Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jesus camp

Kinda putting an unintentional coda to the recent articles that touch on evolution, I watched Jesus Camp last night. Jesus Camp is about how elements of the Christian right go about indoctrinating children to be warriors for “Christ.” I put Christ in quotes because nothing they say has anything to do with the common conception of Christ. It’s uncomfortably funny how they make up everything as they go along. The construction “Jesus told me to” is so common you stop hearing it after awhile, which is unfortunate because the things “Jesus” tells them to do are often downright wacky and include taking over the military and the government so they can punish sinners such as ourselves. I wasn’t looking for the movie, it’s not like I want to think about these dangerous shits, I just came across it at the library and chose not to resist.

Of course it’s always been convenient for people on the make to imagine Jesus telling them to do whatever it is they want to do whether it’s killing people, taking their money or just taking out the trash, but it’s a little more enlightening to see that insane nonsense come out of the mouths of brainwashed children. You think with all you know about right wing religious kooks you’re prepared for it, but odds are good it’s worse than you think.

I don’t use the term “brainwashed” lightly. The methods these Christian nuts use are identical to those described by William Sargent in the classic Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing. In short, Sargent details how new beliefs can be instilled in the mammalian brain when it buckles under extreme duress. He leans on Pavlov’s dogs and the wave of religions conversions instigated by the 18th century fire and brimstone preacher John Wesley to explain how people’s deepest beliefs can be changed in an instant and stay changed for the rest of their lives. Wesley used tales of eternal damnation to excite people to the point of collapse, at which point he would give them new things to believe in. You see the exact same thing happening in the movie. The children are scared with theatrical talk of the devil and a world gone terribly wrong. They start shaking, mumbling and rolling their eyes. They collapse on the floor. Then they’re told what they have to believe, what they have to do to be saved. It is genuinely sickening. If you ever see Becky Fischer talking to your kids, get them away from her as fast as you can. She is one truly dangerous individual. What she does to children is a horrible form of child abuse.

Beyond the enlightening content of the movie, I have a few qualms about the way it is presented. The filmmakers do an excellent job of giving the nuts all the rope they need to hang themselves and the nuts happily oblige. But not content to let their words and actions speak for themselves, they bring in an anti-right -wing-Christian-nuts radio host to lecture us about how bad the right wing Christian nuts are. Someone with no grasp of the facts could think he was no better than the brainwashers. His methods aren’t really that different.

That, and they use the audio and video to influence the audience perception of the Christians. Disturbing music often plays low in the background while the Christians are talking. Strange video sequences heighten the sense of dread beyond what the people are actually saying, which is bad enough. The content of this film is disturbing enough on its own. The cheap tricks took my mind off the content and undercut the message. On the positive side, I was very impressed with the cinematography. The camera people took a lot of chances and got some great images.

The Christians in the movie don’t spend a lot of time talking about evolution, but when they do you see how disgusted they are with the fact that we humans and apes are closely related. That’s what it really comes down to when all the other lame rationalizations are brushed aside. They just can’t bear to think of themselves as monkeys. As noted below, they were created in the image of God, they think, and it hurts them to accept that God looks more like King Kong than Charlton Heston. But that’s the logic, isn’t it? If their religion is true and evolution is true, then God is monkey.

Makes no difference to me either way. God or not, I realized I was just a monkey man a long time ago. And I trust you are a monkey, too.