This afternoon, I went with some parishioners to see the new movie “God’s Not Dead.” The basic plot is a Christian College Freshman is forced to defend God by his atheist Philosophy professor.
I enjoyed the parts that thoughtfully showed how Science and Faith can be in conversation together. At the end of the movie, one parishioner commented “I love having a movie like this,” meaning a “wholesome” Christian film with a good message, without the main attractions being sex or violence. I agree with this, but I worry that as the Christian movie industry booms—this year brings us “Son of God” and “Noah” among other recent Bible focused movies—only one “flavor” of Christianity is being shown. And I don’t know if I am so happy with that one side. For centuries, terrible, hateful, less-than-Christian things have been done in the name of Christ, and I believe that it is part of the reason for the secularization of society. I worry that although neither crusades nor slavery, the message being put to the forefront of some of these “Christian” movies is just as dangerous.
Let me tell you what specifically in “God’s Not Dead” I’m referring to. There were many characterizations (almost caricatures) that I found hard to stomach. (1) The only Muslim male that was portrayed in the film forced his daughter to cover and ended up slapping and disowning her for reading the Bible. I felt like this was a one sided, hateful, unnecessary portrayal of Muslims. (2) The father of the Chinese exchange student was also portrayed as hard and uncaring, but the movie also attempted to soapbox about the lack of freedom for Christians in China. I agree that religious freedom is something we can strive for all over the world, but is pigeonholing an entire ethnic group the way to do it? (3) The main atheists in the movie (the professor and Dean Cain’s character) were both narcissistic sexist pigs. I know plenty of atheists. Many are my friends. Atheists are not by definition bad people! Just as not all Christians are upright citizens.
So mixed in with the beautiful messages that believing in God doesn’t mean you have to throw out logic or science, there are messages of a micro-managing God (the pastor’s car and rental car wouldn’t start so he was forced to stay in town and be part of the movie) and that before death is your “FINAL chance” to believe. Who are we to say when God stops inviting people into relationship? Who are we to say death is the end? Oh yeah, I think we Christians are the ones who preach just the opposite…Death is the not the end, it is a new beginning.
I think the message the title points to is good, but I wish it were surrounded by better theology, more complex characters, and less hate.
But nonetheless…God’s Not Dead…but risen from the dead!
For further reading: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2014/03/god-is-dead-but-can-we-talk-about-him.html