There’s an unfortunate undercurrent in white American evangelicalism of claiming that capitalism is synonymous with the gospel, or at least endorsed by it. That’s part of the reason that Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium made such a splash a few months back, with his criticism of capitalist systems as inherently unbalanced in favor of those who already have power.
Bill O’Reilly, in promoting his recent book, Killing Jesus, argued that Jesus’ message of radical upheaval of systems that fail to care for the socially disenfranchised was only a metaphorical exhortation, meant to inspire people to individual holiness. Here’s a clip where he says something to that effect in a debate with a theology professor from Notre Dame, Dr. Candida Moss:
I’ve shared that interview before here, but I think it does a good job of illustrating my point for reviewing this week’s Chick tract, Fat Cats.
You’d think with a title like that, this would be some kind of polemic against the corruption found in people who serve Mammon, but it’s actually an anti-Catholic, anti-Communist rant instead.
The story follows Juan, a passionate man who wants to join the People’s Army to revolt against the corrupt leaders of some vaguely South American country. Juan’s wife Maria encourages him to talk to her father, who’s a Protestant
pastor preacher, before he goes to join the rebellion in the hopes that her father will be able to persuade Juan to avoid getting involved with the revolutionaries and their leader Carlos. Maria’s father makes his case and presents Juan with the gospel (again, much to Juan’s exasperation) claiming that all people in power are the same, and if the revolution succeeds then things really won’t change for the people on the ground in vaguely South American country. That’s not a bad point, and I even agree that something radical besides people grasping for power needs to happen, but Maria’s father’s argument essentially says that people should do absolutely nothing if there is an unjust system in place.
It’s more of the tired old Calvinism that Chick is steeped in, claiming that any human effort is doomed to fail because of utter depravity, though because this is a tract, none of that technical language is offered here (Chick always likes to stick to simple arguments based on Bible verses which he takes as self evidently authoritative, ignorant of how his belief in that authority doesn’t make it automatically authoritative for everyone in his audience).
Anyway, Juan ignores Maria’s father’s dire warnings and goes to join Carlos’s revolution. In camp, he meets a Jesuit priest, Father Dominic. Dominic is using his Jesuit connections to provide the resistance with weapons and supplies (remember, Catholicism spawned communism!). We’re also told that Dominic was trained from a young age to use Liberation Theology and socialism in tandem to help do God’s work (that sounds kind of cool, although I should probably assume that what Chick means by Liberation Theology isn’t the same thing as what I understand of liberation theology).
Of course, the revolution proceeds as planned, and Carlos assumes power. Father Dominic is revealed to be a double-crossing snake who executes Protestants for being heretics (it’s vaguely South American country, so I guess Chick figures the Hispanic people he’s portraying would be cool with a Spanish Inquisition redux). Juan’s family is killed, and Juan shortly follows when he turns on Carlos and Dominic (understandable since they totally betrayed him first). In the afterlife, God sends Juan to hell because he didn’t accept Jesus, so he’s eternally separated from his family.
Once again, Chick shows that his god’s an utter monster.
The epilogue shows that Carlos and Dominic end up becoming exactly like the previous regime, starting the cycle of violent revolution all over again.
Perhaps the most irksome part of this story is that Chick presents a false dichotomy where it’s impossible for Juan to be a follower of Christ while he’s also working to improve the lot of people in his country. Yes, he follows Carlos as his revolutionary leader, but Juan’s desire to make lives better at his own personal cost (because what isn’t more costly than putting yourself in danger by directly opposing a corrupt power structure) is Christian to the core, whether he accepts Jesus or not. It’s disingenuous to suggest that a person who fights for a revolutionary cause can’t have a deep faith in Jesus that follows white American evangelical lines (unless we assume that Chick’s faith is wrapped up in a political agenda that isn’t really that interested in improving the world for everyone; see the O’Reilly clip above). Ultimately, I think the point that this tract does make is that people who are interested in taking and maintaining power for themselves can be found in any sort of ideological movement, but for whatever reason, Chick focuses on a particular fictional revolution that features a coalition of Catholics and communists as though only these groups are ever in a position where they’re trying to wrest power from other people.