Have you ever looked at a situation as somebody else and come to completely opposite conclusions than you otherwise would? That's how hiphopguy23 felt watching Jesus Camp this past weekend. [See the trailer]
Jesus Camp is a documentary that takes the viewer to the misnomered Devil's Falls in North Dakota to spend a summer with young evangelicals-in-training at Kids on Fire Summer Camp. Hiphopguy23 got to see the little rugrats undergo a complete indoctrination into the world of extreme Christianity. It is a world where reading Harry Potter is akin to witchcraft. "If Harry Potter was around in the Old Testament, he would have been put to death," states camp director Becky Fischer (not to be confused with the film's directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady). It is a world where the simple telling of ghost stories is reviled because such stories do not honor God. In this world, hiphopguy23 learned that God does not visit churches where worshippers sit, listen to a preacher, and maybe sing a hymn or two. Apparently, God only visits churches where they are constantly Hallelujahing and speaking in tongues. Ironically, the speaking in tongues sounded an awful lot like Parseltongue from the Harry Potter series — but hiphopguy23 digresses.
This movie played less like a documentary and more like a horror film. For example, a mother who home-schools her son tells him that science cannot prove whether global warming is real. Another uncomfortable moment is when an angel-faced 8-year old girl gives a Christianity themed pamphlet to a complete stranger in a bowling alley. One of the scariest moments of all is when the Rev. Ted Haggard preaches to us about morals. The reverend looks right into the camera and proclaims, "I know what you did last night. If you send me $1,000, I promise not to tell your wife." This, of course, is the same Rev. Ted Haggard who a few short months ago was involved in a gay sex and drug abuse scandal. Occasionally, there were bits of comedy. One laugh-out-loud moment occurs when camp director Fischer blesses and prays for the microphones, telling Satan not to interfere with the electronics.
Jesus Camp has a definite political message. The children are encouraged to touch and pray for a life-size cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush. A pro-life guest speaker is brought in to inform the campers, "One third of your friends could not be here today." Hiphopguy23 did a double-take at that statement, highly doubting that the aborted fetuses would have been raised to become evangelical Christians. The footage from Jesus Camp is interspersed with an alternative viewpoint of Air America radio host Mike Papantonio giving his more mainstream views of Christianity on the air. The two stories intertwine at the end of the movie when Fischer is on the air with Papantonio.
The directors did an absolutely fabulous job keeping this movie impartial and unbiased. They simply provide a lens and a microphone and let the Jesus Camp denizens speak for themselves. There is no snarky commentary, a la Michael Moore. This is clearly a movie where the message you get out of it is based on your own expectations. Hiphopguy23 heard that evangelicals who viewed the movie found it to be a tremendous and uplifting description of their culture. For others, we look on in horror and open-mouthed fascination.
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Happy Halloween! Jesus Camp made The Boston Globe's list of "The Top 50 scariest horror movies of all time".
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