I was reluctant to write this for awhile, fearing I might offend someone. Then my very good friend pointed out that “the other side” never wrestles with that concern, for instance Phil “Disturbing Rape Fantasies” Robertson, and far more people pay attention to him than me.
I’m an atheist. Or an agnostic. I don’t believe in an all powerful creator. What I believe in is people being decent to one another and not getting all up in other people’s grills about how to live their lives. You believe what you want, just don’t try to force others to agree with you. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, it should be all good.
It SHOULD be, but it isn’t. Unfortunately a very vocal segment of the population can’t stand the thought of gays getting happily married, or existing. They seem to feel similarly about atheists, but it’s a lot harder getting laws passed taking away the rights of people who like sleeping with members of the opposite sex.
So, to make sure we’re on the same page: Do unto others, keep your head down, your nose clean and work hard, mind your own business, unless your neighbor is running a dog fighting or human trafficking ring. But as far as someone loving another consenting adult or not believing in your imaginary friend? NOT YOUR DAMN PROBLEM.
I heard about this movie, God’s Not Dead, and its comical vilification of atheists, and I was mildly curious. I wish I could say I went into it with an open mind but that would be a lie. I went into it fully expecting to mock it. It turns out I didn’t have to try that hard. If you’re touchy about religion, this is your last chance to run away.
This movie is to Christianity what Oscar award winning Crash was to racism. It depicts Christians being downtrodden and treated unfairly in all walks of life by those horrible evil atheists.
The big draw of this movie is Kevin Sorbo, who hypocritically rose to fame playing the demi-god Hercules. Here he plays a smug control freak of a college philosophy professor who begins the semester forcing his class to write and sign the statement “God is dead,” just to agree on that one point before any talk of philosophy can actually take place. Let me stop right here. I’ve never taken a philosophy course, but wouldn’t it be kind of tricky to exclude religion completely from one?
Enter our young hero, devout Christian Josh Wheaton (a name suspiciously close to noted atheist Joss Whedon), who flashes his crucifix pendant proudly. When he first receives his course load, the uncharacteristically concerned fellow student handing out packets warns him against taking Hercules’ class. I’ll stop here. I attended college for four years. No one cares that much about anyone’s schedule or chance of success. If they did, I wouldn’t have ended up in Professor O’Hare’s class, the “antichrist of English majors” (which wasn’t a joke; I escaped with a C grade and counted myself lucky). So I call FAKE right here.
Josh won’t sign Hercules’ paper, “He who denies me on earth, I shall deny before my father in heaven” clearly running through his brain (I was raised Roman Catholic). Instead he strikes a deal with the professor (college freshman, have I mentioned?) He will get three chances to make presentations to prove to the class God exists. If he fails, I don’t remember what will happen, but after the second installment Hercules privately threatens to destroy his entire academic career with such scene chewing, over-the-top zeal all he was missing was a long black moustache to twirl.
I’m not sure why Hercules feels so threatened: the kid’s arguments are the same vague nebulous meaningless talking points Christians have been throwing around unconvincingly since Richard Dawkins started rattling their cage. At one point he points to the Big Bang Theory, that all matter burst forth into being within a matter of minutes, just as it would if God had said “Let there be light.” I’m sorry, Josh, logic doesn’t work that way. By that reasoning, the universe might just as easily have been created by aliens from the solar system Zanthrak on a drunken bet.
Let’s leave Josh quaking in fear of his irrationally God-hating professor and meet some other persecuted Christians. There’s the Chinese exchange student, also in the class, excitedly updating his disapproving communist father at home about all the God talk. There’s a young Muslim woman whose father throws her out of the house when he finds her listening to the bible on tape (sorry, poor misunderstood Christians; I think the statistics will show far more gay kids are kicked out of Christian households than you are. Pot, meet kettle). Hercules’ own wife, an ex-student who is forced to hide her own convictions or risk open ridicule from Hercules and all his godless colleagues (well, it’s really her own fault for falling for a pretty face. We can all agree compatibility in religion and politics is crucial for a relationship to succeed). Oh, and Josh’s own girlfriend who he met in a church youth group dumps him because he won’t just sign the damn paper.
