Friday, September 29, 2006

Lest We Forget, Part XXVI

Boy Slave 'Crucified' by Sudanese Muslim: Now a youth, he tells Voice of the Martyrs he's forgiven attacker. From World Net Daily, via, in full ...
A Sudanese slave who was assigned to watch his Muslim master's camels was "crucified" when he was caught sneaking out to attend a Christian church, according to reports from Voice of the Martyrs.

The aid organization that helps persecuted Christians worldwide said the reports come from witnesses in the Sudan who were in contact with the youth, now about 15.

Damare Garang was seven when the attack happened, officials said. He had been captured by Islamic soldiers when his Sudanese village was attacked, and then sold as a slave to a Muslim family in Tuobon, Bahr el Gazel.

His duties were to tend the master's camels, but one day one fled.

"How could you do this? You will surely have to pay! You stupid slave, I should just kill you now," he was told.

However, the child escaped any injuries at that point.

Then the following day Damare, who had been raised in a Christian family, sneaked away for a time to a small church service across the village.

His master was waiting when he returned.

"Where have you been?" he was asked, and partly from fear and partly from not having another answer, he said, "to church."

"You have made two grave mistakes," the slave master said. "Yesterday you lost one of my camels, and today you worship with infidels!"

The master went to a barn and returned with a large board, some rusty spikes and a hammer, the report said.

"Frozen in fear, Damare was dragged out to the edge of his master's compound where he was forced to the ground with his legs over the board," the VOM report said. "The savage brutality of the master was unleashed as he proceeded to drive the long nails through Damare's knees and then nail his feet securely onto the board."

While Damare was screaming in agony, the slave master simply walked away.

The boy's help arrived in the form of a Good Samaritan who happened by, and saw the small boy. The man sneaked into the compound and carried the boy to a hospital where the board and nails were removed.

Damare later was released to the custody of his helper, with whom he lived for the next 18 months.

Once again, then, there was a militia attack on his village, and he was separated from his protector. When the Islamic army soldiers were driven off, a commander of village forces recognized Damare's speech as being of the Dinka tribe, and took charge of him.

That commander eventually adopted Damare, who now lives in Mario Kong.

He remains disappointed he is unable to run quickly like other boys, but he says he's forgiven his attacker, because Jesus was nailed to a cross to forgive all sins.

"Before leaving, we gave Damare a care package with mosquito netting, soap, new clothing, shoes, a hat, a new Bible, a soccer ball, and a fishing line and hooks," said the VOM report by Tom Zurowski.

"Please tell the Christian children in America to remember to pray for the children of Sudan," Damare told his visitors.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing

From World Net Daily ... Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing. In full ...
With suicide bombings spreading from Iraq to Afghanistan, the Pentagon has tasked intelligence analysts to pinpoint what's driving Muslim after Muslim to do the unthinkable.

Their preliminary finding is politically explosive: it's their "holy book" the Quran after all, according to intelligence briefings obtained by WND.

In public, the U.S. government has made an effort to avoid linking the terrorist threat to Islam and the Quran while dismissing suicide terrorists as crazed heretics who pervert Islamic teachings.

"The terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder," the White House maintains in its recently released "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" report.

(Story continues below)

But internal Pentagon briefings show intelligence analysts have reached a wholly different conclusion after studying Islamic scripture and the backgrounds of suicide terrorists. They've found that most Muslim suicide bombers are in fact students of the Quran who are motivated by its violent commands – making them, as strange as it sounds to the West, "rational actors" on the Islamic stage.

Palestinian child pretends he's a suicide bomber

In Islam, it is not how one lives one's life that guarantees spiritual salvation, but how one dies, according to the briefings. There are great advantages to becoming a martyr. Dying while fighting the infidels in the cause of Allah reserves a special place and honor in Paradise. And it earns special favor with Allah.

"Suicide in defense of Islam is permitted, and the Islamic suicide bomber is, in the main, a rational actor," concludes a recent Pentagon briefing paper titled, "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers."

Suicide for Allah a 'win-win'

"His actions provide a win-win scenario for himself, his family, his faith and his God," the document explains. "The bomber secures salvation and the pleasures of Paradise. He earns a degree of financial security and a place for his family in Paradise. He defends his faith and takes his place in a long line of martyrs to be memorialized as a valorous fighter.

"And finally, because of the manner of his death, he is assured that he will find favor with Allah," the briefing adds. "Against these considerations, the selfless sacrifice by the individual Muslim to destroy Islam's enemies becomes a suitable, feasible and acceptable course of action."

The briefing – produced by a little-known Pentagon intelligence unit called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA – cites a number of passages from the Quran dealing with jihad, or "holy" warfare, martyrdom and Paradise, where "beautiful mansions" and "maidens" await martyr heroes. In preparation for attacks, suicide terrorists typically recite passages from six surahs, or chapters, of the Quran: Baqura (Surah 2), Al Imran (3), Anfal (8), Tawba (9), Rahman (55) and Asr (103).

CIFA staffs hundreds of investigators and analysts to help coordinate Pentagon security efforts at U.S. military installations at home and abroad.

The Pentagon unit is especially concerned about a new wave of suicide bombings hitting Afghanistan.

Suicide bombings have killed more than 200 people in Afghanistan this year, up from single digits two years ago. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest and killed 18 outside an Afghan government compound. Last week, a suicide bomber riding a bike killed at least four NATO soldiers. And earlier this month, a suicide car bomber rammed into a U.S. military convoy near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 16 people, including two American soldiers.

500 suicide bombers in reserve

The U.S. command in Afghanistan now warns that a suicide bombing cell is operating inside the Afghan capital. Meanwhile, the Taliban's top military commander told ABC News he has 500 suicide bombers at his disposal.

"We have so many of them that it is difficult to accommodate and arm and equip them," Mullah Dadullah Akhund said. "Some of them have been waiting for a year or more for their turn to be sent to the battlefield."

The emergence of a suicide cell in Kabul troubles military analysts because suicide attacks are the most effective weapon Muslim terrorists can use against the West. The Rand Corp. predicts they'll pose a serious and constant threat to the U.S. for years to come.

The U.S. intelligence community is growing increasingly worried, as well.

"Most jihadist groups will use suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement asymmetric warfare strategy," warns the just-declassified executive summary of the National Intelligence Estimate on the global terror threat. "Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics."

Many scholars and media pundits, however, insist Muslim suicide bombers are not driven by religion.

"Beneath the religious rhetoric with which [such terror] is perpetrated, it occurs largely in the service of secular aims," claims Professor Robert A. Pape of the University of Chicago. "Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism."

He says U.S. foreign policy is more a factor than faith.

"Though it speaks of Americans as infidels, al-Qaida is less concerned with converting us to Islam than removing us from Arab and Muslim lands," Pape said.

But what about the recent video by Adam Gadahn, the American al-Qaida, warning fellow Americans to convert to Islam before al-Qaida attacks again?

"He never mentions virgins or the benefits Islamic martyrs receive in Heaven," Pape asserted.

In fact, Gadahn notes 36 minutes into his speech that Allah reserves the highest rewards – "honors and delights" – for martyrs in Paradise.

"[He] promised the martyr in his path the reward over and above the reward of the believer," Gadahn said. "He has promised them honors and delights too numerous to go into here."

The 9/11 hijackers and the London bombers made martyrdom videos. In their last testaments, they recite the Quran while talking of their "love of death" and "sacrificing life for Allah." Seven martyrdom videotapes also were recovered by British authorities in the foiled transatlantic sky terror plot.

Before the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers shaved and doused themselves with flower water in preparation for their weddings with the beautiful virgins in Paradise. "Know that the women of Paradise are waiting, calling out 'Come hither, friend of Allah,'" according to a four-page letter circulated among them titled "THE LAST NIGHT." "They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing."

But are the virgins scriptural or apocryphal? French documentarian Pierre Rehov, who interviewed the families of suicide bombers and would-be bombers in an attempt to find out why they do it, says it's not a myth or fantasy of heretics.

He says there's no doubt the Quran "promises virgins" to Muslim men who die while fighting infidels in jihad, and it's a key motivating factor behind suicide terrorism.

"It's obviously connected to religion," said Rehov, who features his interviews with Muslims in a recently released film, "Suicide Killers." "They really believe they are going to get the virgins."

He says would-be Muslim suicide bombers he's interviewed have shown him passages in the Quran "in which it's absolutely written that they're going to get the girls in the afterlife."

Muslim clerics do not disavow the virgins-for-martyrs reward as a perverted interpretation of the Quran.

And even Muslim leaders in the West condone suicide bombings. British scholar Azzam Tamimi recently told 8,000 Muslims in Manchester, England, that dying while fighting "George Bush and Tony Blair" is "just" and "the greatest act of martyrdom." Earlier, he said it's "the straight way to pleasing Allah."

And the founder of an allegedly mainstream Muslim group in Washington – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – also has given his blessing to suicide bombings.

