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Jesus Camp
Documentary meets horror movie

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In an evangelical Christian summer camp in the US, children as young as five are taught about religion and the importance of becoming good Christian soldiers.

Jesus Camp

Richard Dawkins spends a certain amount of time in his entertaining polemic The God Delusion expounding his belief that there is no such thing as a religious child, only children of religious parents. It’s a point worth keeping in mind when watching the fascinating Jesus Camp, a documentary on the well-attended Kids On Fire School Of Ministry for the children of Pentecostal parents in North Dakota.

The film focuses primarily on three kids: the precocious and irritatingly ponytailed Levi, who is home-schooled by his mother using creationist science textbooks and wants to grow up to be a pastor; the rather sweet Rachel, who just seems confused; and the thoroughly amusing Tory, who enjoys jigging along to Christian heavy metal just as long as she isn’t dancing “for the flesh” (it’s a fine line, apparently). Rachel’s story is the most affecting. Allowed to air her thoughts in long, single takes, she speaks in confused soundbites obviously drilled into her by other, older people, and seems to be simmering with so much conflicting information that she might explode at any point. Levi and Tory might seem happy enough, but Rachel feels in need of rescue.

The camp itself is presided over by Becky Fischer, director of Kids In Ministry International, who is happy to admit that she’s training Christian soldiers for a future war one hopes is referred to metaphorically, but suspects is not. The directors’ claim to impartiality is slightly suspect given the fact that something akin to Darth Vader’s Imperial March is often playing in the background in Fischer’s scenes, but to a large extent she’s hoist by her own petard. With a pathological hatred of Harry Potter (“Do not make a hero out of a warlock!”), she cuts a slightly tragic figure. She’d be comical if she didn’t seem so dangerous. 

Equally objectionable are pastor Ted Haggard and pro-lifer Lou Engle, who takes the kids to blub outside the White House with placards. But Jesus Camp is careful to allow Christian talk-radio host Mike Papantonio to be the voice of reason. There’s a slight feeling of tokenism to his inclusion, making the point that Christianity is as capable of clear-headedness and coherent thought as it is of lunacy and bigotry. In the end it’s hard to know whether Jesus Camp would benefit more from Papantonio as a counsellor, or from Wednesday Addams liberating the kids and burning the place down.

Funny, sad and horrifying. Anti-fundamentalist rather than anti-Christian, this deserves to preach to more than just the converted.

Reviewed by Owen Williams

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Average user rating for Jesus Camp
Empire Star Rating

Fascinating But Not Daring Enough

Jesus Camp is a disturbing and very real documentary (more like exposé) charting one of the most worrying fundamentalist factions in the whole of religion; children. Whilst it makes for great documentary fodder and the subject matter is undeniably affecting and saddening, it's a shame that the piece constantly feels one-dimensional and somewhat dull. All the right qualities are there for a documentary, but it's strictly that, never daring to ask any more questions than it wants answered (&#... More

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Posted by blaud at 16:21, 17 May 2011 | Report This Post

RE: Jesus Camp

Terrifying and watching poor Rachel churn out sound bites was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen such an adorable girl do. Plus there's nothing more uncomfortable than watching a bunch of children being told by adults how they're all going to hell, unleash they cleanse themselves of all sin. Plus it just sounded how easily manipulated young kids can be, as the right royally evil Becky Fischer said, " I can go into a playground of kids that don't know anything about Christianity, lead t... More

Posted by Timon at 10:14, 26 April 2011 | Report This Post

This scared me more than any Saw film ever could

It's not the fact that these people exist, it's the fact that they could at any point declare war on us and we'd be shit-faced, it makes me glad they are losing influence, cause if they were in charge, we'd be back in the third reich ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by maxthom at 16:25, 26 November 2009 | Report This Post

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