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Monday, August 07, 2006

David Byrne Journal: 8.2.06: American Madrassas

Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Jesus CampTears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)

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CONTINUED...

Awareness of the rest of the world is curtailed — one can only view or read that which agrees with the agenda.

Naturally, the kids being so young, there is no questioning of any kind — they simply accept what grownups Fischer and the others say — they get pumped up, agitated, they memorize right wing and Jesus slogans and shout them back obediently. They become part of a support group — a warm, safe, comfortable feeling for anyone, for any social animal, for you and me. No one strays or gets out of line even the slightest bit. (More on peer pressure later.)

There were some perfect sound bites — at one point Pastor Fischer instructs the little ones that they should be willing to die for Christ, and the little ones obediently agree. She may even use the word martyr, which has a shocking echo in the Middle East. I can see future suicide bombers for Jesus — the next step will be learning to fly planes into buildings. Of course, the grownups would say, “Oh no, we’re not like them” — but they admit that the principal difference is simply that “We’re right.”

In another scene a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, with his trademark smirking smile, is brought out and the children are urged to identify — many of the little ones come forward and reverently touch his cardboard hands.

I kept saying to myself, “O.K., these are the Christian version of the Madrassas (those Islamic religious instructional schools in Pakistan and elsewhere, often financed by Saudi oil money)...so both sides are pretty much equally sick, there’s a balance." (Although it must be said the Madrassas provide some regular education and literacy where no other option is available, they do community work that is non-religious...and they take in aimless troubled youth.)

They want to turn the U.S. into the "Christian" version of Iran or Saudi Arabia. A theocracy. The separation between church and state, already shaky with Bush in charge, is under full frontal assault by this bunch — and they are well organized, too. The megachurches tell their parishioners who to vote for, what judges to support, letters to write, and where they should stand on the issues. Well, we all do this to some extent — even in casual chats with friends we attempt to deduce and arrive at a consensus of opinion; a sloppy democratic give-and-take on any number of subjects often gives way to agreement. But this is top-down messaging — no discussion allowed. There’s a scene in the Colorado Springs megachurch run by the Preacher who talks with Bush once a week — same deal as with the kids, only most of the attendees are pliant adults.

What is it about Colorado Springs? Littleton is right next door to these megachurches. I think they are 2 sides to the same coin. One breeds the other. The dissatisfaction and alienation that leads folks to join this weird non-“Christian” Christianity (much the same has been said about fundamentalist Islamic groups, that they are a perversion of the Islam of the Prophet) leads down a road to both Littleton and Colorado Springs — and in the sense that they allow the mind to be pleasantly emptied, they are identical.

The documentary juxtaposes scenes of an Air America radio call-in guy, a former preacher himself — who rants against this version of Christianity. These scenes seemed almost unnecessary, as to many of us in the audience Becky was pretty much indicting herself, though she wouldn’t see it that way. But they did give some relief from the scary view of the heartland as harboring an army in formation. Zombies from the wheat fields.

Sad, as the heartland and areas untouched by the big city sicknesses are also the home of much practical down-to-earth wisdom. Wisdom borne of the land and of experience, unsullied by the trendy political and ethical philosophies that periodically sweep the urban jungles.

When one sees religion perverted — in the U.S. or in Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan or India, one wonders if the spiritual seeds, planted by visionaries and enlightened prophets like Jesus, Mohammed, Marx and others, are just too volatile for large societies to deal with. One asks if religious visions are better off kept as a personal thing, or at least confined to a small group — otherwise the death and destruction sown by and in the name of religions more or less balances out their moral and personal virtues (which are many.)

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