Teaching Christian Children Religious Warfare
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Oct 11, 2006 at 07:50:06 PM EST
A few months ago, Jonathan Hutson broke a series of stories at Talk to Action about a ruthless indoctrination video game masquerading as entertainment for children. Left Behind:  Eternal Forces, based on Tim LaHaye's best selling series of novels, is set in contemporary New York City where the citizens, "left behind" after all of the good Christians have been pulled up into heaven in an event called the rapture, are to be converted or killed by a roving Christian militia battling the United Nation peace keeping force, headed by the Anti-Christ.

The game, which is scheduled to come out next month - just in time for the Christmas shopping season, is the subject of an article by Michelle Goldberg, in the current issue of New York magazine. Goldberg advances the story with new information about the developers of the game: the key people are Jewish converts to conservative Christianity. (One clarified that he is not converted, but "completed." This is a notion of Messianic Jews, who consider themsevles "completed" because they have accepted Jesus the Messiah.)

The release, of what some now consider to be orientation software for the Christian militias of a coming religious war in America, coincidentally comes just as a film is coming out that documents the indoctrination of young evangelical children in a fierce ideology of religious warfare and what they call God's Army. Their pastor compares her efforts to Islamic Madrassa schools in Pakistan. The film is called Jesus Camp.

Goldberg writes:  
The heroes of the series -- including a born-again rabbi -- battle Carpathia's [the Anti-Christ's] attempts to impose an abortion-promoting one-world government. Much hinges on the conversion of the Jews, who must repent their "specific national sin" of "rejecting the messiahship of Jesus," or spend eternity in hell.

As it happens, before they were Evangelical entrepreneurs, the people behind the game were New York Jews. Lyndon, 41, whose secular-gaming résumé includes helping design Madden Football, was born to a Jewish mother on the Upper West Side. While she raised him as a Catholic, he identifies as a Jew-albeit one who believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God (he also describes evolution as a "hoax"). Jeffrey Frichner, 48, the company's president and co-founder, is from Rego Park and went to Hebrew school at Forest Hills Jewish Center; he found Jesus while serving in the Marines in the eighties. Senior vice-president David Klein, 49, one of the original employees at gaming powerhouse Electronic Arts, was born in Israel and raised in Canarsie. He's now a Christian, though he says, "I haven't converted. I've completed."

May we then suppose, that the unlike all of the other characters who face conversion or death, Jews in the game may choose completion?  That some may see this as a distinction without a difference will certainly be understandable, and indeed, it is the major point that underscores the horrific implications of this hands-on children's' guide to religious warfare.

Hutson has long maintained that the video, like the novels themselves, is religious supremacy wrapped in a children's game, and is intended to prepare children for religious warfare in our time; against people of other faiths and those deemed to be sinners.  Chip Berlet underscored the point in part five of his series about Tim LaHaye at Talk to Action:

The publisher's blurb for Tim LaHaye's 1980 book, The Battle for the Mind: A Subtle Warfare, gushes that it is a "shocking, detailed exposé of the humanist onslaught, as well as a positive, practical handbook for waging war against this subtle infiltration." So LaHaye has been preparing for this "war" for over 25 years. No surprise to find this frame of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil in the Left Behind book series and video game.

The release of the game comes at a time when the new documentary film Jesus Camp raises the chilling specter of young children being indoctrinated in a fierce ideology of religious warfare.

The Boston Globe's review observes:

Kids on Fire feels like a religious boot camp, and the filmmakers frame the documentary around the reality that these kids are being groomed for war. Fischer is the drill sergeant. Her training exercises include encouraging the campers to speak in tongues, as she does. The enemy could be liberals or Muslim fundamentalists. They train their children for holy war. Why shouldn't she?

The film describes itself this way:

A growing number of evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. Jesus Camp follows a group of young children to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire Summer Camp" where kids are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's Army and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. The film is a first ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.

I think that is a fair description.

Reasonable people will differ as to how literally to take the clearly militaristic elements of the training. And some evangelical critics of the film say that it unfairly implies that all evangelical Christians and summer camps think that way and treat children that way.  I have seen the film and I don't think it in any way makes that assertion -- however I can see how some people might take it that way. And that is unfortunate, because such thinking clouds a far more complex picture of not only the broad world of evangelical Christianity, much of which recoils at such practices, but the militant evangelical subculture itself, which certainly does exist and is sometimes consistent with what is presented so matter of factly in the film.  

The film, while depicting a camp that is undoubtedly far more extreme than most, nevertheless surfaces religious right themes -- taken another not very long step or two beyond rhetoric into reality. But I think the convert or kill ideology of Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series and now the game, underscores the issues raised for the wider culture by Jesus Camp. We see for example, Fischer's kids oriented to do battle with abortion. The training includes being bussed to Washington DC to stand in front of the U.S.Supreme Court, with red tape over their mouths with LIFE written in black capital letters across the tape. I cannot do justice to the hair-raising details of Jesus Camp here, but I flag it because I think that those who do not want America to descend into the long night of religious warfare envisioned by long time Christian right leader, Tim LaHaye need to take a hard look at the Jesus Camp and consider that far more children will play the Left Behind game than will ever see Jesus Camp and that there will be  almost no overlap in the audiences. The culture war takes on this kind of divide all the time. It will be wrong for the vast majority of peace loving evangelical Christians to in any way support Left Behind:  Eternal Forces or to fail to be publically critial of the game.  It will also be wrong for others in society to think that all conservative evangelicals agree with the ideas and methods of Becky Fischer and Tim LaHaye.  We all have a lot of work to do to sort these things out.

Meanwhile, Goldberg confirms that the company

"intends to market Eternal Forces using the same megachurch-based networks that have made [Rick] Warren [author of the Purpose Driven Life] a publishing phenomenon. His plans include sending a million demo discs to churches throughout the country."

The Christian Post reports that the company expects the game to be carried by 10,000 retail outlets around the country, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, GameStop, EB Games, EB Canada, CompUSA, Amazon.com, and Costco.

This Christmas, conservative evangelical parents, many of them members of the conservative evangelical megachurches who are the main targets of the Left Behind game's marketing campaign, will go shop at their favorite retail megastore and buy Left Behind: Eternal Forces for their children. Then they will wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree. This is how the software of Christian madrassa will reach the vast evangelical middle class for whom Tim LaHaye's novels may be more entertainment than deep belief -- but look what they are teaching their children.


will probably mostly get lost in the noise of the election season.  But the games will be out there soon, and if the game succeeds, there will undoubtedly be more.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 01:11:31 AM EST

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