Movie Review: “God’s Still Not Dead: You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”

Movie Review: “God’s Still Not Dead: You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” April 2, 2016

Christian film cinema movieWho enjoyed “God’s Not Dead”? If you want to relive that unrealistic bit of Christian persecution porn, read my review.

Who wants a sequel? Me neither, but journalistic integrity forces me to give you a review. I made it out of the experience intact thanks to some local atheist friends, so let’s get into “God’s Not Dead 2.”

Variety predicts a successful opening despite its harsh review: “The franchise’s disciples will surely fill its collection plate as full as 2014’s $60-million-grossing original, but this paranoid persecution-complex fantasy is unlikely to win many converts.”

Plot with spoilers

Here’s the unsurprising plot. Grace is a kind-hearted high school teacher who takes good care of her live-in grandfather (played by Pat Boone). Brooke is a student in her AP History class whose callous freethinking parents quickly got over their son’s accidental death, leaving Brooke feeling empty and alone. In a class discussion about Martin Luther King and Gandhi, Brooke asks a question about the relevance of Jesus as a peacekeeper, and Grace replies with a relevant Bible quote. Another student complains, but he’s told that the mention of Jesus, including quotes from the Bible, are not amiss in public schools, assuming that the material is stated in the context of teaching rather than proselytization, which this clearly was. The End.

Kidding! Of course, the movie lives in Everyone Is Mean to Christians and the Sky Is Falling Land, and the school board gets involved. Then the ACLU (hiss!) files a lawsuit, and the lead lawyer isn’t shy about their agenda: “We’re going to prove once and for all that God is dead.” After a little prayer in the darkest hour of the courtroom proceedings, our heroine is acquitted, and once again we’re told that God’s not dead. (And asked to tweet that to all our friends.)

Sadly, there was no April Fool’s Day gotcha at the end. Since Jesus promised persecution, maybe Christians think they’re doing it wrong if there isn’t any. (And in the U.S., there isn’t.)

GND: the franchise

The amount of continuity between the two God’s Not Dead movies surprised me. Martin the Asian student makes a return appearance. In GND1, a Muslim student was disowned by her father, but Martin takes that role in the sequel when his father disowns him for his faith. Pastors Dave and Jude are back. The atheist-now-Christian reporter who got a cancer diagnosis in GND1 has a miraculous remission. Duck Dynasty is given as an answer to “What’s your favorite TV show?” in jury selection, and the daughter of the two Duck Dynasty characters who made cameos in GND1 plays a small part. And there’s a Newsboys concert at the end.

Who’s eager for God’s Not Dead 3?

What about all those court cases showing Christian persecution?

As with the GND1, this movie ends with a handful of court cases that it claims illustrate “the very real threats to religious liberty that occur daily in the public square.” These all had the Alliance Defending Freedom on the Christian side, and the ADF web site is crowing about the release of GND2 which they say was “inspired by ADF cases.”

They may not be that good an ally when the Human Rights Campaign labeled them as “one of the nation’s most dangerous organizations working to prevent equality for LGBT people.” They seem to take a zero-sum approach to the public square, removing others’ rights to enlarge their own.

The Supreme Court’s tests for religion in public schools are clear (see my summary of the Lemon test for violations of the First Amendment’s Establishment clause and the Sherbert test for violations of the Free Exercise clause).

Is the ACLU really that evil?

The American Civil Liberties Union is a popular bad guy in conservatives’ imagination, though its mission in the religion domain seems easy to accept: “The ACLU strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise.”

They might talk a good story, but let’s check the evidence. In front of a list of 166 cases going back thirteen years, they say:

The ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans to practice their religion. But because the ACLU is often better known for its work preventing the government from promoting and funding selected religious activities, it is sometimes wrongly assumed that the ACLU does not zealously defend the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith. The actions described below – over half of which were brought on behalf of self-identified Christians, with the remaining cases defending the rights of a wide range of minority faiths – reveal just how mistaken such assumptions are.

Random observations

I won’t do a thorough takedown of the movie, but let me touch on a few points that are too good to miss.

