'This Was Your Life': The Chick Tract That Horrified Children

I have always loved Chick tracts. I can remember reading them as a child. I am not sure where I first received one, but they would pop up in the strangest of places: on public restroom urinals, truck stop pay phones, gas station counters, or handed out at rock concerts.

Over the years, even in my adult life, I have stumbled upon Chick tracts (I remember seeing them being sold in some record and comic stores in the 90's) and thumbed nostalgically through them, delighting in their absurdity. I still have one in my bedside table drawer, and I thumb through it on occasion. Beneath all the nostalgia and kitsch, however, when I look through a Chick tract, I can still feel the mild existential discomfort they inflicted on me as a child.

These comics seem to reside in a certain corner of my mind, right next to memories of Ouija boards, backmasking, Anton LaVey, and the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria of the late 70s and early 80s.

I recently ran across an animated flash version of the most popular Chick tract of all time, 'This Was Your Life.' It's pretty great, and I can't believe I haven't seen it before.

The blog Jack Chick's Funnybook Gospel has a great post (a review, actually) about 'This Was Your Life.' As it turns out, this tract (hands-down the most popular Chick tract ever) is available in over 100 languages. The blog post features snippets of several different versions, adapted for black audiences, Chinese audiences, Indian audiences, and one for women.

Anyone who has read more than a few Chick tracts will remember that the Gospel According to Chick is a very specific brand of Evangelical Christianity. Although Jack Chick's brand of religion echoes that of many TV evangelists of his time, he did not seek personal attention. Yet while he was a recluse (he has only given one interview since 1975), his work is known the world over. Chick Publications claims to have sold over 450 million tracts. Even if we account for some exaggeration, that's a lot of terrified children.

Given the fanatical, dogmatic, and judgmental nature of the tracts, it may not surprise many that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Chick Publications as a hate group. The tracts are anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-any-religion-that-is-not-Chick's-brand-of-hellfire-Christianity. The tracts feature all sorts of bogeymen, including Islam, drugs, Halloween, gangs, alcohol, money, the gays, evolution, and 'false religions.'  All of these things (and much, much more) are here to distract us from serving God. According to Chick, anyway.

But no bogeyman captured our imaginations quite as much as death himself -- the reaper. Or no, actually that projector in heaven that replays all your worst moments as a human being. That's pretty horrifying. Also the Book of Life that does not contain your name is fairly disturbing. As is the eternal lake of fire. Harrowing stuff.

In hindsight, Chick tracts represent what is wrong with religion, specifically the brand of fire and brimstone of evangelical Christianity.

Here is what is implied by 'This Was Your Life,' (and what is often implied in many churches in America): You had better not make poor decisions, because every move you make is being watched, and every thought you think is being recorded. And these poor decisions will land you in a pit of fire for all of eternity, because let's face it, there's at least a good 20 minutes worth of questionable footage that we could play for the Big Guy.

This begs the question -- do we really want to be surrounded by people whose behavior is shaped by fear and guilt? If you ask me, those are horrible motivators. I don't want children (or grown-ups) to act morally because they fear they will land in a lake of fire. I want them to act morally because it is good for humanity, society, and the environment. Our moral actions will benefit our fellow humans, and will benefit us as well. I want children to avoid making poor choices because they are worried about how it will affect them and others in this life -- not because they are worried about how it will affect the afterlife, of which we have no evidence. To avoid causing pain and suffering because one fears their own suffering in the afterlife is actually a selfish notion, and one based on a supernatural assumption.

What's beautiful about the Chick tracts (aside from the fact that they're funny) is that they serve as a time capsule. They are fossils of beliefs that are endangered and which are being supplanted by more liberal theology, and ultimately, by secular morality.

Imagine a world where humans do good deeds simply because it feels good, and because good deeds minimize suffering in the world.

Imagine a world where guilt relates to how we have affected others, instead of whether or not we have disappointed an angry supernatural agent.

The grim reaper, Satan, angels, a shiny faceless God in a big chair with a naughty-and-nice list, a burning lake of fire. At least Chick had foresight. This is the stuff of comic books.


  1. I have one of these tracts! Someone left it in the restroom of the store where I work, and I took it home for the LOLZ. I remember reading several of them as a kid, but don't recall taking them too seriously. Some of them were a little disturbing, but I guess the (much more tolerant) messages preached at the church I went to at the time were enough to offset that, or else I just didn't care. Now, they're just hilarious and pathetic, and so are the religious nutters who think they are a great way to proselytize.

  2. I routinely handout these little tracts. They are worth 1000 times their weight in gold when it comes to getting out the message of Gods' love for humanity. Contrary to what's written above, the tracts are not intended to frighten anyone, but instead inform everyone. The truth is, anyone can get on here and spew ill-informed venom. I would suggest to every reasonable person, that going straight to the source and actually, objectively, reading one of the tracts is a better option than mindlessly buying into the prejudice of Anti-Christian/Anti-Christ bigotry.

  3. Before one can embrace the good news of the Gospel (God loves you and has done everything possable to provide for your forgiveness and salvation) .... one needs to understand the bad news (we are all sinners worthy of hell) ..... it's not to scare you but to prepare you for the day we shall all give an account of our lives to God. We come to God on his terms not ours .... Faith in Jesus Christ is what brings about eternal life and forgiveness of sin. Peace B with U

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  5. I am trying to counter these tracts because they are a nightmare; I don't agree with homosexuals myself and that's something I am agreement with Chick on but he borrows way too much from Gothic Horror. That's why I became a Horror author after reading H. P. Lovecraft I have disproved these tracts and you need a better reason to reach people -- what exactly in their eyes burning in hell is like when there is a division between the Baptist congregations over inspiration.

  6. I have a little basket that I keep at my entryway at my apartment that has tracts in it, I would love to know how I can get your tracts. robbins.jeanine@yahoo.com

  7. These tracts are burned into my brain forever. The problem is they never made me feel God loved me. They reinforced the message I was getting from my very religious stepmother at the time; God is sitting up there just waiting for you to do something wrong so he can crush you. Don't step to the left or the right as you will be thrown into a lake of fire and burn forever. This fear of hell drove me to church for a while but it couldn't keep me there. God's love is what keeps people there. We don't love what we fear. I think the tracts were created with the best intentions but they certainly had the opposite effect on me. I resent that those images are lodged in my brain now. I would like to see God as someone who loves me but the image of God as judge, jury and executioner are way too strong for me to believe that.