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Jesus Camp Essay

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Laurie Grenier
Dylan Kissane
PHIL 130
Tuesday, April 7th 2015

Sociological issues displayed in Jesus Camp
In 2009, more then 4.5 million evangelical memberships in the United States were recorded and between 2006 and 2013, the number of Evangelical Protestants –also called Born Again- rose by 11.2 percent. The evangelical population is part of a bigger group -the Protestants representing more then 50 percent of the American population- and represents almost 30 percent of this larger group (Frejka 8). By growing and changing people’s way of thinking, this group will cause huge social changes in the U.S. The documentary describes Becky Fisher creating an “army of God” so that these children would be able to turn America toward conservative Christian values and social change. She also says that America needs to focus on training their children just as “the enemy” (the other religions) is doing. Her goal is to create a youth group believing in her cause and train them to become future leaders of big groups, firms, and probably even government parties and one day becoming president. These children will defend their cause in leadership roles. In Jesus Camp, the filmmakers try to chronicle this story with an objective point of view. However, we clearly observe the fact that they are against this idea of using a training ground for soldiers, recruits (here children) born-again to become an active part of America’s political future. This essay will detail three big issues seen in this film. The first one being of course religion and the way it is used. The second point the education the children have and the indoctrination it implies. And finally, the third point is both the qualities and problems socialization could involve in this case.
Jesus Camp is an American documentary film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing in 2006. This documentary follows a group of children at a Christian summer camp called “Kids on fire” located just outside Devil’s lake in North Dakota. Becky Fisher directed the summer camp. The film also focuses on three very devoted Christian children: Levi O’Brien, Rachel Elhardt, and Victoria (Tory) Binger. Levi was homeschooled and wants to become a preacher. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. His mother wants to be able to raise her children by herself and not “give them” to someone else during the day. Levi is thought at a young age to combine creationism from the Bible with scientific principles, which will led the family to beliefs like the fact that global warming is a big joke. Rachel has a very strong opinion about “her” religion. She disapproves of most Christian churches because they are non-charismatic and therefore “churches that God would not like to go to.” Tory is part of a dance team at a Christian church, where they dance to heavy metal Christian music. She says that she has to be careful not to dance “for the flesh” because she would be harming the Christ’s image. For these children, every waking hour is a moment that should be devoted to Jesus, not a moment to have fun. Throughout the movie, the audience is witnessing an endless debate between Becky Fisher and Mike Papantonio, a radio talk-show host on an American radio show called Ring on Fire. Mike questioned Becky’s motives to use children by directly speaking to her (Jesus Camp).
The first and most obvious sociological issue in this film is of course religion. Religion can be both highly personal through someone’s beliefs and a common social institution (Introduction to Sociology). Children and parents come to the religious ceremonies of this summer camp to find a common faith they hold to be true and to be part of a religious experience. This film shows a clash between religion and science in terms of creationism against evolution and the denial of basic terrestrial concepts such as global warming. The best example of this clash would be Levi’s family. His mother thinks one cannot learn science without religion; they are linked in a certain way (Jesus Camp). Even though evolution is also somewhat of a belief, scientists know for sure some theories to be true. However, Levi’s family “knows” the writings in the Bible to be true as well and dismiss the idea that evolution is a possible theory. They also think that global warming is just a political speculation, when other people know it is a true fact (Jesus Camp). In this movie, the functionalist theory for religion would be the best to apply since they all seem to think that religion depends on society for its existence, value, and significance, and vice versa. The religious group in this movie could be considered as a denomination mostly because of its size. Becky rejects anything that could be linked to sin from the Bible. That is why she rejects the idea of children watching Harry Potter, which includes sorcery, witchcraft and no relationship to God whatsoever (Jesus Camp). These religious issues push children to come together to share common beliefs but makes them reject anything that could make them part of a group outside their church.
