One of the best things about blogging is getting free stuff, like free trips to Israel, and free books and movie screeners. And thus is born this review. Thanks Magnolia Films!
Jesus camp is the new documentary by Heidi Ewing, and Rachel Grady. It follows the lives of children growing up as Evangelical Christians and attending Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in North Dakota.
Knowing that it is Evangelical Christians who are some of Americas biggest supporters of Israel, it was an interesting watch. In one scene, as they are pledging allegiance to a Christian flag, a flag of Israel can be seen on screen along with the American flag. In another, a young girl shouts, clenched fist in the air, mumbling something through tears about restoring the line of Judah. I’m not sure I know exactly what she means by that, but I get the feeling that she might not either.
The children were frighteningly articulate, which, at their ages (approximately 7-11) generally comes from carefully watching and imitating what they see and hear from parent, pastors, teachers, etc, which is not to say that their beliefs and emotions were insincere.
The shameless indoctrination of children that the film shows is initially horrifying, particularly as children’s pastor Becky Fischer compares her work to Islam’s religious/political process of indoctrination aimed at making martyrs so successfully. But then again, what must be remembered is that all parents, religious or secular, similarly instill their values into the impressionable minds of their children, just often in ways we consider more subtle.
It is only when children grow into their teen years that they begin to question their authority figures and the values they have inherited from them. In addition, it is in a child’s teen years that even the strictest religious indoctrination often gives way to the impossibly seductive pull of newly raging hormones.
But what struck me about this particular indoctrination of the next generation was the emotional manipulation and crowd psychology behind it. With shots of children sobbing en masse and speaking in tongues, going into trances and convulsing on the floor, the spirit of hysteria and conviction which these kids got swept up in somehow reminded me of the Salem Witch Trials.
The documentary succeeds in being overwhelmingly objective. Where it failed was in not providing us with much of a plot to follow. The only controversy lies in the edited in clips of Christian radio personality Mike Papantonio being critical of the evangelical movement. Although it is undoubtedly a fright-fest for liberal Americans, given the potential ramifications of a religious-political movement comprising 25% of the American population, the film nonetheless fails to show any existing pattern of political influence other than vaguely referencing the appointment of Judge Alito. Even the Evangelical’s eight person pro-life demonstration in Washington D.C. seemed impotent at best.
What might have been more interesting, although much more intensive to make, would have been to follow three of the kids over a much longer period of time, watching what happens to childhood indoctrination as these kids hit their teens.