Well, what can I say? I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Being the Easter season, I decided to go see the movie God’s Not Dead. I had to go alone since no one in my family wanted to see it, but I’m used to it. I always go to see these types of films. I endured the gore porn of The Passion, and tolerated the new and improved supermodel White boy Jesus with the salon perfect hair. Heck, I even made it through Noah. (Who knew it was possible to make a ridiculous fairytale about genocide even more unbelievable?)
Before I get into telling you about the film, I want to say upfront that atheists don’t believe the Christian god (or any other one for that matter) is dead. We believe he was never alive! We are not angry at any of these deities either. We don’t believe they exist! I’ll rant more on this shortly.
In case you’re interested, here’s the movie’s official preview:
So, arriving at the theater, I was surprised to find it difficult to find a seat. The movie was released nearly a month ago, but ticket sales are still strong. The place was packed with Christian families, and now little old me squeezed in between them. No big deal, I’m used to it.
While the previews teased a plethora of forthcoming Christian movies (most revolving around sports), I tried to suspend my disbelief (pun intended). I told myself I would be open-minded and see if there were any new—or at least improved—arguments for the existence of a deity. (Spoiler alert: The answer is no.)
Before the opening credits were complete, the movie presents the audience with a few unquestionably despicable stereotypes. We are introduced to a poor Muslim girl whose father forces her to wear a hijab. Nevertheless, when she arrives at school, she defiantly rips it off so she can be a normal college student. Later in the film, dear old dad finds out that she has been listening to a Franklin Graham (Billy’s kid) sermon on her iPhone. He beats her and throws her out of the house as she professes Jesus Christ to be her savior.
I know this Muslim young woman’s tale is based on an actual case; however, there are several similar stories of kids being kicked out of Christian homes for professing a nontraditional form of sexuality. And if anyone is interested, from my experiences at Atheist Nexus, I could provide you with dozens of examples of young people being thrown out of their homes for being atheists. Watching the movie, I could only imagine what the reaction might be if a kid from an Evangelical Christian home converted to Islam. It might even be worse than telling their parents they were gay.
Another stereotype is an Asian student from the People’s Republic of China. Over the phone, his father declares the Communist position that God is dead. Yet, we don’t have to worry, by the end of the film, the protagonist convinces him that God is not dead and together they attend a concert of the Christian rock band Newsboys. (Small world side note: I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but years ago I met the lead vocalist of the band, Michael Tait. He was then in a group called DC Talk, and my little brother got in trouble about a month later for calling him long distance repeatedly from our home.)
Perhaps the worst stereotype in the film is a character that only has one line. He is one of the only African American students in the lion’s den of a philosophy class the movie is centered around. When the professor asks his name, he responds in a very urban voice, “G-Dog.” Ugh. I sighed, but the audience got a kick out of it.
The other atheist stereotype is a young woman reporter who likes to ambush Christians like Willie and Korie (Duck Dynasty) Robertson. She belittles them for hunting and is disgusted that their family ends their show with a prayer. Big surprise, when we are introduced to her character, we see a bumper sticker on her car that reads “Meat is Murder” and another one that says “American Humanists.” I must admit, I gave a little cheer. Happy Humanist represent! (Read that last sentence as if it was uttered by G-Dog.)
And Now My Rant
I actually expected more out of this film. As indicated, I tried to watch it with an open-mind and truly hoped they would present some new angle on the argument. Not only was this not the case, they didn’t even present the old arguments in a cohesive or effective manner. It boiled down to, “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist,” and “Well, who sparked the Big Bang?” And when the question of who created God was offered, the answer was no one; God was never created. Boom. Checkmate atheists!
The primary flaw of the film is that the atheists featured were NOT FREAKING ATHEISTS! There was not one actual freethinker in the entire movie. It assumes that all atheists are wounded due to some mistreatment perpetrated by a member of the church, or some traumatic life experience. The film’s atheists were all angry at the Christian god. The antagonist professor (Hercules himself, Kevin Sorbo) is angry at God because his mother died of cancer. The evil business man (Superman himself, Dean Cain), is angry because his mother has dementia.
In the climax of the film, the brave student who challenges Sorbo (like David confronted Goliath) demands the teacher answer the question, “Why do you hate God?!” He repeats it over and over. Like a bad courtroom TV drama, the frustrated defendant thunders at the prosecuting attorney, “Because He killed my mother!” The now victorious student says, “How can you hate someone you don’t believe in?” The audience in the theater went nuts.
This type of silliness is nothing new to those of us who are out as atheists. I am asked all the time why I hate God. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain that I don’t hate God. It is impossible to hate something you do not believe in. And for the record, if you are reading this, and you claim to be an atheist because God did you wrong, guess what? YOU ARE NOT AN ATHEIST! You are a whiny backslidden Christian (or some other theist) who needs counseling.
Another pet peeve of mine is prominently featured in God’s Not Dead. When someone finds out I used to be a Christian and that now I am an atheist, more times than not I’m asked, “Oh, what happened?” It is as if the only way someone could have changed their belief system concerning god(s) is from suffering some type of before mentioned trauma. While it is true that bad experiences can initiate questioning one’s faith, they should never be the reason someone embraces disbelief.
The funny thing is, that just like in God’s Not Dead, people who are not raised Christian become Christians because of some rock-bottom experience. It is out of desperation that they cry out to God and beg for forgiveness and salvation. So it is because “something happening” that one often becomes a believer.
Ultimately, this is what happens to Sorbo in the movie. He is hit by a car, and while he lies in the street dying, he is presented with a final chance at salvation by the pastor in the film (who just happens to be driving by). Breathing his last breath, Sorbo accepts Jesus into his formerly hardened heart. Oh, and the atheist vegan reporter turns to Jesus when she meets with the band.
Now, the closing credits of the film say that it was inspired by several real court cases where atheist professors had bullied Christian students. For the record, if I was in a classroom and a professor demanded that all students write the words “God is dead” on a piece of paper and to sign their names on it, I would refuse as well. The task would be pointless, and I sure as hell would defend any believer, of any faith, for not doing so as well. There is no justifiable purpose for this and I would demand the professor lose his/her job. And to be honest, I don’t know any atheist who would not do the exact same thing. Remember, we’re not talking about flame wars and trolling comments on YouTube and Facebook, where people can hide behind fake monikers, we are talking about real-life face-to-face classrooms.
In closing, it is my hope (and prayer) that someday we will see a movie that deals with these important issues in a truly unbiased manner. Most believers (of all faiths) are decent people and have “reasons” for their beliefs (valid or not). Likewise, most atheists are decent and ethical people who love their families and want to live at peace with their neighbors. They claim “reason” as their belief (valid or not), and deserve equal respect. Who’s up for writing a script with me?