorious Appearing is billed as 'The Final Chapter of Those Left Behind', but it shouldn’t have been. The battle of Armageddon in the previous volume would have made a more exciting climax, with Jesus’ return relegated to the final few chapters. If LaHaye and Jenkins had been willing to condense things a bit and leave one or two details out, they might have achieved a much stronger and more interesting conclusion to their series. Just because you have enough prophetic material to fill an entire 400 pages doesn’t mean you should.

Who would have thought the Second Coming would be so boring?

Glorious Appearing: The End of Days
Likely to Convert - 1
Cover Art - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 8

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Most Important 2 Minutes of Your Life

This tract actually has a dash of humility. On the cover, the words "Reading this pamplet could be..." immediately precede the title, which is itself followed by, "Try it, and see..."

Do you know what that means? The tract authors at Evangelical Tract Distributors can't spell the word 'pamphlet'! But more importantly, it means the authors are allowing for a certain amount of uncertainty. They haven't said that a reading of their 'pamplet' most definitely WILL be your life's most important couple of minutes. No, they hedge their bets and merely suggest that it "could be." That suggests that readers might read the tract and decide it was a waste of time, and the authors actually accept that possibility! Bravo to them, I say.

Unfortunately, the rest of the tract is not so humble. "You have a vital need!" we are told, and "the proof is in your heart!" These sentences and others like them are accompanied by lines of scripture, presumably to give their ideas some Biblical weight. By now, readers of this blog will know what the rest of the tract says - you're a sinner who will go to Hell unless you get Saved. Need I mention this tract provides no factual evidence to back up the Bible quotes? Didn't think so.

Reading this tract did not occupy the most important two minutes of my life. Reviewing it was a little better, but not by much.

The Most Important 2 Minutes of Your Life
Likely to Convert - 7
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Monday, May 20, 2013

How To Survive on the Inside

This is a rare find. Published by ATS, this tract is written specifically for people in prison. Not sure how a copy ended up on the subway where I found it. Maybe Jesus helped some guy to escape.

The tract, a seven-page thing with photos of miserable-looking young 'criminals' (a white guy on the cover, and a black guy and a Latino girl on the inside),goes to a fair amount of detail while steering well clear of any facts. We are first presented with seven questions, including: "Did you know that God knows how you ended up here and He loves you anyway?" "Did you know that God sees past your cell and straight into your heart?"

The seven questions are followed by eight detailed steps, not including the three steps to getting Saved at the end. All eight steps provide guidance on how to be a good Christian prisoner. The tract assumes readers not only want to be Christians, but that they want "to spread His message" to their fellow inmates, too.

And, the tract assumes its readers repent. It's a safe enough assumption. The kind of criminal who enjoys sinning probably isn't interested in tracts. Which limits the audience even further.

That small audience, however, will likely find How To Survive On the Inside very useful and comforting. I myself am comforted by the absence of Hell and Satan in this tract, and there's nothing worth getting offended about, either. Of course, a little fire and brimstone often makes these things more entertaining to read.

"If you are a Christian," the tract tells us, "God doesn't see your guilt." Too bad everybody else does. Still, it's a nice sentiment to hold on to.

How To Survive On the Inside
Likely to Convert - 7
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Second Coming: Surely I Come Quickly

Let me begin this tract review by saying that I shall try to deal with the title as maturely as possible. Not easy, given the scripture quote from Revelation 22:20 that makes up the subtitle, "Surely I Come Quickly."

Too bad for Shirley!

As you may have guessed, this Fellowship Tract League offering concerns the End Times. The cover offers some lovely artwork of people on white horses riding through space toward Earth. One of them (Jesus, I'm guessing) wears a crown and wields a sword, and has blood dripping from the hem of his robe. He also has the words King of Kings and Lord of Lords written on his robe at thigh level, just above the blood. There are Bible passages for each of these details, which is a good thing - otherwise, this guy might look a bit silly.

I mean, seriously? King of kings and lord of lords written on his thigh? In case anyone doesn't believe it's HIM and asks for his ID? But it's in the Bible, like I said, so it must be true.

And that's the attitude taken by this tract. No surprise there. I don't think I've encountered a tract that wasn't. I suppose this one stands out for me because it seems even more concerned with the nitty-gritty, fiddly little details.

What's worse is that the tract author puts words into readers' mouths! "You say, 'I just cannot believe it. I have so many questions.'" No, I said nothing of the kind, but that doesn't stop the author from responding with: "Let's allow God's Word to answer them for you." I did not say I had questions, but now this author has the arrogance to pose answers to what it thinks my questions are!

