For Christ’s Sake
“Had it been in the Old Testament Harry Potter would have been put to death!” So screams ultraevangelical Christian minister Becky Fischer, shaking with rage and something like ecstasy, and she’s not kidding and she’s not being ironic. She seems unable to discern reality from fiction, her own nightmares from the fantasies of a lunatic. Forget Texas Chainsaw Massacre if you’re looking for a horror movie: Fischer is enough to scare the crap out of you, this woman who would get off by putting a made-up kid wizard to the stake.
Non-Christians are “sick,” insists another scary preacher here — and he’s almost scarier than Fischer, since he’s just an 11-year-old kid — but Jesus Camp, from documentarians Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, leaves you with the distinct impression that its subjects are the sick ones. Camp is not a diatribe or a polemic, and it doesn’t pretend to suggest that all Christians are like those depicted here — all it does is turn a camera on people who are proud enough of their actions and beliefs to talk candidly and openly about them for the camera. This is a subculture that is trying its damnedest to become the culture, regardless of what the rest of us want. People like Fischer are gunning for the rest of us, and she, at least, is happy to put us on warning; she is delighted that “extreme liberals” might be “shaking in their boots” to see what we see here. I’m not sure how Fischer defines “extreme liberal” — probably someone who loves Harry Potter but would have aborted him as a fetus just for fun; watch for the fun antiabortion prayer circle! — but it’s hard to imagine what American who values the things that were once considered part and parcel of America, like the right to be left the fuck alone to believe whatever you want to believe, wouldn’t be enraged, terrified, and maybe brought to tears to see what supposedly responsible adults are doing to their own children in the name of a god… and in the name of their own aggrandizement as they attempt to make over all of us in the image of their harassed, belittled, and brainwashed children.
Fischer is contemplating nothing less than a cultural overthrow of America. She wants a United States in which Jesus is president, if he isn’t already; the scene in which she has all the little kids in her ministry praying to — not for, to — George W. Bush is but one of the many dreadful spectacles here. It’s the kids that makes Jesus Camp so unbearable: Fischer, who ministers exclusively to kids, is preying on the intellectual and physiological vulnerabilities of children, as their parents are, too. The kids are isolated, homeschooled by uneducated mothers who believe “science doesn’t prove anything” (as one tells us while she makes dinner in her modern kitchen well-equipped with the accoutrements of modern technology, as the kids watch a Bible DVD in the air-conditioned living room) and sent to Fischer’s Jesus Camp, where Fischer ridicules the children for being children, for wanting to have fun, leads them in Two Minute Hates against all things secular, and turns them into little automatons, trained monkeys who regurgitate chapter and verse robotically without appearing to understand what they’re talking about. (In another instance of irony that no one onscreen seems to appreciate, Fischer’s Jesus Camp is held in a North Dakota town called Devil’s Lake.)
And then there’s the praying. The little kids with their arms raised in the air, swaying back and forth, eyes rolling back in their heads, tears streaming down their faces, jibbering in tongues, for Christ’s sake.
Well, yes, actually: for Christ’s sake. Fischer is building an army — she is quite explicit about this; this is not an interpretation on the part of the filmmakers or the viewer — of kids for Christ, people who would, she is very happy to say, “lay down their lives for the Gospel.” She likens them, in all seriousness, to Palestinian suicide bombers, and as much as she deems all Muslims “enemies,” she respects how they radicalize their children. And this must be done — turning the kids into an army — because she wants her beliefs to be public policy. She vilifies science and prays over computers and has not an inkling of her own hypocrisy and ignorance. It’s mind-boggling.
I’ll be the first one up against the wall in front of Jesus’s firing squad when Becky Fischer’s terrifying kids take over the country, but still: Thank god I’m an atheist.