Monday, February 8, 2010

Jack Chick Is My Inspiration

If you know or live near some seriously conservative Christians, or have a predilection for snarking on crazy conservative paraphernalia, then you very likely have, at some point or another, stumbled across the Chick tract.  If you aren't familiar with them, check that link to their Wikipedia page for a brief introduction or, better yet, read a few at random from the official website, where they are all freely available.

Briefly, they are small, short booklets containing a comic-book-style story that usually tells how a certain thing (such as Halloween, Harry Potter, Catholicism, and homosexuality) is horrendously evil, will make you go to hell, and that Jesus is the only salvation.  Now, as you can surely guess, these things are pretty much completely antithetical to my personal philosophy.  As such, it would be easy for me to write a post here making fun of a specific tract, decrying how horrid his strawmen and stereotypes (used for "humorous" effect, of course), or going point-by-point through one to show how inaccurate it is.  Many people online and off have done so, much better than I can.  So instead, I want to tell you why these tracts, and by extension, their creator. Jack Chick, are an inspiration to me.

Let me tell you a story.
For my first five years out of college, I worked at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore as part of the outreach team.  This involved going to schools and libraries and doing science shows for kids.  In essence, I got to blow things up, set things on fire, freeze things, break things, play with puppets, and pretty much whatever else we could think of to get kids excited about science.  Naturally, we strove to make the actual science content simple to understand, yet accurate.  Somewhere around the middle of my time working there, we were doing a library show somewhere in southern Pennsylvania (I don't recall exactly where, but it was in the general vicinity of Dover).  We were doing the show Dinosaur!!!, a relatively short show designed for K-2 (this is the one with the puppets.)  Now, part of the thing about library shows versus school shows it that parents are often there with the kids, and since the kids didn't need to get going back to a class right afterwards, we would come out right after the show and take questions from those still hanging around.

So we finished the show, which involves mention of "millions of years" and that birds descended from dinosaurs, and come out to the audience line to talk to the kids waiting there.  Two girls come up to me, sisters, the older maybe nine years old, the younger maybe seven.  The older, who did the majority of the talking, starts off by telling me that dinosaurs aren't really extinct and that there are still some alive in the jungles of Africa.  I of course began to explain how there's no evidence supporting that, and all the available evidence pretty clearly points the other way, but alarm bells were already going off.  The girl went on to tell me how cave paintings accurately show dinosaurs, even down to circular markings on their skin (an argument I haven't even been able to find on creationist sites), and that scientists, by saying things such as "may have," "could be", and "most likely" really are just guessing.  I tried explaining how science works, by guessing and testing and rejecting guesses that don't fit the evidence, but she didn't really seem to be listening to me.  She seemed almost to be reciting, without stopping to comprehend the responses.

After a few minutes, she pulled out a Chick tract, "Big Daddy."  I'd never actually seen one in real life.  Oh, I'd stumbled across them online before, sometime in college, and I'd had a good laugh at the sort of things that those crazy ultra-conservatives believe and the campiness of the whole thing.  But here, with these two earnest little girls paging through it and parroting the ignorance-worshipping misinformation, the intolerant hate disguised as religious love, the completely warped and backwards morality, it stopped being funny.

They talked to me for maybe ten, fifteen minutes without giving me any indication that they'd heard a word I'd said, repeating many things from the tract word-for-word.  They then gave me the tract, and walked away into the library.  Their parents, who'd been standing at distance but well within earshot, came up and apologized.  "As you can probably guess," they said, "We're Young Earth Creationists.  We really didn't intend to have them ambush you."  Maybe not, but they sure didn't stop it, and I'm sure that she just happened to have the proper tract on her  of her own accord.  I was wearing the uniform, though, so I just politely accepted their apology.

Of course, I don't know what will become of those two girls.  Maybe they'll grow up to love ignorance too, or maybe they'll grow up to reject it.  It's possible something I said could spark a little bit of doubt in them.  Not very likely, I know, but possible.  If not me, maybe a teacher somewhere.  Maybe a book they get out of the library.  Maybe a website they visit.  Maybe something, somewhere, will make them start question what and why they believe.  Maybe.

But I've still got that Chick tract.  I keep it in the bag I take with me to work every day, and have since that night.  It reminds me why I've spent nearly nine years now working in science education.  It reminds me that there is no idea so ridiculous, so ignorant, so over-the-top crazy, so harmful and hate-filled, that some parent somewhere won't teach it to their kid.  And we need to fight back against that as much as we can.

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