Although I’m certainly old enough to remember, I never really followed the career of former teen sitcom star KIRK CAMERON enough to know if he was ever the Justin Bieber of his day, some twenty years ago. I do know that, sometime after leaving the “Growing Pains” show, Cameron starred in the original “Left Behind” movie, which was an adaptation of the bestselling book. And, even though mainstream critics mostly ignored and/or dismissed the apocalyptic book and movie series, its phenomenal popularity struck a cord in the American public that still resonates, both culturally and politically. Cameron fared no better when it came to the critics, but that didn’t stop him from garnering a sizable fan base of Christian evangelicals over the last several years.
Nowadays, he’s emerged as a major force in certain evangelical and Christian Right circles, and witnessing for Christ, saving souls, and/or selling movies and DVDs is apparently no longer enough to satisfy his larger ambitions.
In February, he spoke to the annual meeting of the CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL ACTION CONFERENCE (CPAC). In March, he was on CNN, telling host Piers Morgan that homosexuality is “… unnatural. I think that it’s — it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”
All of these appearances were part of the PR rollout of his latest epic: “MONUMENTAL: In Search Of America’s National Treasure.” In it Cameron joins with some of the biggest names in far-right extremism to advocate for a “return” to America’s “Christian Roots.”
From the movie’s title and marketing, the unsuspecting may think that “Monumental” is action-adventure saga piggy-backing on the box office successes of the movies “National Treasure” and “National Treasure: Book Of Secrets”. Although “Monumental” is presumably a non-fiction “documentary”, for anyone who enjoyed either of the latter two films, it’s clear that Cameron and the filmmakers used them as something of a template when it comes to following a series of “clues” in narrative pursuit of the ultimate “reveal” at the end of their ninety-minute polemic.
Ever since mandatory, sectarian prayer in our public schools was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962, the more extreme elements of the American right-wing — especially those in the Christian right-wing — have been thoroughly convinced that every major calamity to befall the nation since then can usually be traced directly back to that dark day when the “liberal humanists” in black robes first steered America “away from God.” Teen pregnancy, illegal drug use, family breakdowns, divorce, suicides, riots, recessions, the 9/11 attacks — all these social ills and assorted crises can be directly attributed to a series of “illegitimate” Supreme Court decisions that supposedly expelled God and/or Jesus from the schoolrooms of America, as well as from the “public square” in general.
Unlike similar “documentaries” that regularly turn up on religious broadcasting channels, “Monumental” is curiously non-specific when it comes to identifying the Dark Forces that have gradually maneuvered America away from its “Bible-believing, Christian roots.” (Unless I missed it, I didn’t notice any explicit reference to any one of the usual suspects you might expect to hear in propaganda of this type, such as: liberals, secular humanists, atheists, homosexuals, militant feminists, Socialists, Communists and/or Democrats. The harshest pejorative I can recall is one reference to “government-run schools.”) This makes the movie all-the-more subtle and ingenious when it comes to luring in the gullible.
At the start of the movie Cameron is sitting in his backyard fretting about the future of America, and of his kids, who are seen playing nearby. America is falling apart, our colossal national debt is about to explode any minute and social collapse is just around the corner. How did things ever get this bad?
“The Left blames the Right, and the Right blames the Left,” he sighs. But the answer must lie somewhere beyond the politics of the day. Hence his multi-continent quest to find out just where (if not when) America first went off track.
Once again, we get the usual Christian Right spiel. The Pilgrims, persecuted for daring to doubt the legitimacy of King James to rule over them, courageously braved an Atlantic crossing in a tiny ship under horrendous conditions. Blessed by several obvious miracles, and with God watching over them, they established their little Christian colony in the New World.
King James (the only explicit villain in the movie), the vicious tyrant they risked life and limb to flee, was at the apex of an illegitimate royal “theocracy.” The Pilgrims, by contrast, established for the first time in human history the ideal, non-theocractic, democratic government of white male Puritans, albeit a really tiny one. (How their fledgling government could be both “Christ-centered” AND non-theocratic is never really explained. Furthermore, if the Pilgrims really had such antipathy toward King James and fear of his monarchy, why did they refer to him in the much-vaunted Mayflower Compact as “our … SOVEREIGN LORD, King James by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland King, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, etc.?”)
