An Interview With the Writers of God’s Not Dead

Alex Songe pointed me to this interview with Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, the screenwriters for the movie God’s Not Dead. It might surprise you, as it did me, that they are both Catholic, not evangelical Protestant. I’m sure it won’t surprise you that they’re nursing a serious persecution complex.

Your movie depicts a young man resisting the ironically intolerant tolerance of secularism, an issue Catholics across the nation are certainly concerned about as of late. Have you gotten a positive reaction from the Catholic community?

Konzelman: Catholics are still largely unaware of the film, which is unfortunate.

Solomon: I think Catholics could learn a lot from the film. We feel this [point in time] is a “Boston Tea Party” moment for Christians, who are exasperated with being pressed upon and beaten down, and this movie kind of shows a positive example of resisting that trend.

Konzelman: The sentiment of Christians in this country is no longer “Don’t tread on me”; it’s “Stop treading on me.” That’s where we are. Our culture has become predominantly secular-humanist. We’ve largely lost that battle already, and, now, we’re just fighting for the right to be who we are in public life.

As always when I hear something like this, I’m wondering what country these people live in. It surely can’t be the United States, where it’s virtually impossible to get elected as someone openly atheist or humanist. And where legislators cite the Bible or the will of God as an argument for or against a public policy and almost no one bats an eye. Wherever this predominately secular humanist country is, I’d like to visit someday.

The movie chooses a really interesting place for a Christian to make his stand against secularism: a college campus. Why did you tell your story in this type of setting, usually thought of as one of the most anti-Christian environments in America?

Solomon: Well, for exactly that reason. When we started this project, we learned that about 65% of kids who are going into college as believers come out as nonbelievers. So what colleges are doing is they’re indoctrinating students and ripping away religion, making it seem “cool” to be a nonbeliever. We decided that someone standing up to this would make for a good story.

So it’s all based on a lie. David Barton tells a similar lie, only his is even bigger; he claims that about 80% of students lose their faith at college. But there is actual data on this and it does not support that claim, as FactCheck.org found when evaluating a similar claim by Rick Santorum a couple years ago.

But Santorum’s claims are off base. Those not attending college were more likely to stop going to religious services and to report they no longer had a religious affiliation than their college-going cohorts, according to data cited in a 2007 report published by the Social Science Research Council and unearthed by PBS. (We asked the Santorum campaign if this was indeed the report to which the former Pennsylvania senator was referring, but we have not received a response.)

The report said: “Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans.” Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the authors wrote, showed that “64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits.” But the figure was higher for those not in college. “Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.”

On top of that, 25 percent of those not in college reported a lower “religious salience” than they did when interviewed in high school, while 19 percent of those attending college reported such a decline. Those not in college were also more likely to report they no longer identified with any religious affiliation: 20 percent, compared with 13 percent of those in college.

Ironic tidbit: That SSRC study being cited was co-authored by none other than Mark Regnerus.

We’ve been accused by some of creating a fabricated reality by having a virulently anti-Christian professor as the antagonist, who basically demands that his students reject Christianity. “This doesn’t happen in American universities,” people tell us. But that’s absolutely inaccurate, because, at the end of the movie, we list 35-40 cases showing how this assault on religious belief is an ongoing battle.

And not a single one of those cases is about what the movie is about. Most of them deal with questions of discrimination (I’ll have a longer post detailing all of this now that I have the full list of cases). Basically what they did was ask the ADF to give them a list of cases where Christians claimed to be oppressed and copied and pasted them even if they had nothing to do with a professor telling students that if they don’t profess to be an atheist, they will fail their class. Not a single one of them is even remotely related to that subject.

Why aren’t you two writing scripts for Catholic films?

Konzelman: It’s because there aren’t any. Catholics do not fund films. I cannot think of a Catholic film [made in Hollywood] of any size funded in the last five years.

Solomon: Which is really a sad reality, because the media is the most powerful cultural force, in my opinion. St. John Paul II knew that. Who was more powerful in shaping public opinion than Shakespeare, in his time?

When you really look at it, it all comes back to God and the devil. There’s a secret battle going on that too many people don’t see. And it’s behind the veil. The devil manipulates the media, and he manipulates intellectuals.

Well that’s certainly a great way to insulate oneself from ever having to think about anything, isn’t it? Anyone challenging your beliefs is an “intellectual” and therefore being manipulated by the devil. A perfect anti-rationality force field.

