13 November 2007

Mass God Delusion

[This post contains very frank talk about atheism and agnosticism, and some anti-religious sentiment. If that will upset you, or really just if it'll inspire contentious comments, please don't read. I'm not trying to incite a debate - I'm just plugging a movie.]

I realized I didn't believe in god during high school,* but it took me a little longer to lose faith in religion. I like to thank Jesus Camp, a terrifying (to me) documentary about a camp run by "a Pentacostal minister who prepares children from conservative Christian families to champion fundamentalist Christian and right wing causes in the political arena." It's not all a horror show - 90% compelling and interesting, 10% horrifying (to me). (It wasn't the religiousness so much as the psychological and emotional manipulation of children that got me pounding my legs with my fists and vowing to raise my children to be thoughtful, considerate naturalists. As opposed to supernaturalists. And also led me to get into a discussion/fight with a friend in Trader Joe's that had to be ended because if we kept going it might have been the end of our friendship. Yay religion! Yay documentary film!) Scroll past the Eurydice talk to read what I wrote when I saw it here.

Anyway (via Gothamist) there's a free screening of Jesus Camp tonight, and wherever you fall on the spectrum of belief about Belief, I strongly recommend it. It's a really well-made film - its goal is to present the camp and the people involved evenhandedly, a documentary rather than a commentary, and it succeeds. (The scenes with Ted Haggard probably, obviously, land differently than they did when the film originally played, pre-scandal.) 6pm, 15 Barclay St (btw. Broadway and Church). Call 212.992.8380 for reservations.

*For someone as neurotic as me, it was almost too simple. I'd known that synagogue wasn't spiritual for a while - Mom, how does wearing tights and an uncomfortable dress make me better able to pray? - and then one day I was sitting in my bedroom thinking about God, as one does when one is sixteen, and I thought, I don't want to believe in a god who cares if I believe in him. Any god concerned with my adoration is not a God I care to adore. And then it's just a small step from that to If my God wouldn't care if I believe, and would just want me to go about being good and doing good, then I won't worry about whether or not God exists, and I'll just go about being good and doing good, and that'll work out well either way. And that's agnosticism in two easy steps. If I die and go through some pearly gates to be judged before a vengeful God who's all, Bitch, you didn't believe! You didn't take communion or whatever! and he sends me to the fiery pit, I will spend my eternity of suffering totally amazed that that's what was true.


Karl Miller said...

One of my favorite moments in "Jesus Camp" is a chunk of b-roll where the home-schooled girl runs around in the rain. Her mom tells her to come inside, but the girl says she can't come in until she's caught three raindrops. The pentecostal mom gives an impatient scoff at her daughter's rain ritual.

And then they go back inside to learn how "Adam and Eve rode a dinosaur to church" or whatever.

Jaime said...

I wrote about this when I first saw the movie, but one of the most upsetting moments for me, other than the sobbing repentant seven-year-olds, was when the homeschool mom teaches her daughter that global warming is a lie. You know, fine, "disprove" evolution - I can at least see the religious motive behind that. That I expect. But global warming!?? Is there any reason to debunk that other than anti-environment corporate interests infiltrating the religious right? I'm no conspiracy theorist, but that just drove me insane.

Adam said...

That stuff ("global warming is a lie" and the ilk) used to drive me nuts, but then I realized I just had an expectations problem:

Why would someone who is otherwise wholly irrational feel in any way compelled by reason with respect to a particular issue? If you don't much mind contradiction or care about causal structure, then of course you won't find statistics about climate change convincing.

I mean...we have a word for irrational agents...and that word is 'insane.' If I let myself be bothered by all the crazy things crazy people do I'll, you know, go nuts myself.

And that's about when I stopped speaking to my Aunt apart from base-level civility.


In other news, the * section of this post made my afternoon. You're my hero for the day.

Freeman said...

Great post.

I've been remiss in checking out Jesus Camp, almost because I feel like it's practically designed to infuriate me. There's something masochistic in pointing a camera at impossibly confused cult members and saying "These people are insane."

What strikes me most about much of this type of back and forth is how far the pendulum has swung away from the sort of religion that I knew growing up in an (admittedly) Episcopal household. The sort of faith that informed Woody Guthrie, for example, seems to be almost quaint in the face of some of the more prevalent fundamentalism of today. Or maybe it's all the same, and the politics have changed.

I've always been interested in this strange distance between the essential belief in human goodness and will that I see in progressives and artists, and their distance from religion. It's like belief without faith. If that makes sense.

Maybe it doesn't.

In short: I think it's high time I saw this movie.