Be afraid… be very afraid.
If you can’t see the video above, see the film website.
According to an interviewee in this trailer, there are two kinds of people in the world… people who love Jesus, and people who don’t. The co-ordinators of the ‘Kids on Fire’ evangelical summer camp, who insist that “we have the truth”, want to see Christian children as radicalised as the Muslim children with grenades strapped to their bodies – assuming that all children are, or should be, radicalised in the first place. There is no third way mentioned – presumably the atheists and Humanists of this world fit in to the category of people who don’t love Jesus, and therefore are considered enemies, their children lost. The children in this film are described as born again, one boy saying he was ‘saved’ at the age of five. Apparently it’s never too early to start saving souls.
You can anticipate the reaction to a film like this before it has even hit the cinemas – most reactions being formed without people even having seen the film (and, no, I haven’t). Radical Christians may believe that their words have been misinterpreted, taken out of context or distorted, to suit the ends of the film makers (though the film has mostly been described as a balanced portrayal). Less ‘extreme’ Christians may claim that these loonies have nothing to do with them, and that the themes of the film don’t apply to their own faith. Atheists and Humanists may describe this film as a worrying spectacle of young children being manipulated and indoctrinated by neo-conservative zealots who are no less of a worry than radical Imams.
This all serves as a reminder that religion just isn’t as simple as wearing a badge, any more than declaring yourself an atheist, Humanist or anything else provides a precise breakdown of your own personal credo. We really are all atheists – when it comes to other religions, or other interpretations of religion, faith, personal spirituality, whatever you want to call it. Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise have both fallen from favour with the movie-going public for being too assertive with their respective beliefs, the common reaction being along the lines of ‘entertain me, just don’t talk about your religion, it makes me uncomfortable’.
In many workplaces, even in social circles, conversations about religion are taboo – no-one can open their mouth without offending someone, and Muslims, Hindus, Christians and everyone else demand that their religion be treated respectfully, lest their human rights be violated. I don’t think that my atheism earns me any special treatment, and I don’t expect to have to extend any to anyone else, regardless of their religion. Being asked to lay off criticising religious people has always felt to me like being asked not to mock the afflicted. If you have a faith, you should be prepared to defend it.
Jesus Camp appears to demonstrate that the US has no less of a crisis of identity on its hands than Islam – well-organised radicalism against liberalism. Rational people don’t have the luxury of being able to say that we’re all stuck in the middle while this schizophrenic wrangling plays itself out around us.