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  • Cuttlefish

    In a different interview, turns out one of the stories followed in GND is based on the real experience of Dr. Ming Wang, who came to school as an atheist, was engaged with by a Christian professor… and the rest is (revisionist) history.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2014/04/09/revisionist-history-in-gods-not-dead/

  • raven

    Konzelman: It’s because there aren’t any. Catholics do not fund films. I cannot think of a Catholic film [made in Hollywood] of any size funded in the last five years.

    If there was money in it, there would be a blizzard of “Catholic films”, whatever those are.

    I assume they would be bios of Mother Theresa and the Pope and films defending the Catholic orphanage in Ireland with 800 dead children in a mass grave. And of course, defending Catholic atrocities such as the witch hunts, Inquisition, genocide of native peoples, Crusades, and hindering the fight against HIV and AIDS.

    I could see where Catholic films about their various wars would be great hits. Two of the Crusades targeted other xians, the Albigensian genocide and the sacking of Eastern Orthodox Constantinople. And that long running hit, the Reformation wars which flickered on and off for 450 years and wound down in Northern Ireland a whole 14 years ago in Northern Ireland.

    And of course, those touch feely films about women who used birth control and were struck by lightning or attacked by packs of rabid bats.

    Hollywood has one value that triumphs all. Money. It is just business.

  • blf

    I have not read the cited study, but do note that, as quoted, it seems to only talk about “a decline in attending” mythology-based rituals (during / since-starting University). I’ve always had the impression, based solely on my own experiences at University, that a large number of students didn’t or had abandoned such attendance before entering University. So they presumably wouldn’t show up as part of any “decline” since they weren’t to begin with.

    This is, of course, completely anecdotal and must be treated with extreme caution.

  • Chiroptera

    Anyone challenging your beliefs is an “intellectual” and therefore being manipulated by the devil.

    I’ve always found this a fascinating piece of fundamentalist eschatology. While most secular conspiracy theories fall apart under the overwhelming logistical problems that the supposedly numerous, powerful elite conspirators would face in keeping their conspiracy on target and secret, once you believe in magical beings then that problem is taken care of.

    The conspirators don’t have to be consciously working together. In fact, since Satan is manipulating them through their sinful desires, they don’t even have to be aware that they’re part of a grand conspiratorial scheme.

    That’s why it’s plausible to the fundamentalist that the atheists, Muslims, commuminsts, and liberal Christians can be all working together. Since they are being unconsiously guided by the devil, they don’t have to even like or trust each other.

    While all conspiracy theorists seem immune to facts or reason, this particular one seems designed to be especially sealed off from rational discussion.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The devil manipulates the media, and he manipulates intellectuals.

    These two are comfortably safe on the latter count.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    raven: Doesn’t “The Passion of the Christ” count? Or the “Omen” trilogy?

    Then there’s “Constantine,” which seems almost wholly based on Catholic theology.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Remember pastor Ray Mummert? “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.”

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    And of course ‘Dogma’

     

    (Hee!Hee!Hee!)

  • raven

    Study: Young Latinos losing faith – CNN Belief Blog – CNN …

    religion. blogs. cnn.com/2014/…/study-young-latinos-losing-faith-in-relig…

    May 7, 2014 – (CNN) – Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, … which has seen a 12 percentage-point drop in Hispanic members since 2010, … a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

    These film makers are missing the real stories of the US Catholic church.

    The RCC is losing members by the millions. One internal estimate is 1/3 of their membership, 22 million people.

    Their big hope was Hispanics. It isn’t working. They are leaving the RCC by the millions as well. Many of them go fundie, often AofG.

  • raven

    raven: Doesn’t “The Passion of the Christ” count? Or the “Omen” trilogy?

    Then there’s “Constantine,” which seems almost wholly based on Catholic theology.

    Maybe.

    I never saw Mel Gibson’s Passion and never even heard of the other two movies. There must a be a lack of Catholic films in my life!!! Hmmm, I did read the Exorcist. I suppose any film with demons in it must be Catholic.

    PS These guys are obviously fundie Catholics. The various sects copy each other a lot and beliefs evolve very rapidly. In practice, they probably are all but identical to fundie Protestants.

  • http://timgueguen.blogspot.com timgueguen

    raven, I was thinking that as well. Given how much press Rapture theology gets I wouldn’t be at all surprised if lots of Catholics believe in such things, not realising that Catholic doctrine does not support fundie ideas about the second coming.

    As for Catholic films sooner or later someone will decide to do a Mother Theresa film in Hollywood. It will probably have little connection with her actual actions and beliefs, but will reflect the popular perception of her.