"When will the rapture take place? Soon!"
"Will it affect me? Yes!"
"How can it be true? JESUS SAID SO!"
"What should I do? REPENT, BELIEVE, BE SAVED!"

As is common for this type of tract, the author makes several grandiose claims and backs them up only with scripture quotes. Naturally, this will lose him/her many skeptics and atheists by the wayside. I've been saying it for how many reviews now? Just because you believe that "Jesus Christ wold not lie," doesn't mean the rest of us will take your word for it!

This tract reminds me of the post-Rapture video in Left Behind, the movie and the book. The video explains where all the vanished people have gone, and what the rest of the world has in store for them. This tract could serve the same purpose, and might actually be effective in such a scenario. The author clearly wants to inform people before the fact rather than after, however, so I doubt it will convince the secular crowd pre-Rapture. It might just save a few souls afterward, if the Rapture actually happens.

And that's a pretty big 'if'.

"If you miss the rapture, you will" be stuck on Earth during "the Great Tribulation" and you will "cry out for help and comfort" before you "end up in hell for all eternity." Maybe I will. But it will take something a lot better than this tract to convince me.

The Second Coming: Surely I Come Quickly
Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Satan: The God of This World

Here's another reminder, this time from Fellowship Tract League, that Satan is the chief, boss, ruler, and all-around grand-poo-bah of planet Earth. "Satan has influence and power enough to keep a man from looking into the Bible," the uncredited author tells us, and "certain men have joined Satan to help in his work." What is that work? Keeping people from "seeing that God's Son gave his life for a sin-cursed world." Apparently this keeps him quite busy.

And, no one is safe! "It is sad to see man and women with broken lives under the dominion of Satan," the author says, but it turns out that "good parents, first class citizens, fine moral leaders, and church members" are "also under the dominion of Satan."

A frightening reminder to one who is devout, to be sure, but what about the non-believers? Will they care? Will someone who has never heard of Satan come to fear the Devil's dominion? Not likely - the word 'Devil' is never mentioned.

And Hell isn't mentioned until the last page! Satan may be "a deceiver," and he may also be "the god of sin," but what exactly does that mean in the real world? This tract assumes you already know about Heaven and Hell, so it doesn't bother to explain.

The tract ends with the usual blurb about how you need Jesus to save you, complete with standard prayer. In fact, most of Page 3 is about Jesus, too. Only one page and a bit deal directly with Satan, and then only in abstract terms. Satan is "the god of sin." So what? That and a quarter won't even get you a cup of coffee.

Try again, League.

Satan: The God of This World
Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Do You Flirt With Danger?

"...Timothy thought it was safe for him to hang out with grizzly bears." So begins this latest tract from Evangelical Tract Distributors, written by Roscoe Barnes III. I laughed hard when I read that line, and so should you.

I should have been pissed. After all, here's another tract that's using my name in vain! The message Roscoe is going for is so obvious, and the skill with which he delivers it so stupid, that I'm prepared to let that slight go.

As I'm sure you've guessed, things don't turn out so well for poor Timmy. "People warned him of the danger of" grizzly bears, but Tim "believed he was safe." Then, "despite his belief and good intentions, his rendez-vous with danger resulted in death."

Where is this heading, I don't hear any of you asking? "Like Timothy, we sometime feel we're on the right path," [the typo is Roscoe's, not mine] but "if we live without Christ" then we are "flirting with danger." In other words, if you haven't been Saved you are, essentially, kicking a grizzly bear in the nuts.

"Now that you have seen the warnings," Roscoe sums up, "you have a decision to make. Will you heed the warnings" and "accept God's offer" of Savedhood? Or "will you flirt with danger?" And get mauled by the bears of Hell?

Roscoe Barnes the Third has created a serviceable metaphor with this tract, one that demonstrates the jeopardy he believes the unSaved to be in. A thinking person will see the holes in his reasoning; one can choose to avoid bears, but (according to the theology Roscoe puts forth) Hell is a bunch of bears seeking you out. Plus, bears are real; there is plenty of physical, biological, tangible and visible evidence to prove their existence. There is no such evidence supporting Hell's reality. A person does not have to accept the threat that bears pose to our well-being on faith alone. They need only watch an episode of The Colbert Report.

Of course, there are plenty of non-thinking people who will accept this tract's message of fear at face (muzzle) value. Even they might have trouble taking this tract seriously, however, after reading that first sentence! " to hang out with grizzly bears." That's paws-itively unbearable!

Do You Flirt With Danger?
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 5
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 8
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1