There are two kinds of propaganda: one is fabricated on lies with a specific agenda, and the other is made to reinforce those lies. The latter, when viewed by an outsider, can do more damage to a group than any civil revolt because it reveals the ignorance and stupidity that make the foundation. Take for example Joseph Goebbel’s The Eternal Jew, a film that proclaims Jews should be killed because they are smarter with money. It is this profound lunacy that destroys more than it helps, and God’s Not Dead does as much damage to Christianity as the Siege of Montsegur. Its portrayal of non-Christians is so narrow-minded, I am convinced those who made this film are actual Nazis.
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Now to be clear, this movie was not made for me. I do not identify with any religion, including Atheism because I find the whole concept of belief wasteful. I chose to watch this film; I rented it, sat down, and watched it all the way through so I could illustrate how movies like it does more harm than good.
If this were not a hobby I want to make job, God’s Not Dead would be the last film I ever watch. But I want to be a reviewer, and every reviewer needs a gimmick, no matter how much he or she wants to quit.
Before I begin I must provide a list of characters, as the film’s structure is similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia if the director was Victor Frankenstein. Later I will explain how each played out in parallel to the main story:
Josh- Shane Harper
Rad- Kevin Sorbo
Pastor Dave- David A.R. White
Marc- Dean Cain
Amy- Trisha LaFache
Mina- Cory Oliver
Ayisha- Hadeel Sittu
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The main story begins with Josh, a college freshmen and our martyr in this tale of a believer losing everything for his faith in God. His girlfriend Kara, played by Cassidy Gifford, an equally devote Christian, accompanies him through school, despite having superior grades and a greater potential for better education.
When Josh arrives for orientation, he is advised to abandon his Philosophy class because the professor is a militant Atheist. Josh ignores this would-be Elijah and goes on with his day.
Let me repeat that: Josh was warned one of his classes has a teacher that habitually targets and degrades people of faith. The events that proceed could have been avoided had Josh made a simple schedule change. Even his girlfriend, easily the brains of the relationship, told him to opt out of the class.
Later Josh attends his first day of Philosophy where we are introduced to Professor Radisson (Rad), a cantankerous, vindictive man that denies the existence of God with the conviction of an SS fanatic. He is thorough and intellectually consistent in his hatred, supplemented by the ritualistic quoting of Richard Dawkins and a posh sneer common among poorly written antagonists. However, the character is so well acted it is baffling he is in a movie like God’s Not Dead.
Rad’s lecture begins when he asks the entire class to write on a sheet of paper “God is dead” and sign it. It is for a grade and if a student refuses, he or she must defend the existence of God in a debate. The outcome would determine if the student passes or fails. As you’ve probably guessed, Josh refuses to sign the paper. However, Rad advises him to just do it, get his grade, and keep believing as if nothing happed.
The Villain, a Christian screenwriter’s ignorant depiction of an Atheist, tells our Hero, a paragon of faith, to sign a paper the Villain himself says is meaningless, which would in turn have no affect on our Hero’s religious constitution. Rad gives Josh a simple way out to avoid an educational firestorm and the destruction of his academic career.
And yet, Our Beloved Martyr takes the Irredeemable Scholar to task and accepts his challenge to prove the existence of God, a debate so pointless it is paradoxical because trying to explain either side would negate each other on the grounds of both religion and common sense.
Josh sets about on his week-long debate, burying himself in books as he gathers information. He becomes so entrenched he neglects the work of his other classes. Kara sees this and advises that Josh apologize to Rad and move on. She has been with him for years, planned out the rest of their lives, and the last thing she wants is her future husband to jeopardize his career over a trivial matter.
But Josh feels he must stand up for God and decides to go ahead with the debate. Kara, fed up with his ineptitude, breaks up with him, but Josh’s faith remains stalwart in his mission.
As a non-Christian, I cannot fully understand the concept of one’s strength of faith, but why would a celestial creator, with the ability to make life in the blink of an eye, need a pissant, waspy, Josh Hutcherson knock-off to defend him in a situation of little significance in the grand scheme of the Universe? Furthermore, how can you tell if God even needs defending; a deity that belongs to one of he biggest religions in the world? And if God is so great and would not be affected by a simple professor’s lectures, why does Josh feel the need to defend him if most Christians like himself believe their god is better than everyone else? There are two possibilities why this is so: bad screenwriting or imaginary white people problems.
Following his decision Kara breaks up with him. Josh, however, is okay with it because he still has God. This plot point comes off wrong to me in so many ways. In fact the treatment of all the female characters has misogynist undertones.
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There are three female roles and all of them seem to imply women cannot be independent and must submit to the belief in God. Each story involves the female in question being abused or mistreated and the only solution was to find Jesus.
Amy is a leftist blogger who finds out she has cancer. When she tells her boyfriend Marc, he breaks up with her in a manner so villainous it confirms the screenwriters have no idea how humans work. Amy tries to go back to her job of targeting Christian figureheads like Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, but cannot focus knowing she is dying. At the end of the film she is saved after losing her nerve in an interview with a Christian rock band called the Newsboys.
