I’ve gotten into my fair share of Facebook arguments, and nine times out of ten they’re regarding religion, politics or science. The other tenth is devoted to whether or not the spinning top falls at the end of Inception (it wobbles and the kids are played by older actors, so yeah, he’s not dreaming). I don’t really engage in those arguments anymore (except for Inception, people deserve the truth), but there isn’t any escaping the contrast of views in this country. In the past decade, a more assertive movement of atheism has established itself within the national conversation, and many Christians are weary of this. Those who claim themselves as atheist or secular are growing in number and getting younger and younger. More importantly, people are beginning to feel less fearful to declare themselves atheists.
Many Christians see this as a problem and while I understand why, I don’t view these statistics as wearily as some other believers do. I believe it’s a great opportunity for self-reflection within the Christian community and imperative to understand why people are drawn to atheism in this age. This all needs to be done from love and without an “us vs. them” mentality. This is where the new religious movie “God’s Not Dead” comes in.
If you watched the trailer above, you saw the setup of the story. A young Christian kid is going to college and takes a philosophy course where a militantly atheist professor states that all his students must write down “God is dead” or face a failing grade. When young Christian kid refuses to do so, the professor challenges him to a debate.
Now, the problem with religious films is that they are often one-dimensional. From the trailer and how they are selling this film, this one looks to be no different. After all, two of its selling points are cameos by one of the Duck Dynasty guys and the Christian worship band “Newsboys.” What reasons does the script give us for both of these Christian celebrities to appear in the movie other than “Well, they’re both famous and Christian?”
And part of the fun of a movie is the tension of not knowing how it’s going to end. Granted, it looks pretty obvious from the get-go, but they put the spoiler RIGHT in their title. Sequence of events: Atheist professor writes “God is dead” on white board. Title of movie is revealed to be “God’s NOT dead.” They should have just called it “No, He’s Not.”
Perhaps the most egregious blunder is the professor played by Kevin Sorbo (who has, surprisingly, aged very well since Hercules ended). He’s such a collection of all the worst stereotypes of how many Christians characterize atheists that he makes Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s look like a layered portrayal of a Chinese man living in America.
Let’s go over a few of his attributes - bitter, egotistical, condescending and forceful. At one point, he’s asked “Why do you hate God?” Even in the trailer, it’s made very clear — His reasoning for becoming an atheist isn’t merely intellectual. He’s got BAGGAGE. My theory - His wife died and he got mad at God. I’d bet money on it. The producers of this movie and others like it don’t seem to be interested in asking big questions, only providing easy answers. What a lot of Christians don’t want to face about atheists is that a lot of them aren’t angry and bitter (though that number is larger than atheists may like to admit), it’s that they examined the facts and it just didn’t add up for them.
Which brings me to a question for the filmmakers - Why does this movie exist? It certainly isn’t interested in telling a story, otherwise they would present maybe a shred of mystery about where the story’s going. When a Christian vilifies an atheist, they aren’t bringing themselves closer to God, they’re intentionally misunderstanding another human being and removing an opportunity to show somebody love.
In the movie “Easy A,” a whole group of one-dimensional religious characters are created and act according to their stereotypes (loony, judgmental, hypocritical). I thought the movie was really funny, but that section really bored me. Not because I was offended as a Christian, but one-dimensional depictions bore me to tears because generally speaking, there’s more to a person than that.
There are offenders on both sides of the debate. But I think that’s part of the problem. Why does it need to be a debate? We are all here together and existence is a mystery. I think there are many people out there that want to have a conversation about it that invites wonder, not malice. I believe people like Ira Glass, Pete Holmes and Frances Collins have begun to have that conversation. And I look forward to having it continue. But let’s maybe give Kevin Sorbo another campy series to star in and stop making up characters to reinforce our stereotypes.