Monday, June 4, 2007

"I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag . . ."

1. Last night I watched Jesus Camp, a 2006 documentary following several Missouri children at a radical Evangelical Christian's summer camp in North Dakota. It's disturbing and worrisome on several accounts:

- The organizer of the camp openly admits to using the same tactics for brainwashing (though she rejects the term "brainwashing") children as the Jihadists in the Middle East.
- The children are mostly homeschooled, and taught falsities such as creationism.
- Everyone believes that the President was sent from God (notably, they pray to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush).
- Everyone believes that the end of days is near.

But these were not the most haunting aspects of the film. Two of the most prominent characters are Levi and Rachael, twelve and nine years old, respectively. They have both been fully brainwashed into all the above beliefs; however, they're quite different in one central respect. When Rachael speaks, it's very obviously rehearsed. It sounds like a child of equivalent age acting in an elementary school theatre production. The language seems above her level, like it's something she memorized from a book. The thing is, she's not acting. At least she doesn't thinks so. There's a vacancy in her eyes that gives you the uncomfortable feeling that subconsciously, she's questioning everything she says.

Levi, on the other hand, delivers a much more convincing sermon (literally - he's asked to preach to the other kids). But when he talks, he's unequivocal. Although it seems just a little rehearsed, there's no doubting his sincerity.

So which situation is worse? What the parents did to Rachael is tantamount to torture, and what they've done to Levi is tantamount to murder. Rachael's right to freedom of thought is dying a slow death, but Levi's has long since perished. Is it worse to have removed the capacity for rationality long before it had the chance to develop, such as in Levi's case, or to severely cripple the faculty, leaving the child a moral vegetable with a glimmer of doubt? I suppose it's all in Jesus' greater plan.

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