Amy has a very independent personality with her own wants and motivations. When she finds out she has cancer she proclaims “I don’t have time for caner”. A lesser person in her situation would have given up just as fast. Sure she was written by an eight year-old, but she at least had some degree of character, until she was guilt tripped into converting against her values, thus surrendering her independence.
The next female to be forced into submission is Mina, the girlfriend of Rad. She starts out as a Christian, but after a constant stream of emotional abuse because the writer thinks Atheists dehumanize people of faith, she breaks up with him to fully embrace God on the advice of Pastor Dave.
Rather than leaving him on the grounds she can no longer stand to live in a dangerous relationship, like any self-respecting person would, she leaves to be around like-minded people and to better worship God because her pastor said so. I understand she was abused, but you should not leave over a religion; you should leave because you are tired of getting beaten up or you want someone who supports you on an emotional level.
The last female to be raped by the writing is Ayisha, the daughter of her strict, traditional Muslim father Misrab, played by Marco Khan. And if you think his character is a poorly thought-out, borderline stereotype, you are correct. Ayisha is secretly Christian and after her Misrab finds out, she is beaten and thrown out of her house in a very uncomfortable scene that was not helped by the worst choice of music I have ever heard.
In all honesty, do you think a scene of a father, beating his own flesh and blood, before dragging her by the hair down a flight of stairs, could be helped by the somber tone of Christian rock music? I did not think so either. And aside from how the scene is a hard watch, everything was wrong with the set up from the start. The first scene of the two shows Misrab adjusting Ayisha’s veil while he drives her to school. This was the only other long scene with him, but there was enough for me to start a new paragraph.
Now I do not consider myself all that smart, but after living in the Middle East for a year when I was 11, I believe I have a better understanding of Islam than the writer of this film. First of all, veils are not worn with casual clothes. In Ayisha’s case she could have worn a hijab and be acceptable. It is very obvious both the writer and costume designer had no idea what they were doing. Actor Marco Khan, an actual Persian who most likely knows more about the subject, probably didn’t let them know, but if I was making the kind of money Christian films make, I would not say anything either. Furthermore, if he is a strict, traditional Muslim that makes his daughter wear a veil, WHY IS HE LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES? If I were a devout Muslim, the last place I would live is a country that was attacked by a few maniacs that said my god told them to do it. On top of that, Islam is probably the most accepting of Christianity. All over the Middle East are followers of Christ and Muslims accept them because they understand their prophets and gods are basically the same. There are exceptions of course, but most Muslims have enough sense to treat others with respect and also believe in the logic of science. Understanding this fundamental concept made the abuse scene, where Misrab is shouting “There is only one God!” more hard to watch.
I apologize for this lengthy digression, but I felt it was necessary to fully articulate the rampant misogyny and misinformation of this film as soon as possible. This is not the will of all Christians, but some how some one felt God’s Not Dead was a proud representation of the religion and its practitioners.
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So Josh has his first of three debates with Rad. In it he talks about how the Big Bang Theory does not make sense because how else was the Universe created in less than a second, without the assistance of a divine creator? He says scholars have no idea how the Universe was created, so the only solution is God. Rad inevitably shoots down his argument with Stephen Hawking’s theory of a self-creating Universe because of the laws of gravity.
This makes more sense as a counter argument, but trying to figure out who created the Universe is trying to prove existence itself. Bottom line, we simply are; we exist because there is existence in the first place. The self-creating theory works, but when you try to justify the existence of existence by calling it God, you are doing exactly what religion used to be, a substitute for science before science. It was only centuries ago that we were drowning women for weighing the same as a duck. In that regard, you automatically have no grounds for argument in a debate about the existence of God if you use him as an excuse for something neither scientist nor theist can comprehend at this moment in human history.
After class is let out Rad confronts Josh in the hall in a verbal assault about how he is hijacking his class, undermining his authority, and turning the students against him. I do not think I need to explain how out of place this was, especially after Rad successfully rebuked Josh’s entire argument. It felt like this was added in post-production because the director wanted a scene of Rad being a vindictive monster, despite the fact there are far worse scenes just like it that made more sense. I could explain them right now, but I will save it for after I flesh out the rest of the main plot.
The second debate comes round where Josh presents a counter argument to Rad’s Hawking quote. He states that when Hawking says the Universe exists because it needed to exist as an explanation, it is circular thinking because he’s restating his argument without proof. But Josh’s rebuttal is also circular thinking because his argument is the same as before: God created the Universe when there is no way for him or any human being on Earth to prove how it truly exists in the first place. Both arguments cancel each other out like this entire movie and the very concept of propaganda.
The same instance occurs shortly afterward when Josh tries to disprove evolution, only this time there is for sure a right answer. He says Darwin could not fully comprehend the origin of organic life, postulating it was the result of a chemical reaction in nature. Josh argues that life was created because God wanted it to be created, similar to his previous argument about the Universe.
By the way, Charles Darwin lived in the 19th Century, a time of rampant imperialism and without antibiotics, electronic communication, and a worldwide scientific effort to excavate fossils and map out the genetic code of humanity. Before On the Origin of Species and the scientific advancements that have made it possible to figure out where we came from, everyone was convinced God and only God created life because no one bothered to think outside the box.