Addressing a youth session at the 1999 Islamic Association for Palestine's annual convention in Chicago, CAIR founder Omar Ahmad praised suicide bombers who "kill themselves for Islam," according to a transcript provided by terror expert Steve Emerson's Investigative Project.

"Fighting for freedom, fighting for Islam, that is not suicide," Ahmad asserted. "They kill themselves for Islam."

Osama bin Laden has encouraged "Muslims brothers" to defeat the U.S. and U.K. with suicide attacks.

"I tell you to act upon the orders of Allah," he said in 2003, "be united against Bush and Blair and defeat them through suicide attacks so that you may be successful before Allah."


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Killing Disabled Newborns is Acceptable

"Bioethicist" Peter Singer states that Killing Disabled Newborns is Acceptable. Give him credit. Unlike most pro-deathers, at least he's consistent. In full ...
Princeton University's Peter Singer, widely known for his founding of the Great Ape Project to grant apes the same rights as humans, said Sept. 11 he would kill a disabled baby “if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.”

“Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion,” Singer, a professor of bioethics, said in a question and answer article in The Independent, a British newspaper. “One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby.”

Singer’s position is the "logical extension of the culture of death,", a pro-life news agency, asserted. He contends there is no inherent dignity in man and no sanctity of human life. Singer rejects the idea that man was created in the image and likeness of God, the site noted, and therefore believes man deserves no special treatment.

“Once again Singer is making distinctions between human beings he would consider normal and those he would consider not normal, thus he is deciding who is a person and who is not,” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told “Non-persons are allowed to be killed.”

In the same article, Singer was asked a question about giving rights to animals that can’t understand those rights: “Isn't it contradictory to ascribe human-based rights to animals? Surely it is absurd to apply a purely human concept to an animal who has no hope of ever understanding such a thing.”

Singer said the idea of giving human-based rights to animals was not at all absurd.

“Anyone who ascribes rights to babies or humans with intellectual disabilities must be willing to attribute rights to beings who can't understand the concept,” Singer said. “It's the moral agents, the ones who are acting, who need to understand the concept. Those to whom we attribute rights do not need to understand these concepts.”

Another question dealt with what Singer would do if he were forced to decide between “shooting 10 healthy cows and one healthy human.”

“I've written that it is much worse to kill a being who is aware of having a past and a future, and who plans for the future,” Singer said. “Normal humans have such plans, but I don't think cows do. And normal humans have family and friends who will grieve their death in ways more vivid and longer-lasting than the way cows may care about other cows. (Although a cow certainly misses her calf for a long time, if the calf is taken from her. That's why there is a major ethical problem with dairy products.) If I really had to make such a decision, I'd kill the cows.”

When asked whether there are moral absolutes, Singer said there is only one.

“The only moral absolute is that we should do what will have the best consequences for all those affected by our actions,” he said.

In a question and answer article for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida published Sept. 14, Singer again addressed the issue of euthanasia.

“You've written about Terri Schiavo,” reporter Susan Aschoff said. “You say people have the right to end their lives or those of their loved ones. Where do you draw the line?”

“You have to distinguish cases,” Singer said, “where people are competent to make their own decisions and cases where human beings are not competent, and who should then make those decisions. If it's a newborn baby, it's really the parents.

“When we talk about decisions that are made in utero, most people would agree that a pregnant woman who has a fetus with a severe abnormality ought to be able to terminate the pregnancy,” he added. “Most people, including Catholic hospitals, don't say you have to do everything to keep a newborn infant alive.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has written commentaries on Singer’s radical views several times, including in 2005 when Mohler said the very fact that Singer and others seriously make such arguments about the value of human life indicates that the culture of death is growing in assertiveness.

“Once we accept any moral distinction between a human being and a human person, we embrace the logic of death and inch our way toward an inevitable embrace of murder. It doesn't get much scarier than this,” Mohler wrote.


The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege

A book review of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege from the Sunday New York Times. In full ...
So much for the power of prophecy. If the great prophets of the 19th and early 20th centuries agreed on anything, whether they were utopians like Marx or pessimists like Weber, it was that God was on his deathbed. Religion was a fading force; society was secularizing; and theology, once the queen of the sciences, was headed for irrelevance.

Six years into the 21st century, fanatics are strapping on suicide belts and blowing themselves to smithereens in the name of God. The onward march of religion is not confined to Islam or the left-out bits of the globe. In much of the developing world, Christianity is doing a much better job of harvesting souls than Islam. In the only remaining superpower, the United States, hot religion is triumphing at the expense of cool religion (the mainline has long since passed to the sideline); and the religious revival is spreading from the masses to the intelligentsia.

“The Theocons” is a study of a group of Roman Catholic thinkers who, by their own lights at least, have been at the heart of this intellectual revival — Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert P. George and, most important of all, Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism in 1990. Damon Linker clearly wants to capitalize on the infamy of the neocons — a groupuscule that is recognized and reviled the world over — and he has half a point. The theocons come from a different generation from Irving Kristol and company: they reached maturity in the 1960’s rather than the 1950’s. But the parallels are striking.

They started life as left-wing radicals: Neuhaus looked forward to a social conflagration, and Novak called for the destruction of “the idol of inhibition, repression and shame.” They broke with their radical past, dismissing the 1960’s as what Neuhaus calls a “slum of a decade,” feuding with their former friends and moving smartly to the right. And they eventually found a comfortable home in the bosom of the conservative establishment. Novak is a cardinal in the papal college of neoconservatism, the American Enterprise Institute.

Linker is a disillusioned theocon who cut his journalistic teeth working for Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things. But his tone is admirably restrained, dispassionate and scholarly when it could so easily have been rank and recriminatory, and he uses his insider’s knowledge to build up a detailed account of the movement. The result, for anybody who wants to understand the growing public role of American religion, is a book to reckon with.

Linker tells the story of how the theocons advanced on several fronts at once: establishing links with conservative foundations, forging an alliance with evangelicals and trying to redirect Roman Catholicism (Novak’s “Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” remains the most ambitious attempt to reconcile Catholicism with Reagan-style capitalism). He argues that these maneuvers involved convolutions and compromises. As Americans, the theocons were treated with some suspicion in Rome; as Roman Catholics, they were treated with suspicion by both the evangelicals, who dominated the religious right, and the secular Jews, who wielded growing influence on the intellectual right.

In telling his tale Linker scores some good points against his former bedfellows, without abandoning his dispassionate tone. First Things, he reminds us, once ran an issue seriously discussing the case for resisting the American “regime” because of its support for abortion. He also convicts the theocons of cafeteria Catholicism — as strict as you can get when it comes to contraception and euthanasia but willing to second guess the Vatican when it comes to war in the gulf. The best passages in the book deal with a schizophrenia that has them demonizing “the people” when they vote for Bill Clinton and sanctifying them when they vote for George W. Bush. “This is the permanent theocon dynamic,” Linker writes, “hurtling wildly from theological affirmation of the country to theocratic denunciation and back again.”

But Linker overestimates the importance of his subject matter: the theocons are pale imitations of the neocons and the evangelicals when it comes to exercising influence in the Earthly City. The evangelical movement is the engine of the Republican majority, after all. The bearer of the Republican standard has talked about Jesus changing his heart. (Neuhaus deeply dislikes the evangelicals’ “overly confident claims to being born again,” as well as their “forced happiness and joy” and their “awful music.”)

In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique. Secular America has more potent enemies to worry about than the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues.


The Reality of Religion

Michael Ledeen from the National Review online enters the fray with a profound overview of the Pope kerfuffle. The Reality of Religion. In full ...
It’s notable, I think, that religion — not so long ago pronounced irrelevant by most everyone in proper society — now dominates the global debate. Even a Communist like Hugo Chavez used religious terms to denounce W., perhaps because he is now in a tag team with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who speaks for a theocracy. But despite the fundamental importance of religion, most of our sages and scribblers are poorly equipped to deal with it, as you can see from the awkward coverage of the pope’s speech at Regensberg. It was, as you’d expect from a pope, a religious text, but the religious content was rarely reported, aside from Benedict’s remarks about Islam — themselves a part of a broader religious message aimed primarily at Europeans. A big part of his message was that Greek philosophical thought is central to Roman Catholicism, and that Catholicism evolved in Europe, in the constant interplay between faith and reason. It’s almost impossible to find that in the discussion.

The stuff about Islam was predictably discussed in the usual context of political correctness, according to which it is always wrong to criticize another person’s beliefs, and very wrong to criticize the beliefs of a foreign “culture.” They seemed unable to comprehend that, in ultimate issues, this sort of total tolerance doesn’t work. And the pretense that violently conflicting views of the world can be smoothed over in pleasant conversation only has the effect of intensifying the conflicts. We have arrived at the present unhappy situation not so much because we challenged those with different worldview, but because we ceased to assert our own values and advance our world view. In my graduate-student days, I met a fine New York editor by the name of Howard Fertig. Howard edited the books written by my boss, the great historian George L. Mosse, and from time to time I got to have lunch with him in Manhattan, usually at a long-gone German restaurant, Luchow’s. At one of these lunches Howard shook his head sadly — we’re talking 1963 or 64 — and pronounced the death of America. Why? Because, he said, we had adopted the view that everyone is entitled to one hang-up. Yes, so-and-so was a child molester, but hey, that’s his hang-up. This attitude used to be applied to great artists and writers, like Ezra Pound, whose hang-up was the embrace of fascism.

