This movie is quite possibly the most damning vision of the future I’ve seen all year. Which is funny, in a scary way, because while it’s a documentary it is also a serious horror film, made all the more terrifying because it’s real.
Criss-crossing the Midwest, Jesus Camp reveals the terrible and perverted way that Christian fundamentalists in America are preparing for nothing less than an all-out Holy War against any and all who dare to question the veracity of their Lord’s will–a will that seems to encourage intolerance, ignorance and, most dangerously of all, righteousness. To make matters even more deranged, the soldiers in this war are to be children, because as one evangelist states: “Children are so open to God… so usable in Christianity.”
Beginning in Missouri, Jesus Camp zeroes in on Becky Fischer, a Pentecostal Children’s Minister who runs a church and every year hosts a children’s indoctrination camp called “Kids on Fire,” ironically held at Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. There, with other guest speakers, she uses toys and music to “educate” the preteen congregation on issues of perilous importance like abortion, creationism and other hard-hitting realities, like why Harry Potter is evil: “Warlocks are the enemies of God, and had he been in the Old Testament he would have been killed.” The constant defense of this approach is that the world is a dangerous and corrupt place, in desperate need of saving. Combined with this vague anxiety is the conviction that faceless Muslim armies are preparing their own children for battle, motivating thousands of Christians families to follow course and also prepare for war.
But Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s film isn’t just about Becky Fischer. It is a powerful and biting indictment of the entire Christian fundamentalist movement that has supported the failing Republican party in America. Entering the homes of fundamentalist families, the film captures kids as they are home-schooled. And by “home-schooled” I mean “lied to.” The kids are taught that God would never allow anything bad to happen to the earth, therefore global warming isn’t really happening. In Colorado Springs, home to the largest number of evangelicals in the US, we are blessed with the rapture of Ted Haggard. You might remember him as the preacher who was recently outed by his male prostitute partner right before the U.S. mid-term elections. There is something frightfully satisfying in seeing Haggard preach his sermon to both crowd and camera, knowing that his righteousness and conviction is underpinned with self-denial and lies. But it doesn’t bring much hope for those who are already caught in this religious web of brainwashing and ignorance.
Religion, in its essence, should help guide people in living a better life, being better people, and helping to make the world a better place: on earth as it is in heaven. In all its virtues it should be self-evident. Even as a non-believer, you’d be hard pressed to argue with the Ten Commandments (at least the “no killing” part), which transcend faith and are the cornerstones of Western morality. And while there are plenty of positive lessons to be taken from any of the major religions–be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism–things get dangerous when the primary tenants of moral betterment get twisted and turned to become tools of manipulation and control. Let it be said that those involved in this kind of activity should be criminalised and forbidden to ever speak to children again, for while they claim to be doing the work of the Good Lord they are truly Devils masquerading as Angels in the Garden where they have no place. Happy Holidays.
Jesus Camp is released on DVD January 23