Jesus Camp


I thought you guys might find this interview with the filmmakers of the new documentary Jesus Camp interesting. A couple of issues I thought of that this interview brings up but that I don’t have any answers for:

1. The idea that indoctrination is child abuse.

2. The idea that looking at something going on in the present from an anthropological perspective is inherently degrading or condescending.

3. The fact that a lot of the people in the movie are political but claim not to be.

4. Pastor Ted Haggard’s rejection of the movie, while the other participants embraced it. In particular, his explanation of why he rejects it.

11 Responses to “Jesus Camp”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Couldn’t the “indoctrination” label be applied to a lot of things kids learn?

    The blurring of faith and politics, that the people in the film didn’t make a distinction, is fascinating. And disturbing.

  2. Sandi Says:

    Probably it could, but it only generally does get applied to things that are considered outside the mainsteam or are extreme. That’s why it’s so problematic to talk about indoctrination. On the other hand, I think there is an extent to which the label is more apt if parents (or teachers) exercise such control over the environment that no competing ideas are allowed to come on the child’s radar screen, and when critical thinking is discouraged or forbidden. Of course you want your child to believe whatever you believe, but ultimately if you acknowledge their separate humanity you will allow that they might choose something different.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    The process of turning a child into a civilized human being — i.e., raising a child — is a process of indoctrination. I think Sandi’s right, though, that it tends to get called that only when the doctrine being applied or the method of applying it is one the majority disapproves of. At some point, we even begin to call it “brainwashing” and the religious group in question a “cult.”

    Where do we draw the line? How do we decide when it’s appropriate for society to intervene in a family or subculture’s raising/indoctrination of its own children?

    The problem, of course, is that what one generation sees as a brainwashed cult can come to be seen by the next generation as not only normal, but an improvement. See the history of almost any radical social, religious, or philosophical movement. Most of them had their origins among deeply committed, deeply deprecated minority communities. Christianity itself was one. Modern science was another. So was American democracy. And Nazism, which a majority of Germans at the time thought was an improvement. Terroristic Islam could become one in some Muslim countries.

    Sometimes these freaky things turn out great for society. Sometimes they turn out disastrously. If we (the existing society) decide we should intervene when a subculture is behaving a little too oddly for out taste, we’ll lose a source of social progress. OTOH, we’ll also eliminate a source of destructiveness. We’re not always very good at predicting which are which. And if we decide to intervene, will it blow up in our face? (See, e.g., Christianity, terroristic Islam, etc.)

  4. Sandi Says:

    There is a whole line of Supreme Court cases establishing a basic right to raise your child how you please — Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, for example. So in general America has a pretty laissez-faire attitude toward allowing people to raise their children. I think there is a principled distinction to be drawn (within the context of a democracy like ours, at least — I’m not prepared to speak to its applicability to other cultures) between raising and indoctrinating. I think indoctrination involves an unacceptable level of coercion, either physical or mental, and severe restrictions on exposure to competing ideas as I noted above. In other words, someone who home schools their children, allows no exposure to television, music, books, or art that has not passed an ideological purity test, and uses extreme physical and/or emotional coercion (i.e. physical punishment or the threat of withholding love in response to questioning or dissent). There is no bright line test for such things, but, like pornography, “I know it when I see it.” 🙂

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I suspect making that distinction would get to be more problematic than you imagine, Sandi. Maybe not, but that’s my guess.

    Aside from the difficulties of the various fact sets one would encounter, there would be the problem raised by your second question: the only way a court could appropriately view such a fact set would be anthropologically (i.e., phenomenologically), which is reductive. The only other option would be for the court to view it as an insider would; but that, even if it were mentally possible, which it isn’t, would be legally inappropriate — at least in cases where religious beliefs were involved (which would be the vast majority of such cases), and probably even in cases not involving religion.

    We see similarly situated cases in the courts already, particularly with religious groups whose beliefs forbid them from taking their children to physicians, etc. These cases nearly always turn out to be absolute nightmares for the courts to handle.

    There’s also still the question of whether a court intervention would make things better or worse. If the parents of the child are so committed to their belief in the necessity of raising that child as they are raising him/her, how are those parents going to react to a court saying, “Sorry, but you don’t get to do that. You have to let your child get exposed to what you consider deeply evil. You have to expose your child to the possibility of eternal damnation.”: will they disappear with the child, going completely off society’s radar until some mass tragedy occurs? will they and their community become [more] deeply radicalized against the courts, the state, and society at large? how will they express that? will they choose death and an eternity in heaven for the child? will they become violent toward outsiders?

    I’m not raising anything you aren’t already aware of. You’re familiar with both current events, and the history of church-state case law, so you know these are all things that have happened and do happen when courts intervene in these situations. And I’m not arguing that parents should be left to do whatever they want with their children. I’m just saying that if things like Jesus Camp came to be grounds for courts to intervene, that’s going to lead to a major increase in these hugely serious problem cases for the courts.

    As much as I may disagree with the parents, as much as I may sympathize with the kids, I don’t know that court involvement would be a net gain for anybody — parents, kids, or society. These cases may simply not be justiciable.

  6. Sandi Says:

    Whoa, nelly! Hold on a minute, JU! When I said there was a principled distinction to be drawn between indoctrination and raising, I wasn’t speaking about legal intervention. I was just talking about my own subjective views of the world and what’s what. Sorry for the confusion.

    The question of legal intervention, as you point out, is incredibly fraught. And it’s difficult to see how legal intervention does more good than harm in borderline cases. Moreover, like censorship, it’s a question of whose standards govern — if certain people had their way, folks like me would not be able to raise a child.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:


  8. David Says:

    I agree that the indoctrination/socialization distinction is fuzzy at best. Furthermore, I’m afraid that part of the discussion must be terminated under Godwin’s Law because JU drew a comparison to Nazis.

    The more interesting point, IMO, is the connection between points 3 and 4:

    3. The fact that a lot of the people in the movie are political but claim not to be.
    4. Pastor Ted Haggard’s rejection of the movie, while the other participants embraced it. In particular, his explanation of why he rejects it.

    It is quite disturbing to see these folks elevating one side of a political debate to the level of an absolute, divinely-inspired truism. To do so is to foreclose any possibility of learning–it is a conversation-stopper and a mind-closer.

    But the really interesting thing is the view of Haggard, who is in a leadership position in the church. His comments about presenting a certain view of this culture to outsiders implies that he himself does not view their beliefs as absolute or divinely-inspired. It sounds like he sees even the essentially religious aspects of this community as inherently political. This attitude really makes the whole thing smack of a cult-like manipulation–not just of the children but of the entire flock. It has an creepy “this will be our little secret” feel to it–reminds me of Scientology.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I haven’t followed the link to read Haggard’s explanation. I just don’t have the heart for it.

  10. Sandi Says:

    you should. it’s so cynical and brazen. but also classic right wing hypocrisy.

  11. juvenal_urbino Says:

    No, thanks. Been there, done that.

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