God’s Not Dead – Part 2

God's Not Dead Poster #2God’s not dead, but why is it I felt I attended his funeral?

From the last sentence you might already be getting the idea my experience watching God’s Not Dead wasn’t the happiest. In fact, I was visibly angry by the time the film ended. I feel sorry for my poor mother and sister who needed to hear me rant about my problems with the film the whole way back from the theater and then during the walk with the dogs afterword. To get to the core of my problem with the film I am going to need to go into some spoilers. So those who still might be wanting to go to the movie might want to check this out afterword.

As I explained in my last post I was not looking forward to this movie. From seeing both the title and the film’s trailers I had an overwhelming feeling this movie was more interested in telling us what to think then giving us something to think about. I chose to go because I didn’t want to judge the film on preconceived ideas. To the best of my ability I tried to be open to the movie being different from it’s advertisements. As the old saying goes you shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover. I wanted this movie to impact me like any other movie. I was interested in the basic concept of a student standing up for what he believes in even when it might mean he would be condemned. And trailers have a hard time expressing depth. They only have a few seconds to introduce characters and concepts. A two hour movie however obviously has much more time to get into character motivations and express more nuanced ideas.

This movie however left nuance at the door. All the characters were created to represent stereotypes, both of Christians and the secular world. None of them showed any depth. People who did not believe in the Christian God were all portrayed as evil; whether it be the Muslim father who beats and kicks his daughter out of the house after she claims to love Jesus or the mean boyfriend who gets angry at his girlfriend for bringing up her cancer after he tells her about his promotion. All the Christians the film concentrated on were true servants of God. Sure, there was the pastor who kept getting frustrated about his car not starting. But none of them really faltered when it came to choosing to do the right thing in the end. The character most representative of the “selfless man of God” was the main protagonist of the story Josh Wheaton.

It was clear Josh’s character particularly represented the Christian industries expectation for a good Christian youth. He did everything right in the eyes of the Christian base. He isn’t willing to put down on paper, “God is dead”. He goes to his elders for instruction. He reads the Bible and stands up to his God hatting professor in class. I mean this guy doesn’t miss a beat. There is no attempt to allow the audience to understand Josh’s unwavering faith in God. There is no insight to when he became a Christian or why he feels the need to stand up for his faith except for the generic comment of, “I think God wants me to”. I call the comment generic because it is the same excuse Muslim extremists use to blow things up and kill innocent woman and children. Josh is a shell with no real personality or meaning outside his mission to convert the unbeliever. There are tones of opportunities for him to actually interact with the world around him yet he is too focused on his mission to convert to give a crap about anything else. The best example of Josh’s ignorance comes when interacting with a fellow student Martin Yip. Martin is actually the one who reaches out to Josh by asking him about why he is speaking up in class. Josh takes this as a opportunity to preach and tells Martin about how he believes in Jesus and doesn’t want to disappoint Him. I almost yelled at Josh in the theater to ask a question about who Martin was. Start up a actual conversation and maybe ask Martin what he believes. But no luck. As soon as Josh was done with his preaching he left Martin sitting at the table. The only time Josh really becomes interested in Martin is when Martin turns to Jesus at the end of the movie.

There were so many missed opportunities. This could have been an authentic look at the secular world and why at times it seems so against Christianity. Yet, after watching the movie you get an overwhelming feeling the only thing Christian media thinks they do wrong is stay quiet. The only open Christian in the movie who was portrayed in a negative light was Josh’s girlfriend who adamantly encouraged Josh not to speak up in class. Christians might point to this character as daring, but I thought of her as just shallow. The writers did everything but put a sign on her spelling out, “This is not a real Christian”. She never talks about God and always spoke about how Josh fighting his professor in class would make her look bad. She finally broke up with him because he wouldn’t sign the paper that God was dead or leave the class. Why do I or anyone else in the audience care she she left Josh? I mean there was nothing about her that was interesting or made me care. I couldn’t figure out how the morally unshakable Josh Wheaton would have hooked up with someone like his girlfriend in the first place?

The farther into the movie we went the more this movie looked like a carefully planned out propaganda film. Their mission was to keep the Christian base confident in their faith and reinforce a narrow view of the outside world. It reminded me of the countless messages I sat through in Church where in the end I was told to give my heart to Jesus and tell others about the good news. Quite literally the movie told us to tell people, “God’s Not dead”. It wanted me to text all my friends telling them God wasn’t dead. As if that was going to do the trick. The frustrating things is there were tons of people who did this. As I explained in my last post I saw tons of status updates declaring God wasn’t dead. Put yourself in the secular worlds shoes. What if one of your friends had text you, “God’s dead”? How would this make you feel? Would it really make you more acceptable to thinking God’s dead? Or would it get you frustrated because you are being told bluntly something you believe is not true. For many the text “God’s Not dead” are fighting words. The text is starting a debate few Christians are interested in or prepared for. Heck, I believe there is no batter proof for how unprepared we are then this very movie.

