The Jewish community has long fretted over the so-called “December Dilemma,” in which Jewish kids are teased for not having Christmas trees and gifts from Santa. To paraphrase Kyle from “South Park,” it’s hard to be a Jew on Christmas, especially in a Christian-dominated society.
Which is why you may be surprised to learn that Christians themselves — particularly, the right-wing conservative kind — believe, sincerely, that they are a persecuted, oppressed group in America.
You read that right. The same people flooding our airwaves with carols, and indeed, arguing that saying ‘Happy Holidays’ perpetuates the deicide of Jesus, are, themselves, the martyrs.
That’s the takeaway from the new Christian documentary entitled “One Generation Away” — as in quoting Ronald Reagan this time, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” (Personally, I prefer Janis Joplin’s version, but that’s another story.)
The film is part of two recent trends in conservative Christian America: the resurgent right-wing “religious liberty” movement [[https://forward.com/articles/173100/the-movement-to-rebrand-discrimination-as-religiou/]] and the spate of new films like this one, aimed at Christian audiences yet attempting Hollywood-standard production values. A few weeks ago, I reviewed — and live-blogged — the biggest of these, “Left Behind”, an atrocious mess starring Nicolas Cage.
“One Generation Away: is less atrocious, but more problematic. A documentary executive-produced by the American Family Association’s Donald and Eric Wildmon (don’t worry, they’re father and son, not husbands), it is a parade of famous (Rick Santorum) and less famous (Eric Mataxas) right wing “religious liberty” crusaders, commenting on a few of the Right’s most obsessed-over cases, with plenty of corny music and visual effects. Let’s go to the once-more-live-blogged videotape:
Opening credits roll over Tom Clancy-worthy music and a montage of everything lovely: the liberty bell, sailboats. Are right-wing Christians simply immune to the notion of cliché? Do they just not get it? Maybe they weren’t taught about it in school. Or home-school. Perhaps the affectation for unsophisticated, sentimental, clichéd tripe is more a right-wing thing than a Christian one; I’ve seen Hasidic music videos that are also this cheesy. What is it about “corniness” that doesn’t register for them? Nice unintended irony, though, that the last image is of the Golden Gate Bridge. “San Francisco Values” indeed.
Every single person in the numerous opening montages has been white. Surfers, veterans, talking heads, picnickers.
Oh wait, just as I said that, there’s a black person, picnicking under the gigantic cross at Mount Soledad (accompanied by a white person, for whatever reason).
That’s to be our opening sequence: Mount Soledad, where a public-private partnership has erected a huge cross on top of a mountain, as a veterans’ memorial. To the film’s credit, it gives the ACLU lawyer a chance to say that’s like a “government advertisement” for religion. But it does omit the relevant portion of the constitution, i.e., the Establishment Clause, so it’s just one guy’s opinion. Meanwhile every veteran is agin’ it.
Mike Huckabee is up — he has gained a lot of weight. He opines that a 29’ cross expresses society’s willingness “to accept any number of symbols.” Oddly, though, the only one represented is a giant cross. Someone call the Church of Satan. Why settle for a display in the Florida capitol when you could get a huge pitchfork on a mountain overlooking San Francisco?
The lawyers, meanwhile, are on their talking points. “Is the cross a religious symbol? Sure. Can it also be used as a secular memorial for lawyers who self-sacrificially gave their lives or came back without limbs? Yeah!”
You see the argument: Jesus on the cross isn’t about religion, but about the secular notion of self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure ‘self-sacrificially’ isn’t a word.
Also, note to filmmaker: if you’re trying to erase the Establishment Clause from the constitution, your final pan shot should not have the Mt. Soledad cross looming over the American flag. Cause that’s kinda the point.
On to the next sequence: Hobby Lobby.
I just learned via voiceover that the free exercise of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment, is actually “really fragile, and it will go away.” That’s the dominant theme of the film, and it plays into Evangelical beliefs that the End is Nigh. (About three quarters of conservative evangelicals believe this.)
Fun fact: Hobby Lobby’s minimum wage is $14 per hour. Bet a lot of women would give up contraception coverage for that.
Alan Sears of the ‘Alliance Defending Freedom’ informs us that the good Christians of Hobby Lobby are forced to pay for “sterilization, contraception, and abortion pills.” Honey, there is no such thing as an abortion pill. Oh and by the way, you’re not paying for contraception. You’re offering the same insurance plan that you’d offered for years, which covered contraception. But the film suggests that it’s something new, from Barack H. Obama. All of this goes unchallenged.
Fun Fact #2: Hobby Lobby makes their own candles. It’s like Trader Joe’s for Republicans.
Oh, by the way, everyone except for the assembly line workers is white.
Why do we have the Bill of Rights? Because, a right-wing activist tells me, “opponents of the constitution made an awful fuss.” I’m going to mention that to my social studies teacher. Funny, the stock shots of the founding fathers look just like the experts and executives we’ve seen so far in the movie: a bunch of white men.
But, there’s good news! The same activist informs us that “the Establishment clause simply rules out that there shall be no established national church.” Whew, now we can bring back Christian prayer in school, use of government funds to support only Christian churches, and, as Justice Thomas has suggested, make Christianity the official religion of various states – just not the entire United States.
Notice the ideological slippage. First, we were talking about religious liberty. Then the Establishment Clause disappeared. Now it reappears, but in a guise so radical that it would permit Florida to make Pentecostalism its official state religion. I’m thinking the purpose of this film is to move a right-wing audience even further to the right, to the point where they think the establishment clause has almost no reach at all.