  • Pingback: Dismal theology quote for the day | Civil Commotion()

  • pocketnerd

    Thus Spake Zaratimgueguen:

    Given how much press Rapture theology gets I wouldn’t be at all surprised if lots of Catholics believe in such things, not realising that Catholic doctrine does not support fundie ideas about the second coming.

    To be fair, the Bible doesn’t support fundie ideas about the second coming. But that has never stopped them before…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Norse mythology has also been making inroads at the cinema, what with a couple Thor movies in the last few years. Here’s another: Ragnarok

  • caseloweraz

    @raven & Raging Bee:

    Also Rosemary’s Baby, the Schwarzenegger vehicle End of Days, a B movie called The Keep

    I could list quite a few more with broadly Catholic themes. Of course, none of those AFAIK are made by or under the auspices of the RCC.

    (Just to avoid possible confusion, the The Keep I’m thinking of is one in which a demon is imprisoned by a ring of silver — until the Nazis come along and start stealing the silver bars.)

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “We Conservatives are such a big group that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for us.”

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    That SSRC study being cited was co-authored by none other than Mark Regnerus.

    Did he do his usual fine work?

  • dugglebogey

    Christians seem to be feeling just like white racists in the south during the civil rights movement. If other people that were previously denied rights are suddenly getting more rights, then theirs must be diminishing, right? What ever they are getting, we must be losing, right? It’s just good math!

  • rabbitscribe

    No love for this gem?

    “Who was more powerful in shaping public opinion than Shakespeare, in his time?”

    Oh, conservatively five or ten thousand people, most of whom we know nothing about. Why?

  • voidhawk

    I know they’re not Hollywood films, but recently there’s been ‘Calvary’ starring Brendan Gleeson which is allegedly pretty good, ‘Philomena’ with Steve Coogan and Judi Dench which was both critical of the church and sensitive about the beliefs of Irish Catholics.

    Those were the first two which jumped to mind but ‘The Catholic Register’ can nam a further 100 http://www.ncregister.com/info/top_100_pro_catholic_movies/ and Catholic Culture can name 50 (some overlaps with the Register’s list.)

    Either the writers of GND are ignorant of some of the biggest movies of all time or they’re more Liars for Jesus (I can believe either one)

  • abb3w

    I find it only slightly surprising that it was Catholics behind it. While US Catholics seem to have a slightly smaller proportion than (say) Southern Baptists, they do have a significant share of devout crazies (Douthat being one of the most prominent); and the Catholic Church pretty much invented the field of apologetics.

    Also interesting is their respective religious trajectories — one is a returned prodigal, the other from a non-Catholic religiously mixed marriage who converted as an adult.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    “The Passion of the Christ” was more “Catholic” than most Catholics, since Mel Gibson is a right-wing fringe Catholic who insisted on the Latin mass (even before Benny Hex issued his motu proprio authorizing its more general use) and spent millions of dollars building his own private traditionalist chapel, which is little more than a schismatic congregation. Hence the sense in which “The Passion” is a Catholic movie is certainly questionable.

  • http://skepticalimerick.blogspot.com/ Rich Stage

    Their claims are often disputed

    and arguments easily refuted

    but they play the game

    and still make the claim

    that Christians are still persecuted

  • http://www.facebook.com/set.v.kouwenhoven Set Kouwenhoven

    A decade ago I was attending a private liberal arts college in the midwest, where I was an ‘out’ atheist. My astronomy professor (a devout Pentecostal, though “not a creationist,” as he liked to remind us every other class) somehow got wind of this and told me after class was over, “there are two kinds of people in this world: Christians, and those who will be Christians.”

    I never quite knew how to respond to this: was he making a threat? I dunno. He walked off right after saying this.

  • Michael Heath

    Interviewer:

    Why did you tell your story in this type of setting, usually thought of as one of the most anti-Christian environments in America?

    I’m skeptical this interviewer is qualified to do this interview given his framing of this question.

    Prior to going to college, I repeatedly heard conservative Christians, none of whom were university educated at a secular institution, continuously claim that secular universities were anti-Christians. That they brainwashed students in order to turn them into liberal atheists. Basically they describe people at secular universities like Sarah Palin describes Barack Obama.

    My experience at Michigan State University was exactly the opposite of these conservative Christian claims. A surprisingly large number of of my profs went out of their way to claim they were Christians. And I don’t recall having any profs who had it in for religious believers. I recall only two incompetent profs, and neither’s defects had anything to do with politics or religion.

