January 16, 2011
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Gallup polls suggest that 39% of Americans (out of 311,892,000) identify as evangelical christians, which translates into roughly 121,637,880 million people. Given the rise of the Christian Right in the United States, particularly since the 1960s, that religious identity constitutes a very significant political force. As we’ve seen with the Bush administration, the Christian Right has jettisoned any doubts about participating in the “fallen” world of secular politics.
It is in this context that the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp ought to be viewed. Briefly, the film follows several kids who attend the Kids on Fire School of Ministry. Though the film eschews a voice-over which would explicitly direct our response to the film, the editing– particularly the sequences which counterpoint the indoctrination of young children with on-air remarks by Mike Papantonio, a Christian talk radio host– clarifies the sympathies of the film-makers. Papantonio clearly grasps civil institutions such as the separation of church and state and is exceedingly wary of the sort of evangelism which proselytizes pre-adolescents in order to imprint them with a set of religious views which are ultimately the source of political activism.
In my view the documentary represents a subculture which is, frankly, terrifying. Generally speaking, religion is based not on reason but in revelation– i.e. the evidence of things not seen. If a person simply believes strenuously enough then s/he belongs within the community of the faithful. Yes it’s true that earlier christian such as Thomas Aquinas attempted to conjoin spiritual belief and Aristotelian philosophy. Yet by and large the amazingly fragmented protestant sects present in the modern United States have tended to marginalize even the scientific method where it seems to conflict with faith. Thus the denial of climate change, a political project funded with millions by Exxon Mobil and other vested interests,* like skepticism about the principle of biological evolution, mesh somewhat seamlessly with a worldview governed not by the demands of empiricism but by strength of feeling.
You can watch Jesus Camp on netflix (instant view) or at
*Between 2005 and 2008 Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, a petroleum and chemical company ranked second behind Cargill as a privately run US business, donated $8.9 million dollars and $24.9 million dollars respectively to organisations involved with challenging the science and politics of climate change. According to Greenpeace, “Koch industries’….funding of the climate denial machine… through a combination of foundation-funded front groups, big lobbying budgets… and direct campaign contributions makes Koch industries…amongst the most formidable obstacles to advancing clean energy and climate policy in the US”. (See http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=705&issue=129)