Name two things you're bound to find on every corner in the hood.
If you answered "a church and a liquor store," as the old joke goes, you're already familiar with the inherent contradictions that inspired Jeremiah Camara's new, aptly titled documentary, Contradiction.
The independent doc offers a deep probe into what Camara considers the religious intoxication plaguing black communities across the country. According to Camara, who has authored and independently published two books on the topic (The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks and Blind Belief and Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress?), there are over 85,000 predominantly black churches of Christian affiliation across America. Yet, African-Americans still suffer disproportionately as a people, he says.
Like the Old Testament prophet who's first name he coincidentally bears, Camara is also a man on a crusade to enlighten his people.
For the film, he traveled the country to examine "the paradox of black neighborhoods saturated with churches" while wallowing "in the midst of poverty, deprivation and despondency."
In interviews with religious scholars, preachers, community leaders and laymen and women - ranging from former Southern Christian Leadership Conference head Martin Luther King III to theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss - his myth-debunking inquiry revolves around one profound question: "Are there so many churches because the people are sick or are the people sick because there are so many churches?"
The film, which premieres at 7 p.m today at Porter Sanford Performing Arts & Community Center in Decatur, grew out of Carama's 43-episode YouTube series, Slave Sermons, which began in October 2010.
"In the North, you were expected to go to church and accept Jesus and all the other traditions, but it wasn't so much a death sentence if you didn't go to church," says Camara. "But when I moved down here to Georgia, it was more serious. I saw that church was big business down here. People would ask what church you go to before they ask your name."
Contradiction takes a historical look at how Christianity was used as a tool of oppression during slavery as well as outlining the methods contemporary ministers and prosperity preachers use in the pulpit to intoxicate their flocks.
Camara crafted the film particularly for African-American viewers because he considers them "the most churchgoing group in America and the least likely to question their faith." But he attempts to explore the topic with a sense of objectivity and respect that challenges viewers without condemning their beliefs.
"The main goal was that it wasn't offensive," says Camara, who today identifies with no religion or specific spiritual practice. "But at the same time, it's inevitable that we're going to cause some cognitive dissonance. That's unavoidable."
Contradiction. $10. 7 p.m. Tues., Oct. 8. Porter Sanford Performing Arts & Community Center, 3181 Rainbow Dr Facebook.com/ContradictiontheMovie.
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