The combination of this crackpot toleration with a general contempt for religion made it difficult for us to comprehend the nature of the current war. Everyone from W. on down has been at great pains to assure us and themselves that we have no basic conflict with Islam, that our battle is with some lunatics who say falsely that they speak in the name of Islam. So we feel quite uncomfortable when the pope — quite deliberately — poses a question about Islam itself: Is it capable of responding to reason, or is it, as he put it, completely transcendent, beyond the reach of man, and hence unchallengeable by man under any circumstances?

It’s a big question, not easily reduced to newspeak like “did the pope anticipate the reaction?” Or “did the pope go too far?” That sort of banter is embarrassingly silly. Of course the pope anticipated the reaction, he’s one of the smartest and most learned men in the world, and he’s spent a lot of time studying Islam. He wanted to draw a line. He is not prepared to extend total, blind toleration to people who use violence in the name of faith, and he’s challenging the Muslims to answer the real questions. That quotation he chose — the one that asks, Is there anything positive that has emerged from the expansion of the domain of Islam? — wasn’t generated at random. He picked it quite wittingly. Of course he knows that, for several centuries, Islam conserved the wisdom of the West, the same “Greek” wisdom he invoked as the indispensable partner of Christian faith. He’s defying the Muslims to admit that, because he knows that the jihadis don’t want to hear about it, and that an open debate about it may undermine the sway of so many dogmatic mosques, schools, TV stations, and Internet sites.

And a surprising number of Europeans understood it, and responded positively. Did you notice that the former archbishop of Canterbury weighed in with a statement even tougher than anything the pope said? Lord Carey said that our problem was not with a minority of Muslims but with Islam itself, whereas the pope left the question open, and called for dialogue. Even the famously wimpy Spanish President Zapatero had words of support, an amazing spectacle for a man who has delighted in flaunting his laicism and challenging numerous Catholic doctrines.

But I’m afraid that we’re not engaging this debate, because our leaders are afraid to do so, and poorly equipped to participate. Our educational system has long since banished religion from its texts, and an amazing number of Americans are intellectually unprepared for a discussion in which religion is the central organizing principle. I learned from a teacher at one of the best private high schools in this area that it was virtually impossible for him to teach the Reformation properly, since the major metaphors came from the Book of Daniel, and virtually none of his students was familiar with the text.

Ignorance of things religious is terribly damaging for other reasons as well, not least of all because it prevents us from understanding the nature of our most dangerous enemies. Michael Rubin wrote a fine piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day, listing some of the lies produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and noting that there was actually a provision in sharia that made such lying to infidels completely acceptable and on occasion admirable. Yet the Europeans, who preen themselves on their cultural superiority, continue to be gulled by the Iranians, and W. has now completely swallowed the notion that if the Iranians ignore one ultimatum, we must not act, but simply set a new deadline. Down this path lies ruin. Yet the self-proclaimed “realists” always color themselves “surprised” when the Iranians do it.

In their latest attempt at realistic appeasement, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted President Ahmadinejad, obviously hoping to begin that “dialogue” so dear to their hearts. But, at least according to the New York Times, it didn’t go well at all. “He is a master of counterpunch, deception, circumlocution,’’ Brent Scowcroft said, shaking his head. Robert Blackwill emerged from the conversation wondering how the United States would ever be able to negotiate with this Iranian government...”If this man represents the prevailing government opinion in Tehran, we are heading for a massive confrontation with Iran,” he said.

As usual, the most surprising thing about the likes of Scowcroft and Blackwill is that they are surprised. But then, these are the folks who gave us the debacle of the first Bush presidency — the desperate attempt to prevent the fall of the Soviet empire, the last-minute rescue of Saddam, etc. Let’s hope they don’t convince the second President Bush to follow in their tiny footsteps.


God's Boot Camp?

More on the documentary Jesus Camp ... from the LA Times ... God's Boot Camp? In full ...
"Jesus Camp," a documentary feature film that follows evangelical Christian children at a religious summer camp, won prizes and critical praise on the summer festival circuit, but it wasn't until its quiet opening in the Midwest two weeks ago that a news clip about the film hit, inciting a whirlwind of controversy.

Already, the movie, which opens in L.A. this week, has split the Christian community and horrified those who fear the ascendance of the religious right on the national stage. "Jesus Camp" opened Friday in New York and will open in 20 more cities nationally Oct. 6.

Bloggers of all stripes have been so disgusted by the bits of the film they have seen on the Web that the film's central subject, camp founder Pastor Becky Fischer, has become a public figure, bombarded with hateful e-mails and bracing for her media appearances next week, including a scheduled appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America." The A&E Indiefilms/Magnolia Pictures film follows Rachael, now 10, Levi, now 13, and Tory, now 11, engaging and articulate children from Midwestern towns who attend Fischer's "Kids on Fire" Bible camp in Devils Lake, N.D., in 2005. The filmmakers, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, take a straightforward look at their subjects.

The film's cherub-faced children cheer when asked if they'd be willing to give up their lives for Jesus, pray over a cardboard cutout of President Bush and sob as they plead for an end to abortion. One is home-schooled by a mother who teaches that "science doesn't prove anything."

'This is war!'

At one point in the film, Fischer shouts to the children, "This is war! Are you part of it or not?" She proudly compares her work to the indoctrination of young boys by extremist Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere. The film intersperses footage of Fischer and the children with clips of radio talk-show host Mike Papantonio, a liberal Methodist, excoriating conservative Christians like Fischer.

Fischer is disappointed by the way she appears in the film. "I do understand they're out to tell a story and they felt they found it with some of the political things," she said by phone from her home in Bismarck, N.D. "And they're out to show the most dramatic, exotic, extreme things they found in my ministry, and I'm not ashamed of those things, but without context, it's really difficult to defend what you're seeing on the screen."

More controversy over the film erupted last week when the Rev. Ted Haggard — whose constituency at the National Assn. of Evangelicals is 30 million strong — took a public stance against it, claiming that the film makes evangelicals look "scary." His condemnation apparently chilled the film's opening in 13 theaters in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri on Sept. 15.

Even before its release, lurid fascination with the film's trailer bloomed on the Internet. A Sept. 17 ABC News report on the movie turned up on shortly after it aired, and by the next day, the segment was the website's most-viewed clip, with about 200,000 downloads in a matter of hours.

When Fischer arrived home Tuesday after a few days touring with the filmmakers, her e-mail inbox was loaded with hate mail. She spent the next two days writing lengthy explanations to the most common accusations — "How dare you brainwash those kids!" and "Are you raising up Christian terrorists or another Hitler Youth movement?" — then posted them on her website Thursday.

"I've gotten thousands of hits on my website from those people," she said. "I'm wearing sunglasses in the airports. It's really making me nervous."

Haggard — who appears in the film noting that when evangelicals vote, they determine an election — acknowledged he "hated" the film and called it "propaganda" for the far left. He said the filmmakers take the charismatic, evangelical jargon too literally and portray the children's and Fischer's "war talk" as violent and extremist, when it's just allegorical.

"It doesn't mean we're going to establish a theocracy and force people to obey what they think is God's law," he said. "None of that's clarified in the movie."

Word about the film initially spread online after the Tribeca Film Festival screening in New York in April and then again in June, after former Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne saw it at the AFI/Discovery Silver Docs Film Festival in Washington, D.C., and mentioned it on his blog.

"I kept saying to myself, 'OK, these are the Christian version of the Madrassas (those Islamic religious instructional schools in Pakistan and elsewhere, often financed by Saudi oil money) … so both sides are pretty much equally sick," he wrote.

It garnered even more attention in early August when Michael Moore refused to honor a request by Eamonn Bowles, the head of Magnolia Pictures, to cancel the film's screening at Moore's Traverse City Film Festival to avoid alienating conservative Christian audiences.

Bowles hoped to build interest among conservative Christians for the film's opening with a word-of-mouth campaign generated by faith-based publicity firm A. Larry Ross in Carrollton, Texas. Instead, only handfuls of people turned out.

"We were getting good feedback from a lot of Christian groups interested in the film," Bowles said. After Haggard's statements, he said, "it was almost like a switch was flipped and the people who were going to support it the day before were like, 'Oh no. We're not going to support the film.' "

The New York-based Ewing and Grady said they want the film to make a broad statement about how politics and faith have become inexorably intertwined in America. Yet the conversations that have been sparked by the movie are less about the stark differences between people with different ideologies and more about the interest in bridging them. "No one's going anywhere and no one's going to change their minds," Grady said. "So some sort of compromise has to happen, or we're just going to become more and more divided."

