Directed by Calvin Skaggs & David Van Taylor
Even as a Christian myself, I grow tired of other Christians trying to force their beliefs down my throat, particularly when they “suggest” a particular poll may be interesting to you on the latest social networking site. The questions are usually phrased in such as way that there’s no room for the shades of gray that are often there when you’re dealing with matters of faith and spirituality and how that translates into society.
In an interview with filmmakers of With God on Our Side, they make the point that although this country was founded by people with very strong religious beliefs, it was also founded by people with very divergent religious beliefs. The point of religious freedom was not to create a state religion but to allow people to worship God as they pleased. Somehow, that point seems to have gotten lost, especially in the last fifty years or so.
The first part of With God on Our Side examines the rise of the religious right and the evangelical movement in the United States. The second part looks at George W. Bush’s ascendancy to the Presidency and how his religious beliefs influenced the decisions he made in the Oval Office.
With God on Our Side traces the roots of the contemporary evangelical movement back to the Rev. Billy Graham and his “crusades”. It ties in much of the religious revival to the communist threat in the 1950s. There are interviews with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Conlan, Rev. Billy James Hargis, and Morton Blackwell among others who talk about what has happened during the lifetimes of many of the people who would view this DVD.
To tell the story, With God on Our Side uses vintage clips, including from President JFK. It’s telling to watch him confer with Protestant ministers and assure them that if he were elected President, his Roman Catholic background wouldn’t cause him to go against traditions believed to have come from the Constitution. It’s particularly important when put against the backdrop of the second part of the documentary. These leaders are apparently fine with going against the Constitution when it’s their desires and purposes being served.
The second part is probably the most off-putting, especially as these religious leaders seem to regard President George W. Bush as a chosen one and almost state flat out that 9/11 was a gift from God to boost his sagging approval numbers. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the God I believe in wouldn’t kill that many people just to give a boost to any President, never mind one that in my reading of the bible comes out against just about everything Jesus actually did teach about. It’s right along the line with those who blamed the pagans, abortionists, gays, lesbians, and ACLU as those responsible for 9/11. And if I’m wrong about those beliefs I’m okay with that because that sort of God isn’t one I’d like to follow and worship anyway.
People are interviewed who talk about Dubya’s religious convictions. I have been suspicious in the past of his seemingly sudden embrace of Christianity after a lifestyle that was questionable. However, through a variety of sources, I have come to believe that the spirituality he displays is genuine, which makes it even scarier. This spirituality gives him a black-and-white view of the world, hence the “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” speech.
With God on Our Side shows no overt bias and uses little narration. The people’s words speak for themselves, and I think those who think having their religion forced down the throats of those who believe otherwise is fine won’t have an issue as this is just letting people have their say and express their views. Most of what happens is the people being interviewed hang themselves eventually as to what their purpose is. I know there are plenty out there who have no problem with that.
With God on Our Side is an update to a British documentary that first aired in 1996. I didn’t see that original documentary before viewing this, but if it’s done in the same style it should be interesting. I would be willing to bet that although the filmmakers thought the religious right in America was having a political influence, they didn’t believe there would be a way they would have someone in the White House in four years. This documentary was aired just before the 2004 election on British television and is truly telling as to how people think and how easily led these masses were in the name of their religion. Being Christian myself I have no problem with issues of faith and spirituality. I do have issues with people’s spirituality being used as a way for people to gain power in this country, particularly when they try to assert that certain political parties have a “special” relationship with God.
I felt With God on Our Side was structured well in that it didn’t give so much narration it was telling the viewer how to think. What was presented in the clips in the documentary spoke for itself. For those of us who truly believe in freedom to worship as we see fit, it’s scary to think of how certain factions of Christianity want to grab power and force their version of Christianity on everyone else, even those who don’t believe at all. For people who think this is fine, they will probably get reassurance from the statements they see here and think that the rise to power and influence over others in this country is okay-fine.
The DVD contains a good number of extras. Most of it augments what’s on here and has a more definitive political slant, which is why it was cut from this documentary. I think the extras are worth watching.
Unfortunately, for most people who will view this, it’s preaching to the choir. Many of us who are spiritual are distressed at what we see alongside those who are atheists. It doesn’t get into examining people’s beliefs specifically as that’s the subject of another documentary, one I would really like to see. With God on Our Side really to me just shows how these people are being exploited for people who are hungry for power whether from behind the pulpit or in the voting booth.
• Politics: A Christian Viewpoint
• Early Evangelical History
• NPR’s Fresh Air Audio Interview with Filmmakers
• About the Filmmakers
• More on the Religious Right
• How Evangelicals Vote
• Companion Book
• Trailer Gallery