It’s no secret that right-wing Christians operate in a world of their own making, one in which the usual rules and correlations simply don’t apply. Some of the scandals erupting recently out of the Christian Right have driven home the huge discrepancy between how its members see themselves and the reality of how others see them.
I’d be hard-pressed to point to a more glaring illustration of that discrepancy than the disgraceful spectacle of Christians making movies presenting themselves as they really truly believe they are–while remaining completely (and, one increasingly suspects, willfully) oblivious to how others see them.
I could pick any Christian movie made in the last 20 years to support this claim, but since we just reviewed one last week, we’ll head there. Anybody with kids is going to be concerned around this time of year about Christians trying to sneak proselytization into public schools, and today we’ll talk about why they’re right to be concerned–due in great part to Christians’ inaccurate self-perception.
Peace, Love, and Tolerance. Totally.
In the movie God’s Club, which we reviewed recently, a small atheist-dominated town in Vermont is thrown into an uproar when a sweet, innocent Christian named Christine (played by Alison MacInnis, who you might have seen in various powerhouse blockbusters as the Pink Ranger) demands that a Bible Club be established at the town’s public high school. The movie will go on to insist that this would be the only Christian organization of any kind in the entire town, and will further imply that Christine and her squinty husband are the only TRUE CHRISTIANS™ around.
But in our first example of that dichotomy between self-perception and reality, the movie will curiously not make clear until after the meeting that Christine is, in fact, a teacher at that school–as is her husband. That is definitely information that would have been more useful had it been brought to our attention earlier.
This omission makes her insistence on starting the club–in, apparently, a total absence of demand by any actual students–a lot more skeevy and suspicious than it even normally would be. If nothing else, this club shouldn’t be at Echo Grove High School because no students want it there, not because it’s purely religious, but the movie expects us to believe that the problem here is that it is a religious club.
When one of the atheist parents at the meeting declares that not only does the club not have any place in public education but that its mere existence is offensive to him personally, the Christian teacher responds in all wide-eyed, perplexed, kittenish innocence with this howler: “Why? We promote peace, love, and tolerance!”
For added fundagelical-ness, she says it with this air of benevolent exasperation, like gee whillikers, she just totally doesn’t get how in the world anyone could ever think anything sinister of her innocent, kindhearted, silly li’l ole club that just wants to talk about JAY-zuss. She says it all in that cheerful, lilting, ultra-reasonable, soft-spoken, hyper-feminine way that people usually associate with Quiverfull women like Michelle Duggar, and it’s quite clear that the movie wants us to take Christine’s side over that of the mean, nasty, angry, yelling, irrational atheists.
It’s as if the movie’s creators totally forgot that nearly any non-Christian American could tell them exactly what these clubs promote.
The Spokesperson for the Tribe.
Christine is not only the embodiment of her tribe–she is even named for them. They couldn’t have gotten more obvious without just cutting to the chase by naming her Jesus Sue. For real, she even dies for the club, in a sense.
When she whines in the movie that she feels “singled out” by the pushback she’s getting, she is echoing the sentiment of her tribe, which is still seeking to wedge their feet back into a door that got closed in their faces years ago. They feel “singled out.” And they definitely think that their clubs are all about “peace, love, and tolerance.”
In stark contrast to the sweetness-and-light pretense offered up by Christine, however, these clubs are actually a way for fundagelical kids to signal their superiority over others and to flaunt their membership in the correct tribe. Refusing to play along with these and other shows of Christian dominance can result in harassment and intimidation against dissenters–while even those who grudgingly go along with teachers’ religious grandstanding aren’t always safe from humiliating and degrading abuse. Any time Christians are allowed to dominate a school system, it seems, these abuses are the inevitable result.
Meanwhile, the organizers for clubs benefiting people that fundagelicals hate, like LGBTQ kids and atheists, get harassed and discouraged–or simply fail to find a teacher on staff who is willing to sponsor the club, even though fundagelical-friendly clubs never seem to have that problem. Little wonder that these school clubs are seen by many people as examples of Christian privilege in action!
