Friday, November 10, 2006

Idle late night musings on polarities and identities

Maybe this is the problem of assuming the country is polarized:

The summer camp featured in the documentary "Jesus Camp," which includes scenes with disgraced preacher Ted Haggard, will shut down for at least several years because of negative reaction sparked by the film, according to the camp's director.

"Right now we're just not a safe ministry," Becky Fischer, the fiery Pentecostal pastor featured in "Jesus Camp," said Tuesday.
Because saying it doesn't make it so; except when it does.

Maybe this is nobody's fault. Certainly you can't say it's Bush's fault. Except, in a way, you can. He said he was a uniter, not a divider. When somebody says he's not interested in your money, of course, is when you check your pocketbook for missing bills. So Halperin is probably right, and Bush and Rove depended on a divided country to drive the agenda from the margins, not the center, because everyone knows the filled chocolates are really determined by the shell, not the by soft centers. The shell is what holds everything together; it creates the boundaries, and boundaries establish the definition, the identity. And only the truly committed, or those who should be, want to be on the margins. The rest of us head for the center, where life promises to be sweet and soft.

But the kids in Jesus Camp are on the margins; or think they are, anyway. Interestingly, the kind of pressure brought to bear on creating identities for children in Jesus Camp are not rare in the world; just in America. And the documentary makers are even sorry their film has unleashed such vandalism as to force the camp to close. But do the math a second: the camp has been open since 2002, and about 75 to 100 kids a year have attended it. That's 400 kids total, tops. I'd wager Ted Haggard's church has more kids than that on the average Sunday morning, in Sunday school. What's the big deal here, really?

Part of it is that, if it's on TV, it's real. One reason we don't see flag draped coffins coming back from Iraq, or too many scenes of real warfare. I saw one infamous piece of footage on "Anderson Cooper" one night, or a Bradley vehicle being blown up by an IED: the heavily armed Bradley seemed to just disappear suddenly, in a cloud of dust. It was so brutal and final you realized how stylized explosions are in movies, like the one in the trailer for "Deja Vu:" a boat explodes in slow motion, the cloud of fire blossoming like a flower opening in time lapse photography, the whole thing perfectly framed and then seen, immediately, again, from three different angles. It's a thing of pyrotechnic beauty. And as false as a dream. When you saw the Bradley go, you knew it was gone; and that the people inside it were dead.

The documentary, of course, is real. Real children were being taught real lessons by a real teacher. Maybe it was the lessons people objected to. But is it worse to prepare for spiritual warfare than for actual warfare? "Never share my hearth, never think my thoughts, whoever does such things?" Is that it? Is it Sophocles again? That seems to be the answer.

We don't like certain thoughts. The community closes ranks and decides certain ideas are verboten, not to be countenanced, beyond the pale. Is that what happened on Tuesday? Perhaps. But if that's all it is, what was rejected? Torture? Could no one mention, upon the news of Rumsfeld's resignation, that he has been the torturer in chief, that this is documented and beyond cavil? Can no one call him a war criminal? Is that, like running a "Jesus camp," going too far?


So we are back to being divided; as if we ever left that state. We are back to certain people deciding certain things simply are not acceptable. As usual, the fringes once again define us; or seek to. As usual, the responsibility is on us to not let that happen.

Wake up. The party's over. Time to get back to work.

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