  • Product-Placement Santa came early for several apologists brought in as witnesses for the defense, playing themselves. Lee Strobel mentioned his Case for Christ, and J. Warner Wallace was asked for both the title (Cold-Case Christianity) and then the subtitle (A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels) of his book. And the defense lawyer is given Man, Myth, Messiah by Rice Broocks, the apologetics consultant for the movie.
  • Amy is the reporter who unexplainably recovered from cancer. Someone responded with something to the effect of, “But isn’t that what you prayed for?” Though she didn’t say this, she might as well have replied, “Well, yeah, but everyone knows it doesn’t work like that!”
  • Pat Boone the grandfather said, “Atheism doesn’t take away the pain, it just takes away the hope.”
  • The ACLU lawyer (think of him as Satan) and his team meet Brooke’s parents and say that being part of an important lawsuit would bring publicity and a financial settlement that would help Brooke get into Stanford. The scene ended with dad signing a contract—basically, a deal with the devil. (Positive publicity? Perhaps Satan forgot Jessica Ahlquist from Rhode Island who participated in a 2012 lawsuit to remove an overtly Christian prayer in her high school. She was publicly called “an evil little thing” by a state representative, and she received hate mail and death threats. No, you don’t get just accolades when you push back against Christian privilege.)
  • The case gets local publicity, and protesters from both sides are on the steps of the courthouse. The Christians are sitting silently and peacefully with their signs, and the atheists, every one of them, are facing them and shouting. Wow—I didn’t realize atheists were so universally hateful.
  • Mike Huckabee interviews yet another actual apologist (I wonder if he was able to slip in one of his books, too) and concludes that Christians will soon have to pick the law of Man or the law of God. This was echoed by a Ratio Christi promo: “If Christians don’t take a stand today, will we even have a choice tomorrow?” (In the first place, your “law of God” is legal here thanks exclusively to the U.S. Constitution. You should at least have a little appreciation as well as some knowledge of civics. In the second, atheists want only to remove excesses that favor Christianity over other worldviews. That’s it.)
  • The argument from the defense was that Grace made a justifiable secular statement in a public school classroom. But once they win, the secular pretense is out the window and everybody is chanting, “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive,” a line from a Newsboys song.

Role reversal

In the courtroom, Satan inverts the case for the jury’s benefit. Suppose that, instead of a Christian quoting from the Bible, we had a Muslim quoting from the Qur’an? Wouldn’t that clearly be proselytization? (Hardly—I can quote the Bible better than most Christians. When I do so, I most certainly am not proselytizing.)

But let’s take this further. Suppose the movie were actually changed in this way, with a Muslim teacher giving a relevant, non-proselytizing quote from the Qur’an about Mohammed in a public school history class. What would the Christian supporters of the movie say then?

The atheists would be unchanged. It wasn’t a problem with the Christian, and it’s not a problem with the Muslim. How about it, Christians? This would make your case stronger, because your support for the Muslim teacher would show that this wasn’t simply an attempt to get favors just for your religion—which, I must confess, is pretty much what it looks like. (h/t to my atheist posse)

God’s Not Dead 3?

Let me bring this too-long post to a close. I need to respond to the post-credits scene where Pastor Dave is hauled off in handcuffs, setting up the to-be-thrilling sequel.

Earlier in the movie, a group of local pastors had been told that the last four months of their sermons were being subpoenaed. No reason is given; this is just a demand from out of the blue.

The script had a 2014 Houston case in mind, and one character even alluded to it, but that was a very different case. Instead of some government body demanding pastors’ sermons for no stated reason, the Houston case started with a lawsuit from conservative groups against the city of Houston against new provisions to provide trans access to bathrooms matching gender identity. In response, the city subpoenaed five local conservative pastors to find statements they’d made relevant to the case.

The city quickly reversed itself, and even atheists pushed back against the logic of the request. Eager to crank up the hysteria dial, however, the movie turned a response to a conservative lawsuit into an unprovoked attack on Christian liberty.

 

Maybe my shock at the ridiculousness of the movie is off base. Perhaps everyone already knows that this is just persecution porn and, like a romance novel that must have a happy ending, this is just a genre thing. Staying in close contact with reality isn’t the way it works here. If so, perhaps I’m the one fooled with this April Fool’s Day movie.

