There have been a few bad reviews of U.S. Christian movie God’s Not Dead already, and some of you may think, if you are Christian, that this is a sign of secular society discriminating against us all. We must rise up against this persecution by the devil and support a movie such as this when it gets the rare opportunity to be shown in mainstream cinema, right? Well, no. Not at all. People are not giving this film a negative review because of any bad feeling towards Christianity. They are reviewing it entirely fairly. Because take it from me: this movie is a dishonest, misrepresentative and all round dangerous portrayal of atheism and Christianity in society today.
I have heard it said that many American students go to college as a Christian and few of them remain committed to their beliefs throughout their four years there. Many will have come out a different person than who they went in as. God’s Not Dead portrays the idea that this is due to persecution of Christian beliefs within the secular college environment. Such a potentially false starting point is one we need to consider straight away, as it greatly influences how you will view the film.
First of all, consider the country we are talking about. This is the United States, where apparently 78% of the entire population don’t believe in the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, thereby attributing our existence to God in some fashion. An impressive 40% of the population disregard the theory altogether and maintain that God created us in our current form. The country is predisposed to believe that God exists at least; it is not predominantly atheist, even within the secular environment.
So when I see the main character of God’s Not Dead, Josh (played by squeaky clean Disney Channel actor Shane Harper), being shown as the only person in his 40-strong philosophy class professing a belief in God, I’m inclined to suspect that this isn’t exactly an accurate interpretation of real life.
Second, the films ‘atheist’ antagonist is a supposed philosophy professor whose first line to his class tells them that he’s going to skip over any meaningful debate on the topic of God’s existence and instead ask them to simply sign a piece of paper saying that God is (you guessed it) dead. Curiously he then disregards this completely in favour of devoting three classes to a debate on God’s existence, after Josh is the only person in the class to refuse to do so. Eventually this uncovers the professor’s true feelings; he is actually angry with God for letting his mother die despite his prayers to Him.
Aside from being the worst philosophy teacher in history, Professor Radisson (who is intriguingly played by former Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo) is also a poor caricature of a typical modern atheist. The reality, I’m afraid, is much different. A ‘New’ atheist, as they have been branded, is not someone angry with God, refusing to believe in Him out of some naive sense of injustice.
Rather, they are unbelievers both because of the perceived lack of physical evidence available for His existence, and also due to supposed evidence to the contrary (such as that theory of evolution I mentioned). They are even open to being convinced otherwise, if you’re up to the task. Take this quote from another blog I read recently, written by an atheist, to see the kind of thinking that a film like God’s Not Dead finds impossible to grasp:
“It’s a waste of time to come here and tell me that I am a nihilist. I am not. Don’t tell me I think life is meaningless. I don’t. Don’t tell me that I don’t believe in any objectivity in morality. Because I do. Don’t accuse me of disbelieving in God with 100% certainty. Because I don’t. You are wasting your time if you attack these strawmen. When you attack positions I do not hold, I just shrug my shoulders and either ignore you (since there is no time to reply to everyone) or focus on correcting the record about what I really think.”
I’d also be willing to bet that young Christians falling away from their faith when they get to college is not so much due to discrimination, but more the discovery of things like sex and drugs. That is the harsh reality; humanity is weak. We are susceptible to temptation. But this film would rather have you think otherwise. They envisage a typical Christian as a good-looking, middle class student who breezes through college on the wings of strong faith and is nonetheless ‘persecuted’ for it by their evil professors.
You may argue that my reading of the film is entirely wrong. That perhaps I am at risk of being led astray by secular society and losing sight of my core Christian beliefs. Bear in mind though, that I am not only a Christian, but also a former film student. I know the difference between one that represents art and one that smacks of propagandist messaging. God’s Not Dead is a closer relation to Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will than it is to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. I can testify to that; I see the glaring similarities to a film that misrepresented Nazi ideals.
Therefore, I would refute any suggestion that says what we have here is a fine example of using the cinematic art style as an evangelistic tool. There are much better ways to do that, rather than this sad offering to modern atheists who couldn’t wait to stick their critical teeth in upon release. And I don’t think, if we were to consider it fully, that any of us could really disagree with them.