God's Children

Christian extremists train kids to be warriors in the horrifying 'Jesus Camp'

It seems un-American that men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who never professed the divinity of Christ, could've been in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices. Indeed, such a thing cannot stand, and the Rev. Becky Fischer, corpulent children's minister and a woman known for her crapulence in the fight against unbelief, hopes that our coming generation of drones will be filled with great religious faith and a hatred of critical inquiry.

Thus, she runs the "Breath of Fire" Christian children's re-education center, where she programs future soldiers for Christ. "We're being trained to be warriors," says one of her young charges, "only in a much funner way."

Much funner indeed! Fischer says that she takes Islamic suicide bombers as a model for the kind of faith she wants to instill in young Christians. Her program, much like incest, begins in the home. Parents are urged to spread mendacities to their children, and in the documentary Jesus Camp, we see youngsters being taught that global warming is fake, that science doesn't prove anything and that "creationism is the only possible answer to all the questions," which is true if all the questions are some variant of, "What's the most insipid theory of the creation of the universe?"

Standing as the voice of reason in this film is Mike Papantonio. An open-minded Christian, his radio show is dedicated to shining a light on the dark corners of fundamentalism. Papantonio is a paragon of Christian humility: He makes it clear that he doesn't think he has all the answers, and cannot speak for God. I think it would be very interesting to see a documentary about Christians who lived lives dedicated to doing good works and who didn't assume that they knew all of God's secrets. Unfortunately, those are not the Christians who are currently running the country.

Instead, it's people who keep closer to Becky Fischer's ideology. One of the young campgoers is seen pledging allegiance to the "Christian flag" and the Bible. Later, all of the children of the Breath of Fire camp pray in the direction of a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. Some of them even speak in tongues to this presidential image, which I guess makes sense when you consider the way Bush himself speaks.

It's clear that Fischer's ministry sees itself as intimately tied to American politics. "America is supposed to be God's nation, right?" asks the Rev. Fischer. I guess that depends what you mean by "supposed to be." Still, while repeatedly claiming patriotism, Fischer does note that "democracy is designed to destroy itself," because it "promises equality for everyone." Indeed, that is a horrid and self-destructive idea.

The political focus of these Christians is an odd combination of the otherworldly with the worldly, and it runs into a few problems. "No more, Lord, no more!" shout the children as they demand that God quit allowing abortion. Seriously, it's like they're trying to tell God what to do. I mean, if He thinks abortion is so terrible, I'm sure He can handle it. Shouting at Him isn't going to get a lot done.

Later, a minister tells them that aborted babies "never had the chance to fulfill the dreams God had for them." Which I suppose means that when we abort a baby, we thwart God's dreams, and therefore, we become more powerful than God. Awesome!

The final segment of Jesus Camp takes place in a megachurch in Colorado Springs, Colo., a town that's home to more megachurches, and therefore more awful soft rock, than anywhere else in America.

And there, the children are told that all of the answers are in the Bible. That's why, says the minister, they should eschew homosexuality. I would assume then that they also avoid cloth that's made of wool and linen, shaving their faces and anyone who might be an Ammonite or Moabite.

Whatever; I never liked Moabites much anyway. And if praying to a cardboard cutout of the president helps to keep these children from falling into a religion that worships false idols, then all the better. And yet, there's something vaguely horrifying about Jesus Camp.

Maybe it's watching Becky Fischer pass her hands over the sound equipment while saying "in Jesus' name, no microphone problems!" Maybe it's listening to young Levi, a prepubescent preacher with a mullet so intense it produces its own space-time, talking about how non-Christians "make my spirit feel yucky, because they're sick." Or maybe it's listening to the repeated references to the horror of Harry Potter, who, according to Fischer, should be "put to death."

I can understand that: The prose in the early Harry Potter books is indeed quite weak, and the plotting leaves a great deal to be desired. Nonetheless, people who think that a fictional character should be put to death are generally what we would call "crazy."

And yet somehow, these are the people who have the ear of the president of the United States. These are the people who convince school boards across the country that it's a bad idea to teach our children evidence-based reasoning. And these are the people who convince their flocks to vote for cynical plutocrats and incompetent warmongers.

If I were a real Christian, I would probably be pretty upset about this. In fact, I'd be pretty upset that people who believe in loving their neighbors and the positive value of meekness and the blessedness of peacemaking are never, ever represented as "Christian" in the mass media.

But until somebody decides to make a documentary about these people (if these people do indeed exist), it might be wise to see something like Jesus Camp, because it shows quite clearly the training in wickedness currently being done in the name of a certain Asian religion that the majority of Americans claim to ascribe to.

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