(And BTW, if you’re looking for hilarious takedowns of Christian movies, I recommend my new favorite podcast, God Awful Movies. I can’t wait to hear what they do to this one.)

Review of GND3 here.

I sneezed and no one said, “Bless you.”
Will the persecution never stop??
— Friendly Atheist commenter Robert Douglas,
on a possible plot summary of God’s Not Dead 3

Image credit: PUREFLIX

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Greg G.

    Thanks, Bob. You saved me about $7.50.

    • MNb

      I wish I could say the same, but no, the title already is enough to put me off.

    • Derrik Pates

      Maybe if you went to a matinee.

      • Greg G.

        That’s the matinee price at the first run movie. It might be cheaper at the second run theater if they run it.

  • Who’s eager for God’s Not Dead 3?

    How about we just assume that God continues to not be dead until told otherwise? Then they don’t have to make a shit film every couple of years to let us know that God’s proverbial bucket remains unkicked.

    If anything they’re undermining they’re own case by making more of these films; if I keep getting updates that a particular person hasn’t died yet, it generally means that that person doesn’t have too long left to live.

    • “God’s Only Mostly Dead: the Miracle Max Version”

    • tsig

      Reminds me of the “Francisco Franco is still dead” joke.

  • wtfwjtd

    Bob, I admire your tenacity and fortitude for being able to actually sit down and watch this piece-of-shit propaganda film. Christians love themselves some projection, and we obviously have a massive dose of it here. Thank you for the report, this sounds even more awful than I had imagined.

    • It’s amazing how un-self-reflective they are.

      I’d have liked to have engaged with the Christians in the theater afterwards … but it might’ve turned into a rumble.

      • wtfwjtd

        Isn’t the setting of this movie supposed to be some hick town in Arkansas? Like that’s going to happen…just go over to JT Eberhard’s blog some time, and ask him about all those atheists in his home town (Mountain Home, AR), and how “persecuted” the poor Christians are down there. Riiiight.
        On another point, the movie using itself as a commercial for promoting apologetics books shows who the target audience is for this. And yeah, if you would have engaged some of those believers in the theater afterwards, and casually mentioned your real thoughts, you might have been placing your life in danger. There’s nothing more dangerous than an angry mob that’s just been told that their persecution complex is a fantasy!

        • It was filmed in Little Rock, AK, and the “courthouse” is the state capitol building. (In one scene, Grace is walking up a long majestic marble stairway to a room at the top clearly labeled “Senate.” Whoops.)

          As for striking up new conversations, Peter Boghossian (“A Manual for Creating Atheists”) talks about starting conversations with strangers in the checkout line and other public places.

      • MNb

        “It’s amazing how un-self-reflective they are.”
        It’s amazing how often this is confirme on your very own blog.
        And I always thought that self-reflection and social justice was exactly what christianity was about.

    • Aloha

      Yes. This was a really great review.

  • epicurus

    I watched the first movie on dvd from the local library. While that means I saved movie fare, it’s still 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back. What a waste.

    • Aloha

      The first movie was the one where the instructor should have been taken to court for teaching religion. The big bad Atheist professor planned to spend the WHOLE semester teaching about God (his death), while Miss Grace only spent about 5 seconds to confirm that Jesus once uttered a pacifist statement.

      • epicurus

        I found the idea of the professor taking an introductory class off on a tangent for the whole semester a bit unbelievable. From my university experience, 1st and 2nd year courses were pretty fast paced, most profs struggled to get to all the topics they were supposed to cover, or at least get to them in any depth, and lamented that they only had 13 weeks in the semester to get through all this material. Later years were a bit more relaxed, seminar format with 10 people in the class, and the prof could narrow the focus to a specific topic. But of course a prof couldn’t stray too far in that either. If the course description is Aristotle’s ethics, pretty hard to spend the entire semester talking about how God doesn’t exist. I think the dept. head would have something to say about that.

        • Greg G.

          I think the dept. head would have something to say about that.

          See Busted: Christian Teacher Suspended After Obnoxious Rant Is Caught On Tape.

