Aug 15, 2011

Why soul-survivor should be banned!

Thomas Prosser has written in last week’s Guardian on the sinister under-belly of the Church – the Christian teen camp!

In his article Christian teen camps are wicked, innit he writes of how ‘Tens of thousands of British teens flock to such festivals and they have become an established fixture of the ecclesiastical calendar

And what disturbs him is that ‘the Christian teen camp also aims to bring them to the Lord. This it does in industrial numbers according to the camps. Thousands are said to make decisions for Christ every year. Our prodigal island is slowly brought back to God as he transforms our teens’ lives one by one.’

So why is he so trubled?  He give two reasons.

Firstly that ‘the evangelical tactics used at such camps are on occasions manipulative

He describes how ‘Sermons at such camps often take the form of wild orations that aim to wear down the resistance of the audience to the message.’

After having their emotions softened, hypnotic music typically sounds out in subdued lighting as youngsters are urged to come to the front and give their lives to Christ.’

None of any of this is fair to teens: young people have a right to choose their religious beliefs without being subjected to strategies that emotionally exploit them.’

So his concern is the emotional exploitation of teenagers. Well even if it were true that there is some level of emotional exploitation at these week long events why single out Christianity as evil in this regard. What about the emotional exploitation of teenagers that takes place 52 weeks of the year on our TV screens and in the media? Don’t ‘young people have a right to choose’ there too?

Are we going to ban X-Factor or Britain’s got talent because it deludes teenagers in droves into thinking that they will one day be famous and that the dream of making it big will come true? Are we going to ban TV programmes such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl starring Billie Piper because it sells the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice?

Are we planning to ban under-18’s from going on Haj or fasting during Ramadan?

I don’t hear Prosser calling for the banning of Internet pornography that has caused immense damage to teenagers of both sexes. Natasha Walter wrote Living Dolls’ in 2010 in which she interviews Jim who describes his addiction to porn

‘I was about 14 and I would find them and wathc them when I was alone in the house. Constantly. I was unable to think of women except as potential pornography.’ Now an adult he comments that pornography ‘has destroyed my ability to have intimate relationships.’

She cites one recent study in Canada in which it was revealed that  ‘90% of boys aged 13 and 14 and 70% of girls the same age had viewed pornography.’

We could take about under-age sex that has led to an alarming rise in STD’s amongst teenagers, binge-drinking, anorexia, and so on all of which are fuelled by images in the media. We could ban Hollyoaks and Bratz Dolls and lads mags and risqué pop videos, all of which exploit children and teenagers in unacceptable ways and all in the name of making money.

People choose to go on Christian teen-camps and it’s pretty obvious to children and parents alike what you’re going to get. If only the media offered the same choice, sadly not.

But it is Prosser’s second point that is truly alarming.

The real reason he dislikes these camps is that he is intolerant of Christianity. His problem with Christian camps is that they teach orthodox Christianity – shock, horror!

The second objection we should have to the Christian teen camp is that the youth lingo and guitar riffs conceal messages that could be damaging to young people.’

Could the real “wicked” in Christian teen camps actually be their effects on teens’ emotional wellbeing?

So at the end of the day Prosser’s argument is essentially ‘I don’t like Christianity’ because of what it teaches and that’s about it. It’s striking that the only aspect of the Christian message he chooses to mention is that one day we will be judged for our actions, which is of course an aspect of Christianity. But that is not at the heart of these camps. The good news of Christianity is that at the heart of the universe is not the cruel indifference proposed by Dawkin’s atheism but a God of incredible love who has loved us in Christ. I wonder what Prosser makes of the sermon on the mount that so inspired Martin Luther King?  I wonder whether he thinks it’s damaging to teenagers to hear of a God who because he loved and served us in the death of his son now sends us out into the world to love and serve our communities? Surely there is no more appropriate message for teenagers this summer!

Such articles are well worth reading to Christian teenagers in our churches. It’s good to discuss the strengths and obvious weaknesses of such journalism. The patronizing, condescending tone and the suggestion that the teaching of Christianity should be banned to under-18’s will create a few laughs as well as demonstrating the thinly veiled contempt for a life-changing and community-transforming message.

Like Richard Dawkins such journalism is a great asset to Christians the world over.



