Dan Fincke went to see God’s Not Dead, the Christian movie about an atheist philosophy professor who is such a straw man that they might as well have had him played by a scarecrow. Since Dan is an atheist philosophy professor himself, he wrote approximately 48,000 words to review the movie. In the first of his reviews, he points out just how much every single non-Christian character is conveniently created to look just like the negative stereotypes they have of them:
Now the filmmakers behind this movie reveal themselves to be the kinds of Christians who want to see everything adamantly as Christianity would have it. They reveal this by their unwavering refusal to introduce moral ambiguities or any turns of events that don’t outright vindicate their faith and put it in the best light possible or its enemies in anything but the worst light.
The atheists in the film are all precisely as some Christians (and evidently these filmmakers) routinely claim they are. They are people incapable of loving, like Mark (Dean Cain) who upon learning his girlfriend Amy (Trisha LaFache) has cancer responds immediately by blaming her for ruining his dinner celebrating his promotion and then dumping her. When she says she thought he loved her he tells her to grow up and explains to her that love is just something we say when we want or need something. He views love in maximally cynical transactional terms. She no longer can be what he wanted so she’s “broken their deal”. Amy herself represents another trope of the bad atheist–she is a mean spirited, materialistic, contemptuous person only concerned with worldly success and who persecutes Christians because deep down she envies their Christians’ hope and really wants to be saved. Or atheists are authoritarian bullies like Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) who go beyond atheism to be dreaded antitheists, where antitheism is maligned as the wish for people to be forced not to believe in God rather than give them a choice like Christians do (and like God himself does). (Professor Radisson also gets to be a verbally abusive boyfriend who is dating a former student named Mina (Cory Oliver) whom he forces to call him “Professor” whenever they are on campus together.) None of the atheist characters are given any more nuance than their deep down pain and longing for Jesus. Amy’s cruelty is a cover for her hopelessness. Professor Radisson’s vindictive bullying is an expression of his grief driven hatred of the God he actually believes in in response to his mother’s death when he was 12.
And as for the Muslims? There are only two in the film. One is an authoritarian father who smacks his daughter Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) around and physically throws her out of the house for confessing that Jesus is her Lord and Savior. And his son, the snitch who told him she was secretly listening to Franklin Graham on her i-pod. The message is clear. Christians don’t worship a demanding God who gives you no choices. Muslims do. Christians do not want to constrict your ability to think and choose for yourself in life. Antitheists do. The actually authoritarian dimensions of Christianity that are plainly there if you look at it honestly (and which I ran down in my first review of the film, based on the highly accurate trailer alone) are all denied and perversely projected on the enemies of the faith instead (as I predicted).
For example, if you were like me, you were troubled by the idea of Professor Radisson’s desire to have his students sign a statement of belief that “God is Dead” with threats of failure if they do not do so. He was forcing them to agree to a conclusion without any debate. He was being closed minded and dogmatic.
In the real world it is Christian universities that alone in America require of students and faculty that they sign faith statements to attend or teach. If Professor Radisson’s actions bothered you, in reality you should be bothered by these Christian universities’ behavior. This is not a point against secular universities. If any atheist philosophy professor (or any atheist professor of any other kind) at a secular school has ever had anyone pledge that says “God is dead”, I’ve never heard of it. Even if it’s happened, it would be a rare outlier rather than the routine practice of faith statements at various Christian universities. Rare outliers prove nothing about there being an inherent prejudice or persecution of people of faith by secular universities or philosophy professors. You might say that statements of Christian faith are acceptable for Christian universities since people apply to be there voluntarily, knowing in advance about the faith statements, so no one is being pressured to agree to something that goes against their intellectual consciences.
But there is, nonetheless, something completely contradictory to the spirit of true inquiry to have college students, in advance of their higher education, commit to believing things on pain of having to leave the school if they stop believing them. How is that openminded? How is that interested in really proving and testing one’s beliefs? That’s saying, “Come here and we will educate you and teach you to think critically. But before we educate you and teach you to think critically, please sign this statement that you will never come to conclusions different than your current beliefs and our beliefs.” To say that to eighteen year olds, who are only just becoming adults and only just having the chance to think outside their parents’ influence, is inherently stifling. It’s contrary to the entire point of education. But Christian universities do this.
And their faculty can be fired if they think the wrong things. Imagine that. These are people hired because they are highly qualified experts in their subjects. But if they think something not pre-approved, they can lose their jobs. Does that sound like what open-mindedness about truth would be? Is that a policy that is going to lead people to correct their mistakes or start challenging discussions that might lead to greater truth. Even if the faith were to be vindicated and strengthened after challenges, you will never know that if you preclude people in advance from even questioning or temporarily thinking what looks true before it can be proven false.
I’ll have my own review soon.