On the final day of debate Josh explores the concept of free will and morality. He argues that evil exists because of free will and that God exists to instill the concept of morality. The crux of his argument is that if God does not exist, then there is no morality; with no God there is no reason for anything.
This was the point in the movie where I burst out laughing. It was not funny, but it was so naïve and pretentious that I lost it. Just because you do not believe in the Christian God does not mean you lack morality. I consider myself an Anarchist, but I am not going to take my gun and start killing cops because I am not stupid or crazy. There are people out there far worse than I with the constitution to murder children or random people en masse.
Do you think blowing up an abortion clinic is moral? Do you think God loves you for killing doctors, rape victims, and people who simply cannot afford to have children? Do you even know how taxing it is on new parents to take care of just one human being from infancy to adulthood?
Oh, it is God’s Will to be fruitful and multiply, even if we spend ourselves into poverty? Yeah, that is a great idea; I have three kids and I beg for food on a street corner, but at least I still have God.
How about you blow me, sweetheart?
No god, book, government, or human being should tell anyone what to do with his or her body, money, or possessions. If I want kids, I will have kids; if I want a gun, I will buy a gun; if I want to kick your teeth down your throat for being a fascist, I am going to do it, and I will deal with the consequences because I know what I have done is wrong. But in this case, you had it coming.
I apologize for that digression. I wanted to keep this professional, but as you can tell I am very passionate about the subject of free will and pro-choice. To deny one’s choice is to deny them life. Unless one’s choices harm others, no can tell you what to do. Otherwise, oppression must always be met with reprisal, within reasonable boundaries.
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So because the writer had an agenda, the exchange between Josh and Rad turned into an attack where Josh said he takes away the class’s choice to believe in God. Rather than a logical rebuttal, Rad falls for the ploy in a fashion not unlike a child having a tantrum, saying religion is a virus, and that Josh is trying to take over the minds of his students.
This fails on two levels: for one thing, Rad is a caricature of an Atheist, and therefore unbelievable as a realistic human being; and secondly, Josh states that he wants to give the class a choice in believing in God, but that’s negated by his previous proclamation that without God, there is no reason for anything. But because this film habitually forgets what it has been saying, the characters are forced to make sense out of something that does not make sense. It is like arguing with a bomb; it is going to kill you no matter what you have to say.
And that brings us to the climax of the debate. Josh coaxes Rad into losing his cool after asking why does he hate God? And Rad screams back “Because he took everything away from me”, the most clichéd yet understandable reason for anyone to lose their faith. How it happened to Rad is more heartbreaking in context, but I will go into detail later. Josh replies, “How can you hate someone, if they don’t exist?”
Thus ends the debate with the winner determined if the class accepts the existence of God. And when Josh finishes, the students stand up and say “God is not dead.” The film closes with Josh going to the Newsboys concert with all the other characters and Rad dying in a car accident. But it was okay because before he passed on, Pastor Dave was there to save him. The film’s final message:
The only good Atheist is a dead Atheist.
I could end my review here because I would like to sleep, but I have not even begun to scratch the surface of how ignorant this film truly is. I will make it short.
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Rad, like the other non-Christian characters, is written to be this one dimensional Atheist with no redeemable qualities. Rather than attacking him because he has no faith, he is shown berating his girlfriend Mina in a manner that makes your average Jerry Springer Redneck look progressive. That tells me the writer wants you to hate him on the basis of personality, which ultimately fails because even Christians behave like Rad.
But his reason for being an Atheist is very sympathetic. We find out after the second debate that when he was 12, Rad watched his mother die of cancer. That is enough of a trauma to cause any sort of personal crisis, and it is no reason to hate someone for losing his or her faith. But once again, because the writer is an idiot, we are told this character is the villain.
Rad, however, is nothing compared to Marc, an evil bastard with no redeemable qualities and no reason for being an Atheist. First he breaks up with Amy after finding out she has cancer, says love is something people say to get what they want, and then insults his mother with dementia, to her face, for believing in God even after she got sick. He is just a monster and yet another example of how the writer views Atheists.
The last character is Pastor Dave. He is the sage of the story whom appears throughout advising most of the cast. On his way to the Newsboys concert he sees Rad struck by the car. Dave comes to his side and instead of calling an ambulance, he coheres Rad into accepting Christ.
The film closes with Josh, Mina, Amy, and Ayisha attending the Newsboys concert, playing their song “God’s not dead”.
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This movie was a nightmare and even more so when I had to write about it. I expect to see far worse as I take this reviewer gimmick further, but God’s Not Dead was still awful. It is not even a good-bad movie. If you have some interest in seeing it and I do not know why, rent it, and do not give these people your money. Hopefully this process I have started will get easier with every post.
On a side note, my inspiration for this whole ordeal came from the Internet reviewer Brad Jones, the Cinema Snob. Here is a link to his site and the video of when he and a friend went to see God’s Not Dead in theaters; it is the very last video:
Hatcher-Travis, E. (Producer), & Cronk, H. (Director). (2014). God’s Not Dead (Motion Picture). USA: Pure Flix Productions.