Adult fundagelicals also see in these clubs an additional opportunity to indoctrinate teens before they fully escape adult control–especially at a time when they know very well that their religion is hemorrhaging young people. These clubs become doubly valuable when one realizes that the parents of the targeted children are not only nowhere around while the indoctrination attempts are happening, but also aren’t likely to find out exactly what their kids are getting told until it’s too late to reverse the conditioning.
Really, it’s hard to imagine a more disingenuous, less self-aware proclamation than the one Christine makes during that meeting. The concerns of the atheist parents are not only justifiable, they’re fully justified. But you’d never know that by listening to her.
Over here in Reality-Land, we constantly hear stories about Christian attempts to “wedge” themselves into public schools–such as the one we covered last year about Airline High School in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. The non-Christian kids in that school felt bullied by the Christians who ostentatiously swanned around praying in public (just like Jesus said never to do, not that fundagelicals care).
Airline’s Christian club didn’t bring peace, love, and tolerance. It brought the opposite.
That effect was not accidental. Don’t ever think it was.
Like we see in other examples of Christian overreach into other people’s lives, the Christians at Airline High School did not stop what they were doing even after being explicitly told that these sanctimonious shows of religiosity were unwelcome–in fact, school administrators pretended not to understand that pushback had even taken place and then lied about it once they got cornered. And like we see in other examples of similar Christian overreach, it wasn’t until lawyers from the ACLU got involved that the administrators of the school finally, grudgingly stepped in to do what they’d been legally required to do all along–while whining up and down about persecution because the poor puddies were being forced to abide by the same laws that protect their kids from predatory religious nuts.
Notice, please, that their whining revealed what their real goal was all along. They weren’t whining because they weren’t allowed to love on their fellow students or because they’d been stopped from teaching “peace, love, and tolerance.”
No, they actually feeling stung over not being allowed to make other students feel pressured to join and play along. Their Christian privilege got challenged in a way they couldn’t just gloss over, trample, and ignore. They got reminded of the tiny loss of dominance their religion has suffered.
And they didn’t care for that reminder.
Every single time Christians whine about “religious liberty” when their grabby little hands are slapped away from other people’s rights, they are telling the rest of us that regaining dominance is their real mission.
Lying for Jesus.
Christine is not being fully honest about her “Bible Club” at the school-board meeting. We soon learn about the full extent of her lies.
The most important lie she told is that her goal is not, as she claimed, to spread peace, love, and tolerance, but actually to proselytize other parents’ children. In fact, her actual stated intention for this club, as we learn on her drive home as she speaks privately to her husband, is proselytization, which she views as her duty as a Christian teacher. She knows, without a doubt, that the other parents don’t want her to prey on their children, but she doesn’t care what they think because her Jesus-reasons trump their concerns and authority. She knows better than they do what’s best for their kids, and the movie expects us to agree that her actions and motivations are laudable and admirable.
The sheer lack of self-awareness here is just astonishing.
Imagine another religion’s club starting up whose sponsor insisted the same rubbish she does except about another religion. Wonder for a moment about what Christine would have thought if she’d been a parent in that school board meeting.
The funny thing is, we don’t have to wonder what she’d have done. Christian parents in the real world have already shown us what they’d do.
A few months ago, some Christian parents filed a lawsuit against their kid’s school simply because the school taught its pupils that Islam exists. They join legions of other Christian parents outraged about schools teaching about Islam. The uproar was so pronounced that the last school in that link-dump had to close every school in its system for a whole day because they were scared that the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in their area might get violent. (How very peaceful, loving, and tolerant those parents are! Christianity sure helped them be better people!) We won’t even get into how Christian parents feel about the Satanist clubs starting up as a form of protest of fundagelicals’ clubs, except to note that they are not thrilled.
Meanwhile, even as we speak, fundagelicals are quietly revving up their own proselytization-seeking clubs in schools all over the country, as Kevin Davis wrote about earlier today. The fundagelicals pushing these “Good News Clubs” are flat-out lying to parents all over the country about who they are and what they seek. The lies they are using sound a lot like the ones Christine tells, but that’s not surprising; her club is clearly meant to be similar.
Peace, Love, Tolerance, and Brutal Punishment for Dissenters.
