Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jesus Camp

I'm halfway through Jesus Camp and I need to make a few comments before I can stomach the rest.

There's a wonderful scene where the camp organizers wander around the camp before it opens, blessing things. They bless the pews and the general space, but then they start to bless the wiring, and the computers, saying that they know how the devil likes to sabotage their works. They're basically exorcising electrical that crashes for EVERYBODY. Even Al Gore.

This, and the extreme conviction of the people in the film, clued me in to something that hadn't ocurred to me before: evangelical belief systems are so attractive because they exist outside of doubt, they provide certainty, they make sense of the world. When computers crash, it's because the devil is trying to sabotage the people who use them, which makes whatever they're doing seem so much more's so important that the devil wants to stop it! When one of their children die, these people can explain it as God's isn't cruel or random or in any way meaningless, it happens because it's part of a plan.

I think it's important and natural for people to search for explanations for things, because the world is a scary and confusing place sometimes. So in a sense I admire their conviction, though I strongly believe that they don't realize how PROUD they are in their convictions. These people aren't humble at all.

Anyway, this should be benevolent except for four things. First their belief system is contrary to fact...these people should be SEARCHING for the truth, not just sitting in a manufactured "truth bubble" that permits no further seeking or revision. There's nothing scary or empty about searching for facts, but these people don't seem to believe that.

Secondly it's based strongly around the ideas of guilt and suffering. Humbleness and delayed-gratification are, I believe, parts of a positive belief foundation...but guilt and suffering are NOT positive. They get you nowhere unless they're intermediate stages to further growth or understanding. To watch these Jesus Camp kids crying and rolling on the floor because the teacher suspects some of them are harboring sin...holy cow, that's cruel and twisted, you ugly camp counsellor f*ck. I see her doing that and all her good works are wiped away. If there's a devil it's people like her.

The third problem I see is the need to convert others to their cause. Again there is something noble and benevolent at the ROOT of conversion -- if you believe that somebody needs your help, you should probably consider helping them -- but *I* don't need help from these people, and I sure as hell don't want them writing the laws that I live under. We have a right to refuse help, especially when we see basic flaws in the help being offered. If I have a cut on my leg and some quack doctor decides I need an amputation, that doctor is NOT doing a good thing.

The fourth problem is their emphasis on fear as a control mechanism. As usual there is a grain of goodness to this because kids need to be taught to fear dangerous things. But when the dangerous thing is an imaginary devil that sabotages powerpoint presentations you start sounding like the mother from Sibyl.

So I see good and bad elements to all this. It must take extraordinary time and patience to homeschool a child, and I get the sense that these parents really DO want what's best for their children. I'm sure they LOVE their children. But when they convince their children that their basic human desires and curiosities are sins that they'll BURN IN HELL FOR, I'm sorry: you're bad and twisted.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Sister Muffy!

Have you ever read anything by the dedicatee of the novel "Elmer Gantry," H. L. Mencken? Mencken, like the rest of us humans, has large flaws, but on the subject of fundamentalists he is laugh-out-loud funny.

Prodded by your recent blogs on Gantry and other "consecrated hell robbers," as Mencken called them, I pulled out a collection of Mencken's journalism, "The Impossible Mencken," and reread his pieces on Aimee Semple McPherson and the Scopes trial. I was gving a midterm exam, and I had to bite on my fist to keep myself from convulsing with laughter. But while he recognizes the ludicrousness of these holy rollers, he never once forgets their danger.

So again I say, amen! to Brother Mencken and Sister St. Bernard!


Rev. Donald Spitz said...

Re: Jesus Camp Christians have as much right to vote as pro-sodomite, pro-abortion anti-Christian bigots.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

Adam Thornton said...

Hi Reverend! I'd treat your comments seriously if I believed YOU were being serious, but I don't.

PS: Your blog needs an update.

Adam Thornton said...

I DO have a nun's habit but I've never worn it. Though I've always wanted to be one of those nuns from "The Devils," except for the torture.

That's it, Mencken's on my reading list as well! I could use some satirical humour after all this heavy stuff. Thanks for the suggestion!

VanillaJ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
VanillaJ said...

But we all brainwash childern into our belief systems. We only call it brainwashing when the indoctrination has distasteful religious tones. Hippies, liberals and materially-driven yuppies all have their own brand of brainwashing. I think that heterosexuality is the most heavy handed brainwashing methods of all the above agendas. Just watch how frantic parents are to correct their children if they stray for hetersexual norms. It looks a little like Jesus Camp, with little kids crying and praying to be normal.

But the evangelical/chrismatic Christian movement is particularly powerful right now. I'll never be a fan, but I don't want to be reactionary or intolerate either. Otherwise, my behaviour will resemble their's in ways I'm not comfortable with.

Adam Thornton said...

I've watched a few interviews with Becky Fischer (the camp counsellor), and she tends to get grilled about that particular scene, with the very young children crying about sin and abortion. Her response tends to be a bit vague, though part of it is exactly what you've said: who DOESN'T indoctrinate their children?

This started me trying to find parallels outside of religious culture, ones that are viewed as "normal." I thought of hazing/initiation, sports teams, that sort of thing.

But I haven't thought of a parallel yet; maybe you can give me something specific. I can certainly think of moments from my childhood when I was driven to emotional anguish, but those were never considered "normal."

I do agree that indoctrination itself DOES occur everywhere. The problems I have with the indoctrination I saw in the film, however, are not to do with indoctrination per se, but to do with the four elements that I listed in the post, and which I saw applied to the extremes in "Jesus Camp": outright distortion of fact alongside a prohibition on SEEKING facts, emphasis on guilt that can never be realistically removed, the need to convert others, and the heavy application of a "boogeyman" that is totally abstract.

Anonymous said...

Of course, as you say...

WAIT--You've got a nun's habit?!!!!

Pardon me--I seem to have misplaced my collar, er, my train of thought, I mean...


Adam Thornton said...

Since I have no religious upbringing I have no worries about wearing a habit, except for the worry of being cheesy, which also keeps me from wearing my Native American feather headdress.