Retracing their odyssey, Cameron interviews along the way HERB TITUS, DAVID BARTON and DR. MARSHALL FOSTER, who’s billed as a “historian.” Interesting choice of “experts.”
Since he didn’t write or direct the film, I’ll give Cameron the benefit of the doubt that he’s probably not that familiar with the questionable backgrounds of at least two of the leading “experts” highlighted in his movie: Titus and Barton.
Outside of ridiculing Harvard University in Cameron’s movie, I don’t know what else Herb Titus has been up to lately. Back in 1998, he was a member of the COUNCIL FOR NATIONAL POLICY, an umbrella group of far-right organizations and right-wing fat cats. The first president (and co-founder) of the CNP was TIM LaHAYE, co-author of the “Left Behind” series of novels I referred to earlier. Other CNP stalwarts have included PAT ROBERTSON, JERRY FALWELL, D. JAMES KENNEDY, PAUL WEYRICH, JESSE HELMS, TOM DELAY, TRENT LOTT, DICK ARMEY, OLLIE NORTH, GROVER NORQUIST, DAVID KEENE, DICK SHOFF (convicted felon and former state secretary of the Indiana KU KLUX KLAN), HOWARD PHILLIPS (champion of CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISM), and R. J. RUSHDOONY (FOUNDER of CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISM).
Rushdoony, in his lunatic masterpiece “The Institutes Of Biblical Law,” decreed that “democracy is heresy” and called for replacing the U.S. Constitution with an out-and-out “Christian” theocracy in which homosexuality, adultery, “blasphemy,” and astrology would all be CAPITAL offenses, with BEHEADING or STONING being the preferred method of execution. (Sound familiar?)
When he was Dean of Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, Titus included Reconstructionist texts as part of its curriculum, although, when pressed, he claimed not to “subscribe” to Rushdoony’s more extreme views about what should constitute capital crimes.
David Barton has literally made a cottage industry out of his claim the “separation of church and state” is a liberal/Democrat/secular humanist myth.
Here’s how Barton was described by Max Blumenthal in an April 2005 posting on the website of The NATION:
The recent right-wing fixation on impeaching judges was conceptualized
by David Barton, Republican consultant and VICE CHAIRMAN of the
Texas GOP. In 1996 Barton published a handbook called “IMPEACHMENT:
RESTRAINING AN OVERACTIVE JUDICIARY”, which was timed to
coincide with TOM DELAY’S bid for legislation authorizing Congress to
impeach judges. “The judges need to be intimidated,” DeLay told reporters
that year. In 1989 Barton published a book titled “THE MYTH OF SEPARATION”,
which proclaims, ‘This book proves that the separation of church and state is
a myth.’ The BAPTIST JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS, in a
critique of his 1995 documentary “AMERICA’S GODLY HERITAGE”, stated
that it was ‘laced with exaggerations, half-truths, and misstatements of fact.’
Barton is on the board of advisers of the PROVIDENCE FOUNDATION, a
CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONIST group that promotes the idea that
BIBLICAL LAW should be instituted in America. In 1991 Barton spoke at
a Colorado retreat sponsored by Pastor PETE PETERS, an adherent of racist
CHRISTIAN IDENTITY theology with well-established neo-Nazi ties. During
the 2004 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee hired him
as a paid consultant for ‘evangelical outreach.’ The RNC sponsored more than
300 events for him.
(In case you hadn’t noticed, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have all been talking the Christian Right talk. Romney: “President Obama says he wants to TRANSFORM America. I want to RESTORE America.” Gingrich has called for both impeaching and PROSECUTING “liberal” judges, and Santorum went out of his way to say that John Kennedy’s famous speech about church-state separation made him want to “throw up.”)
The foremost “expert” in “Monumental”, interviewed at great length by Cameron, is “historian” Dr. Marshall Foster. It is mostly from his work and views that the title of the film refers.
Foster believes that an obscure — though visually impressive — statue in Plymouth, Massachusetts — the “monument” referred to in the film’s title — is the perfect symbol of the kind of worldview and values to which America must return if our nation is to survive much longer. The monument is called the National Monument to the Forefathers, which the Pilgrim Society spent thirty years financing and/or constructing. It was designed by artist and architect Hammatt Billings, who clearly intended it to either complement or to compete with the Statue of Liberty that was also capturing the public’s imagination around this same time period.