The premise of this movie revolved around Josh’s debate with his professor about the existence of God. While the atheist professor had a board with a few atheist philosophers and scientists names on it as explanation for why the class did not need to look into the idea of there being a God, Josh had a fully realized video display, he somehow found the time to put together, to help argue his case. Each time Josh made his arguments for God’s existence this display helped guide us into feeling comfortable Josh’s arguments made sense. On the other hand while some of the first arguments the professor makes feels partly thought out it becomes more and more apparent his real problem is a personal grudge against God. There was no attempt to treat the debate fairly. In the end we see the Professor show his true colors and admit his real reasons for not allowing God in his class room was because he was angry at Him for not saving his mother from cancer. For this to be the main argument in the movie for why the secular world denies the Christian God is completely ridiculous. Yet, this philosophy seems to be picked up by more and more Christians. Most Christians I listen to seem convinced the reason the secular world denies God is because they are selfish and have a personal grudge against Him.

Movies like God’s Not Dead are why the secular world isn’t interested in the Christian God. As I said at the beginning of my post I felt I was attending God’s funeral while watching this. I just couldn’t find any substance in the movie. This film claims to be a light. Yet it is a light that holds little warmth and shows no depth. The film was an encouragement for believers to go out into the world and preach with ears plugged and eyes closed. The more Christians take on this kind of instruction the farther they will find themselves from both this world and their God they claim to love so much.

God’s Not Dead – Part 1

God's Not Dead PosterFor those who don’t know I work two blogs. One concentrates on my ambitions to understand the technique and art of storytelling/filmmaking and the other covers my views on faith and politics.  Even though both blogs revolve around my pursuit of art and efforts to understand God the subjects don’t usually intersect. However, just the other day I accompanied my mother and sister to the movie God’s Not Dead and I knew immediately I needed to write about my experience. Seeing it was a movie and concentrated on a the issue of faith I have decided to post my views about this movie on both my blogs. I am also going to break my thoughts into two posts. For this post I will try to explain why I chose to watch this movie and my next post will concentrate on what I felt about the film.

To be honest this movie never appealed to me. From seeing the very title God’s Not Dead I was afraid it was going to be another Christian produced film that never really tried to give us something to think about but rather told us what to think. There is an argument to be made I, along with many other secular audiences, had already made preconceived judgments on the movie without being willing to give it a chance. I will not try to suggest I went into the theater with a completely open frame of mind. I tried to have an open frame of mind but I couldn’t help but be influenced by the title, the advertisements, and the second hand comments I had already heard regarding the film.

Lets first look at the title. Why would the title God’s Not Dead turn me off? Well, you tell me the last good film you watched with a title telling the audience precisely what to think? I mean the movie didn’t even want me to think about the possibility God could be dead. I did not need to watch a frame of the movie to know we were going to see a story trying to prove the existence of God. It might just be a malfunction of how I was brought up but I was taught to think for myself. The teachers who really mattered to me allowed me to come up with my own conclusions about what I believed. However, this film with its very title suggested it didn’t want to trust the audience in that way.

The advertising for God’s Not Dead felt just as manipulative as the title. Here is the first trailer I had seen for the film:

Here is another example of the movie not trying to leave anything up to the imagination. Sure the movie suggest the premise is “We are going to put God on trial”. But based on the characters we see in the trailer and the Newsboys song playing in the background with the lyrics “God’s not Dead, he is surely alive” we could tell this premise is only there to thinly disguise a cookie cut message about the evils and dangers of the secular world and the need for us to choose God. The reporter in the trailer even asks about those who don’t believe and the famous Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson replies, “If we disown Him (God), He will disown us”. The secular world is represented by a power hungry professor who calls himself god. We also see another secular businessman who is asked to visit his mom and replies back, “What’s in it for me?”. They don’t want us to question the story arc of the freshman either. The trailer makes sure to show us a clean cut collage Christian who ends up standing for what he believes and confronting his power hungry professor. I felt like the trailer showed a movie aiming to make the Christian audience feel good about themselves at the expense of the rest of the world. The trailer offended me because it seemed to be further proof of a film interested in talking down to it’s audience by not even giving them the chance to discover any truths for themselves.

Now the title and the advertising of the film are prime examples of why I wasn’t interested in going to the movie. So the big question is, why did I end up going? After God’s Not Dead came out I found the reaction from friends and across the internet interesting. What was most intriguing was the difference in opinion I heard from the Christian base compared to the secular base. There were advertisements all over my Facebook wall where Christian friends were posting statuses declaring “God’s Not Dead” and suggesting I and the rest of Facebook go see the movie. I also saw flyers posted claiming the film was #2 in the Country’s Box Office. I didn’t really understand where this stat was coming from since Box Office Mojo and IMDb claimed it took fifth in the box office nationally. Absolutely none of my none Christian friends claimed to see the movie. I did look on Rotten Tomatoes and out of the few people who chose to review the movie, it received a 20% rotten Tomato rating. For those who don’t know it takes a 60% or higher for a film to receive a “fresh” rating.

So what was this huge separation about? Why were so many outside the faith criticizing the movie and so many inside the faith praising it? Why was an advertising campaign that felt manipulative and demeaning to me seem to intrigue so many of my Christian friends?  I knew I needed to check out the movie for myself to find out these answers. Rather then make this post excessively long I will leave you guys with a cliff hanger and give my thoughts on the actual movie in my next post.