Movie Review: Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp
DVD ~ Mike Papantonio

Creepy but not terrifying
While much of "Jesus Camp" is set in a North Dakota camp for evangelical kids, the film also depicts the family background of those who would send their kids to such a place. Much of the film focuses on Levi and Racael, two home-schooled kids who have imbibed deeply of their parents' piety and politics. While these kids are hardly robotic or brainwashed, their unkidlike commitment to their religious principles is sometimes scary to watch. Not surprisingly, these kids are insulated from the real world. Rachael prays over her bowling ball before rolling it, then wanders the alley distributing religious tracts to other bowlers. The mulleted Levi and his family recite their pledge to the "Christian flag" and to the Bible before their lessons begin.

The camp itself is run by Backy Fischer, at the ironically-named Devil's Lake, North Dakota. Camp is a combination religious revival and political indoctrination. The kids tearfully (and seemingly quite spontaneously) confess their shortcomings, their already-unbearable load of youthful guilt prompting them to uncontrolled weeping. They sing enthusiastic songs about Jesus, support Geroge W. Bush and pray to end abortion. Back home, they visit pre-scandal Ted Haggard's church in Colorado Springs. Levi, especially, clearly hero-worships Haggard, and can be seen pacing the sanctuary, imagining himself as a world-class evangelist. The film follows the kids to a small Washington DC anti-abortion rally where they stand in protest before the Supreme Court building with "Life" stickers closing their mouths. Afterwards, they encounter the real world -- which is neither as fascinated by them or as impious as they believe.

I had expected to be appalled by the behavior of the parents, but wound up terrified by and concerned for the kids, who are being raised to be narrow-minded, ignorant and self-righteous. Racheal's insistence that God does not listen to the prayers of those whose worship style is sedate has the makings, under the right circumstances, of religious persecution. The film is bracketed by scenes of the bleak midwestern lanscape punctuated by radio snippets about the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito, a darling of the religious right. Air America's Mike Papantonio appears occasionally while taping his radio show and serves as a counterpoint from the left. His comments are heartfelt, but ineffective, a sad commentary on the left's until-now inability to counter the simplistic notions, unwillingness to engage science and narrow view of the true believers.

"Jesus Camp" is fascinating and frightening, a glimpse inside the world of the kind of Americans who reflexively support anything marketed as Christian, including the war in Iraq and the far-right agenda of the Bush II administration. I don't believe that we should fear people like those shown in the film, as they must someday engage the real world and perhaps moderate their more extreme views. But the film does a wonderful job at acquainting us with people whose world view and aspirations are at odds with science, reason and the notions of a secular form of representative government.