Although the Statue of Liberty is never referred to in “Monumental,” I can’t imagine a more stark and clear contrast, visually and symbolically, between two fundamentally different views of what America stands for today, and what so many Americans still believe it USED to stand for.
As Foster and Cameron walk around the monument discussing its elaborate symbology, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast it with the far more familiar and famous statue in New York Harbor. The central figure of the Forefathers Monument is a massive, Lady Liberty-like sculpture of a robed female representing FAITH in God. (For denser observers, it is conveniently labeled with the word FAITH.) Unlike the Statue of LIBERTY, whose female avatar grips the glowing TORCH of ENLIGHTENMENT with her right hand, the right hand of Lady Faith, index finger extended, points skyward to HEAVEN, from which, according to the Christian Right, we get all our fundamental rights, and governments get their legitimacy. (SEE ATTACHED PIX.) In her left hand, the Statue of Liberty holds a tablet representing the Declaration Of Independence, wherein the ACTUAL Founding Fathers of the UNITED STATES made it clear that legitimate government comes from the “consent of the governed,” not from heavenly dispensation. In stark contrast, in HER left hand, Lady Faith holds a massive representation of the BIBLE.
There are four smaller figures surrounding Lady Faith, representing Education, Law, Morality and Freedom. (The latter sculpture includes broken chains and shackles at his feet; the Statue of Liberty also has broken chains and shackles at her feet.)
The National Monument to the Forefathers was created by AMERICAN Christian patriots to emphasize the “fathers” in “forefathers.” The Statue of Liberty was designed and built by a bunch of FRENCHMEN.
On his website, “historian” Foster opines as follows:
The world is immersed in the greatest crisis since World War II.
Americans are groping for answers, without success. Just as the trillion
dollar bailout was being passed, Congressman John Boehner glanced at the
words emblazed [sic] in granite over the Speaker’s chair. He wisely said,
‘when this bill passes, remember those words, ‘In God we Trust,’ because
we are going to need His help.’ Americans have been turning away from
Him and history, His story, for decades. At the start of the 20th century
our true history was rewritten (‘REVISIONIST HISTORY’), and has since
been forgotten. As C.S. Lewis says, ‘It is the forgotten past that enslaves us.’
If we had not forgotten history, we would have known that every time people
turn away from GOD, IMMORALITY, CORRUPTION and eventually
ECONOMIC DEPRESSION result. We would have also remembered
that America has had a number of ECONOMIC MELTDOWNS. Each
time, Americans repented, a great renewal resulted and America’s
prosperity and stability were restored.
My favorite scene in “Monumental” is near the end of the film. Cameron and some guy I never heard of are “on location” inside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC musing about how the separation of church and state is this huge MYTH that an uninformed American public keeps accepting without challenge. During this absurd exchange they stand almost literally in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson’s statue. (Unseen in the shot, but still carved into the wall nearby is Jefferson’s famous quote: “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”)
Cameron has the irritating habit of not looking directly into the camera when he speaks directly to the audience. Having spent the entire movie earnestly arguing for a “Christ-centered,” faith-based government, he sort of looks in our general direction in the final few minutes and proclaims that he doesn’t want to see a top-down “theocracy” in America. Just a bottom-up, “Christ-centered,” faith-based government. Neat trick, that. Just exactly how do we remix religion and politics without ending up with more politics than we do religion?
As a born-again Christian myself, I have no problem with faith-based FAITH. In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend it. However, when it comes to faith-based government, faith-based “history,” faith-based “science,” faith-based economics, faith-based medicine, and/or faith-based contraception, I seem to remember that Jesus said “my Kingdom is not of THIS WORLD.” When it comes to tax policy, I don’t remember him insisting on tax cuts. All he said was “[r]ender unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” (But what do I know . . . I’m not an expert.)
To sum up, Kirk Cameron & Co. make “Monumental” more “mental” than monument.
Mark Burkett is a resident of Oklahoma City. (This article was not written by Fannie Bates, even if it says it was.)