Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Stubborn Notion: "Jesus Camp" Fails To Shock

Adrienne and I watched Jesus Camp tonight. I'll spare you the set up of this documentary by letting Netflix do the work:
This riveting Oscar-nominated documentary offers an unfiltered look at a revivalist subculture where devout Christian youngsters are being primed to deliver the fundamentalist community's religious and political messages. Building an evangelical army of tomorrow, the Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil's Lake, N.D., is dedicated to deepening the preteens' spirituality and sowing the seeds of political activism as they're exhorted to "take back America for Christ."
So basically it shows the indoctrination of kids into the evangelical way of thinking (or lack thereof) at this summer camp in the Midwest through tactics right out of the Hitler Youth¹ playbook. The best description of the design and purpose of the camp is made by Becky Fischer, the founder and organizer, who equates it to an extremist Muslim training camp where children are molded into good little Jihadists --except she does it without a hint of sarcasm.

She sees her ministry as a sort of counterweight to other extremist religious groups and the godless liberals who she thinks are ruining America. Essentially, these kids are routinely and systematically transformed into little rhetoric-spewing mouthpieces of the Christian Right and encouraged to spread the message by any means necessary.

The documentary is anything but biased or preachy, choosing instead to let the subjects do the talking, most of which is done by the kids themselves. The only discernible "voice of reason" present in the film is of Air America's own Mike Papantonio (a Methodist who often criticizes the Christian Right) who at one point interviews Becky and calls in question her "teaching" methods and the glaring hypocrisies of her sect of Christianity.

Regardless of the apparent lack of persuasiveness and cajolery by the filmmakers, the inherent tone of the film is meant to incite outrage and/or utter terror at these events, which astonishingly take place in modern-day America.

I, however, was not affected in such a way.

I don't know if there's anything comparable to the "five stages of grief"² that applies to dealing with the Christian Right as a modern thinking person who values reason, but I feel like I've gone through several different stages myself.

I certainly used to get angry at this type of thing; it made me visibly resentful to see any type of commitment to the proliferation of ignorance and disinformation. I associated this rage with being passionate and I reveled in it without ever actually using it as a sort of catalyst for action.

And that, of course, is typical teen angst fare.

It's pure, carnal and self-serving. It's downright fun. It's rock n' roll. It's a Black Flag song. It's what teenagers are put on this earth to do.

But that type of unbridled rage gets old after a while (it starts looking forced and a bit naive and definitely stops helping you get laid) and I eventually moved on to trying to rationalize why certain people just don't get "it", almost to the point of making excuses for their way of thinking.

I blamed it on their upbringing, their surrounding environment, the encompassing establishment, morally bankrupt corporations, the traditional Puritanical culture of the U.S. and anything else that could be a sphere of influence on their soft, amorphic minds. In other words, it's not their fault, they are the product of what they themselves are sadly propagating.

But that logic is only applicable to a certain point. Even my extremely liberal mindset can't wrestle with the notion that people aren't somewhat responsible for their own predicaments. The intimation of the effects of upbringing and environment has a definite cut off point.

It certainly pertains to kids and young adults, much like the ones being programmed in Jesus Camp; they, after all, have a limited amount of inputs. But in this age of accelerated processes and open-ended information very few people in America live in a bubble, a suspended state of cryogenic storage. At some point of adulthood these people choose to be willfully ignorant and spiritually incurious for whatever reason --be it convenience, or perhaps the need to be antagonistic, headstrong or perversely indifferent.

So now I'm left to believe that they are just stubborn, ignorant douche bags for whom I should feel relatively nothing. That's why I wasn't outraged when in Jesus Camp a mother home schools her son to reject science as merely another belief system, global warming as something not to be worried about and that the earth is a mere 6,000 years old. I didn't wince at the sight of a man praying that George W. Bush finds the strength to appoint a Supreme Court Judge to overturn Roe V. Wade. I didn't even laugh when they all started speaking in tongues and wailing uncontrollably.

Not me, not anymore.

It must be a sign of the start of my curmudgeon stage when I become an empty shell of a man, too knowledgeable of life to learn anything new and too dead inside to care --ironically sharing the very qualities of the people I once despised.

But there is hope.

After a little girl described her favorite music as Christian Hard Rock and proceeded to dance and sing along, I still felt a silent, murderous rage for her display of bad taste in music.

Suddenly, I felt unbridled rage making a comeback.

¹The Hitler Youth, incidentally, increased by great numbers when it joined with the Evangelische Jugend (Evangelical Youth, a German youth organization with upwards of 600,000 members) in the mid 1930's. Coincidence?! I think not.

²In case you need a reminder of what these are: 1. shock followed by initial denial; 2. denial replaced by anger, rage, envy, and resentment; 3. bargaining (with God or the like); 4. depression; 5. ultimate acceptance.

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