When Squinty starts up the Bible Club that his wife had wanted, he does so in total absence of any interest from any students. He and his daughter finally gain the attention of a bunch of non-Christian students who have, apparently, never in their lives ever heard of any Christian ideas.
Given how swamped most adolescents are with schoolwork and extracurricular activities–and how panicky many of them are about setting themselves up for college–it’s hard to imagine any teenager being interested in burning a lot of time doing something involving a religion they don’t even believe in. I’d also wonder just who these ignorant teens are who’ve never once, in their whole lives, brushed up against Christians; their insularity reminds me a lot more of Christians, who can and do often reach adulthood (like I did) never having known anybody who was openly non-Christian.
Kids at Echo Grove High School certainly won’t feel compelled to join because of bullying, because there simply aren’t any Christian students at that school. So there is literally no reason at all for any kids to want to be there. Moreover, despite the parents’ stated desire that their kids not attend the meetings, the kids show up anyway. Squinty asks them about it, but they just say their parents don’t care what they do–but Squinty already knows they do care very deeply. The movie asks us to forget that he is deliberately proselytizing these kids without permission.
Once they are there, what do these non-believing students learn the very first time they read the Bibles that Squinty has purchased at his own expense to give them?
At Squinty’s specific instruction, the kids read Matthew 18:1-5, in which Jesus informs the crowd of listeners:
And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
The two atheist kids (who apparently joined on a lark to troll the Christians, because atheist kids totally do that, amirite?) immediately know what that verse means. One turns to the other and says, “Wow, your dad’s neck is gonna hurt.” Cuz really, what’s wackier than imagining one’s own parents dying a brutal and vicious death for being protective of their kids?
The two of them tussle a little, as kids do, while Squinty does not say a word to soften the threat that these two kids just received about their parents. In fact he doesn’t say anything at all. The scene lingers on the club sitting around quietly, then cuts to Squinty and Rebecca (his daughter) folding leftover club t-shirts after the meeting.
Right after that, one of the atheist dads storms up to Squinty and gets in a fight with him because his kid got told that his family was going to Hell and then apparently immediately reported the threat to his father. Squinty even says, in a way that makes clear that the movie expects us to agree, that there’s simply been some kind of “misunderstanding” about what happened during the club meeting, but this attempt to mollify the atheist dad only antagonizes him worse.
And Squinty ends up gut-punching him and smashing him up against a wall, an act the movie will repeatedly excuse and rationalize as justified.
It’s hard to misunderstand the message here: the atheist kid tattled on Squinty, and his dad is the villain willing to stoop to any low to get a rise out of the TRUE CHRISTIAN™–and therefore fully justifying that Christian’s violence against him.
The dad’s main objection appears to be the threat of Hell, but the movie views that threat as permissible. Indeed, out here in the real world, fundagelicals don’t hesitate to threaten children with Hell–and those same fundagelicals act like they are as mystified as Squinty is about why anybody would ever get offended with them for “simply speak[ing] biblical truth.” And the violence Squinty brings to bear? I’d truly be hard-pressed to name a group that I associate more with retaliatory violence than right-wing Christian men.
It’s like the movie is showing us a totally different person from the one they think they’re showing us. It’d probably be quite a shock to them to learn that we don’t view their hero as sympathetic in any way–and that we’d view his heroic mission as being deeply predatory and dishonest.
No, There’s No Misunderstanding Here At All.
God’s Club serves as a stunning warning.
It shows us in detail why Christians push these clubs into schools, what happens in them, and why students need to be protected from these and other fundagelical encroachment.
Thanks to movies like this one, we know that fundagelicals really, truly believe that it is their duty and responsibility to proselytize and indoctrinate every child they can get their hands on, that they think their overreach is nothing but beneficial to everyone, and that they don’t care what they must say or do to get what they want.
I know that sounds really dramatic and it is, but it’s also the solid truth. They see the fight to indoctrinate children as one of the most urgent and important fights they could ever get into. They think their religion’s future depends upon this proselytization.
And as usual, it’s up to us godless heathens to force these Christians to be honest and law-abiding. (Jesus sure isn’t reining them in!)
We’ll be talking more about this importance they place on proselytizing children–see you next time!