Sunday, November 12, 2006

Are You Sure, Jesus Camp? Are You Sure?

I finally saw Jesus Camp last week, which I had been very much interested to see. I tried to get Roomie Heckle to go with me, but as a viciously lasped Catholic who delights in inventing breathtakingly creative cuss words to get any kind of reaction out of me, he flat out refused. “I’ll just get pissed off in the first ten minutes,” he said, “Do you really want to tick me off like that and have me be grouchy for the rest of the day?” (he didn’t quite use THOSE cuss words, but I can’t print what he did say.)

Roomie Heckle had a point, because I got grouchy within the first ten minutes of the film myself. Now, the footage of the kids crying and enraptured at the camp doesn’t do much for me; it’s easy to get any group of people to get fired up like that. Their reactions – trembling lips, teary eyes, shaking and quivering - were exactly the same as those hormonal girls in the front row of an Elvis Presley concert.

It was unfortunate that one of the things they were working themselves up into a frenzy over was the guy who brought with him those plastic fetuses that show how big they are at three weeks, six weeks, etc. etc, etc. Abortion, bad. BAD! Poor little Tori is wailing and praying for the abortions to stop. “No more! No more! NO MORE!” Because she, at age 10, has a complete and mature understanding of the pro choice vs. pro life debate in order to make an informed choice about why she wants that red LIFE sticker smacked on her mouth.

Levi, the twelve year old who wants to grow up to be a preacher, assuredly says that he got “saved” when he was five. Five. FIVE YEARS OLD. How can a five year old know what true sin is like? What experience can Rachael, a nine year old home schooled in an evangelical environment, have with true sin? What, were you running an underground chocolate chip cookie smuggling ring? Lied to your parents about it? Took the money to buy…buy…I don’t know what CAN you buy at nine that’s evil?

No, these kids, starting as soon as they can understand sentences more complex than “See Dick and Jane Run,” are told that they are evil sinful creatures, but thank God for Jesus! Jesus will save them! At FIVE! And cue the waterworks.

The one kid I identified with the most was the little blond haired boy (you’ll have to bear with me, there’s not a lot of information available on who these kids are apart from the three spotlighted, they’re trying to protect those poor things.) who got up in front of everyone and said he wasn’t sure if he believed or not. And while I was expecting some sort of follow up, maybe a preteen gang tag teaming him outside the chapel, arguing him into the kingdom of God, and slapping him with Bibles, there was nothing.

There also wasn’t a strong narrative thrust to this documentary. I think the documentarians were hoping for a stronger connection between this raising of a “God’s Army” and their would be someday all encompassing effect on politics. They include a not necessary shot of them being home schooled, and their mother teaching them that global warming doesn’t exist, as if to say all evangelicals think global warming is a myth, when there’s been a slew of articles this year talking about Christians wanting to HELP the green groups, because they take global warming seriously, as God has entrusted the earth to us. You can read some of them here , here , and here

But the best part was a short scene over the credits featuring Rachael, who speaks in the most real way I’ve ever heard a nine year old talk. Rachael’s cadence is complete with stutters, sighs, pauses and words tumbling over each other to get out of her mouth. Seriously, she sounds exactly like I did when I was ten and drinking three Cokes a day until My Mother the Phone Harpy Whom I Love Very Very Much was two seconds away from slitting my throat because I was running her ragged and put me on Caffeine Free Diet Coke, which I drank until I left for college and realized that it tasted like battery acid. Ah, youth.

Rachael’s so passionate and clear eyed and so NAÏVE. If you go to the website and click on her bio page, you’ll hear a soundbite of her talking with breathless authority about how God likes to go to churches that jump up and down and scream in worship instead of the non-jumpers and “Depending on how they invite Him, He’ll be there or not.” You see, in Rachael’s world, you have to invite God to your church IN THE RIGHT WAY. Oh, Rachael. Rachael, Rachael, Rachael. You have so much to learn. As Counselor Gladys would say, “It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.” Rachael’s world is an either/or world. Lovely.

