This Disturbing Documentary About Religion Is More Shocking Than Any Horror Film

The 2006 documentary Jesus Camp takes a harrowing look at the way an extremist sector of the Christian faith has come together to weaponize their beliefs, indoctrinate children, and influence public policy. The film was terrifying upon its initial release in 2006. But in the years since the material chronicled within has become even scarier as faith has become an even more divisive issue. Over the last 15 years, we have witnessed religion and politics become more closely intertwined than ever and seen people grow further radicalized. This film is far scarier than any horror picture I’ve seen.

Jesus Camp follows Pentecostal minister Becky Fischer and her youth outreach mission. The ministry targets children with the aim of inducting them into the ‘Army of God’. If that sounds extreme, I’m just getting started. 

This film really strikes a chord with me because I was raised in a holy roller church and a family that bought into everything being preached at the pulpit. Accordingly, everything I experienced seemed entirely normal to me. I didn’t know anything different. So, I believed everything I was told without question. That ultimately led to years of self-hatred on the basis of my sexual orientation and an inability to reconcile matters of faith with my very existence. 

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It’s not just queer children, however, that have been impacted by religious extremism. Fundamentalists espouse abstinence until marriage, shame people for sexual exploration, and coerce unfit mothers into carrying their babies to term, all in the name of religion. I have long since detached from my religious beliefs. But so many people still exist in a space where they blindly accept what they’ve been told. And that is so damaging on so many levels. Jesus Camp does a commendable job of giving its audience a front-row seat to witness exactly what this type of indoctrination looks like.    

Over the course of the film, we see Becky Fischer in action as she carries out her mission. Fischer talks about her experience going to playgrounds to preach the word of God. Going on to say that mere minutes after ministering to strange children, many of them are seeing visions and hearing the voice of God. And she believes that’s possible because children are so open. But more accurately, children are impressionable and open to suggestion. Children look to adults for guidance. Kids believe what adults tell them to be true. That’s why children believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But Fischer doesn’t make that connection. She thinks she’s building an army to battle the evils of the world in the end times. And that’s absolutely terrifying. 

In one of her interviews, Fischer goes on to talk about children in Palestinian war camps that are willing to die for their faith and then says, “I want to see young people as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam”. The scariest part is that she’s dead serious. She wants to weaponize the youth of today and turn them into soldiers for the Lord. 

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Completely unaware that her actions can and likely will have unintended consequences, Fischer herds a new group of ‘soldiers’ into her Kids on Fire summer camp, where she drills propaganda into their young minds regarding the harmful consequences of sin. That eventually leads to a diatribe about Harry Potter being an enemy of God who would have been put to death in the Old Testament. Then, she accuses the children of being duplicitous and tells them there is no room for phonies in the army of God, washing the sin from their little hands with a bottle of Nestle brand bottled water. Later that night, the children are scolded for telling ghost stories because that doesn’t honor God. Thereafter, the kiddos are asked to talk to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush and ‘speak a blessing to him’ Then, the tongue-speaking starts. You can’t make this stuff up. 

Equally horrifying is the way that the parents of some of these children are also indoctrinating their kids to question science and common sense. The mother of one of the children profiled shows her son videotapes about how the earth is 6,000-years old and Adam and Eve lived amongst the dinosaurs. Worse yet, she’s quizzing him about why global warming is a hoax and then proceeds to reiterate that “science doesn’t prove anything”. 

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What makes this so sad is that, for many of these children, the indoctrination process started at such a young age that they never stood a chance of breaking free and thinking for themselves. I have been there and can safely say it’s a scary and confusing place.  

All in, Jesus Camp is a frightening look at the efforts of the religious right to indoctrinate children into a set of beliefs at a time before they are able to think for themselves. For me, this subject matter is far more frightening than anything I’ve seen in a horror film. And in this case, truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s scarier.  

If you’re curious to check the Jesus Camp documentary out for yourself, it is available on physical media from Magnolia, and it is also offered as a digital download or rental from all the major providers.  



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