When the public raves about something that’s supposedly so great and wonderful, then I finally cave in and get my hands on it, I always find myself shocked by how bad it actually is. I sometimes enjoy watching bad movies and reading bad books because I like to complain about them, so here’s another rant:
I really wanted to like God’s Not Dead (2014). If you haven’t already heard of it, it’s about a college freshman whose intro to philosophy class is taught by an avowed atheist. At the beginning of the semester, the professor asks his class to write “God Is Dead” on a piece of paper and sign it because the entire course is a study on atheist/agnostic philosophers, and the professor wants the class to assume, presumably for the purposes of the course only, that there is no God. Our protagonist, the freshman, is a Christian and sets out to prove to both professor and class that God is not dead. Spoiler: He succeeds.
My main issue with this movie was that it was basically preaching to the choir. I doubt that any nonbelievers would be converted by this movie, and I think many would be insulted. Worse, the movie does not give Christians the proper ammunition to defend their beliefs when speaking with nonbelievers. I would suggest that Christians who do want to get into apologetics read stuff by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn, and so forth, or watch a real debate with professional, educated debaters who can accurately represent both sides of the issue.
But of course, God’s Not Dead is strictly a piece of entertainment for the public. Therefore it must be placating and instantly gratifying, and it must fit neatly into the typical time slot of a movie. It’s geared toward Christians, so it must paint atheists and agnostics and pretty much everyone who isn’t a Christian in the ugliest light possible, while implying that all Christians are just, brave, and morally upright all the time. It’s grossly unfair and invalidates the movie’s entire argument, and even worse, it contributes to the superiority complex that many Christians already have.
The movie expands on the cliché that Christian kids who are entering college are entering a battle for their souls because all professors are left-wing atheists who dress up as the devil and sit on the kid’s shoulder, whispering about how God is a myth for the unintelligent. The reality is that those who want to keep their faith during college will do so. Those who want to cast off their faith will also do so. Most of the kids who fall away from their faith during college are the same kids whose parents had to drag them to church during high school. Parents, don’t go blaming anyone or anything else: You are the main influence on your children’s faith.
In sum, I think the movie would have been better off as a documentary. During the credits, several real-life court cases were listed, in which Christians fought for their religious freedoms in college. I’d have been interested in seeing a documentary about those court cases that featured some real debate. But I don’t believe the mainstream public would have the patience for intelligent nonfiction, so we have God’s Not Dead.
tl;dr version: The movie was an 113-minute sermon at an evangelical Christian church with rock music, huge crowds, a Starbucks in the lobby, and a fun, youthful pastor. Sounds like it could really get you fired up for your faith, but when you leave the theater (or get up from the couch), you’ll get into your gas-guzzling SUV and drive off to your kid’s soccer game tailgating the guy in front of you and thinking of everything in the world besides God and the contemplative silence in which he truly exists.