All the controversy surrounding the film, Grady said, "speaks to the fact that this is a conversation that people are dying to have."

A political turn

Grady and Ewing, who last year won awards for their documentary "The Boys of Baraka" about a group of inner-city American kids attending a school in Africa, said everyone was enthusiastic about participating in the project. But as Fischer explained, no one, including the filmmakers, expected the film to become so overtly political. But after Sandra Day O'Connor resigned from the Supreme Court during their filming, leaving a spot open for a more conservative judge, the evangelical community galvanized around the selection of a replacement, and Fischer's children chanted, "Righteous judges!" Ultimately, though, Fischer said, "no one was more shocked or horrified when they told me that was the turn the film was making." That's because, like many evangelical Christians, Fischer doesn't see what she does as political.

The Bible, she said, instructs people to "pray for those in authority over us and in government positions so we can live a peaceful life." And Fischer said she's "dumbfounded" that people would find her anti-abortion lessons disturbing when she sees them as a way to teach children to value human life.

Despite her reservations about the film, Fischer said she's still helping to promote it and considers Ewing and Grady friends. She's also grateful for the national attention the movie and its controversy have granted her. "I couldn't have paid for this kind of advertising," she said.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Young, Restless, Reformed

From Christianity Today ... Young, Restless, Reformed. If you can't read the t-shirt on the cover, it says: "Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy." In full ...
Nothing in her evangelical upbringing prepared Laura Watkins for John Piper.

"I was used to a very conversational preaching style," said Watkins, 21. "And having someone wave his arms and talk really loudly made me a little scared."

Watkins shouldn't be embarrassed. Piper does scare some people. It's probably his unrelenting intensity, demanding discipline, and singular passion—for the glory of God. Those themes resound in Desiring God, Piper's signature book. The pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis has sold more than 275,000 copies of Desiring God since 1986. Piper has personally taken his message of "Christian hedonism" to audiences around the world, such as the Passion conferences for college-age students. Passion attracted 40,000 students outside Memphis in 2000 and 18,000 to Nashville earlier this year.

Not all of these youth know Piper's theological particulars. But plenty do, and Piper, more than anyone else, has contributed to a resurgence of Reformed theology among young people. You can't miss the trend at some of the leading evangelical seminaries, like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which reports a significant Reformed uptick among students over the past 20 years. Or the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, now the largest Southern Baptist seminary and a Reformed hotbed. Piper, 60, has tinged the movement with the God-exalting intensity of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century Puritan pastor-theologian. Not since the decades after his death have evangelicals heaped such attention on Edwards.

Reformed theology often goes by the name Calvinism, after the renowned 16th-century Reformation theologian John Calvin. Yet even Edwards rejected the label, saying he neither depended on Calvin nor always agreed with him. Still, it is Calvin's followers who produced the famous acrostic TULIP to describe the "doctrines of grace" that are the hallmarks of traditional Reformed theology: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. (See "It's All About God.")

Already, this latest surge of Reformed theology has divided Southern Baptist churches and raised questions about the future of missions. Its exuberant young advocates reject generic evangelicalism and tout the benefits of in-depth biblical doctrine. They have once again brought the perennial debate about God's sovereignty and humans' free will to the forefront.

The evidence for the resurgence is partly institutional and partly anecdotal. But it's something that a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent "conversation" gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon. It certainly has a much stronger institutional base. I traveled to some of the movement's leading churches and institutions and talked to theologians, pastors, and parishioners, trying to understand Calvinism's new appeal and how it is changing American churches.

God Starts the Party
A pastors' conference is the wrong place to schedule a private meeting with Joshua Harris. He didn't even speak at the conference I attended, but we still struggled to find a quiet spot to talk at his hotel. Slight and short, Harris doesn't stick out in crowds. But that doesn't stop pastors from recognizing him and introducing themselves. The unassuming 31-year-old took time to chat with each of them, even as our interview stretched late into the night.

Harris was a leader among his generation even before he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997. But the bestseller introduced him to a wider evangelical audience, earning many fans and at least as many detractors. Now he pastors Covenant Life Church, a congregation of 3,800 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Harris grew up as a youth leader in a seeker-sensitive church and later joined a charismatic congregation. Neither place emphasized doctrine. "Even just thinking doctrinally would have been foreign to me," he explained. He knew enough to realize he didn't like Calvinism, though. "I remember some of the first encounters I had with Calvinists," Harris told another group of pastors during Mark Driscoll's Reform and Resurge conference in Seattle in May. "I'm sorry to say that they represented the doctrines of grace with a total lack of grace. They were spiteful, cliquish, and arrogant. I didn't even stick around to understand what they were teaching. I took one look at them and knew I didn't want any part of it."

Harris's response is anything but uncommon in evangelical history. Reformed theology has periodically boomed and busted. Calvinists have always inspired foils, such as Jacob Arminius. The Dutch theologian argued that God frees up human will so people can accept or reject God's offer of salvation. That debate prompted his critics to respond with TULIP. Reformed theology waned during the Second Great Awakening. Most recently, Calvinism has played second fiddle to the charismatic and seeker-sensitive/church-growth movements, all of which downplay many theological distinctives.

For Harris, things started changing when he read Piper describe God's glory and breathtaking sovereignty. Later, C. J. Mahaney, a charismatic Calvinist and founding pastor of Covenant Life, took Harris under his wing and groomed him to take over the church. Mahaney, 51, turned Harris on to his hero, Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th-century Calvinistic Baptist preacher in London. Mahaney assigned him a number of texts, such as Iain H. Murray's Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism. "I would have been reading Christian comic books if left to myself," Harris told me, flashing the characteristic self-deprecating humor he shares with Mahaney.

The theological depth attracted Harris. "Once you're exposed to [doctrine]," he said, "you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you're ruined for anything else."

He notices the same attraction among his cohorts. "I just think there's such a hunger for the transcendent and for a God who is not just sitting around waiting for us to show up so that the party can get started."

Passion conferences also inspired Harris to trust in a God who takes the initiative. Harris first attended Passion in 1999 and sought the help of conference founder Louie Giglio to plan a similar event, from which blossomed Harris's New Attitude conferences. "Someone like Louie is saying, 'You know what, it's not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about his renown.' Now I don't think most kids realize this, but that's the first step down a pathway of Reformed theology. Because if you say that it's not about you, well then you're on that road of saying it's not about your actions, your choosings, your determination."

Passion's God-exalting focus keeps Piper coming back to speak year after year. He attributes the attraction of Reformed theology to the spirit of Passion—namely, pairing demanding obedience with God's grandeur. "They're not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing," Piper said.

More Than a 'Crazy Guy'
During the weekend when I visited Piper's church, the college group was learning TULIP. The student teacher spent about 30 minutes explaining unconditional election. "You may never feel the weight, you will never feel the wonder of grace, until you finally relinquish your claim to have any part of your salvation," he said. "It's got to be unconditional."

Following that talk, I met with a group that included Laura Watkins, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. Like Harris, Watkins grew up in an evangelical church that downplayed doctrine. Calvinism certainly wasn't much of a draw for Watkins as she searched for a church in college. "The only exposure I had was high-school textbooks that teach about John Calvin as this crazy guy who burned people," she said.

Yet she stayed for the spiritual maturity and depth she noticed in the church. Now she's as articulate an advocate of Calvinism as I met. She unwittingly paraphrased Spurgeon as she explained her move toward Reformed theology. "When you first become a believer, almost everyone is an Arminian, because you feel like you made a decision," Watkins said.

Watkins didn't stop with election. An enlarged view of God's authority changed the way she viewed evangelism, worship, and relationships. Watkins articulated how complementary roles for men and women go hand in hand with this type of Calvinism. "I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way," she explained. Just as "he's chosen those who are going to know him before the foundations of the earth," she said, "I don't want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another."

Piper no longer scares Watkins. He's more like a father in the faith, though she says they have never spoken. Privately, Piper contrasts sharply with his authoritative pulpit persona. I dare say he's even a little meek, if relentlessly serious. We mused on Reformed theology in his home in February following one of the last sermons he delivered before undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. He reflected on the rebellion he has unrepentantly fomented.

"One of the most common things I deal with in younger pastors is conflict with their senior pastors," Piper said. "They're a youth pastor, and they've gone to Trinity or read something [R. C.] Sproul or I wrote, and they say, 'We're really out of step. What should we do?'"

He tells them to be totally candid and ask permission to teach according to their newfound convictions, even if they are in Wesleyan-Arminian churches. Of course, he tells the young pastors to pray that their bosses would come to share their vision.

Baptist and Reformed
Starting in 1993, the largest Protestant denomination's flagship seminary quickly lost at least 96 percent of its faculty. SBC inerrantists had tapped 33-year-old Al Mohler to head the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which until then had remained open to moderate and liberal professors. Mohler addressed the faculty and re-enforced the school's confession of faith, derived from the landmark Reformed document, the Westminster Confession.

