It seems that for every season there’s some new blockbuster that toys with the idea of an impending catastrophe. They’re so common that watching the world fall apart has pretty much become a regular pastime for people of all ages.
We like to flirt with doom. And after watching such epics, it’s hard not to come out of the cinema without feeling – vicariously at least – saved by your virtues, while many others were left to die. Many of us enjoy the thrilling idea of “the end of the world as we know it,” but this idea is very real and near for some.
Screening next week at Cinema Politica is Silhouette City, a doc directed by Michael Wilson and produced by Natalie Zimmerman that examines the contemporary apocalypticism found amongst the American Christian right. These are the people who prophesize their own ultimate salvation in contrast to everyone else’s ultimate damnation. To add to this fervency, they dream of “taking America back for Jesus.”
“The Christian right is a political and cultural movement with enormous power but it’s often dismissed as a few over-zealous and nutty religious folks,” Zimmerman said in an email. “There is an enormous population that is being taught that they are already at war – at war with non-Judeo-Christian culture.”
Some of the long-ranging sermons reach Sunday audiences of over three million, according to the film, and post 9/11 rhetoric coupled with the economic downturn are only adding to their appeal.
Zimmerman said Silhouette City’s goal is to “expose the structure, organizing principals and underlying ideology [of the Christian Right] so that the larger population can respond responsibly and appropriately.”
Agreed, Silhouette City is constructed as a wake up call to all us non-believers. It is in no way subjectively damning towards the Christian right, but simply acts as an exposÃ© of the power of such a movement.
The film is eerie in that it shows this world of people that are so convicted in their dogma. It is horrifying in that it shows how mobilized and powerful these groups have become culturally, politically and namely, democratically.
“The passing of proposition 8 in California banning same-sex marriage was a sad reminder of how necessary it is to respond to this movement,” Zimmerman said.
Proposition 8 is the California Marriage Protection Act, which restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples, and was passed in November 2008, largely due to to mobilized religious groups.
Zimmerman and Wilson have in many ways gone beyond the 2006 documentary, Jesus Camp, about a charismatic and extreme bible camp in North Dakota, by showing how an isolated movement of people can effect society at large.
The film does a decent job revealing what elements of the human condition spur such fervent belief and intolerance, but is by no means an examination into the psyche of the Christian right. It does deserve a large audience though, and hopefully won’t be stuck simply preaching to the converted.
Zimmerman said he “realized how little the population understands in terms of history and our particular relationship to the rest of the world,” while researching the film. “I think this ignorance allows for a deep ethnocentrism, which doesn’t question a dualist view of the world. Unfortunately,” he lamented, “the bible is fully capable of reinforcing this dualistic perspective. This fear of the unknown “other’ prevents empathy and promotes cynicism even in the face of worldwide tragedy. Perhaps this explains the joy and release one can feel at the thought of apocalypse.”
When asked what she has learnt about human nature while making Silhouette City, Zimmerman said, “the most beautiful hope in the world, this utopian desire for a divine kingdom, is a fragile, complicated and powerful thing. It’s a hope that can’t be enslaved to fear.”
Although it’s unfortunate the idea of apocalypse and divine kingdom have become synonymous for many, this is completely human in many ways. In that respect, Silhouette City should be taken seriously.
Silhouette City screens next Monday, Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in H-110. The filmmakers will be in attendance.
Some hard facts on the Christian right:
As portrayed in the film Silhouette City, the Christian right mobilizes itself politically through such organizations as the Council for National Policy, a little-known political lobby group described by the New York Times as “a group of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.”
CNP membership (which is now confidential and by invitation only) has included : Rev. Pat Robertson, who recently claimed that Haiti’s recent earthquake showed that the country is “cursed” due to Haiti’s “pact with the devil;” Jerry Falwell, who is pinned as “an agent of intolerance” by LGBT groups; many Conservative Senators; gun-rights activists and leaders in the business community – like Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
A speech given by George W. Bush to the CNP in 1999, is credited with helping gain the Conservative vote in his successful bid for the presidency. The speech was, and remains, confidential. A controversial address by Stephen Harper to the CNP in 1997 is also still a secret. The website policycounsel.org contains select speeches from past gatherings.