Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Of Catholics, Commies, and the Anti-Christ: Mapping American Social Borders through Cold War Comic Books

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Of Catholics, Commies, and the Anti-Christ: Mapping American Social Borders through Cold War Comic Books

Article excerpt

[1] When the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949, it was clear to Americans that the Cold War would be a dangerous and unsettling era. Starting in 1951, schools began to show children the "Duck and Cover" safety film from the federal government's Civil Defense: a brief video in which Bert the Turtle taught them how to protect themselves under their desks in case of an atomic attack. (1) Cold War fears of communist assaults upon U.S. soil were pervasive and strong. One of the main, if not the principal, emphasized that the difference between communist regimes and the U.S. was America's predominantly Christian background. Christian leaders and communities stressed America's religious background and distinguished the communist Soviet government as an "evil power." (2)

[2] With this unease regarding the country's--and Christianity's--future in America, the Cold War proved to be an auspicious time to restructure the boundaries of American identity. Communism, an undeniable American enemy, prompted new anxieties about the country's character. What did it mean to be an American? Cold War popular culture reflected various answers to this question, and comic books offer a lens for examining the social atmosphere in which they were created, published and read. This paper will examine three comic books from Christian publishers and explore how they used the Cold War as a backdrop for understanding American identity and its religious element. Two of these comics come from Catholic educational publishers and the third comic is an anti-Catholic tract by Jack Chick. In their stories, religion and the way the comic defines and visualizes America are linked. Engaging the relationship between Catholicism and communism, these comics reflect different perspectives concerning American's religious landscape and its relationship to the nation's identity. This paper will also briefly compare these three religious publications with non-religious, mainstream Cold War comics in order to see the critical role played by the element of religious identity in the religious comics.

[3] The first two comics are 1947's Is This Tomorrow: America Under Communism (3) and 1961's This Godless Communism. (4) Catholic educators published both of these comics, which are "what-if" dramatizations of communist take-overs of the United States. The third comic is the 1982 anti-Catholic Chick tract The Godfathers, which explains the Vatican's role behind the creation and proliferation of the Communist and Nazi parties. (5) These three comics demonstrate two possible attitudes towards the increasing acceptance of Catholics in American society. Furthermore, they reflect two of the main perspectives concerning Catholicism and American identity during the Cold War. Before analyzing these comics specifically, the theoretical method of analysis will be introduced in addition to background information about the social climate of the Cold War.

[4] With their portrayal of American Catholics and Protestants, these comics signify a restructuring of the social borders of American religious identity. History of religion scholar Bruce Lincoln sets out a useful theory of social borders in his book Discourse and the Construction of Society. Lincoln defines society as "a grouping of people who feel bound together as a collectivity and in corollary fashion, feel themselves separate from others who fall outside their group." (6) Social borders are the "imaginary lines that distinguish one group of persons from another." (7) Social borders both separate groups and alienate groups. When a particular social group notes the differences and similarities between themselves and other groups, social borders emerge. These imaginary boundaries provide a point of reference for identity construction. The social borders both organize interaction between members of society and play a vital role in the structure of the society itself.

[5] Social borders have the ability to evoke strong emotional responses. …

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