Earlier in the movie, Rachael has gone up to a woman in a bowling alley, nervous as hell, and she haltingly says “God put it on my heart for me to tell you that He has a plan for you and He loves you” and gives her a tract. (the woman, a twentysomething Missouri small town chick complete with fried highlighted hair and raccoon eyeliner, just blinks and politely says thanks.)

So here we are at the end credits, and Rachael’s at it again, approaching a group of three African Americans sitting in lawn chairs in Washington D.C. Rachael, again nervous but on a mission from GOD, not unlike the Blues Brothers, goes up to them and says, ‘If you were to die today, where do you think you would go?” “Heaven,” one of them says without missing a note. Rachael, obviously thrown off her spiel, blurts out, “Are you sure?”

And that right there is the whole problem with the evangelical movement. Encapsulated in a thunderclap moment of three words.

Are You Sure?

It doesn’t matter why Rachael said it, whether she was thrown off her spiel, and blurted it out a first response, or if somewhere in that little tract of hers it might list that as an appropriate comeback. The fact of the matter is what she did say in response is still smack dab squarely in the middle of the Evangelical School Of Thought. And that School Of Thought Is Don’t Trust Anything They Say, Because They Haven’t Heard What YOU Have To Say. And What YOU Have To Say Is Much More Important Than Anything They Have To Say.

It’s the exact same line of thinking that the Blue Shirts used in Katrina Country. “They know God, but they don’t know Jesus.”

Are you SURE you know God? Because I’ve got my Jesus Spiel that I’m trying to spring on ya. It’s a kicker, it sure is.

Are you SURE? Are you SURE!? See, what they’re trying to say is I DON’T BELIEVE YOU! And I don’t believe you because I know I’m right and you’re wrong and I’m trying to SAVE YOU DAMMIT so I can again prove to myself and God that I’m right. So again, ARE YOU SURE you’re going to heaven? Because give me just the tiniest bit of doubt so I can bust through with my Jesus hammer and clobber you to death with the WORD O GOD!

It sickens me. Whether you’re nine, or 59. It’s a platform, it masquerades as you being concerned about the person, when in fact all you’re concerned about is your message.

Somebody needs to do a follow up with these kids, like with what Michael Apted does with his 7 Up series . Because there’s a very compelling story that’s going to happen when one of these kids has a soul crushing realization that everything they were taught was wrong. Not that God doesn’t exist, but the methods they were taught to use were in fact the wrong ones. And the world is bigger than they thought. Just wait until the ground starts to crumble under their feet. That’s where the story is. Not now.


Midlife Virgin said...

Great blog! I think someone should check with these Bible-thumpers about what they truly believe. I think they would be hard-pressed to express an honest thought about God, Jesus, choice, or even whether they want paper or plastic becuase of the brain-washing they've been through. I believe, as I think you do, God comes from the heart, not from some twisted faith that is beaten into you before you even understand Sesame Street. I'd love to see a follow up with these kids and see how they turned out.

RichardT said...

You know, I think of myself as a thoughtful person, but I've never been able to break down *exactly* what it is about evangelicals that galls me so much beyond their self-righteousness. But I think you have parsed it: it's about the message and not the people! Which I think is why when you back them into a corner they just keep spouting phrases and refuse to engage in either logic or even a discussion of faith. Because mostly they seem to have little understanding of the place of either in their lives. Merely diatribe. Like the time I tries to explain to a woman in North Carolina that the statue down the street was of Poseidon, and that just because it had a beard and three-pronged weapon, that didn't make it a statue of SATAN. Her response was simple: as long as it looked like Satan, then it was Satan. The possiblilty that there was a world of information beyond her present knowledge was simply not possible.

But even I have to sadly admit that there are non-religious folks who are no better. People are just intellectually lazy. And the powers that be like it that way.