        • epicurus

          Wow, that is simply outrageous. I’m sure sure Arkansas is a fine, beautiful state, but what are the requirements to get a teaching job there? This guy sounds like he barely made it through high school, let alone an education degree from a college or university. I just about fell out of my chair when I heard him define the word liberal:
          “Liberal means taking liberties with the constitution,” and you can hear his chalk on the board, so he must be writing it out as an actual definition of the word.
          And what a nice double standard of promoting conservative Christian values while talking about how he loves Metallica and attacking Tipper Gore for trying to get ratings on rock music lyrics that most Christians would say are obscene and definitely against Christian values. Hopefully this loser never gets another teaching job, maybe he can audition for a role on Duck Dynasty, I’m sure he’d fit right in.

  • epicurus

    Rather than a levelling of the playing field with other religions, some Christians seem to view their loss of cultural and institutional privilege as persecution. But of course they don’t want a level playing field. They want to keep Christianity in the drivers seat. I can’t see them supporting Mormon prayers in schools or Govt meetings.

  • Leloi

    Wait… Aren’t they already doing the Muslim remix? It goes a little something like, “How dare they mention the word Islam in a world history class focused on the Crusades! They are indoctrinating our students by making them learn the 5 tenants of Islam! They are lying and saying Medieval Islam actually invented things! Fire those teachers! It’s all Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s fault and his Muslim loving Common Core!” (they often mention his middle name to make you think of Saddam Hussein) I seem to recall a big stink this past year. Somehow it was Obama’s fault even though high school social studies has a chapter on world religions that includes Islam as well as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity and I went to primary school back in the 80s and 90s… Obama must have been using his time machine again.

  • rubaxter

    Don’t see how this little pile of rabbit droppings is any less cloying than ‘classics’ like Mr. Smith, Wonderful Life, Narnia, or Mary Poppins. Children play with the little pellets until their parents tell them to stop, and the same with these movies. Well, MP did have some good songs, too.

    Oh, you mean adults actually go to this current moanfest??

    • In fact, I was surprised at the ads and trailers that preceded the movie. Most of it assumed there were children in the audience. Chronologically at least that was a false assumption in the theater that I was at.

  • tsig

    God’s not dead, he’s just pining for the fjords.

    • He’s only on his perch because they’ve nailed his feet there.

      • Leloi

        It’s gone to meet its maker!

      • Michael Neville

        He’s resting after a prolonged smite.

    • Otto

      He is just tired and shagged out after a long sermon.

  • tsig

    They are seeing the world thru brown colored glasses.

  • MNb

    I don’t know about GinD-3, but GinD-0 was already made two years ago.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2467046/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_14

  • T-Paine

    I wouldn’t worry about these movies – they’re strictly preaching to the choir. Fortunately, many Christians saw right through the first movie as anti-atheist propaganda and were turned off by it’s ridiculous and preposterous plots and heavy-handed storytelling. The second movie, it seems reeks of all the sanctimony of the first one with the plot even more preposterous and ridiculous than the last. I would guess this sequel would turn off even more Christians whom don’t like their intellect – or their faith – insulted.

    • I won’t disagree, but the Christians who attended my showing were pretty into it. There were a few applause moments, and the theater was only 20% full. I imagine in a red state, there would be far more enthusiasm.

      • T-Paine

        Of course they were pretty into it – they were the target audience – Christians who believe that their persecution isn’t just a matter of doctrine but a matter of fact. They were the choir being preached at. The Christians who are turned off at these movies tend to be the non-evangelical flare – they are the ones who see these movies as insults to their faith and intellect.

      • Derrik Pates

        Sounds like the opening for the latest installment was down relative to the first one. I’m quite certain there’s an audience for this sort of martyrbation fodder, but I do think “Pure Flix” might be slightly overplaying their hand this time around.

        Not that that’ll stop the inevitable third installment…

        • On Friendly Atheist, I read that the opening weekend was down a bit, but because of the much greater number of theaters, the per-theater amount was way down. If there is #3, I imagine it’ll open in a smaller number of theaters.

    • kagl982

      Another ccksucking atheist troll assho/e.

      You geeks are bottom-feeding scum.

      • T-Paine

        U mad, bro?

