Every autumn Christians throughout North America engage in hand-wringing disputes over what to do about Halloween. The discussions tend to reflect in microcosm how we interact with overtly secular aspects on a larger scale. Should we separate and stand apart, becoming a witness by our disengagement, or do we participate and attempt to redeem the event by acts of hospitality and neighborly love?
Such discussions invariably involve some well-meaning believer recommending handing out “gospel tracts” to trick-or-treaters. And almost always, the tracts they have in mind are ones produced by the most frightful man ever to be associated with Halloween: Jack Chick.
While you may not recognize the name, if you’ve ever used the restroom of a truck stop then you’ve probably seen his work (they are always found there—always). Chick produces tracts and comics that look like work that R. Crumb would have produced had he attended Bob Jones University. For more than twenty years the tracts have been used to spread such Christian messages as Catholics are going to hell and the Holocaust was a Jesuit-led inquisition against the Jews.
To me, though, Chick is not just another anti-Catholic bigot. When I was a kid Jack Chick was the man who was responsible for more nightmares than the Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Nightstalker combined. Chick not only scared the hell out of me, he made me afraid that hell was all around me.
While his comic books are less well known than his tracts, they were a primary source of literature around my fundamentalist church. In a typical display of twisted ’70s fundie logic, our congregation believed that comics about Satan and the occult were more wholesome than reading about Spiderman or Archie and Jughead.
One comic that still gives me the creeps is Exorcists, a tale of a young boy who prays to Satan and becomes possessed after falling asleep. Being a Christian, I knew that I didn’t have to fear about demons taking over my body. But I wasn’t so sure about some of my heathen friends. Anyone who was sleeping over my house was quickly sent home for so much as mentioning a Ouija board or humming Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
It’s been thirty years since Chick tracts damaged my fragile psyche but it appears that some otherwise well-meaning Christians are willing to subject a whole new generation to this horror. The Chick Publications website even has a list of “unique ways you can use Chick tracts this Halloween” such as:
When Trick-or-Treaters parade to your door this Halloween, drop a couple of Chick tracts in their bag, along with some candy. Or, to really get them excited, stock a tray with several different Chick tracts. (See suggested tracts.) When children arrive, place the tray in front of them and let them pick any two tracts. (Be sure to give them candy too.) Kids love receiving unique gifts, like cartoon tracts. And they love picking the ones they want. Your home could be their favorite stop of the night. With Chick tracts, you can witness to every child who comes to your door. Plus, they’ll take the tracts home, where their parents will read them too!
Having to take an evangelism tract in order to get a bite-size Snickers bar normally wouldn’t be such a bad tradeoff. But let’s take a look at one of the suggested tracs and what is being offered to impressionable children.
Boo tells the story of students from Salem High who rent a cabin in the woods for their class Halloween party. Fortunately for them, thirteen people were murdered the previous Halloween so they get the place at a cheaper rate.
A surprise? A keg of beer? A couple of fifths of whiskey? Some bottles of cheap wine? Nah, it’s not that kind of party. The kids at Salem High are into the newest trend . . .
. . . sacrificing animals to Satan! Oh, and the dude with the pumpkin and the snake on a rope? That’s Lucifer himself. Why the devil needs a chainsaw, Chick never makes clear. I mean he’s got a snake on a rope . Isn’t that enough to do the trick?
It appears Satan found his chainsaw after all. So now we have a high school kid ready to sacrifice a kitty while a pumpkin-headed demon reenacts the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Let me just say that if anybody were to drop this tract into my kid’s candy bag I’d be paying that house a return visit. And I’d be bringing my own snake on a rope.
The story takes a weird twist when Satan goes down to a village church. His chainsaw must have run out of gas because instead of trying to chop up a young kid he simply yells at him.
Satan sure has some mouth on him, don’t he? Anyway, the next day the kid asks his pastor about Halloween. Oddly enough he forgets to mention that he went toe-to-toe with Lucifer the night before. The preacher gives the kid a brief intro to demonology before explaining the origin of Halloween.
None of this, of course, is true. Halloween is the holiday equivalent of Wicca—a 20th century invention that pretends to have ancient pagan roots. Halloween has nothing to do with Samhain, a Celtic agricultural festival that marked the beginning of winter. There is also no evidence that Samhain was a celebration devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship, much less to kidnapping, human sacrifice, and snake-on-a-rope wielding demons.
I think it’s safe to say that if the Lord hates Halloween then he must despise Chick tracts. When a well-intentioned but overzealous Christian gives these “comics” to a child it must be, as Chick would say, a slap in the face. If you are the type of person who does this on Halloween I only have one word to say to you: repent.
Irrational fear is an overrated motivational tool, especially when you’re trying to win the hearts and minds of children. Just look at my example. Thirty years later I’m still creeped out by the thought of the Chick comics. While they might have had the intended impact—to scare the living hell out of me—they did so by appealing to an unnecessary fear of Satan. If a Christian really wants to show a child the light of God’s grace then they should do so by showing them God’s love rather than by giving them the hateful, disgusting, and demonically-inspired work of Jack Chick.