Everybody remember that story that made the e-mail and Facebook rounds about the atheist professor that got totally schooled by the Christian student (and, in some varieties, turns out to be Albert Einstein)? Haven’t you always wished they made a two-hour-long film adaptation of that story? If your answer was yes (though I question your film taste), I’ve got good news and bad news. Good news: God’s Not Dead is now out on DVD. Bad news: it’s absolutely deplorable.
Josh Wheaton is a college freshman that is lumped into a first-year philosophy class as part of his liberal arts curriculum. The teacher, Professor Radisson, begins the semester by requiring his students sign a paper declaring they believe “God is dead.” As a Christian, Josh objects and is tasked with proving himself in front of Radisson and his class. Add myriads of unrelated subplots and you’ve got yourself a movie.
Before I get into what’s really wrong with the film, let’s see what’s slightly wrong with the film. All of the characters talk like they are reading off of a script and do not feel like real human beings. It looks more like a made-for-TV Lifetime romance than a wide release film. The ending is a ten-minute advertisement for Christian rock group Newsboys and it presents a Duck Dynasty cast member as one of the film’s most eloquent speakers. And even a high school theater production has more professional-looking makeup work. Again, these are the film’s minor faults.
Now, I will take a moment and accept that there is at least some potential here. It’s no secret that college campuses are usually rather liberal and atheist, and I have had professors whose atheist tendencies have been reflected in their lectures. The film could’ve been an exploration of where God fits in to modern colleges and what that means for Christians.
Instead, the final product is off-putting anti-atheist propaganda. Without a single exception, every atheist portrayed in God’s Not Dead is a deplorable human being without a shred of morality (until, of course, they convert to Christianity!). The college professor is a sociopathic egomaniac who reacts to Josh’s calm, collected defense of Christianity with threats of “destroying” him and his career. There’s a writer who asks the dumbest, most pointed questions in the history of journalism. There’s a businessman who breaks up with his girlfriend immediately after learning she has cancer. And the lone Muslim in the film is portrayed as a fanatical child-beater. Meanwhile, no Christian character shows any mean will towards anyone in the entire film. The characterizations are about as subtle as those in a work of Nazi wartime propaganda.
It also falsely portrays all atheists as Christians at heart; they are only atheists because of their “hatred of God” sprouting from past events or unfortunate circumstances. They are all willing to abandon their religious non-belief in the face of hard times. They are nihilists who believe in nothing yet have no good rebukes to elementary arguments of the proof of a higher power. This may describe a small subset of non-theists, but God’s Not Dead presents every one as a coward who has distanced themselves from religion out of weakness.
In the end, God’s Not Dead is maddeningly mindless and self-righteous. Christians accepting the film as a feel-good tale about a young man standing up for what he believes in should take a step back and realize they’re being spoon-fed propaganda. There is definitely an argument to be made that “new atheists” are limiting religious freedom in our universities. But simplifying that argument to straw-man defenses and gross caricatures of evil atheists does nothing but strengthen the prevailing “us vs. them” relationship between Christians and atheists that creates bigotry and hatred on both sides. Christians and atheists might disagree whether or not God is dead, but we should all agree that God’s Not Dead is trash.
Blogger Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.