      • You’re rude and (worse) you have no argument.

        Bye.

      • Rudy R

        Jesus would be so proud of your language.

  • I actually found the original film amusing (due to its silly plot and bad acting). So this one might be too. I’ve found other Christian films had the same qualities.

    • If you have time to fill with a podcast (that uses foul language), check out “God Awful Movies.” Very clever.

    • Kanawah

      You wrote, ” I’ve found other Christian films had the same qualities.”
      Yes. Massive quantities of elephant crap.

      Would have said “Massive quantities of BS”, but I did not want to insult the bull.

      • My question in watching something like “Left Behind” (at least the original from 2000) was “have these people watched movies?” It’s not just the silly plot (I don’t mean just the message, rather the poor way it’s done) but the acting, props, lighting all of it. Gah.

  • L.Long

    Well the title is true, as gawd is not dead, you can’t kill or destroy that which does not exist! Which is one good reason for jesus never really existing….with no real historical jesus there is no way to destroy the fairy tale!
    Reading thru the post I can see where the entire movie is just a projection of the really ahole behavior of xtians onto the atheists, so at least the producers see how xtians really behave.

    • Sheila Warner

      You read my mind. No atheist would say “God is dead”, b/c that implies God had been alive at some point. A non-existent being cannot be alive or dead. It just isn’t.

      • TheNuszAbides
        • Sheila Warner

          I understand all that, but I don’t prefer that phrase to express the view. That’s just me. I should not have extrapolated my preference to other atheists. My bad.

        • TheNuszAbides

          fair enough. it was Nietzsche at his most-uncharacteristically brief.

    • Kanawah

      As stated below, if it does not exist, it cannot be “dead”. It was never alive
      There is no god. Never was, never will be.

  • Kelly Karoly

    Melissa Joan Hart? Say it ain’t so!

  • RichardSRussell

    The original God’s Not Dead started out as one of the worst-rated movies ever on IMDb.com (which asks viewers to rate each movie on a scale from 1 to 10), but hordes of the faithful have since raised its rating to a still-wretched (but no longer Stygian) 4.9, lifting it well out of the depths of the true bottom feeders. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, however, even tho the audience score is likewise high at 77%, the critics who set the Tomatometer have it at 15%. Perhaps more telling is that there are only 20 of them who thot the film was even worth reviewing, whereas the horror movie The Babadook (to pick another low-budget effort that also came out in 2014) clocks in at 177.

  • Clover and Boxer

    Yuck.

  • JustinL

    “Lemon Test?” “Sherbert Test?”

    • Yes, very odd. Obviously, the names come from SCOTUS cases that set precedents.

      • JustinL

        Oh, I have no issue with the names. I just seized upon the opportunity to make a Simpsons reference. 😛

  • Scooter

    Just watched the movie and can concur with the premise that the word “Jesus” not spoken as a curse word but in a positive sense, in the public square, often brings recrimination. It was refreshing to watch a movie without a barrage of curse words, foul language, sexual innuendos, extreme violence, and foolish sick humor. If you don’t think there is persecution just listen to the shrill voices from teachers of evolution in a science classroom if you dare suggest intelligent design.

    • MNb

      BWAHAHAHAHA!
      It’s actually creacrappers like you who run away with shrieking voices when a teacher biology dares to drop the e-word.

      • Kanawah

        Want to try that in English.

        • MNb

          I won’t stop you.

    • If you insist on chaining yourself to ID, then when it gets swept away by, y’know, reality, then I guess you could claim persecution. The rest of us don’t see it that way.

      The point to understand is that the persecution imagined in the movie is pure Hollywood–or perhaps Holy-wood in this case. Any teacher hassled in this way would have the ACLU on their side. And all the atheists.

    • Andy_Schueler

      It was refreshing to watch a movie without a barrage of curse words, foul language, sexual innuendos, extreme violence, and foolish sick humor any connection to reality whatsoever.

      FIFY.

      If you don’t think there is persecution just listen to the shrill voices from teachers of evolution in a science classroom if you dare suggest intelligent design.

      Science teachers teaching science is “persecution” for you? Cute.
      Hint: in the real world, “persecution” means “Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another individual or group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms.”