A Film Review by Gweepay
I enjoyed the film, “Jesus Camp,” the other night at one of DC’s premier indie theaters, which I can only identify as the one sort of near Metro Center. Given what I already knew about Christian fundamentalists, based largely on my experiences in the midwest, including their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recruit me in college, I can safely say I wasn’t overly surprised by anything that I was presented with in this documentary-of-sorts on the manner in which fundies indoctrinate and, quite frankly, psychologically abuse their kids.
Fundamentalism is, you see, the natural enemy of empiricism. The empiricist comes to his conclusions by a) gathering as many facts as possible, b) applying logic and reason to those facts, and c) reaching the logical conclusion. The fundamentalist, on the other hand, starts with the conclusion, which is understood to come from the mouth of the deity himself, and forces the facts of the world into a framework that allows that conclusion to remain true. Fundamentalism involves the absence of synthesis and skepticism; it sacrifices logic and reason on the altar of certainty.
So what does “Jesus Camp” tell us about the predetermined conclusions of these particular fundies? Well, we learn that these sects are first and foremost rabidly anti-science. The thought that the creation stories in Genesis (yes, there are two, and they contradict one another) are anything other than literally true isn’t something these fundies are even willing to consider. We even get to see a video shown to the kids at the camp of indoctrination, narrated by some guy in a really bad dinosaur suit, that explains to them why the earth cannot be more than 6,000 years old. The kids are also taught that sex is bad, homosexuality is bad, ghost stories are bad, and, my favorite, and I paraphrase:
“If Harry Potter were alive during Old Testament times, he would’ve been put to death for witchcraft!”
This is funny because we all picture Harry, donning his big dorky glasses, tied to a stake, attempting to blow the fire out while thinking of the appropriate spell which will turn the fire into party streamers or some such thing (hey, I’ve never even READ Harry Potter! How am I supposed to know what he can do?).
But the Potter quote simply reinforces my point about the fundies.
The bitchy, corpulent cult leader who barked this nuttiness at the kids wasn’t incorrect. It was actually an element of Old Testament law that held, and I quote, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live,” (Exodus 22:18). This command supposedly came from the mouth of God himself, and came along with a number of other commands, including those littered throughout the OT commanding the Hebrews to take the land that God had given them, and if any of those darn natives made any trouble, to commit genocide against them. As God supposedly said to Saul, King of Israel: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass,” (1 Samuel 15:3).
Now, does the notion that God, this infinite being who put into motion the countless number of complex processes that led to the development and maturation of the universe, would instruct his followers to commit genocide seem a bit, well, illogical to you? It certainly does to me. And as an empiricist, I can question the Bible and choose not to believe any or all of it depending on the conclusion I reach after applying reason to the facts that I know about the world. And as I learn more about the world, I can synthesize and change my mind. But the fundies, you see, can’t do this. If they admit that a single word in the Bible isn’t literally true, their entire worldview collapses. So to them, God really would’ve preferred that poor Harry Potter be put to death had he lived among the Hebrews at Sinai, provided that he couldn’t turn into a seagull and fly away as the angry mob shook its collective fist.
So now do you see how destructive fundamentalism can be? And remember, this entire movie demonstrated how the fundies were indoctrinating children with this mindset. Not adults, but children. Despicable.
That said, I did have one problem with the film, a common problem that I tend to have with all indie films that attempt to point out the evils of the extreme right. The problem is that generally speaking, the only ones who will put the time and energy into taking on extremists are other extremists. We see this in all the Michael Moore movies, where Moore cleverly shows us the idiotic nature of many on the far-right, but then attempts to indoctrinate us into embracing the ideologies of his own far-left. The answer to crazies with assault weapons becomes the repeal of the Second Amendment. The answer to the Bush foreign policy becomes pacifism. The answer to the military-industrial complex becomes to burn all our weaponry, retreat from the world, and let “men of peace” like Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il, and Iranian leader Ahmenagiamdifdidad run things. Please.
In “Jesus Camp,” the leftist message was all too clear: the dangerous way in which the fundies were conflating religion and politics would result in such “evils” as the advancement of the pro-life movement or the appointment of more dastardly Justices like Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, who dare to view the courts as something other than an Olympian superlegislature through which the imposition of leftist policy should be a given. Again, hand me a barf bag.
The conflation of religion with politics is always dangerous. There’s a reason the Founders inserted the Establishment Clause into the First Amendment. And seeing the cult leaders in “Jesus Camp” drag onto the stage a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, complete with smirk, bordered on the absurd. All of that said, there was an impled message in the movie, at least in my view, that supporting judges like Alito or viewing abortion as something a bit more morally complex than a standard medical procedure is just as irrational as believing in Creationism or stoning gays or offing Harry Potter. And that view I cannot accept.
The fundies are wrong to marry their particular, corrupt brand of Christianity with political conservatism. And secular conservatives should resist the temptation to ally with these types in exchange for votes, as the result will end up being bad for somebody, and, as usual, that somebody will probably be the American people. But the makers of “Jesus Camp” were equally wrong to attempt to marry views such as a respect for life, for federalism, for judicial restraint, and for separation of powers with nutty Christianism. The two are not one and the same. And, God-willing, they never will be.
I generally agree with Gweepay. I already knew that crazy people were teaching their kids crazy things, but the thing that troubled me the most was that these kids were smart. They weren't white trash with 80 IQ points; they were inquisitive and well-spoken. With a proper education, they could grow up to be scholars, working at universities and helping humanity to figure out Why Things Are. Instead, they are getting indoctrinated at tender ages, and will grow up to be Preachers, trying to convince the next generation that everything in the Bible is true, Jesus is really the savior, evolution is a total joke, and that kids can close their eyes and open their minds and speak in tongues to praise God. ("Ooooh-lakalakalaka-mejaaaamba!" Yes, I'm serious, people were actually doing this in the movie.)
In short, some very smart kids are being completely hoodwinked, and in the process We, the rest of Society, are being robbed of some of our Nation's intelligence.
One last thing: I found it quite ironic that the people at Jesus Camp would have Harry Potter put to death for dealing in spells and sorcery, while at the same time their own descriptions of how the world was formed essentially boils down to Magic. You can't have it both ways. Or can you? Is God the only person who is allowed to perform magic? Is that why little Harry would be put to death?