It’s worked before – the Second Amendment never used to be about guns and gun control.
In classic screenwriting structures, divisions between acts are marked, often by music and montages. Twenty minutes in, this movie has been all music and montages. It’s a Dominionist MTV.
Next episode: white florists and white wedding cake bakers, both “forced” to provide services to gay couples. As if they’re forced to be florists or bakers.
Note to sympathetic baker heroine: when you say “homosexual clientele” because you can’t/won’t say the word ‘gay,’ it’s hard to take you seriously when you say you love us.
The villain here is a left-wing ideologue. Having worked in this field for some time, I’ve never heard of the “Freedom from Religion Foundation.” Sometimes atheists really are their own worst enemies – this guy just cannot adjust his messaging.
Of course, the florist and baker are close cases, which is why the Right uses them as illustrative. Really we’re talking about much, much larger corporations, organizations, and much more serious impingements on rights. Like, a hospital refusing to recognize my husband’s relationship to me, which could be a life or death decision. But we’re here with a sympathetic cake baker, as if small, expressive arts businesses are really what this is about.
And of course, there’s no mention of the decades of hatred and incitement against LGBT people. It’s nice that suddenly these people say they love the gays. But how short a memory do they think we have? These seem like good, white people – but even if they are, there are other people, part of the same culture, who are not so nice.
34 minutes in [with pauses to type], the first black person to speak, literally, in this film, is a right-wing pastor saying that “a person’s lifestyle choice” is not the same as “an immutable of our lives such as the color of our skin.” After thirty minutes of all-white everything, the film just claimed the civil rights movement for God.
This chapter is about military chaplains, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. The Left says that some chaplains are proselytizing, the Right says they’re just being chaplains. Since I don’t know about this issue, I have no idea what’s going on, other than bad people want to make chaplains not practice their religion. That was totally uninformative.
There is more B-roll in this film than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Traffic, sailing, Capitol Hill, trolleys in San Francisco.
Rick Santorum only shows up at 45 minutes in! His agent should’ve pushed for higher billing. He says that the government is saying “Christian people, you can’t have anything to do with public life.”
So really, what this is about is the delusionary power of religion. Never mind that George W. Bush was just president, initiating (among other things) billions of dollars in faith-based initiatives and school choice programs. Never mind In God We Trust on the money, prayers in Congress, chaplains in the military, and billions of dollars of religious lobbying money influencing legislation across the country. Christians can’t have anything to do with public life. Is Santorum being cynical, or deluded?
Whoa! The movie just jumped the shark. “Separation of church and state” is now only in Jefferson’s “private letter” – not Roger Williams’ public documents, which are not mentioned – and then “discovered” in 1947 by the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Hugo Black. And Santorum reminds us, “Hugo Black was a member of the KKK.” So the whole notion of separation of church and state is really just about being “virulently anti-Catholic.” I see.
Another talking head claims that it’s a “climate of intimidation” when teachers can’t lead Christian prayers with their students. Isn’t the prayer, itself, intimidation? Isn’t that the point?
By the way, no black people since the civil rights section. But plenty more B-Roll: Texas, Little League, football, cheerleaders.
Now the intimidated people are some cheerleaders in Texas who made huge banners with Biblical verses. (God is literally on the side of their football team.) This is another close case: it’s their speech, but it’s close to state endorsement when it is at a school event like this – the football players enter the field bursting through banners with Biblical quotations. But what we get is a power-blind analysis. There are these huge banners, the only ones at the game, but Mike Huckabee says that this is just “a person exposed to a point of view other than his own.” Is that really what’s going on? The banners are official and unanimous. If you don’t like it, you’re going to get beaten up.
Finally, some Jews! 58 minutes in. Oh wait, but it’s just B-roll of the Beth Pinchas Chassidic Center. In fact, no non-Christian speaks – just white Christians reminding us that religious freedom extends to everybody.
More montage: Chicago, fences, graffiti, the El. San Francisco, boats, trollies, black people being taken care of by white priests. New York, boats, Columbus circle, rowers in central park, young George Will clone in bowtie and glasses talking about the erosion of religious liberty. Once again, the most conservative guys are the most gay-seeming. He’s a whiny twit but he’s oddly cute.
For the record, a second black man is now speaking. To say how bad Europe is. No details, it’s just that Europe is secular.
And here comes the finish: Berlin wall, metro, cobblestones, Bonhoeffer.
The activist writer Eric Metaxas doubles down on the analogy to Nazi Germany. “The parallel is that today you have a government that is getting larger and more powerful and it’s beginning to press against the church.” From his presentation, you’d think that the worst thing the Nazis did was persecute Christians. “It’s time to start talking about Dieter Bonhoeffer and time to start being him.” What does that mean, exactly?
So really, “One Generation Away” turns out to be a cinematic depiction of Godwin’s Law. At the end of the day, yes, it’s all about Hitler. The Nazis took religious freedom away, and so did You-Know-Whobama.
The hopeful conclusion to the movie is that God is on our side, so hope is never lost. B-roll of waves on the rocks. Sailboats, sunsets.
But wait, if your theology is that the world is about to end, the real “hope” here is that you’re going to be raptured and the rest of us will burn, right?
More sailboats, statues of veterans, lots of graves.
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor of the Forward.