Thursday, January 25, 2007

Friend of a friend

Christians gone wild

In 2000, Alexandra Pelosi was not yet the daughter of the Speaker of the House. In fact, Nancy Pelosi was still two years away from becoming minority leader, so Alexandra was able to tag along with George Bush, camcorder in hand, without the burden of being seen as the spawn of Bush's future Democratic nemesis. She was just Alexandra Pelosi, an NBC television producer who was cobbling together a little documentary titled Journeys with George. She caught the future president in unguarded moments during the 2000 campaign, giving viewers of her video a glimpse of Bush's natural folksiness and a peek at the insipidity we have come to know so well.

Pelosi's latest venture is now airing on HBO. Friends of God is a look at part of President Bush's hardcore base. Mick LaSalle, movie critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, says that Pelosi's documentary on America's conservative Christians is a bit short on analysis, but generous in its survey of the peculiarities of the religious right:
Cozying up to Christians, camera in hand

By Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Alexandra Pelosi's “Friends of God,” about the evangelical movement in America, has some of the strengths and weaknesses of her debut film, “Journeys With George,” which followed the 2000 presidential race from inside the Bush campaign: Pelosi allows herself to be charmed by her subjects, which is not a position of strength for a journalist. However, because her subjects end up trusting her, they open up and we get to see what they look like when they're not on their guard.
Most commentators are talking about the role played by Ted Haggard in Pelosi's documentary. Now that Haggard has been disgraced, outed by a male prostitute who claims to have provided the preacher with drugs and sex, it's understandable that his appearance in Friends of God provides a bit of titillation. Haggard, however, is not the focus of LaSalle's review. He is more interested in the political impact of the extreme religious right, not the peccadilloes of its failed leaders.
To blue-state America, the movement against the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution seems like a bizarre sideshow. But Pelosi shows that this is a major issue for many in the religious right. Kids are gotten to early, with the message drummed into their heads that evolution is an evil lie, or “from the devil.” Pelosi's just-the-facts approach doesn't invite the deeper questions: “Why is evolution considered such a threat?” and “What is behind the goal of replacing evolution with creationism in the schools?” We are left to speculate: Perhaps it's a way of sneaking religion into the schools under the cover of science. Perhaps it's also a way to persuade members to obey by accepting doctrine and not thinking. If a movement can get you to deny science, it can get you to deny facts of any kind.
LaSalle has a point: evolution is a test of faith. However, the Christian leaders who abhor evolution are correct to believe that it is a challenge to their dogma. Biblical literalism cannot survive direct contact with evolution—they are completely incompatible. The promoters of creationism feel that they must succeed in their fight against evolution, for the alternative is the collapse of their cozy worldview and the loss of their privileged place in the universe. They feel that they are in a struggle for survival. (Of the fittest?) In this sense, they are correct.
What Pelosi touches on—I think she could have hammered it—is that this is essentially a political movement, or that it's at least a religious movement being manipulated and distorted for political ends. Voter guides are given out in churches and worshipers are all but told that God wants them to vote Republican. They're told to take everything on faith, not just their religion, but also their science and politics. It's virtuous not to think, and it's evidence of disobedience or doubt to think too hard.
LaSalle is right: thinking too hard is a sin to these people. No wonder that George W. Bush is their God-anointed leader.

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