BY JOSIE GERESZEK
I’ll start out by saying I’m still an atheist.
Now, if you’ve heard anything about “God’s Not Dead,” theist or non-theist, that’s probably not at all surprising to you. I mean, philosophy and faith are both things that should take a tremendous amount of time to produce, certainly more time than it takes to watch a two-hour movie. We all know that, right?
Well, it became apparent while sitting in a crowded theater soon after the release of “God’s Not Dead” that director Harold Cronk (and I’ll just go right ahead and include everyone else involved with the film) does not.
See, according to the makers of “God’s Not Dead,” theological conclusions shouldn’t be found through investigation at all; in fact, they should be haphazardly selected and (at the very best) based on shitty arguments. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
First, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. Shane Harper plays Josh Wheaton (not to be confused with director Joss Whedon), a freshman at Hadleigh University who ignores vague warnings and enrolls in Professor Radisson’s philosophy class. Radisson is an awful human being; an atheist who insists his students pen the admission that “God is dead” before he even starts the semester.
Josh refuses because he’s a Christian, (you can tell by his Newsboys shirt and sweet cross jewelry) and thus the professor, played by once-Hercules Kevin Sorbo in the facial hair of Satan, decides to give the kid ample time each class period to prove the opposite. Wheaton accepts the challenge of proving God because, you know, that’s what faith is all about.
And as if proving the existence of a divine ruler wasn’t hard enough, the film’s setting is an extra tough place for Christians like him. Imagine if America were a place where believers were vastly outnumbered and regularly persecuted, oppressed and tried by society, but consistently righteous and extraordinarily intellectual. Each and every one of ‘em. You’ve just entered the flamboyantly fictional world of “God’s Not Dead.”
Here, non-Christians are an incredible majority. They bully, they abuse, they’re ruthless business people, Communists, gotcha journalists. To sum it up, they’re just terrible people. Even fellow monotheists aren’t safe from the name calling, as Islam is also villainized almost immediately.
Just in case you’ve yet to catch my drift, I’ll give you an example from the film. Josh’s friend Pastor Dave estimates that, out of the 80 students in Josh’s philosophy class, he is the only one who has ever set foot in a church.
In reality, the latest Pew research reports a whopping 78 percent of all Americans identify themselves as Christian (that’s about four out of every five). Even I’ve been to church more times than I can count. I mean regular attendance for more than a decade, starting at birth. And I am by no means alone.
Yet, at this American university, only one in every 80 students has ever been to a church, apparently. They’ve never even been given the chance to be pressured into religion, poor things.
But back to how terrible atheists are. “God’s Not Dead” creates an absurd (but expected) caricature of non-believers, just like any good propaganda should. Each and every one is a horrible and amoral person, too stubborn to just admit God exists after all.
It’s a one-sided, ignorant view, providing the audience no chance of sympathizing with “the other side” until it’s eminently clear a religious transformation is about to (very unrealistically, I might add) take place. And until that convenient salvation, every non-Christian is a selfish, valueless curmudgeon whose lack of religion creates for him or her a terrible life in need of saving.
Some of the characters we’re supposed to hate are Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache), a journalist for The New Left who’s let her job run her life and apparently has nothing better to do than harass prominent Christians like the cast of Duck Dynasty (not regarding homophobic and racist slurs, mind you, just about how they eat meat and pray). We start to like her just in time for her to be led to salvation by the Christian boy band Newsboys.
No, it doesn’t make sense, and no, it doesn’t have to. She’s dating the asshole atheist lawyer Mark (Dean Cain) who asks, “This couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” before breaking up with Amy when she tells him she has cancer. Because atheists hate people with cancer. Who knew?
We’re supposed to like Mark’s believer sister (Cory Oliver) despite her less than commendable acting, who is dating and being verbally abused by her former professor, Radisson.
We’re also supposed to like Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) because she is a converted Christian, and oppressed by her cranky and devout Muslim dad who keeps her separated from society (though he’s not doing a very good job because she’s apparently attending a liberal university). He also almost kills her when he finds out she’s been listening to the New Testament on her iPod, because peace is apparently not a huge part of the Islamic philosophy.