"I said, in sum, if this is what you believe, then we want you to stay. If not, then you have come here under false pretenses, and you must go," Mohler, now 45, said. "As they would say, the battle was joined."

Indeed, television cameras and news helicopters made it difficult for Mohler to work for a while. He still isn't welcome in some Louisville churches. That's not surprising, since no more than 4 faculty members—from more than 100—stayed with Southern after Mohler arrived.

Now it's hard to believe that less than 15 years ago, Southern merited a reputation as a liberal seminary. Mohler has attracted a strong faculty and spurred enrollment to more than 4,300 students—which makes it the largest Southern Baptist seminary. But SBC conservatives may have gotten more than they bargained for in Mohler. The tireless public intellectual freely criticizes perceived SBC shortcomings, especially what he considers misguided doctrine. Oh, and Mohler is an unabashed Calvinist. His seminary now attracts and turns out a steady flow of young Reformed pastors.

"This generation of young Christians is more committed, more theologically intense, more theologically curious, more self-aware and self-conscious as believers because they were not raised in an environment of cultural Christianity," Mohler said. "Or if they were, as soon as they arrived on a university campus, they found themselves in a hostile environment." Mohler explained that Calvinism offers young people a countercultural alternative with deep roots.

Mohler's analysis brought to mind one Southern seminarian I met in Louisville. Bradley Cochran grew up attending a mainline church with his family in rural Kentucky. He hated Sunday mornings, and by age 15 he had racked up a police rap sheet and developed a drug problem. But Cochran's troubles softened his heart to the gospel, and he fled his hometown to enroll at Liberty University. While there, he eagerly shared the Good News and earned an award for his evangelistic enthusiasm. A classmate loaned him some Sproul books, where he learned about predestination. He grew to accept this doctrine, but he said other students criticized his Calvinism before he even understood what the term meant. They couldn't understand how he squared God's sovereign choice with evangelism. Those challenges only intensified his study of Reformed theology. He became emboldened to persuade others.

"I felt like Calvinism was more than abstract points of theology," said Cochran, 25. "I felt you would get a much bigger view of God if you accepted these things, an understanding of justice and grace that would so deepen your affections for God, that would make you so much more grateful for his grace."

Cochran bolstered his arguments by boasting that he had never even read Calvin. Indeed, the renowned reformer appears not to be a major figure among the latest generation to claim the theology he made famous. Centuries ago, George Whitefield, the Calvinistic Methodist evangelist of the First Great Awakening, similarly argued: "Alas, I never read anything that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and his apostles; I was taught them of God."

The relationship of theology to evangelism has become a flash point among Southern Baptists. SBC Life, the journal of the SBC's executive committee, published two articles on Calvinism in April. In one, Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that Southern Baptists generally reject any notion that God "arbitrarily chooses individuals to be damned before they are born."

"[T]he greatest tragedy is when adherence to TULIP leads to division in churches and prevents them from cooperation in, and urgency for, a passion toward fulfilling the Great Commission," Yarnell wrote. He concluded, "Southern Baptists are first, last, and always followers of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin."

The most provocative comments in the SBC may belong to Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In April 2005, he presented a paper on "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." Lemke warned, "I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. It has already been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention."

Lemke noted that Calvinism has periodically waxed and waned among Southern Baptists. "However, the number of Calvinist faculty dramatically increased [starting in the 1980s and] over the next 20 years." Lemke and many others explained to me that Calvinists like Mohler earned leadership roles during the SBC's inerrancy battles due to their reliably conservative theology. Their academic and biblical rigor suited them for seminary positions. Now, Lemke said, their influence has made the "newest generation of Southern Baptist ministers … the most Calvinist we have had in several generations."

Lemke doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC. But he is no fan of this trend. Baptism and membership figures, he said, show that the Calvinist churches of the SBC's Founders Ministries lack commitment to evangelism. According to Lemke, the problem only makes sense, given their emphasis on God's sovereign election.

"For many people, if they're convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect … I don't see how humanly speaking that can't temper your passion, because you know you're not that crucial to the process," Lemke explained.

Evangelicals who adhere to Reformed theology have long chafed at such charges. They remind their critics that Whitefield, one of history's most effective evangelists, believed God elects his church. In addition, Edwards defended the First Great Awakening's revivals with Religious Affections. More recently, J. I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961) showed persuasively that there is no contradiction between those two ideas.

"I think the criticism of Reformed theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship and counseling—the whole range of pastoral life," Piper said. "We're not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t's and dotting our i's and telling the world to get their act together. We're in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from 9-year-old boys who had no chance."

Deep into Doctrine
Calvinistic Baptists often told me they have less of a problem with churches that don't teach election than with churches that downplay doctrine in general. An SBC Life piece published in April by Daniel Akin, a former Southern professor and current president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, presented this perspective. "Let us be known for being rigorously biblical, searching the Scriptures to determine what God really says on [God's sovereignty] and other key doctrinal issues," Akin wrote. "For the most part, we are not doing this, and our theological shallowness is an indictment of our current state and an embarrassment to our history!"

The young people I talked to want churches to risk disagreement so they can benefit from the deeper challenges of doctrine. Joshua Harris said years after he graduated from high school, he bumped into his old youth pastor in the grocery store. The pastor seemed apologetic as they reminisced about the youth group's party atmosphere, focused more on music and skits than Bible teaching, Harris said. But the youth pastor told Harris his students now read through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.

"I think there's an expectation that teens can't handle that, or they'll be repulsed by that," Harris told me. "[My youth pastor] is saying the exact opposite. That's a dramatic change in philosophy in youth ministry."

Pastor Kent Hughes senses the same draw for students who cross the street from Wheaton College to attend College Church. "If there's an appeal to students, it's that we're not playing around," Hughes said. "We're not entertaining them. This is life and death. My sense is that's what they're interested in, even from an old man."

Perhaps an attraction to serious doctrine brought about 3,000 ministry leaders to Louisville in April for a Together for the Gospel conference. The conference's sponsors included Mohler and Mahaney, and Piper also spoke. Most of the audience were in their 20s and 30s. Each of the seven speakers holds to the five points of TULIP. Yet none of them spoke of Calvinism unless I asked about it. They did express worry about perceived evangelical accommodation to postmodernism and criticized churches for applying business models to ministry. They mostly joked about their many differences on such historically difficult issues as baptism, church government, eschatology, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They drew unity as Calvinist evangelicals from their concerns: with seeker churches, church-growth marketing, and manipulative revival techniques.

Roger Olson, professor of theology at Truett Seminary, Baylor University, said more than just Calvinists worry about these problems. "A lot of us evangelical Arminians agree with them in their criticisms of popular folk religion," Olson said. "I agree with their basic theological underpinnings—that doctrine is important, that grace is the decisive factor in salvation, not a decision we make."

If Olson is right, co-belligerency on these concerns could forestall further conflict, at least on the Calvinist-Arminian debate.

A Passion for Puritans
Mark Dever hasn't sold books to the degree Piper has. And he doesn't head a flagship institution like his longtime friend Mohler. He doesn't even pastor a megachurch. But oh, how strategic his church is. Hop off Washington, D.C.'s Metro on the Capitol South stop. Head north past the Library of Congress and the Capitol. Turn right and bear east before you reach the Supreme Court. A couple blocks later you'll see Capitol Hill Baptist Church, which Dever has led for 12 years, beginning when he was 33.

Yet location isn't what makes Dever's church so strategic. Maybe it's all the political maneuvering in the air, but Dever networks effectively. He conceived Together for the Gospel and otherwise works to connect conservative evangelicals who worry about the same things. Dever's church also trains six interns at a time, imprinting his beliefs about how a local church should run through a related ministry, 9 Marks.

I visited Capitol Hill Baptist in January. The church kicked off with Sunday school, which really should have been called Sunday seminary. Class options included a survey of the New Testament, spiritual disciplines, and a systematic theology lesson on theories of the Atonement.

Such rigor can be expected from a church led by Dever, who earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge studying the Puritans. He embodies the pastoral theologians who are leading young people toward Reformed theology. He has cultivated a church community in the Puritan mold—unquestionably demanding and disciplined. And the church attracts a very young crowd. Its 525 members average 29 years old. Dever mockingly rejected my suggestion that they aim to attract an under-30 crowd. "Yes, that's why we sing those hymns and have a [55-minute] sermon." Dever smiled. "We're seriously calibrated for the 18th century."

Dever and others have turned a young generation onto some old teachers. He organizes his study around a canon of renowned church leaders that includes Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Owen, John Bunyan, B. B. Warfield, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and Carl Henry. It's mostly Puritans who have fueled this latest resurgence of Calvinism. Leaders like R. C. Sproul and J. I. Packer have for decades told evangelicals they have something to learn from this post-Reformation movement. During the late 1950s, Banner of Truth starting reprinting classic Reformed works, including many from Puritans.

