Sunday, April 08, 2012

Jesus Camp

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
- Proverbs 22:6

Sometimes narration and words are not necessary to convey the subject matter of documentaries; instead, it is often more interesting to see the material speak for itself. And objectivity is the pure purpose of any documentary - the presentation of truth in distilled form.

And so begins Jesus Camp, a documentary detailing the experiences of three kids as they go through a charismatic Christian Summer Camp. The camp is run by Becky Fisher, a Pentecostal children's pastor who believes in spiritual warfare and training kids up to preach the word of God.

Throughout the film we are treated to several interesting scenes: kids getting their hands doused with 'holy water' (a bottle of mineral water) to purify themselves of sin; speaking in tongues; talks on the sanctity of life by passing around little plastic models of fetuses; praying over everything from cardboard cutouts of George W. Bush to pews and powerpoint presentations; and condemning Harry Potter to death because warlocks are agents of Satan.

Interspersed within the main film are sequences featuring Mike Papantonio, a talk radio host who gives another voice and viewpoint to the movie, culminating with an interview with him and Fisher debating the ethics of running such a camp.

I was surprised at the many reactions to the film. People either loved it or hated it (and some were genuinely scared by it,) but they did not hate it because it was a bad documentary; they disliked what they saw. It does not damn the people in the film at all by portraying them in a bad light, as it merely portrays them as they are.

And that's one thing that the filmmakers deserve credit for: the footage is left there to speak for itself. Some will see it as an uplifting film of serious dedication and faith. Other people will see it as a terrifying example of indoctrinating the young and a church that wants to interfere with a state that should be separate from it.

Now that that is out of the way, do I think what they are doing is wrong? Yes, I do. I believe in the power of teaching a strong moral base, then letting kids decide for themselves when they are of age. Do I think religion should be demonized for letting this happen? Not really. I think the fundamental 'enemy,' of progress in society is not religion, but fundamentalism and misguided zeal, and those are concepts that tend to pop up in many religions.

When religion is practiced or taught to guide people to be better as a whole, then I think that's good. When religion is used to dominate or oppress people, that's never a good thing.

This is an interesting documentary, and I suggest you see it for yourself and form your own opinion. While opinions on whether it was good or not is up for debate, it is at the very least objective, and true to the pure documentary spirit.