Last but not least is Amy, a leftwing blogger who ambushes none other than Duck Dynasty cohort Willie Robertson, accusing him of earning his millions by slaughtering innocent creatures and flaunting his religious beliefs shamelessly. He brushes her off; he’s got no worries because he loves God so he’s all set. This scene smacked slimily of a very thinly veiled plug for his show.
Poor Amy is diagnosed with cancer (presumably terminal; she seems to resign herself to death before even exploring treatment options). Her very offensive boyfriend, amoral businessman and–you guessed it–unrepentant atheist Dean Cain (better known as the WB’s Superman) drops her like a hot potato, because everyone knows atheists don’t have a shred of integrity or decency in their bodies.
Superman gets an extra crunchy layer of despicableness when he grudgingly visits his elderly demented mother. He sneers at her “You’ve prayed to God your whole life and look where it got you. I don’t believe and I’m insanely successful” (I’m paraphrasing). She answers, in a rare moment of lucidity, “Sometimes the devil rewards his servants on earth.” (Edit: Actually, it’s a longer parable about the devil keeping his followers happy so they don’t turn to God, keeping them in a comfy cell that they don’t recognize as prison until he slams the door. The sentiment is the same though.) Okay, so when the faithful like the Robertsons do well, that’s God. And when nonbelievers do well, it’s the devil. It’s kind of maddening how Christians can rationalize anything in the context of religion. It’s not possible that both men worked hard and supernatural beings had nothing to do with either? And what kind of god has time to micromanage some smug hillbilly’s life and still lets babies and kittens die?
Back in Professor Hercules’ class, Josh rests his case and wins. Beginning with the exchange student, all the students stand up and announce soulfully “God’s not dead!” in a total rip-off of the far superior “O captain, my captain” scene in Dead Poets Society. I’m sure it brought the house down in every church basement that screened it. I’m just saying, it’s been done before and less sanctimoniously. Hercules skulks out the back in disgrace.
The finale is the most ludicrous. This movie is actually one long ad for a Christian rock band called The Newsboys. They’re mentioned at every opportunity, and when they aren’t being talked about there’s usually a small discreet poster in the background. The movie culminates in their big concert, where the band comforts Amy backstage about her cancer, where Mrs. Hercules finds one big support group after leaving her awful husband, and where the Muslim and the Communist are welcomed warmly.
Hercules walks to the show to try to win his wife back and is hit by a car. Moments from death, a pastor is on the scene and converts him back to the flock before he goes gently into that good night. Meanwhile at the concert, Willie shows up one last time via video feed to remind us God’s not dead (WE GET IT). Then the band asks the audience of 10,000 (awfully sure of ourselves, aren’t we) to text that message to their 50 friends (I might have 50 friends, but not that I’m on texting terms with) to get the word out to half a million people. Then the movie makes that request of the viewers. STAHP.
I read one interview with Kevin Sorbo who characterized himself as a “live and let live” Christian, and he just doesn’t understand why atheists are so “angry at something they don’t even believe in.” No, Kevin, we aren’t angry at your imaginary friend. We’re angry at his followers trying (and succeeding too often) to use him to take our rights away and justify people hating us (speaking as a bisexual woman who is marrying the female love of her life in a year). We’re angry at the far more offensive insinuation that being atheist means we don’t know right from wrong and would have total anarchy if not for religion; when the fact is, we’re more moral because most of us manage to do right and good without hoping for an eternal reward or fearing the wrath of a magic sky fairy. Shall I remind you how many atrocities are committed in the name of God?
We’re angry because you trample on the rights of others in real, quantifiable ways, and want to act like you’re the oppressed.
We don’t want to change your mind about God. We just want you to stop shoving him in our faces. Put that in your duck call and smoke it.