Among the Puritans, Edwards is most popular. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor and Edwards scholar Douglas Sweeney said his seminary includes many more Calvinists than 20 years ago. Not unrelated, he said among evangelicals "there is more interest in Edwards today than there has been since the first half of the 19th century."

Garth Rosell, church history professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has noticed his students' increased interest in Puritan studies, especially Edwards. He suspects young evangelicals gravitate toward the Puritans looking for deeper historic roots and models for high-commitment Christianity.

That's at least what Jordan Thomas, a 28-year-old church planter, told me about the Puritans. "I don't read them to find out what these guys say about Calvinism," Thomas told me in Piper's church. "It's their big-hearted love for Christ. They say things about their devotion to him that I'm just like, I wonder if I know the same Jesus these guys love."

Scripture Trumps Systems
Evangelicals have long disagreed on election and free will. The debate may never be settled, given the apparent tension between biblical statements and the limits of our interpretive skills. In addition, some will always see more benefit in doctrinal depth than others.

Those fearing a new pitched battle can rest easy. That's not because the debate will go away—for the foreseeable future, the spread of Calvinism will force many evangelicals to pick sides. And it's not because mission will trump doctrine—young people seem to reject this dichotomy.

It's because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word. Whatever the cultural factors, many Calvinist converts respond to hallmark passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. "I really don't like to raise any banner of Calvinism or Reformed theology," said Eric Lonergan, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota graduate. "Those are just terms. I just like to look at the Word and let it speak for itself."

That's the essence of what Joshua Harris calls "humble orthodoxy." He reluctantly debates doctrine, but he passionately studies Scripture and seeks to apply all its truth.

"If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, 'It's unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?'" Harris said. "You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody."


Friday, September 22, 2006

Jesus Camp: Children's Boot Camp for the Culture Wars

From the New York Times ... Jesus Camp: Children's Boot Camp for the Culture Wars. In full ...
“Extreme liberals who look at this should be quaking in their boots,” declares Pastor Becky Fischer with jovial satisfaction in the riveting documentary “Jesus Camp.” Ms. Fischer, an evangelical Christian, helps run Kids on Fire, a summer camp in Devils Lake, N.D., that grooms children to be soldiers in “God’s army.”

A mountainous woman of indefatigable good cheer, Ms. Fischer makes no bones about her expectation that the growing evangelical movement in the United States will one day end the constitutional ban separating church and state. And as the movie explores her highly effective methods of mobilizing God’s army, that expectation seems reasonable.

Ms. Fischer understands full well that the indoctrination of children when they are most impressionable (under 13 and preferably between 7 and 9) with evangelical dogma is the key to the movement’s future growth, and she compares Kids on Fire to militant Palestinian training camps in the Middle East that instill an aggressive Islamist fundamentalism. The term war, as in culture war, is repeatedly invoked to describe the fighting spirit of a movement already embraced by 30 million Americans, mostly in the heartland.

At Kids on Fire we see children in camouflage and face paint practicing war dances with wooden swords and making straight-armed salutes to a soundtrack of Christian heavy metal. We see them weeping and speaking in tongues as they are seized by the Holy Spirit. And we see them in Washington at an anti-abortion demonstration.

Filmed during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the movie visits a church at which the congregation prays in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of President Bush. Justice Alito’s eventual approval is hailed as another step forward in the movement’s eventual goal of outlawing abortion, the No. 1 issue on its agenda.

“Jesus Camp” is the second film by the documentary team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady to explore the molding of young minds. The first, “The Boys of Baraka,” followed a group of “at-risk” African-American boys from a decaying Baltimore middle school to an austere wilderness school in rural Kenya. Removed from a toxic urban environment, they flourish, until tribal conflict in the region forces the school to suspend operation.

The majority of the children in “Jesus Camp” are home-schooled by evangelical parents who teach them creationism and dismiss science. Handsome 12-year-old Levi, who wears his hair in a mullet, is being groomed as a future evangelical preacher. Already exuding star quality, he strides through a group of children, waving his arms and mouthing dogma about how his generation is so important.

Pretty 10-year-old Tory speaks earnestly of dancing “for God” and not “for the flesh.” Nine-year-old Rachael is already an evangelical recruiter who fearlessly approaches adult strangers.

Ms. Fischer speaks of “dead churches” (traditional Protestant churches in which the congregations sit passively and listen to a sermon) and declares these are places that Jesus doesn’t visit. In evangelical churches where people jump, shout, weep and speak in tongues, she contends, the spirit is present.

The great unanswered question is what will happen to these poised, attractive children when their hormones kick in and they venture beyond their sheltered home and church environments.

“Jesus Camp” includes one articulate and alarmed dissenting voice: Mike Papantonio, a talk show personality for Air America. A self-professed Christian of the dead church variety, he engages in a pointed but friendly debate with Ms. Fischer when she calls in to his show. But the only moment of real tension occurs during a side trip to a megachurch in Colorado Springs where the preacher Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (and a Bush friend), turns to address the camera in a tone of suspicion and hostility. It is the movie’s only glimpse of the evangelical movement’s ugly, vindictive side.

“Jesus Camp” doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive survey of the charismatic-evangelical phenomenon. It offers no history or sociology and only scattered statistics about its growth. It analyzes the political agenda only glancingly, centering on abortion but not on homosexuality or other items. Because it focuses on the education of children, Ms. Fischer speaks of the evils of Harry Potter. But there is no analysis of Biblical teaching nor mention of “end times” or the rapture.

Who would deny that the movement’s surging vitality is partly a response to the steady coarsening of mass culture, in which the dominant values are commercial and the worldview is Darwinian in its amorality? Spread globally by television, the least-common-denominator brand of “secular humanism” — the evangelicals’ perceived enemy — is indeed repugnant.

It wasn’t so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, turned the world’s most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.

“Jesus Camp” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Its frank discussion of politics and religion could upset.


Should the Pope Apologize?

Muslic Cleric says Pope Should be Crucified

From the Agence France-Presse ... Pakistanis protest, cleric says Pope should be crucified. In full ...
Hundreds of Pakistani Islamists held street protests to condemn Pope Benedict XVI for remarks they regard as anti-Islamic, with one leader saying the pontiff should be crucified.

Demonstrators Friday poured out of mosques after the main weekly Muslim prayers in Pakistan's largest city Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore, the capital Islamabad and other urban centres.

"If the pope comes here we will hang him on the Cross," Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior leader of Pakistan's main alliance of radical parties, told around 200 noisy demonstrators in Islamabad.

The alliance, called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Front, forms part of the parliamentary opposition and is often heavily involved in street protests in mostly Muslim Pakistan.

Ahmed also said the pope had joined US President George W. Bush's "crusade" against Muslims, referring to Christians who fought against Muslims from the 11th through the 13th centuries.

In Karachi police said at least 100 hardliners shouted slogans demanding an apology from the pope and criticising the United States.

"Religious leaders like the pope should not use (US President George W.) Bush's tone," Merajul Huda, Karachi chief of the hardline Jamaat-i-Islami party, told the rally.

Witnesses said more than 300 people chanted slogans against the pope outside an Islamic school in the central city of Multan. Dozens more massed in Lahore.

Prayer leaders also condemned the pope during Friday sermons around the country.

Anger has gripped the Muslim world since the pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said innovations introduced by the Prophet Mohammed were "evil and inhuman."

The pontiff later said he was "deeply sorry" for the outrage triggered by his speech early this month at a German university, and that the passages quoted by him did not express his personal opinion.

A gathering of hundreds of fundamentalists in Lahore on Thursday said Pope Benedict should be removed from his position for his "blasphemous" comments.

The Pakistani parliament has also condemned the pope's comments and the foreign ministry summoned the Vatican's envoy in Islamabad last week to lodge a protest.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

FAQ -- Islam Edition!

From Hugh Hewitt over at ... FAQ - Islam Edition! In full ...

1) Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

Well, um…No, not really.

2) So all Muslims are violent and bent on war. That’s a hateful and bigoted thing to say. You sicken me. And you’ll never carry Michigan.

That’s not what I said. You asked about Islam - I answered. You then erroneously inferred that I was speaking about all Muslims. I wasn’t. You misunderstood.

3) I don’t understand.

I know you don’t, and it’s not your fault. You’ve been poisoned by the forces of political correctness. You’re the product of a school system that valued sensitivity and self-esteem more than it valued truth and rational inquiry. As a consequence, truths which may be hurtful and disquieting will often flummox you. But you, and the legions of those like you, have to grow up.

4) So what about Islam is not peaceful?

Oh, where to begin. Actually, let’s just limit ourselves to the Koran, which is the revealed word of God and thus not to be trifled with. A few relevant Suras:

Say to the unbelievers, if now they desist from unbelief, their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them). And fight them on until there is no more persecution, and religion becomes Allah's in its entirety.... If they refuse, be sure that Allah is your Protector — the Best to protect and the Best to help. And know that out of all the booty that you may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to Allah and his Messenger...

