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Now, many people who keep the porch light on at Halloween like to hand out items other than candy. Once, as a newlywed, I gravely underestimated how many mini Almond Joys my neighborhood’s population of pirates and Smurfettes was going to require, and was reduced to handing out pennies. These were not exactly greeted with cries of delight, and I never did it again. A penny saved is a penny earned, that’s what I say.

I don’t much like candy anyway, to tell you the truth — well, except when I’m standing in my closet devouring the remaining half-bag of mini-M&M packs before the children smell the chocolate and hear the surreptitious crunching — and I don’t, to be honest, like my children on candy. Its effect on them is something like that old advert that shows your brain, and then your brain on drugs. In this case the “after” picture I have in mind looks less like a fried egg than like — well, what happens when I put an egg on to fry and then forget to go back and turn it because I’ve gotten busy writing — well, something like this, for example. Where is that smoke coming from? What is that smell? Remind me what that charred little item in the pan was supposed to be?

You’ve heard the expression high on life, right? What I’m talking about would not be that.

But if you don’t hand out candy, what do you hand out? Catholic families I know give holy cards or medals, which idea has a lot of appeal, except that I remember about the pennies. Also, I remember what I used to do with non-candy items that turned up from time to time among my own trick-or-treat treasures when I was a child: look at them in mild curiosity, then lose them.

This was certainly true of religious tracts which neighbors occasionally gave out. I don’t remember which neighbors; there wasn’t one identifiable house in my childhood neighborhood, that I can recall, which was clearly marked out as the place with no candy. Yet year by year, when I turned my loot out on the bedroom floor, there would almost inevitably be something: a folded bit of paper, a little booklet, with flames printed on the front and red letters, rendering a Gospel message so unlike anything I had ever heard at the United Methodist Church that I wondered whether the tract people had the same Bible we did. I’d glance through it with mild interest, maybe even a brief frisson of horror, then drop it back on the floor to be vacuumed up by my mother at some later date.

So I was inclined from the get-go to be skeptical of the whole Chick Tracts thing anyway, despite the testimonials of actual “ordinary Christians:”

“… people keep the books to re-read them and show them to others.”

“The kids as well as adults really read them.”

“… they were an aid to me coming to Christ.”

Honestly? You were on the path to hell, and somebody handed you a cartoon about Gramps and Satan, and now you’re an usher and teach the Junior-High Sunday School?

Stranger things have happened. And it is very likely true that many more people tread that downward road out of sheer ignorance than because they said, “Well, then, I’ll go to hell. That’s all I really want.”

In either case, you’d think the antidote would be reliable information and well-reasoned apologetics.

Alas . . .

Almond Joy, anybody? M&M? Go ahead. Take ten. And while I’m at it, let’s go shake the penny jar and see what falls out.

UPDATE: I fear that I might not have made it clear enough that the title of this post is decidedly tongue-in-cheek, and I’m in NO WAY endorsing or advocating or attempting to advertise the products of the company with which this post concerns itself. Quite the opposite. I began, as I often do, in lightly satirical mode, because that’s supposed to be the mode for this blog, but found that I was dealing with something far nastier than I had foreseen. That seems to be the great difficulty in writing a satirical religion blog: things are either holy, in which case you don’t make fun of them, or they’re unholy, in which case they aren’t funny, except in a kind of gasp-of-disbelief way. As I remarked to someone in the comments, I have a hard time believing that anyone reads stuff like what’s in these tracts, but then Pauline Kael had a hard time believing that Richard Nixon had won the presidential election; nobody she knew had voted for him.

I haven’t been Catholic that long, and I honestly had not seen firsthand anything quite like “The Death Cookie” before. Catholicism responsible for AIDS in Africa I have heard in spades; Catholicism bad for women I have heard; Catholicism backward and superstitious and unprogressive and not nice to people I have heard.

Catholicism taking over the world via a Death Cookie is news to me, and as horribly blasphemous as it is, it just almost seems self-parodying. I’d say you couldn’t make it up, but clearly someone has, and if it weren’t for people’s susceptibility to propaganda, I’d just be embarrassed for the person responsible.

At any rate, I ran across the company while cruising around “Christian alternatives to Halloween” sites. I doubt that too many readers here would be tempted to buy tracts of any sort as a well-meaning alternative Halloween handout, but these are being peddled out there as a wholesome alternative to candy, and well-meaning people don’t always pay attention to the whole picture of what they’re buying.

So, in case you were deliberating about this kind of thing, Sally says: NOT a good witnessing tool. No no no. Apologetics yes. Reasoned debate yes. Propaganda in the tricky-treat bag no.

Now, if I could just get the Butterfinger unstuck from my teeth . . .

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