God's Not Dead: Blasphemous at Best, Offensive at Worst
Christian college student Josh Wheaton… this is going to be a long movie… Anyway, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) is dead set on completing his Liberal Arts requirement through a philosophy class. There’s a problem, however: the teacher, Professor Raddison (Kevin Sorbo), is a vehement atheist who forces his entire class to write “God is dead” before the class continues. Josh refuses to betray his faith and stands up for God, leading to a debate in which Josh attempts to convince the class of God’s existence and that his grade rides on. While this is going on, several other storylines weave in and out of focus. They include: A snooty liberal blogger (Trisha LaFache) who is suddenly struck with cancer; A Muslim student (Hadeel Sittu) who lives with her oppressive father and worships Jesus in secret; An Evangelical (Cory Oliver) whose mother is suffering from dementia and whose boyfriend is a certain philosophy professor who equates her faith with adultery; and Two missionaries (David A.R. White and Benjamin Onyango) whose trip to Disneyland is constantly being hampered by car troubles. The race is on to see how their problems will come to a close, especially if Josh can convince his class that God’s not dead.
God’s Not Dead is a truly heinous piece of propaganda (which I’ll get to in a bit) and just a badly made film on top of that. As you could probably gather from the synopsis, there are a lot of subplots and they all fight each other for screen time. I kid you not, it took twenty minutes from the time Professor Radisson issues Josh the challenge until the first actual debate begins, and all the while the other stories take up huge portions of that time. I should not need to explain why this is bad filmmaking. In addition, the exposition is clunky as all getout. Want to know how the audience is supposed to know the blogger is liberal? Because her car displays bumper stickers saying, and I quote, “Meat is Murder,” “American Humanist,” and “I <3 Evolution.” Subtlety, thy name is God’s Not Dead.
Let’s talk about the debate now and how it speaks to the logical flimsiness of this film. Josh’s arguments for the existence of God sound like they come out of a middle school Internet flame war. He says that evolution spanning over millions of years would look like a moment if all of existence was shrunk into a 24-hour period, this being proof of intelligent design. That’s almost as stupid as one of the students — you know, the university college philosophy students — needing to interrupt the lecture to ask what a theist is. But the biggest thing that gets me is that conflict in this movie could be solved instantly by a trip to the dean’s office. Demanding that someone defend their faith in class or lose 30% of their grade, vehemently saying that he’ll make it his goal to ruin Josh’s future law career, and even forcefully laying his hands on Josh (not joking) would be instant grounds for Radisson’s termination of employment. But then we wouldn’t have a strawman antagonist for Josh to look good next to and prove the filmmaker’s point against.
And that brings us to the absolutely awful religious politics of the film. The perspective is so skewed and one-sided that it just makes you sick. Every Christian in this film is portrayed as good and wholesome and oh-so-in danger of all the non-believers oppressing their right to pray, a comparison even being made between Radisson's class and Christians being fed to lions in the Roman coliseums. Everyone else? They're the scum of the Earth, portrayed as selfish, hostile, and just plain awful people. Radisson's philosophy colleagues (all atheist and white) mock his Evangelical girlfriend while snootily sipping wine and driving her to tears. The blogger's executive boyfriend breaks up with her after finding out that she has cancer, citing that it's bad for his career (he's also the brother of Radisson's girlfriend, giving him ample opportunity to be dismissive of their dementia-riddled mother and make him even more unlikable). But the biggest insult goes to the Muslim girl's father who forces her to wear a hijab* out of the house and, upon discovering her secret prayers, violently beats her while shouting that there's only one God and throws her out of the house. Tell me something, movie, would you still be asking sympathy for her if she was thrown out for being gay?
*Interesting to note, the dad forces her to wear a hijab outside, but has no problem with her wearing a shirt that exposes her arms and cleavage, both of which are no-nos in traditional Muslim culture. Did these guys do any research outside of a Leviticus bible?
This bias bleeds over into the logic, which starts getting really insulting after a while. One of the cruxes of Josh’s argument is that without God, there’s no reason for anyone to be moral, thus there can’t be a moral atheist. We’ll ignore the insulting implications of that argument and instead focus on the fact that not wanting to live in a society where you or your neighbors could be killed, robbed, or raped without any protection or security is a perfect reason to be moral. This actually stinks of hypocrisy as Josh does some pretty underhanded things, yet is treated as being in the right. Radisson confesses a dark tragedy that forced him to hate God (because, you know, he can’t just not believe) and Josh uses this to needle him in the next debate to sway things in his favor. This was told to him in confidence and he exploited it. Where in the Bible does it say, “thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s secret and use it to thine advantage when convenient?” It must have been in that lost gospel, the Book of Douche.
NOW COMES TIME TO SPOIL THE ENDING FOR THE REAL KICKER!
Radisson has a change of heart and rushes to this Christian concert everyone’s going to so he can make amends with his girlfriend, only to be fatally hit by a car. The two missionaries see this (forgot they existed, didn’t you?) and rush over to him, helping him convert and find Jesus before he dies. Seems like it would have been better if he had the chance to redeem himself in person, but okay. The conversion, plus a viral text campaign of faith from the concert, cause the missionaries to say that the whole situation is “a cause for celebration.” Yes, a man just died in front of you, his friends and associates will be devastated, and the killer got away scot free (not even joking), but at least he died a Christian! So that makes it all okay!
SPOILERS ARE DONE! NOT THAT ANY OF YOU SHOULD HAVE TO SIT THROUGH THIS MOVIE!
Everyone who saw this movie is dumber for it. That includes the ones hoping for answers, those who wanted to see an intelligent debate of faith and science, the poor souls who stumbled across it, and yours truly. I haven’t even covered half of the idiotic and offensive choices this film made and others in this genre will continue make, thanks to this movie’s success. It paints atheists as angry God-haters with no redeeming qualities and Christians as the noble knights who are being persecuted by political correctness. Some may argue that these stereotypes do exist and that I shouldn’t hold that against the movie or its makers. To that, I reply with a quote from respected critic Brad Jones:
“Let’s go ahead and make a movie in which all the assholes in this film are portrayed as the heroes and the lone Christian in the movie shoots up a Planned Parenthood and then we’ll see how hot the makers of God’s Not Dead take it. My guess is not very well, nor should they and nor should anybody!”
But this movie does make a great case for me to convert to Christianity. That way, I could find all those not of Christian faith, give them a hug, and personally apologize for God’s Not Dead.
Josh’s stance inspires a Chinese student to talk to his father about his faith. They both converse in Chinese, but they’re both using two different dialects. One is speaking in Mandarin while the other speaks Cantonese, but those two are not cross compatible. Whoops.