We also like the preacher (David A.R. White) whose main goal is to take his African missionary friend (Benjamin Ochieng) to Orlando, but every car he hopes will get him there fails to start due to divine intervention, a typical phenomenon. Thanks for ruining like, three rental cars, God!
But most of all, we’re supposed to hate the lead heathen, Professor Radisson, who is even double-caricatured in the picture. He’s not only the angsty atheist, but also the know-it-all college professor.
He’s stubborn, mocking, inconsiderate, and perhaps most of all, uppity. His only shortcoming in this domain is his inability to run a classroom. It’s unlikely that a know-it-all professor (or any professor, for that matter) would allow a student to run his classroom for an entire term, but that’s just one tiny incoherent detail in a film packed full of ‘em.
In a way however, I’m glad Prof. Radisson sucks at teaching because if he didn’t we wouldn’t have been blessed with Josh Wheaton’s rad Powerpoint presentations. I mean that both genuinely and sarcastically.
Genuinely, Josh creates some mighty fine Powerpoints. Not regarding content, but I mean there are some killer effects. Like I always say, “Come for the salvation; stay for the Powerpoints.” But on to what I meant with sarcasm.
Josh Wheaton has no idea what he’s talking about and it’s sort of hilarious. But in the sad way, when you know it’s based on someone’s real thought processes. That, my friends, is one of the many tragedies of this film. So ridiculous, but so darn sad.
Radisson often quotes the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Bertrand Russell – all atheists, and all, undoubtedly brilliant people. In his Powerpoints, Josh fires back with the likes of Lee Strobel, who, although not identified as what he is in the film, is a televangelist. High standards.
Basically, Josh takes every bit of science he’s ever encountered, slaps down the label “blasphemy” and concludes, because he doesn’t care to learn anything, “I don’t know, God did it.” In my opinion, that’s not good enough. Unless you’re like, 500,000 years old, in which case, I probably see your point
Of course, after Josh’s third Powerpoint, Radisson is somewhat awestruck and realizes he could never disprove Josh’s ridiculous arguments (which include, of course, circular logic, appeals to ignorance, postdiction, fideism, quoting out of context and straight up avoiding the basics of science).
He’s also apparently never opened a psychology textbook because he makes the audacious claim that moral reasoning can’t exist without a master of the universe (which totally explains why atheists make up only .07 percent of the prison population). Nevertheless, Josh gets his atheist professor to admit he was just mad at God the whole time and somehow manages to convince all 80 students in the class that God is in fact not dead.
I was shocked to be the only one laughing in the theater, which was quite full, by the way. Among the converts is a Chinese student, who’s taken to calling him “Mr. Josh.” (His rich father, the Communist mentioned earlier, is quite displeased and shown looking furrowed in the back of a limo.)
Concluding the flick, old Radisson gets hit by a car on his way to the Newsboys concert where his now-estranged girlfriend is God-rocking with the rest of the cast.
Fortunately, Pastor Dave is there to shove some last minute religion down Radisson’s throat (which is slowly filling with blood). With the pastor’s help, Radisson comes to realize the error of his ways just before his death. Mind you there are no tears or grieving for a lost human life when it’s all said and done, but simply a line uttered by Pastor Dave’s missionary friend, “This is cause for celebration!” In other words, “Sure, that guy’s dead, but at least we won the debate before he knocked off.”
Meanwhile, all our main characters (except the dead philosophy professor) continue to rock out for a few happening jams. Willie Robertson (of Duck Dynasty infamy) shows up again for some reason to congratulate Josh for showing the dead guy what’s for, and the concert attendees (and as the film requests, movie attendees) text “God’s not dead” to everyone on their contact lists.
Unfortunately, CGI God never showed up and I did not reach salvation nor text everyone on my contact list that God wasn’t dead (I don’t even like everyone on my contact list. Why would I want to lead them to salvation?).
Anyway, by the end of it all, I couldn’t tell if I had just watched a poorly constructed religious film or a long-winded Newsboys music video.
As expected, “God’s Not Dead” is far from what it wants the public to think it is – a discussion point for people of all faiths and doubts.
Instead, it’s ridiculous propaganda embarrassing to those of the Christian faith. Although I’ve clearly been offended by the poor taste of “God’s Not Dead,” it’s believers who take the real brunt of the film. And for them, I am sorry.