A second sociological issue in this film could be the question about education and how indoctrination is a major part of it. In this movie, the focus is on what is happening both inside and outside the religious summer camps such as this one. All the main children from this film are born in highly religious families who believe only in creationism. They were taught since they were very small that it is thanks to God that they have become who they are and that all the non-believers should become believers to create an even bigger “army of God.” Becky Fisher clearly states that she chose to target children because they are easily brainwashed into thinking that they are the “key generation” to build an “army” (Jesus Camp). Whatever they learn at their age, will stay for all their life. Furthermore, according to the documentary, most scientific families in North Dakota still prefer religion to science. For them, evolution is “stupid.” In America, over 25% of the total population is evangelical and over 75% of homeschooled children are evangelic Christians (Jesus Camp). That is why there can be a large amount of brainwashing and indoctrination in this religion. Homeschooled students pledge different from the pledge at school because at school one has to pledge to “one nation under God” but it does not have to be one specific God. According to Becky Fisher, schools are too materialistic whereas, their church focuses on the “beauty and the truth of the world”; the children of this church even use dollars as bookmarks to prove their point (Jesus Camp).
A third sociological issue in this film would be socialization. Socialization describes the ways that people come to understand the norms and expectations within a society, accept its values and beliefs (Introduction to Sociology). The Bible camp is a good example of socialization because it creates a group with the same values and beliefs and therefore an excellent group cohesion and stability. In this movie, the fact that children are being brainwashed means that they are either part of the anticipatory socialization where they are prepared for their future role or part of a degradation ceremony without really knowing it being too young to understand. The children in this film are all part of the same in-group that will allow believers in. However, they could also be considered as an out-group because of the fact that they are an “army of God” willing to fight against the “enemy” (Introduction to Sociology). The qualities used to identify who is in the in-group would be their common beliefs, whereas the individuals in the out-groups would be the scientists, the non-believers, the other religions, etc. This impacts the children’s way of thinking; it puts them all in the same mold to create one way of thinking. The idea that they are part of this ‘in-group’ makes them commit even more to the group by creating common activities, games, and fun ceremonies. Jesus camp is a social controlling organization, enforcing and regulating the norms at every moment.
Jesus Camp is meant to be narrated objectively to describe the religious camp and environment Levi, Rachel, and Tory go to. Nevertheless can we without any doubt distinguish different types of issues included ‘in-between the lines.’ This essay dealt with first the religious issue and the fact that they want to impose their way of thinking on every other living soul. Second, this essay dealt with education and indoctrination. Most of the children present at this summer camp are home-schooled and therefore indoctrinated both by their religious group and by their parents who have more or less the same train of thought. Lastly, this essay dealt with socialization and the fact that it leads to different issues. The leaders of the summer camp use this socialization issue as a tool to control, enforce, and regulate the thoughts and norms the children have. However, Jesus Camp has more then three sociological issues. For example, it also has class, gender, isolation, media, government issues, etc. The film was nominated Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, which took place in 2007. The release of the film led to too many debates and vandalism. The camp had to pay $1,500 of damages and the owners of the camp had to ask for the closure of the camp (Garcia). As Ron Reno –from Focus on the Family's- said: “The directors' claims that they were simply trying to create an 'objective' film about children and faith ring hollow. Unfortunately, however, it appears that unknowingly being manipulated by the directors in their effort to cast evangelical Christianity in an unflattering light” (Garcia).
Works Cited
Frejka, Tomas, and Charles F. Westoff. Religion, Religiousness and Fertility in the U.S. and in Europe. Rostock: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, 2006. Demogr.mpg.de. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Garcia, Elena. "CBS Special Looks at Teen Missionaries in 'Lord's Boot Camp'" The Christian Post (n.d.): n. pag. 11 Apr. 2008. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Jesus Camp. Dir. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Perf. Becky Fischer and Mike Papantonio. Magnolia Pictures, 2006. Documentary.
Openstax College. Introduction to Sociology. Houston: Rice U, 2013. Print.

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