This will be risky, but I'd like to talk about Adolf Hitler and religion for a moment.
The problem with creating a metaphor involving Hitler is that, as journalist Ron Rosenbaum told me long ago (this is a paraphrase): What people say about Hitler usually reveals more about their biases and beliefs than about those of Hitler. (Rosenbaum is the author of an amazing book, "Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.")
So here goes. Readers, especially Jewish readers, what would you think if you read a news feature covering the life and legacy of Hitler and, right at the beginning, it stressed that he was known for his oppression of Marxists, Catholics, faithful Lutherans, gays, Jews and gypsies?
On one level, all of that is true. That is an accurate list of groups in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere that Hitler attacked. But isn't it rather strange to see his war on the Jews turned into a mere bullet item in a list of what appear to be similar offenses?
Now, please hear me say this: I am not about to compare the work of Jack T. Chick with that of Hitler. So what am I attempting here?
I am saying that, when I read the Associated Press obituary for the famous -- many would say "infamous" -- cartoonist the lede struck me as strange. Click here for the version that ran in The Los Angeles Times -- which is symbolic since Chick was based east of LA.
Now, Chick was famous for using his pen to attack lots of different targets. But there is no question that he attacked one body of religious believers more than any other and in ways that were uniquely scandalous. But read the AP lede and try to figure out which body got stabbed the most:
Jack T. Chick, whose cartoon tracts preached fundamentalist Christianity while vilifying secular society, evolution, homosexuality and the beliefs of Catholics and Muslims, has died. He was 92.
Then there was this follow-up:
Chick's pulpy, lurid cartoons combined traditional evangelism with frankly conspiracy-minded attacks. He and later other illustrators produced several hundred tracts over the decades. Latching onto the issues of the day, the tracts took aim at abortion, occultism, ecumenism and other perceived evils.
They portrayed everything from rock music to Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter as literal traps of the Devil. One tract, “The Walking Dead,” tapped into the hit zombie TV show but argued: “We're all like zombies. The spirits inside our souls are dead.”
OK, Catholic readers, does any of this strike you are rather strange?
I mean, all of this is accurate. There is no question that Chick fired away at all of these different targets. But isn't the lede here that the cartoonist would appear at the top of any informed researcher's list of the most influential anti-Catholic voices of the 20th Century? Isn't it -- returning to my risky metaphor -- rather strange to see Chick's fierce and at times lurid attacks on Catholicism turned into a mere bullet item in a list of what appear to be similar actions?
Yet throughout this piece, Chick's anti-Catholic campaign is consistently mixed in with this work criticizing other groups. For example:
Chick managed to offend Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims and Freemasons, who found their beliefs discounted, ridiculed or condemned as false -- or worse.
“Learn how the papacy helped start Islam, only to have this new daughter rebel against her. You'll understand the Arab's place in Bible prophecy. Muslims have been saved by reading this book,” says the blurb for one pamphlet on the Chick Publications order website.
The tracts were criticized for using debunked or one-sided arguments and stereotypical portrayals of blacks, homosexuals, Arabs and others. But they also attracted collectors and fans who cherished them as quirky works of art.
This AP approach was not unique. The Religion News Service obituary for Chick underlined the Catholic attacks earlier, but did not cite the unique degree to which the cartoonist focused on the Church of Rome again and again.
Chick printed and distributed 800 million copies of more than 250 different tracts, according to ComicsAlliance. Each illustrated fundamentalist Christian beliefs about the way to heaven, as well as what he believed were stumbling blocks: Harry Potter books, homosexuality, even Catholicism.
With titles such as “The Death Cookie,” depicting Catholicism as a plan of the devil, and “Dark Dungeons,” about Dungeons and Dragons, they’re campy and controversial -- and widely known, distributed on street corners, at churches, sometimes even in place of Halloween candy.
As you would expect, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights was not amused by this approach to describing the life and work of Chick, especially its emphasis on attacking St. Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Chick’s goal was to convince Protestants that Roman Catholicism was a false religion. He published scores of books and magazines, and released many videos, but he was most famous for his small tracts and comic books. ... His titles were provocative: “Are Roman Catholics Christians?”; “Why is Mary Crying?”; and “The Death Cookie” (meaning the Host). These were among his bestsellers.
Some of the assaults on Catholicism were quite specific. For example, Confession was the work of Satan. The Jesuits constitute a “truly secret army” all over the world. The Catholic Church was responsible for the Nazi death camps. Pope Pius XI and John Paul I were drugged. Protestants must beware of the “Catholicization of America.” The Vatican is bent on creating the “New World Order.”
OK, this analysis will not surprise Donohue's critics. However, I thought this bite of information struck home:
The fact is that Jack Chick concentrated most of his time and resources attacking Catholics. ... Indeed, on the website of Chick Publications there are 680 stories on Muslims, 260 on homosexuals, and 2,460 on Catholics.
Once again let me stress: I am not comparing Hitler and Chick. I am talking about efforts to describe their targets.
Yes, it is accurate to say that Hitler attacked all kinds of people. However, it was clear that the Jews were his primary target.
Yes, it is also accurate to say that Chick used his pen and fierce, at times bizarre, talent to criticize and even attack all kinds of people. However. it was clear that the Catholic Church was his primary target. Why not say so?