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THIS FOLLOWS 3 KIDS TO PASTOR BECKY FISCHER'S 'KIDS ON FIRE' SUUMER CAMP, WHERE KIDS AS YOUNG AS 6 YEARS OLD ARE TAUGHT TO BECOME DEDICATED CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS IN 'GOD'S ARMY'.
The feverish spectacle of a summer camp for evangelical Christian kids is the focus of Jesus Camp, a fascinating if sometimes alarming documentary. (Shortly after its release, the movie gained a new notoriety when Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who appears near the end of the film, resigned his post amid a male prostitute's allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct.) For most of the film, we follow a charismatic teacher, Becky Fischer, as she trains young soldiers in "God's Army" at a camp in North Dakota. Some of the kids emerge as likable and bright, and eager to continue their work as pint-sized preachers; elsewhere, the visions of children speaking in tongues and falling to the floor in ecstasy are more troubling. Even more arresting is the vision of a generation of children home-schooled to believe that the Bible is science, or Fischer's certainty that America's flawed system of democracy will someday be replaced by a theocracy. (In one scene, a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush is presented to the children, who react by laying their hands on the figure as though in a religious procession.) Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady maintain neutrality about all this, maybe too much so (they throw in some interviews with radio host Mike Papantonio to provide a liberal-Christian viewpoint) and one would like to know more about the grown-ups presented here. Power broker Haggard is the creepiest person in the film, an insincere smooth talker whose advice to one of the young would-be campgoers comes across as entirely cynical. Time will tell whether the film's Christian soldiers will be marching onward. --Robert Horton
- Deleted scenes
- Directors' commentary
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Religion, of course, is essentially a good thing, at least in the sense that it allows people to learn from each other. We can attempt to understand how to live our lives better by learning from other people's behavioral tendencies, which is usually a basic tenet of religious groups everywhere. However, "Jesus Camp" reveals a deadly aspect of religion. It reveals stagnation. Behaviors that have no particular benefit or have adverse effects on society frequently emerge, diverge, capitulate and sometimes re-surface throughout history, and the emergence of Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century presents a major obstacle to a better standard of living. Practicing adverse behaviors ritualistically can degrade our survivability.
The people who filmed this particularly seething branch of Christianity captured the threat to humanity's survivability quite well. The filmers allowed the church members to speak their minds without injecting their voice. The filmmakers did not even present themselves or even ask leading questions that might have elicited insincere responses from the Church-goers; they simply let the cameras roll. What you see may disturb you, you may even scream and jump up and down as incoherently as some of the people in the film, but I'd rather remind people that religion is underlain by instinct. Every person is driven by instinct to a certain degree, whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a theist, a polytheist, an atheist or whatever mindset one may ascribe. All people exhibit instincts. Remember to always be mindful of your behavior. I don't consider myself institutionally religious or even theistic, but I know that people are capable of all the good and wickedness in the world due to their behaviors.
-It gave me an idea of what I missed out growing up. I grew up as non-denominational Christian where dominionist ideals were not taught and separation of church and state was a good thing. Religious based homeschooling was very rare; parents were encouraged to send their children to college and get educated in their particular fields. This way, for the most part, the children will then be able to tithe with a good paying job. And tithing was optional, based on spiritual feelings.
-I liked how the kids were interviewed and not just the adults. I was amazed at what these children were saying.
-My heart broke for the kids; I don't think they were at an age where they can fully understand what was being taught/ indoctrinated to them.
-The documentary was insightful, despite giving me high blood pressure.
-This is a great documentary to watch because it gave me an understanding of where these people were coming from and why they believed what they did.