Whatever Happened to Marshmallows?

A rainy Sunday evening seemed like a good time to watch a scary movie. I had already viewed an exorcism movie or two over the last couple of days, so my wife and I decided to try something scarier: Jesus Camp. This 2006 documentary shows the workings of an evangelical, Pentecostal children’s camp run by Becky Fischer. By not skewing the evidence but by letting the organizers and children speak for themselves, a disturbing political agenda is revealed. Even more disturbing is the psychological scarring that accompanies such childhood indoctrination in a religion of fear. Fischer is obviously concerned with militant Islam, but her tactic of countering it with militant Christianity where children are soldiers (“this is war!” she shouts at one service) feels equally wrong. Part of the problem with such “Bible based” groups is that the Bible contains many contradictions and the Fundamentalists must pick and choose. For example, Rev. Fischer has chosen to disregard 1 Corinthians 14.34, stating that women should keep silent in the church. (I certainly do not advocate the literal application of that verse, nor of many others that made their way into a misogynous Bible.)

Utilizing the Bible only goes so far as a political tool. At the Kids on Fire camp the children are geared up to an emotionally intense state and lectured about the evils of abortion, evolution, belief in global warming, and Harry Potter. No mention is made that the Bible says nothing about abortion or evolution, and global warming had not yet become an issue. I can’t seem to recall Harry Potter being mentioned by name in the Bible, but other fictitious characters are from time to time. The Bible, having been written over a span of about a millennium, contains differing voices making statements for specific circumstances, and never intended to be used as political platforms. One gets the sense that “Bible believers” seldom read the Bible seriously themselves. Certain favorite passages are committed to memory and rehashed to death while others molder in dank corners of Fundamentalist basements.

What is lacking here is the long view. Once such groups win political power—they should be taken far more seriously in this arena—the religious freedom that will have launched them to that position will disappear. Like all human enterprises, however, it too will eventually crumble. Ted Haggard was spotlighted in the film, shot before his own hypocrisy came to light. At the camp George W. Bush is held up as a saint with Samuel Alito as his acolyte. The psychological manipulation and emotional abuse that the children trustingly accept is condemnation enough in itself. The camp was shut down after the film was released, but Becky Fischer, like Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared, “I’ll be back!” This is one Terminator I truly fear. Having watched a couple of exorcist movies over the weekend as well, I am left wondering which is scarier: demons that possess children or false prophets who do the same?

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