***Disclaimer: I have absolutely no problem with any religion or ideology on its own. My philosophy of life is pretty straight forward, do whatever you want as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else. Gay, straight, sexual preference, ethnicity, religion, are all irrelevant to how I interact with people. Power to everyone. Believe whatever you want, do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s simple.
What I do have a problem with is how some religions sell themselves and how some lead to poor treatment of others, whether that be women, homosexuals, people with different religious beliefs, etc. That violates my “do no harm” clause above. If someone wants to be close-minded that’s their prerogative, as long as it doesn’t affect others. As for marketing, some religions, or branches of those religions (emphasis on some, not all), use the same persuasive techniques that advertisers do to try and influence and shape public opinion. I don’t have a problem with religions trying to increase their flock as long as it’s done honestly. That’s not always the case. It’s one thing to state your beliefs, or have an open and honest conversation, it’s another to use subterfuge. That’s bullshit, and I have no problem calling anyone on their bullshit.***
A couple days ago, while trolling Netflix, I stumbled on a movie called God’s Not Dead. Hoping that it was an intelligent discourse on the existence of a supreme being, I clicked on it. As an agnostic (undecided on the existence of a god/gods/whatever), I’m always interested in a good conversation on religion, philosophy, the afterlife, or pretty much everything else. I’m curious but skeptical and the premise was intriguing.
The movie is an underdog story about a devout Christian student who enrolls in a University Philosophy class. The teacher forces all the student to start the semester by writing “God is Dead” on a piece of paper to prove they’re above superstitions and live in reality. Most of the students, even the religious ones, sign just to avoid confrontation but the Christian student refuses and is forced to “prove” the existence of god to the class. He has three days in front of the class to make his arguments.
As an agnostic I didn’t have a dog in this fight, I didn’t care who won as long as it was an interesting debate. It’s a fascinating premise that could have been turned into a really good movie and a conversation starter… but it wasn’t.
What I found was a piece of Christian propaganda about how our culture is horrible, godless, valueless, close minded, persecutes Christians, and that LOGIC proves the existence of the Christian god. Yeah… I watched it anyway, taking notes.
Here are a few details that stood out (*Spoilers ahead):
All of the Christians in the movie are perfect, of course, and everyone else is horrible and flawed. All the Christians have a perfect answer when challenged about their beliefs throughout the entire movie. They’re all completely devout and never question anything. The movie also carefully avoids subjects like homosexuality, or sex before marriage, that would expose negative dogma and make the church seem less “cool”.
The teacher is a ridiculous, over the top, evil antagonist who threatens to ruin the kid’s chance at graduate school for challenging him. That part is played by Kevin Sorbo, who previously was a hero of mine (Hercules, nooo!!). “In my classroom there is a god. Me. And I’m a jealous god.”
The teacher’s mother died of cancer when he was a kid. He begged god to save her, god didn’t, so he became an atheist.
A shady news reporter tries to shoot down some “good” christians, Willie Robertson as himself, the main dude from Duck Dynasty. Seriously, he’s in it. The reporter is diagnosed with cancer and realizes how empty her life is. When she tells her businessman FWB he dumps her because “This was never that serious.” The businessman was played by Dean Cain, previously a hero of mine (Superman, nooo!!). The reporter converts to Christianity.
The evil teacher’s girlfriend is a Christian, which becomes an issue. He’s an ass to her, mocks beliefs, and treats her like a servant. She leaves him after talking to her preacher.
The atheist teachers at the school (which is almost all of them) have an elitist cabal, lounging around and drinking wine while mocking the poor student’s daily efforts to prove god exists. After a particularly mean session their wine mysteriously turns to vinegar during dinner.
A Muslim student decides to convert to Christianity. Oh wait, the only non-Christian, non-atheist isn’t a student, she fucking washes dishes in the cafeteria. Her devout father beats her and disowns her, the Christian church takes her in and takes care of her.
The argument about the existence of god only includes arguments for the Christian god.
At the end of the debate, the student breaks down the teacher A Few Good Men-style and wins. “Why do you hate god so much?” “Because god let my mother die!”
At the end, the teacher rediscovers his faith and tries to reconnect with his Christian girlfriend. He gets hit by a car and lies dying in the road when a preacher finds him. He has just enough time to renounce atheism and accept JC as his savior before dying. That’s a big theme in the movie, bad things happen to atheists and good things happen to Christians.
However, cliches and Christian themes aside, what actually pissed me off about this movie was the “debate”. They put a lot of effort into giving it the appearance of legitimacy while not being balanced at all. They cherry-pick atheist arguments and statements, avoid the gaping holes in their logic by cherry-picking bible passages, and then claim that the Christian god is alive and well. The Christian’s “logic” and arguments appear flawless while the atheists are torn down left and right, despite major flaws on that side that are conspicuously avoided (conspicuous to those that know better anyway).
What scares me about this movie is that it’s very cleverly written (aside from the plot cliches) and very professionally done. They have some recognizable names, the acting is good, the story-lines intertwine well, the directing is solid, the nice Christians seem authentic and likable, and the themes are very consistent. They “shoot down” popular arguments by famous atheists like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. In short, if you’re young, or don’t know much, this “debate” could seem very authentic and convincing.
That’s terrifying to me, if you don’t already have the background info this debate could appear to be legitimate. If you don’t know enough about the Bible, the atheists’ points, or philosophy you can’t see how everything has been cherry-picked to provide the Christians with the ‘win’. Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t care who won as long as it was a good debate. It wasn’t.
For those of you who got your back up when I called this movie propaganda, let’s explore that definition:
Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. – Wikipedia
Hmmm, they hit every one of those points over and over for two hours.
In doing research for this post I stumbled upon this article that talks about how propaganda movies like this are becoming more common. Patheos, Is This a Trend Now?
That’s sad and scary at the same time.
I’m an extremely open minded guy, almost to a fault. You want to have a conversation or a debate about god, evolution, metric vs. imperial, mono/poly, whatever, I’m down as long as it stays cordial. If you want to see a good example of a funny, cordial ‘debate’ about god you should really watch this: Totally Biased. I’m even up for watching a movie with a differing view point as long as it’s not propaganda. Why? Because I think there is so much we can learn from each other. I’m not dead set on god or evolution because I still have questions (that’s worthy of a post of its own), and I think that’s a healthy thing. Faking the right answers isn’t, and that’s what this movie does.