Oddly American and Very Disturbing
“Jesus Camp” (Magnolia) is built around a Pentecostal minister who runs a summer camp for young children and the families that send their children there. This is a “right-on” look at an American subculture and I found it particularly alarming. The moving is both a damning and sublet look about a religious movement that isolates children from the mainstream and brainwashes them with right wing ideology and then uses them politically. I found it quite similar to the way suicide bombers are taught to believe, from any early age, that to die for Allah is to die as a martyr.
A typical day at camp includes the usual camp activities such as arts and crafts and regular fun and teaching youngsters how to speak in tongues and breaking coffee mugs that have the word government on them. They are taught that science proves nothing and that are members of the “Army of God”. They must pledge to fight to end abortion and are coerced to publicly confess any “impure” thoughts they have. It is just incredible and shocking to see these children cry and bawl about the greatness of God.
I just found it hard to accept that the minister openly states that she admires the Islamic culture’s raising of children and how they are so devoted to their god that they will risk their lives for their faith. The one frame that will stay with me forever is when we see parents with their children whose mouths have been taped shut standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building as a protest to abortion.
There are touching scenes as well, especially those that show the children when they are alone. We see how this coercion and indoctrination exhibits itself into the most innocent activities of childhood—-and that is frightening. You see children using evangelism on strangers—one especially unforgettable image takes place at a bowling alley when a nine year old girl does this to complete strangers without any type of prompting. Another such image is shown when a group of young boys telling ghost stories are interrupted and warned harshly that these stories do not glorify God.
The film concentrates on three children from evangelical Christian families in Missouri and their summer camp experiences. 12 year old Levi, 10 year old Tory and nine year old Rachel are typical cute and endearing kids that scared me with their religious fervor. Levi has the goal of becoming a pastor and to watch him preach is to be reminded of those television evangelists. Tory seems to cry a lot to show how much she loves her god and Rachel is the child I spoke of who speaks to strangers on a bowling outing from camp. These kids are the spokesmen of this christian (no capital “c”) fundamentalism.
This documentary goes beyond the camp experience and gives an overall picture of evangelicalism in America. We see a mother explaining the “idiocy” of evolution to her son who she is schooling at home. There are kids praying devoutly and fervently to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. The combination of politics and religion is one of the outstanding shockers of the film. The children are taught that homosexuality is to be condemned, that in order for schools to operate effectively, prayer must be included in the curriculum and that America is responsible for the deaths of many children—50,000,000 since 1973.
Mike Papantonio, an Air America host, has scenes in the film that are spliced into the body of the film and a conversation that he has with Becky Fischer, the camp director who is greasily charismatic is a smaller version of the larger political debate raging in America. Fischer’s militancy is frightening. The message that the movie gives is not of love and tolerance, it is a message of HATRED and hate like love has no boundaries. The anti-gay venom is sickening and I often wonder how Jesus would have reacted. He did hang out with the outcasts of society and not with the religious establishment. Correct me if I am wrong but did he not deride the establishment for its hypocrisy. And what does the Bible say about leading the young astray?
Watching this film was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I thought that the adults should be indicted for abusing their children by intellectually immobilizing them in the name of God. Children tend to believe what adults tell them. This movie makes horror films look tame especially because it is really happening, Instead of living in harmony and peace and love with the diversity of mankind and teaching children to do the same, these fundamentalists are planning war with the brainwashing that they do and the children, in most cases, have no idea of what is being spoken about.
If you have any liberalism in you, you MUST see this film. If you are a conservative you will see nothing new. Once the seed of intolerance is planted, it will grow. Looking at the inner workings of conservative America and their militancy is just plain nauseating and is a remainder of how easy it is to break the human spirit and then molded into whatever the breaker chooses.
Even with all I have said, the movie is well made, non-judgmental and worth seeing and it is an important film, It must be seen so that we know what is happening in America. What is so shocking is that we are letting it happen.