Sura 48:18-20: Allah promiseth you much booty that you will capture, and hath given you this in advance, and hath withheld men's hands from you, that it may be a token for the unbelievers, and that He may guide you on a right path.

Sura 9:5: Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each an ambush....

There is also the fundamental belief that since the laws of the Koran are divinely given, there can be no man-made law that supersedes the Koran’s dictates. That’s what Sharia is all about – no separation of mosque and state, only law by the imams.

5) But aren’t there are things in other religions that, speaking purely rationally, are kind of kooky, too?

I’ll stick to the Old Testament here, since I’m a Hannukah guy and so the first book is my primary area of expertise. Most every ritualistic thing you see that makes Jews seem different comes from man’s interpretation of God’s will. For instance, we fast on Yom Kippur because some guy a few thousand years ago decided that that would be the best way to atone for our sins and show our love for God. But there’s a difference between some guy’s word, regardless of how brilliant and beloved that guy was, and God’s word.

6) So it sounds like you’re saying all Muslims are unpeaceful, no?

No. Muslims are usually born into their faith, just like most Jews and Christians. Judging them from their birth circumstance is unfair, actually racist. But yes, anyone who decides that they’re going to pay special obeisance to the “slay the idolaters” parts of the Koran is unlikely to be a particularly peaceful person.

7) So the key question is what percentage of Muslims fall into that camp, right?

Yes! You’re learning.

8) So, what percentage of Muslims falls into that camp?

How the hell should I know? I spend most of my days typing away at a laptop for the amusement of others. But the information coming in from around the world suggests that we’ve got a much bigger problem than a few random kooks running around Waziristan fantasizing about an American Hiroshima.

9) What information are you talking about?

Well, if there was a real democratic election held in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably win. They’re the ones who killed Sadat; Zawahiri is an alumnus of this group. Philosophically, they’re very much akin to Al Qaeda. If there were ever a real democratic election in Saudi Arabia, whatever group that replaced the House of Saud would be a bunch of Wahabbist nutjobs who would make the Muslim Brotherhood look like America’s Libertarian Party. And, let’s face it, the situation in Iraq and some of the statements coming out of there from the Iraqis’ democratically elected leaders don’t suggest a country entirely ready to join the community of civilized nations.

10) How about the American Muslim community?

That situation is a bit opaque. I wrote lengthy stories on the Islamic Society of Boston for the Weekly Standard. The ISB was joined at the hip with guys like hate-preacher Yussef al Qaradawi (who thinks gays should be killed and is wildly popular in the Middle East). Qaradawi was on the Islamic Society of Boston’s board of directors and helped them raise funds for their new mosque. Still, one of the terror experts I talked to about the story, and believe me this guy has had more fatwas issued demanding his head on a platter than Salman Rushdie, thinks that the ISB rank and file is okay, but that their leadership is, ahem, suspect.

11) Can you follow all the dictates of the Koran and be a good American?

Well, you can’t slay idolaters and be a good American.

12) Why are things different now? Jews and Christians used to live peacefully aside Muslims for millennia?

Well, Jews and Christians lived peacefully besides Muslims when the Jews and Christians agreed to peacefully accept second class citizenship. But your premise is still valid – things are worse now than they’ve been in quite some time.

13) Why?

I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone is, but a lot of people have interesting theories. My opinion is that hundreds of billions of petro-dollars have fueled an Islamic Great Awakening. But the conversation on that topic is really academic. The point is that we have a big problem.

14) How big?


15) When Gorbachev became the chief Soviet honcho, Margaret Thatcher said, “He’s someone we can do business with?” Are there any POPULAR leaders of the Muslim world of whom that can be said?

Yes. Sistani and…give me a minute. Sistani. Qadafi wants to do business but he’s not popular and he’s certifiable.

16) It sounds pretty grim.

It is.

17) So how do we win hearts and minds?

I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. Tom Barnett writes brilliantly about integrating third world countries into “the Core” of first world countries. But what if some people, like radical Islamists, have no interest in the Core? What if an 8th century lifestyle is more to their liking?

18) So you foresee a global conflagration?

Not really. A truly global conflagration can only happen if we and our putative allies continue to fund those who intend us harm. At some point, that will have to stop. For instance, I assume we weren’t buying Krupps coffee-makers from Germany in 1943. But I do see lots of blood before this thing is done and the military can happily go back to preparing for a conventional war with China that will never come.

19) Isn’t it a little unfair to focus on Islam’s bloody past while ignoring things like the Crusades?

Not entirely. If America were pondering invading the Middle East to secure the Holy Grail and convert infidels, the Crusades might have more relevance. The reason that Islam’s past is relevant is because the Prophet’s rationale for war is exactly the same as bin Laden’s and others of his ilk. Walid Phares says it’s like Lord of the Rings – bin Laden and his ilk just picked up a “ring” that’s been hanging around for centuries. They didn’t invent anything new.

20) This might be off-topic, but is it true that Jim Geraghty ripped off our much beloved FAQ format?

It wasn’t a rip-off, it was an homage. Besides, it was very well done. Anyway, I’m voting with my feet – I’ve already ordered Jim’s new book “Voting to Kill.” Jim’s one of the smartest guys in the blogosphere. He also gave me my second-ever link, and like the Godfather I never forget a favor.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and Eternal Life

From the Asia Times ... Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and Eternal Life.

Hat tip:

Jihad injures reason, for it honors a god who suffers no constraints on his caprice, unlike the Judeo-Christian god, who is limited by love. That is the nub of Pope Benedict XVI's September 12 address in Regensburg, Germany. It promises to be the Vatican's most controversial utterance in living memory.

When a German-language volume appeared in 2003 quoting the same analysis by a long-dead Jewish theologian, I wrote of "oil on the flames of civilizational war". [1] Now the same ban has been preached from St Peter's chair, and it is a defining moment comparable to Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. Earlier this year, Benedict's elliptical remarks to former students at a private seminar in 2005, mentioned in passing by an American Jesuit and reported in this space, created a scandal. [2] I wrote at the time that even the pope must whisper when it comes to Islam. We have entered a different stage of civilizational war.

The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.

Just before then-cardinal Ratzinger's election as pope last year, I wrote, "Now that everyone is talking about Europe's demographic death, it is time to point out that there exists a way out: convert European Muslims to Christianity. The reported front-runner at the Vatican conclave ... Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the few Church leaders unafraid to raise the subject." [3] The Regensburg address oversteps the bounds of dialogue and verges upon the missionary. A great deal has changed since John Paul II kissed the Koran before news cameras in 1999. The boys and girls of the Catholic youth organization Communione e Liberazione that Ratzinger nurtured for a generation will have a great deal to talk to their Muslim school-fellows about.

No more can one assume now that Europe will slide meekly into dhimmitude.

In that respect [I wrote during the conclave] John Paul II recalled the sad position of Pius XII, afraid to denounce publicly the murder of Polish priests by Nazi occupiers - let alone the murder of Polish Jews - for fear that the Nazis would react by killing even more. It is hard to second-guess the actions of Pius XII given his terrible predicament, but at some point one must ask when the Gates of Hell can be said to have prevailed over St Peter.
Specifically, Benedict stated that jihad, the propagation of Islam by force, is irrational, because it is against the Reason of God. Citing a 14th-century Byzantine emperor to the effect that Mohammed's "decree that the faith he preached should be spread with the sword" as "evil and inhumane" provoked headlines. But of greater weight is the pope's observation that Allah is a god whose "absolute transcendence" allows no constraint, to the point that Allah is free if he chooses to promote evil. The great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig explained the matter more colorfully than did the pope, as I reported three years ago in the cited review:

The god of Mohammed is a creator who well might not have bothered to create. He displays his power like an Oriental potentate who rules by violence, not by acting according to necessity, not by authorizing the enactment of the law, but rather in his freedom to act arbitrarily ... Providence thus is shattered into infinitely many individual acts of creation, with no connection to each other, each of which has the importance of the entire creation. That has been the doctrine of the ruling orthodox philosophy in Islam. Every individual thing is created from scratch at every moment. Islam cannot be salvaged from this frightful providence of Allah ... despite its vehement, haughty insistence upon the idea of the god's unity, Islam slips back into a kind of monistic paganism, if you will permit the expression. God competes with God at every moment, as if it were the colorfully contending heavenful of gods of polytheism.
It is amusing to see liberal Jewish commentators in the United States, eg, the editorial page of the September 16 New York Times, deplore the pope's remarks, considering that Rosenzweig said it all the more sharply in 1920.

Benedict's comments regarding Islam served as a preamble to a longer discourse on the unity of faith and reason. "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?" Benedict asked, and answered his own question: "I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God." It is not, however, the reasoned side of Benedict's remarks to which Muslims responded, but rather the existential.

Rather than rail at the pope's characterization of Islam, Muslims might have responded as follows: "Excuse me, Your Holiness, but did we hear you say that you represent a religion of reason, whereas Allah is a god of unreason? Do you not personally eat the body and blood of your god - at least things that you insist really are his flesh and blood - every day at Mass? And you accuse us of unreason!" That is a fair rebuttal, but it opens up Islam's can of worms.

