Say Your Prayers

I’ve just come home from the movies. I don’t get out to the pictures as often as most people seem to, and I miss a lot of flicks I know I would have liked. Other activities (reading, writing, playing chess, practicing/teaching kung fu, playing music, introspective brooding, etc.) always seem to win out.

Tonight though, a new documentary by filmmaker Heidi Ewing (an acquaintance of my lovely wife Nina) opened at the Angelika Film Center on Houston Street in Manhattan, and we went to see it. It’s called Jesus Camp.

The film follows an evangelical pastor by the name of Becky Fisher (here is her website), who calls herself a “children’s preacher” and runs a summer camp where children are trained in Christian fundamentalism. There were no surprises – I knew that this was how it was in much of the country – but it was a revealing look at the total immersion these kids grow up in. Many are home-schooled, where they are indoctrinated as to the falsity of Darwin’s theory and the obvious truth of creationism, and where they have little chance of learning critical thinking, which requires exposure to conflicting points of view. There is also an extremely strong association in these households and church groups with the Republican Party, and with the president in particular; he is seen as the great hope of the evangelists, and at one point the kids are seen shouting prayers and blessings at a life-sized George Bush cardboard cutout. In another scene, one home-schooled child’s mother is lecturing her boy about the falsehood of global warming, in glib and obviously uncomprehending terms. The causal chain here is quite plain; the woman’s religiously motivated loyalty to the president has led her to accept, quite uncritically, other, unrelated planks of the administration’s platform (and there is probably no area where they are more at odds with the scientific consensus than on global warming) as received truth.

The pastor herself, a likeable woman, draws the obvious comparison to the madrassas of fundamentalist Islam; she proudly sees herself training the soldiers of the counter-Jihad, the army of Christ. And let me tell you, there are plenty of them; once you get away from the secular seacoasts, fundamental and evangelical Christians are by far the rule, not the exception.

How the movie is received depends on where it is shown. The director said that audiences in the Midwest cheered and shouted Amen much of the time; here in the East Village the crowd seemed dispirited and unsettled afterward. I for one have no beef with Jesus, but if this is what the future of science, skepticism, and reason in the US looks like, well, heaven help us.

Related content from Sphere


  1. Kevin Kim says

    I hail from what used to be known as “mainline Protestantism”– in my case, the Presbyterian Church, USA. We’re a stodgy bunch that tends a bit toward High Church in our sensibilities, and our numbers are, unfortunately (or fortunately?) diminishing. I saw the preview for “Jesus Camp” and was morbidly fascinated; it represents a Christianity so unlike what I grew up with. The Christianity depicted in the film, though, would be fairly understandable here in Korea, where Jesus is sold with true evangelical zeal.

    Our family used to be Southern Baptist, but we moved out of that church and have been pretty happy ever since. Southern Baptists remember their fire and brimstone, and many of them would be right at home in a Jesus camp. This also reminds me of a very compelling and complex film titled “The Apostle,” written, directed by, and starring Robert Duvall. It’s a fantastic film offering no simple answers to questions of faith and practice.

    My own Christian practice is almost nonexistent here on the peninsula. I much prefer the quiet simplicity of Sunday at the local Buddhist temple. I’ve probably been to temple about ten times more often than I’ve been to church here.

    Anyone up for some zazen?


    Posted September 25, 2006 at 12:18 am | Permalink
  2. Bill says

    Though the education depicted here may well exist in increasing instances, my guess is that most of the population is in some limbo, generated by the public education system, that thinks it believes in some version of evolution or maybe it doesn’t and it really doesn’t matter, that has no critical skills at all and doesn’t think it needs them, that thinks they believe in God, but doesn’t have a clear idea of who or what He is, and doesn’t trust the public sources of information, but believes immediately whatever rumor their best friend or their neighbor tells them. And the saddest part is they are decent people wanting to do the right thing, with no means to truly understand what the right thing is.

    Posted September 25, 2006 at 12:46 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    A good summation, Bill. And zazen all around would do the world a world of good.

    Posted September 25, 2006 at 10:41 pm | Permalink