September 7, 2006

Jesus Camp: American Evangelical Christian Fanaticism

I've come across the trailer for a new documentary, Jesus Camp, from a link at Daily Kos, and have looked up some more information about the film. The film has not yet been released, although it comes out in the US in 8 days (15 September). The trailer portrays in part how American Evangelical Christian fanaticism is mixing religion with militarism and right-wing politics, a brainwashing of American kids that anyone who isn't Christian (and, more likely, anyone who doesn't believe in their type of Christianity) must be defeated.

The following excerpt from a review at IMDB describes the film fairly well:

"Jesus Camp" revolves around a pentecostal minister who hosts a summer camp for children in North Dakota, and the sectarian Christian conservative families who send their children to this camp. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady wisely chose to avoid the polemical tone of most politically-motivated films, and instead opt to present a mostly unfiltered glimpse of this odd subculture. But through carefully selected images and the use of talk radio commentary as a framing device, they construct a subtle, yet damning narrative about a religious movement that isolates its children from mainstream culture, indoctrinates them into right-wing causes, and uses them as political props.

At Jesus Camp, the daily activities include standard camp fare such as spelunking and go-karts, but they also include speaking in tongues and smashing coffee mugs emblazoned with the word "government". Children learn that "science doesn't prove anything," and learn to consider themselves part of an Army of God. They are compelled to pledge that they will fight to end abortion. They are even pushed into publicly confessing their impure thoughts, and many of them cry and wail charismatically.

The camp director explains that she admires the way Islamic cultures raise children so devoted they will risk their lives for their faith. When we ultimately see several of the campers being placed by their parents on the steps of the Capitol with tape over their mouths, protesting abortion, the real purpose of this camp is driven home.

But the most touching scenes are the ones where the children are alone, and we see the ways that this indoctrination creeps into the most innocent elements of childhood. 11 year old Tori loves dancing to Christian rock, but frets that it's not always easy to dance for God instead of "dancing for the flesh." On an outing to the bowling alley, 9 year old Rachael feels compelled to walk up to strangers and awkwardly evangelize to them, without being prompted. A roomful of boys telling ghost stories after dark are interrupted by an adult who warns them about stories that don't glorify God.

No doubt some viewers will accuse the filmmakers of the dreaded liberal bias. But this is not a work of fiction, nor is it slanted reporting. These are real people and real events, captured on film. If the evangelical movement comes off badly in this film, the people on screen have no one but themselves to blame.

I've linked to a Youtube presentation of the trailer below (run time: 2:09). Some interesting quotations that I transcribed from the trailer:

"I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag..." (A boy and girl reciting a "pledge.")

"There are two kinds of people in the world: people who love Jesus and people who don't." (An adult woman.)

"I really feel that we're a key generation to Jesus coming back." (Levi O'Brien, a young boy attending the camp.)

"How many of you want to be those who would give up their lives for Jesus?" (An adult man; perhaps the most disturbing part of the trailer as you see perfectly innocent and naive children - especially the blond girl - who jump up and down, waving their hands, and not understanding in the slightest what the man is really asking of them.)

"We're being trained to be God's army." (A second young boy.)

"This means war! This means war! Are you a part of it or not?" (Pastor Becky Fisher, who runs the "Kids on Fire" summer camp, shouting.)

The official website has more information, including two additional videos.

One of the two videos has an interview with Becky Fisher. It's rather sad and typical (and wrong) to see how she views political conflicts in the Middle East (Palestine in particular) as dying "for the cause of Islam." She hopes to instill a fanaticism among the children to the point where they're willing to kill themselves "for the gospel":

"Where should we be putting in our efforts? Where should we be putting our focus? I'll tell you where our enemies are putting it, they're putting it on the kids. They're going into the schools. You go into Palestine, and I can take you to some websites that will absolutely shake you to your foundations and show you photographs of where they're taking their kids to camps like we take our kids to Bible camps, and they're putting hand grenades in their hands, they're teaching them how to put on bomb belts, they're teaching them how to use rifles, they're teaching how to use machine guns; it's no wonder, with that kind of intense training that [garbled], that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam.

"I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as, as they are, uh, over in, in Pakistan, in, in Isreal, and, and Palestine, and all those different places. You know, because we have... excuse me, but we have the truth!"


Anonymous said...

"Because we have the truth."

That one single sentence explains why we will never be able to talk to, negotiate with or live amicably alongside these people.

ned fucking flanders

Anonymous said...

Caught a showing of the movie this past weekend in Texas, and I thought it was very balanced despite this review:
I recommend to anyone with an open mind!