True, we are not pottering about in this pilgrim existence to be rational. Today's Germans are irrational, and know that their time has past, and therefore desist from bearing children. What mankind - Christian, Muslim and Jew, and all - demand of God is irrational. We want eternal life! Christians do not want what the Greeks wanted - Socrates' transmigration of souls, nor the shadow existence of Homer's dead heroes in Hades. That is an unreasonable demand if ever there was one.

Before the Bible was written, the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh learned that his quest for immortality was futile. The demigods of Greece, mortals favored by Olympians, suffered a tedious sort of immortal life as stars, trees or rivers. The gods of the heathens are not in any case eternal, only immortal. They were born and they will die, like the Norse gods at the Ragnorak, and their vulnerability projects the people's presentiment of its own death. To whom, precisely, have the gods offered eternal life prior to the appearance of revealed religion? Eternal life and a deathless mortality are quite different things.

But what is it that God demands of us in response to our demand for eternal life? We know the answer ourselves. To partake of life in another world we first must detach ourselves from this world in order to desire the next. In plain language, we must sacrifice ourselves. There is no concept of immortality without some concept of sacrifice, not in any culture or in any religion. That is a demand shared by the Catholic bishops and the Kalahari Bushmen.

God's covenant with Abraham is unique and singular in world history. A single universal and eternal god makes an eternal pact with a mortal that can be fulfilled only if Abraham's tribe becomes an eternal people. But the price of this pact is self-sacrifice. That is an existential mortal act beyond all ethics, as Soren Kierkegaard tells us in Fear and Trembling. The sacraments of revealed religion are sublimated human sacrifice, for the revealed god in his love for humankind spares the victim, just as God provided a ram in place of the bound Isaac on Mount Moriah. Among Jews the covenant must be renewed in each male child through a substitute form of human sacrifice, namely circumcision. [4] Christians believe that a single human sacrifice spared the rest of humankind.

Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins or raisins, depending on the translation. But Allah is not the revealed god of loving kindness, or agape, but - pace Benedict - a god of reason, that is, of cold calculation. Islam admits no expiatory sacrifice. Everyone must carry his own spear.

We are too comfortable, too clean, too squeamish, too modern to descend into the terrible space where birth, death and immortality are decided. We forget that we cannot have eternal life unless we are ready to give up this one - and this the Muslim knows only through what we should call the sacrament of jihad. Through jihad, the Muslim does almost precisely what the Christian does at the Lord's Supper. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that grants immortal life to all Christians, that is, those who become one with Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that the sacrifice also is theirs, at least in Catholic terms. Protestants substitute empathy identification with the crucified Christ for the trans-substantiated blood and flesh of Jesus.

Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to give all men eternal life, on condition that they take part in his sacrifice, either through the physical communion of the Catholic Church or the empathetic Communion of Protestantism. From a Muslim vantage point, the extreme of divine humility embodied in Jesus' sacrifice is beyond reason. Allah, by contrast, deals with those who submit to him after the calculation of an earthly despot. He demands that all Muslims sacrifice themselves by becoming warriors and, if necessary, laying their lives down in the perpetual war against the enemies of Islam.

These are parallel acts, in which different peoples do different things, in the service of different deities, but for the same reason: for eternal life.

Why is self-sacrifice always and everywhere the cost of eternal life? It is not because a vengeful and sanguineous God demands his due before issuing us a visa to heaven. Quite the contrary: we must sacrifice our earthly self, our attachment to the pleasures and petty victories of our short mortal life if we really are to gain the eternal life that we desire. The animal led to the altar, indeed Jesus on the cross, is ourselves: we die along with the sacrifice and yet live, by the grace of God. YHWH did not want Isaac to die, but without taking Abraham to Mount Moriah, Abraham himself could not have been transformed into the man desirous and deserving of immortal life. Jesus died and took upon him the sins of the world, in Christian terms, precisely so that a vicarious sacrifice would redeem those who come to him.

What distinguishes Allah from YHWH and (in Christian belief) his son Jesus is love. God gives Jews and Christians a path that their foot can tread, one that is not too hard for mortals, to secure the unobtainable, namely immortal life, as if by miracle. Out of love God gives the Torah to the Jews, not because God is a stickler for the execution of 613 commandments, but because it is a path upon which the Jew may sacrifice and yet live, and receive his portion of the World to Come. The most important sacrifice in Judaism is the Sabbath - "our offering of rest", says the congregation in the Sabbath prayers - a day of inactivity that acknowledges that the Earth is the Lord's. It is a sacrifice, as it were, of ego. In this framework, incidentally, it is pointless to distinguish Judaism as a "religion of works" as opposed to Christianity as a "religion of faith".

To Christians, God offers the vicarious participation in his sacrifice of himself through his only son.

That is Grace: a free gift by God to men such that they may obtain eternal life. By a miracle, the human soul responds to the offer of Grace with a leap, a leap away from the attachments that hold us to this world, and a foretaste of the World to Come.

There is no Grace in Islam, no miracle, no expiatory sacrifice, no expression of love for mankind such that each Muslim need not be a sacrifice. On the contrary, the concept of jihad, in which the congregation of Islam is also the army, states that every single Muslim must sacrifice himself personally. Jihad is the precise equivalent of the Lord's Supper in Christianity and the Jewish Sabbath, the defining expression of sacrifice that opens the prospect of eternity to the mortal believer. To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.

Islam, I have argued for years, faces an existential crisis in the modern world, which has ripped its adherents out of their traditional existence and thrust them into deadly conflicts. What was always latent in Islam has now come to the surface: the practice of Islam now expresses itself uniquely in jihad. Benedict XVI has had the courage to call things by their true names. Everything else is hypocrisy and self-delusion.

Regarding Benedict XVI's statement that the characterization of the Prophet Mohammed did not reflect his "personal opinion": In 1938, at the peak of Stalin's terror, a Muscovite called the KGB to report that his parrot had escaped. The KGB officer said, "Why are you calling us?" The Muscovite averred, "I want to state for the record that I do not share the parrot's political opinions."

1. See Oil on the flames of civilizational war, December 2, 2003.
2. See When even the pope has to whisper, January 10, 2006.
3. The crescent and the conclave, April 19, 2005.
4. See The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity, by Jon D Levinson (Harvard; Cambridge 1993).


Film Shows Youths Training to Fight for Jesus

From ABC News ... Film Shows Youths Training to Fight for Jesus.
An in-your-face documentary out this weekend is raising eyebrows, raising hackles and raising questions about evangelizing to young people.

Speaking in tongues, weeping for salvation, praying for an end to abortion and worshipping a picture of President Bush -- these are some of the activities at Pastor Becky Fischer's Bible camp in North Dakota, "Kids on Fire," subject of the provocative new documentary, "Jesus Camp."

"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said. "Because, excuse me, we have the truth."

"A lot of people die for God," one camper said, "and they're not afraid."

"We're kinda being trained to be warriors," said another, "only in a funner way."

The film has caused a split among evangelicals. Some say it's designed to demonize. Others have embraced it, including Fischer, who's helping promote the film.

"I never felt at any point that I was exploited," Fischer said.

"I think there is a push right now in a lot of evangelical churches to definitely keep the teenagers and keep the children in the faith," said Heidi Ewing, co-director of "Jesus Camp." "And this is one version of that attempt."

A Growing Movement

This camp is, by many accounts, a small -- and perhaps extreme -- slice of what some say is a growing, intensifying evangelical youth movement.

Over the past decade and a half, enrollment at Christian colleges is up 70 percent. Sales of Christian music are up 300 percent. Tens of thousands of youth pastors have been trained.

Young people are targeted through Christian music festivals, skateboard competitions and rodeos.

"This is an enormous youth movement," said Lauren Sandler, a secular, liberal feminist from New York City who spent months among the believers researching her new book, "Righteous."

Sandler says the evangelical youth movement will have a negative impact on the country's future, because even the most moderate young evangelicals are inflexible on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

"It's an absolute, straight-up us-against-them," Sandler said. "It's, you're either with us or you're against us. … Not only are you a sinner, but you are working for the enemy -- the enemy being Satan."

Chap Clark, an associate professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary who's trained youth pastors for decades, said people who see "Jesus Camp" should not come away with the idea that evangelizing to youth consists mainly of political indoctrination.

Clark said youth pastors focus much more on providing meaning to kids who can't find it in a materialistic culture or in their family lives -- "which is going to translate into much healthier adults who are more able to be into respectful dialogue and come alongside people who disagree with them.

"I think this is a very hopeful time because of the youth ministry movement," he added.

There's disagreement about whether this movement is good for the country and whether the movie is an accurate portrayal of the movement.

But there's growing agreement that these children will have a real impact. One child in "Jesus Camp" goes so far as to say, "We're a key generation to bringing Jesus back."