God Is Not Dead, the low budget surprise hit of the season, is drawing audiences and brickbats that seem out of proportion to the movie itself.
God Is Not Dead is an uber low-budget film that opened in a limited number of theaters to consistently terrible reviews. The movie has a predictable plotline and, with the exception of Kevin Sorbo, who had the starring role in the television series Hercules, unknown actors.
Yet it is pulling in the $$. The small side theaters where it is showing are filling up. It’s been in those theaters long enough for any roll that accrued to the film through early direct marketing to churches has died. But the audiences keep coming, and, surprisingly, they are mostly young people who cheer and applaud when the film’s hero vanquishes the villain.
At the same time, a matching vitriol, not toward the film itself, but toward it’s message, is dotting the internet like a bad case of chickenpox.
What’s with this little film?
I didn’t get around to seeing the movie until recently, so I attended it with a post-direct-marketing audience. I personally witnessed the full theater of young people, with late-comers going from aisle to aisle, looking for a seat. I saw and heard the entire audience cheer and clap at the gotcha line aimed at the villainous professor.
I came home wondering if this was an Oklahoma thing. I looked at the box office results, and it turned out that $2 million God Is Not Dead was in range with $125 million Noah for the weekend’s box office. Meanwhile the Christian-bashing thought meisters of the internet were in a rageful froth over the film’s astonishing success.
Predictably, this spiteful jabbing was aimed, not at the film itself, but at Christians in general. The basic message in these opinion pieces is simple. Here’s the gist of it: YOU CHRISTIANS ARE STUPID, PARANOID FOOLS! YOU ARE NOT PERSECUTED!!!! NOW SIT DOWN, SHUT UP AND STOP SPENDING YOUR MONEY ON A FILM WITH A MESSAGE TO THE CONTRARY OF WHAT WE TELL YOU!!!
It turns out that there are at least three underlying messages in the success of God Is Not Dead, and only one of them is in the film itself.
I think that God Is Not Dead is somewhat analogous to the Billy Jack movies of the 70s. It has a message that strikes a powerful chord with the younger generation of Christians. Every Christian kid who’s sat in a classroom while the professor derides people of faith, or who has been belittled and given lower grades for standing firm on their beliefs, knows from their own life experience that this movie is based on reality. I think that’s the reason that this movie has legs, and I also think it’s the reason that young adults in the audience burst into applause and cheers when the student zapped the bullying professor.
The Christians-are-crazy crowd is really heaping it on right now because of the surprise success of God Is Not Dead. They appear to be confounded by the fact that people will spend their money and go watch a film with a message about Christian bashing in higher education. According to them, Christians who believe that Christian bashing exists in higher education are all a bunch of paranoid hayseeds with very small brains.
What they fail to see is that this attitude in much of the media, along with the undeniable Christian bashing that occurs in a great deal of higher education, is exactly why God Is Not Dead is striking such a chord with so many people. It speaks to their experience, an experience which is denied, derided and belittled by both big-time entertainment and the internet mavens who are jabbing at God Is Not Dead’s surprising success.
I honestly thought that this movie had the possibility of a good run when I saw the previews for it. I knew that the Christian bashing that the film dramatizes is happening and that a lot of Christians are beginning to get enough of it.
I’m glad God Is Not Dead is a success. My reason is simple: I want Christian young people to stop allowing themselves to be bullied in the halls of academia by professors with personal problems.
To the extent that God Is Not Dead raises the self-awareness of Christian young people and helps then find their courage, I think it is a very good film, indeed.