    I do remember all the facts presented in various classrooms that revealed the incredible degree conservative Christians lie about the facts they assert to defend their beliefs.

  • Michael Heath

    Set Kouwenhoven writes:

    A decade ago I was attending a private liberal arts college in the midwest, where I was an ‘out’ atheist. My astronomy professor (a devout Pentecostal, though “not a creationist,” as he liked to remind us every other class) somehow got wind of this and told me after class was over, “there are two kinds of people in this world: Christians, and those who will be Christians.”

    I heard this a lot in my youth having been raised to be a fundie (it never really took). The context I heard this assertion was in reference to the Christian Day of Judgement. “That when you stood before God”, you’d then realize that the Christian god both existed and behaved as asserted by Hell-believing Christians.

    So even if this “loving” god sent you to Hell to suffer unimaginably for all eternity, you’d be a Christian. Precisely because you’d be a believer who sought God’s mercy; just one that was too late to join the party in Heaven.

    Hell-believing Christians never seem to confront the fact that celebrating such a god and such beliefs makes their god and them objectively evil – with no close seconds that I’ve yet been able to imagine. When I’ve raised how their belief in Hell and the Christian god defines their god as evil, the physical manifestations made during their efforts to eradicate the cognitive dissonance this introduces is like watching a dancing robot gone haywire.

  • JustaTech

    So the only possible reason why college students might reduce their religious attendance is that they are no longer religious because college ate their souls. Right. Or how about college is a lot of work any maybe students don’t have time for class and work and church? Or, to be less kind, maybe they’re too darn hung over on Sunday morning to show up? Most of my friends in college who actually went to church every Sunday went because they were paid to play music.

  • scienceavenger

    Our culture has become predominantly secular-humanist. We’ve largely lost that battle already, and, now, we’re just fighting for the right to be who we are in public life.

    Perhaps we should interpret “our culture” as “our film making culture”, given the speaker is a film maker. In his world that description may hold. Now who’s going to break the news to him that Hollywood is not America?

  • scienceavenger

    @26 Perhaps its because college students are usually out from under their parents watchful eyes for the first time.

  • dingojack

    Our culture has become predominantly secular-humanist. We’ve largely lost that battle already…”

    But surely it’s only a flesh wound. @@

    “… and, now, we’re just fighting for the right to be who we are in public life“.

    What, you’re fighting to be bigots in public? Bit late for that I would have said…

    Dingo

  • raven

    I never quite knew how to respond to this: was he making a threat?

    LOL. Sure was.

    1. Everyone will be a xian someday. The vast majority will be in hell though, being tortured forever.

    The bible says eventually everyone will bend their knees to jesus and the bible is never wrong!!!

    2. You could have just pointed out that he is also an atheist. He doesn’t believe in any of the gods but the trinity while you don’t believe any of them.

    (And watch your grade drop two points.)

    3. In a public university, he would have been considered borderline out of line. There is a marked assymetry in power between professors and students and profs aren’t supposed to abuse this for personal reasons.

    Not that it stops many of them. I’ve got my own horror stories. At one time I was accused of being a Trotskyist by a Stalinist. At the time I was 18 and didn’t even know what the difference was.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    PS These guys are obviously fundie Catholics.

    I find it only slightly surprising that it was Catholics behind it…

    The Holy Roman Catholic Church is the ultimate “Big Tent,” including everything from the most so-phisticated Jesuits to people who see Jesus on dog butts.

  • David Marjanović

    The Holy Roman Catholic Church is the ultimate “Big Tent,” including everything from the most so-phisticated Jesuits to people who see Jesus on dog butts.

    QFT. Also, keep in mind that we’re talking about the US here, the place where even Catholics are evangelical.

  • David Marjanović

    You could have just pointed out that he is also an atheist. He doesn’t believe in any of the gods but the trinity

    Oh, if he’s old-school, he believes in every single one of them, he just believes they’re all evil demons who pretend to be gods so that people will worship them and end up in hell.

  • oranje

    @23 Valpo by any chance? I had a similar experience with an astronomy prof there. He said he felt sorry for me. The final paper was on the place of religion and faith in astronomy. There was only one correct answer.

  • matty1

    We feel this [point in time] is a “Boston Tea Party” moment for Christians

    As I recall the Boston Tea Party, despite later propaganda, was about people who had got rich smuggling untaxed tea trying to stop the legal import of untaxed tea leaves under a new lower tax scheme – which threatened their profits. I wonder what the analogy for Christians today might be?