There’s some new movie out about religious indoctrination, reviewed by David Byrne.
Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)
That’s sad, chilling stuff; perhaps one of the most pernicious things about religion is the way the young are targeted and their minds molded before they’re old enough to really think. Maybe we should start treating religion the way we do sex: it isn’t discussed in front of the kids, we have committees and institutions that police the media to block access to it, the government works hard to dun fear and contempt of it into young kids’ school curricula so that they don’t monkey with it until they’re at least in their late teens. It seems to me that if we’re able to slap sex with the label of shame for so long, without actually destroying the ability of most kids to eventually enthusiastically participate in it, it ought to be possible and fair to do the same with religion, right? We could also treat people who expose kids to Catholicism or Islam or Scientology as disgusting perverts who deserve to be sent to jail, and put them on police lists that are distributed to neighborhoods.
I’m all for it. Let’s make religion something in which mature adults can consensually revel, but that we keep away from the kiddies…until they’re old enough to manage the responsibility. Sounds fair? I’m sure, though, that that is the last thing the pious would want to do: remove the kids from their oily, sanctimonious grasp, and religion would die back in a few generations to a low level eccentricity held by a small fraction of the population—and those few believers would all be idiosyncratic, and not at all in thrall to the big money institutions of modern religion.
Which leads me to mention Camp Quest, where I spoke last week. It’s the diametric opposite of Jesus Camp. Kids are taught the tools of skeptical thought—I saw that they were learning a little probability theory and the scientific method, and were learning how to test claims about dowsing—and they go out of their way to expose the kids to the diversity of religious thought (a tactic which may be even more effective than insulating them from all religious thought). Right after my session, they had a pair of pagans give a talk on their belief system, and they were more than a little loopy…but nobody had to tell the kids that, everyone was nice and polite, and you could tell that no one was fooled.
My own talk was a bit about the scientific method, a short overview of some creationist claims, and some easy ways to refute them (the index to creationist claims is the instrument of choice there). I also taught them the most useful question they can apply anywhere: “How do you know that?” I told them that they should apply it to teachers and scientists as well as creationists…I noticed that one clever fellow applied it to the pagans that followed me.
I don’t think that approach would go over well at Jesus Camp.