Friday, June 4, 2010

The Jesus Camp and Why Fundamentalism Can be Dangerous

I had bookmarked a series of videos on Youtube from the documentary Jesus Camp, but could never get past the trailer. Finally, the other night I watched them all. Jesus Camp is a child's Bible Camp where children are indoctrinated in the most horrific fashion. My reaction went from shock to sadness to anger. What I was witnessing was systematic child abuse, but because this was "religion", the authorities would not have been able to do much about it.

In her book The Armageddon Factor, Marci McDonald mentions the group 'Watchmen for the Nation', and how the American founder of Watchmen was on this video putting red tape across the mouths of the children with the word 'Life'. (2)

She also mentions that Stockwell Day is a member and that they are grooming him to become prime minister, feeling that his "best days" are before him. His bio mentions that he was a youth minister and had worked at children's bible camps, and after watching the videos, the words of the minister who took over for Day when he was running the Bentley Bible schools, described a scene not unlike what is happening at that Jesus Camp.

Throughout this period, Stockwell Day was assistant pastor and school administrator. "They changed their by-laws so that the people would have no say - leaders to be appointed by other leader, as determined by scripture," explains Rathjen. "It was a haughty, arrogant, pride-filled success story that led to disaster." Fuelled by American-style revivalism, the church emphasized radical gospel practices - such as speaking-in-tongues - that whipped worshippers into a frenzy. "They have emotional experiences and then try to build a doctrine around it," explains Rathjen. The intensity of the church and constant stream of visiting American pastors gave Bentley an international profile within fundamentalist circles. But the church eventually succumbed to its own extremes.

"I would say that it was as close to a cult as you can get," says pastor Rathjen. "They were still holding on to the Christian teaching - but with manipulation and
control. (1)

"As close to a cult as you're going to get." That's not the only time I'd heard that. When Day was running against Preston Manning for the leadership of the Alliance Party in 2000, he brought in the religious fundamentalists of the worst kind. Some in the party accused him of polarizing, and one member of Preston Manning's team, Rick Anderson, suggested that there was a "Jim Jones Kool-Aid quality to what was going on." Former Conservative insider (when Canada actually had a Conservative party) Dalton Camp, once suggested that Stockwell Day was from the "lunatic fringe."

Surviving the Jesus Camp

Josh Timonen from the Richard Dawkins Research Centre watched the documentary when it was first released in theatres, and describes his reaction. Like me he went from shock to sadness to anger, and I think we have to get angry here. These people are not only depriving these children of vital knowledge, but they are taking away their childhood.

We meet a young boy in an oversized t-shirt who is lounging in front of the television at home. He's watching a "Creation Adventures" video for children, and with a commanding baritone voice it falsely instructs that the earth was formed 6,000 years ago by you-guessed-who. Thankfully, in my theatre this received a roaring round of laughter. The narrator makes a joke about how 'some people say' we came from 'slime,' and he puts on a ridiculous face as he holds up his two hands covered in a silly green goop. We later see this boy's mother looking through a 3-ring study binder at the dinner table, quizzing her son on what to say if someone tries to tell him that global warming is real(?!?). He knows the answer to this one, and with a smile tells his mother how he would reply: the temperature has only risen half a degree over some recent time period, and that this isn't a big deal. It was as if he was doing his nightly homework, with his mother at his side. I sort of missed what the boy specifically said. I had already blown a gasket and was yelling at the screen after the ridiculous global warming question the mother had asked - And from some 3-ring study binder no less!

The camp begins and it is pure madness. One of the first points of business is to condemn every child's favorite "warlock". Pastor Becky explains that "had he been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!" (Thank goodness we've got that straightened out).The children are all so eager to please, and this element of the film is the most difficult for me. If the adults decided to hand out the special Kool-Aid at this camp, the children would all unquestionably partake. With arms in the air, they are 'instructed' on how to let the spirit take over their bodies and speak in tongues. The children imitate. Many of them cry. Some fall to the ground and shake on the floor in what looks like an epileptic seizure. More cry. I wanted to cry with them, or more accurately for them. This all looked very unhealthy, I could only imagine what it was doing to them psychologically. I had the striking thought that this was all completely unforgivable. These adults, no matter their intentions, were performing horrific acts of mental child abuse. (3)

They are getting away with far too much in the name of religion. What they do is their own business, and they have freedom to believe what they believe. But when children are being exploited in this way, something needs to be done. And if you think that this is not happening here, I came across another video from an American atheist YouTube channel. (not promoting that channel. It looks a little silly)

The caller is a young man from Canada who claimed that he attended a similar camp in Alberta. We need to get mad about this. Gary Goodyear, our science minister, is gutting scientific research, simply because he's a creationist. This is not acceptable.

You can watch the videos here. I'll warn you that they are disturbing. Below is the interview with the Canadian teenager.


1. Bentley, Alberta: Hellfire, Neo-Nazis and Stockwell Day: A two-part look inside the little town that nurtured a would-be prime minister - and so"me of the most notorious hate-mongers in Canada, By Gordon Laird, NOW Magazine, 2000

2. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, By: Marci McDonald, Random House Canada, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-307-35646-8 3.

3. Surviving Jesus Camp, By Josh Timonen, Richard Dawkins Foundation, October 2, 2006

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