Over the past few months, I’ve been making progress on compiling the work of the late-19th-century political cartoonist Watson Heston,
about whom I’ve written in Scene4.
I want to show just one example of how he skewered the religious orthodoxy of his day, a theme that makes up a great deal of his output. The
picture is “An Earnest Christian,” which appeared in the January 15, 1887, issue of The Truth Seeker.
Many of Heston’s cartoons lampooning religion used a very simple tactic: he took the words of the Bible literally.
Let’s take a look at what Heston is doing in this rather dense
piece of art. First, there’s the Bible verse he’s referencing, a true manifesto of self-mutilation.
Then he shows us the result of the believer’s handiwork:
And the irony of following his faith - poverty and begging:
Just to nail the message home, in case the viewer didn’t get it the first time around, the two road signs undercut the message by
overstating the irony.
The reference to Talmage and Jones carries another level of sarcasm. Thomas DeWitt Talmage, a popular preacher, was also
called a “pulpit clown.” Samuel Porter Jones was known for preaching “Just quit your meanness and follow along in the
footsteps of Jesus Christ.” Not the most trustworthy of guides along the spiritual path.
It is a densely built cartoon but easy to understand: Believe in the Bible literally, as many people do, and it can lead you into all
manner of folly.
Come to www.watsonheston.com for more. I’ve got a Flickr page
going for him, and I’m resurrecting his publication, “The Freethinkers’ Pictorial Text-Book,” a compendium of over 200
pictures with associated quotes about the follies and dangers of thought that is not free.