  • This tweet from Soul Survivor the other day…

    mikepilav Mike Pilavachi
    About to start SSB with over 11000 young people tonight as other young people riot in our nation. Now is the time.

  • Essentially Neil Powell is saying “Look! Other people use manipulative and dishonest tactics in various activities, and other bad things in the world exist, so we are perfectly entitled to lie, manipulate and do other bad things.”

    Not surprising really, given that Christianity is significantly lacking in the ethics department.

    As for the fact that these events teach the existence of Hell, either prove that it exists or stop teaching people that it does. Instilling a fear of this fictional place in the minds of children and adults alike, which Christianity has done for the entirety of its history, is evil.

  • well, the world will complain either way! Christians are ‘ineffective’ and ‘wishy washy’ if they don’t speak up, or they are ‘over zealous’ and ‘exploitive’ if they dare to express their views! My three teenagers are at Soul Survivor right now with a large group of friends who have chosen to go for several years and wouldn’t miss it for anything! Face it, teenagers love to be with crowds of people, loud live music and have fun with their mates, and I would rather they found these things at a christian event than some of the other festivals/camps they may otherwise be drawn to!

  • The question is could he had written the same piece about Taize or the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage?

    Probably yes.

    However we must also be aware of how we appear to the world.

  • I think we all us Christian bloggers should agree some sort of rota so we don’t get tired out debunking straw-men Guardian articles on Comment is Free.

  • Great article. Also see our general director’s response to this article on Comment Is Free:

  • Firstly, I have to say that if ‘highly manipulative’ methods are being employed at these events, they should be stopped. The methods, obviously.. not the events. Largely because they probably aren’t necessary. I firmly believe that leading by example is immensely more effective at bringing people to Christ than using ‘hypnotic music’, soft lighting and long sermons.

    Regarding one commenter’s post regarding Hell (Hi, David! :)), may I suggest that Christians are not the only people or group who circulate negative concepts of death. Concepts which are likewise not possible to empirically prove or disprove. And affect the lives of those who hear them.

    Coming from a secular, atheistic background, it is my opinion that it is damaging to both society and individuals to teach that after a brief and – if one is honest – pointless life, one will cease to exist. I have known people who have killed themselves or have lived truly miserable lives (myself included) in the light of these nihilistic beliefs. The idea that one’s existence is terminated upon death cannot be empirically proven, as the philosophical naturalism which lies behind it cannot be proven; it is theoretical. Yet despite this, it is a notion which is widely circulated and postulated at every given occasion by its proponents.

    At least Hell is counterbalanced by the knowledge of a loving, creator God, who was willing to die a humiliating death for his creation for the purposes of redeeming it. There is hope.

    Personally, I do not believe that Hell should be the thing on which the whole thing turns. I realize that some churches emphasise that aspect of Christian doctrine – I stress ‘some’. I loathe hellfire preaching and I know I am certainly not alone in that opinion. The love and grace of God should be at the core of all such things. If Soul Survivor’s emphasis is on hellfire, I would be concerned.

    It is, nevertheless, important that it remain a part of Christian belief and be intelligently discussed with those who wish to follow Christ. It is there in Christianity, it would be intellectually dishonest of Christianity to try and erase it from history, as some have suggested or to avoid teaching it. It should not, however, be used as a big stick to beat people into belief.

    In the end (and this is only my own opinion after reading widely on the subject), if it is true that individuals can cause irreparable damage to themselves – not only in this life but in the life to come, it would be wrong to avoid discussing it. That, I believe, would be the true evil.

  • We have evidence to support the idea that no continuation of our conscious existence continues after the destruction of our bodies. There is no evidence supporting the existence of Hell. The burden of proof rests, as it always does, on those making the supernatural claims and not on those who disbelieve them.

    What it says about the Christian god is something most Christians do not want to admit. After your death, instead of leaving you as you are, this being is going to rebuild you in a body made of a different material from the one you had, capable of experiencing pain but not of losing consciousness or having its nerve endings damaged by fire. It will then put you in a place of eternal physical torture unless you happen to have arbitrarily assented to a particular set of unproven and unprovable statements (but not a different set of statements) and you were of the persuasion that they were true at the point of your last conscious moment as a living person.

    That absurd, monstrous position calls for verifiable evidence to back it up or condemnation. In the absence of the former, I’ll go for the latter. Teaching Hell to anyone as a fact is quite simply evil.

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