This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014. I thought it might be relevant, given that God’s Not Dead now has a sequel.
I saw God’s Not Dead, a Christian film that appears to be based on that absurd chain e-mail about the brave Christian student who faces down an atheist professor. This movie got a 16/100 on metacritic, but still ended up a big box office success. If you want to know what happens in it without watching it, I recommend this synopsis.
In the world of God’s Not Dead, atheists are horrible people who mock their girlfriends in public, abandon people close to them when they’re dying, and secretly hate god. The movie joyously depicts atheists dying by cancer or car accidents, and gloats over their last minute conversions. Also, all atheist arguments are arguments from authority or assertion (oddly, so are the Christian arguments).
But a lot of that has already been said. So here I present five things that were awful or bizarre about God’s Not Dead that had nothing to do with atheism.
1. The girlfriend from middle school
The main character, Josh Wheaton, mentions that it’s his sixth anniversary with his girlfriend. He’s a college freshman. … I suspect the writers didn’t think the math through, and just wanted it to seem like they had a long-time commitment.
The six-year commitment makes it all the more devastating when they break up! Josh’s girlfriend demands that he stop trying to challenge his professor, because they need to get good grades so they can go to law school together, like God wants. Josh stands his ground, so she threatens to break up with him, and then she does. Wow, how did they stay happy together so long in such an obviously abusive relationship? Josh, naturally, has no emotional reaction to the breakup whatsoever.
2. A distillation of Muslim stereotypes
Another character, who is utterly unrelated in any way to the protagonist, is Ayisha. In the presence of her “traditional” Muslim father, she wears what I think is supposed to be a niqab, although it’s not remotely accurate.
Her whole plot arc seems to be based on the view that Muslim women wear covers because of direct coercion by male figures in their life, such as their husbands or fathers. This is pretty much explicit when a student goes up to her and says, “I wish you didn’t have to wear that”. Later, when Ayisha converts to Jesus, her father, who loves her very much, beats her and kicks her out. Gee, I knew these were Muslim stereotypes, but I’ve never seen them represented so succinctly.
3. The car that won’t start
Two Christian pastors are trying to drive… somewhere. It was explained at some earlier point in the movie, while it was still throwing random characters at us, and I didn’t know there was anything worth paying attention to. But they can’t get there because their car won’t start. And then a car rental guy drives a car over to them, and that car won’t start either! And then the scene with the car rental guy is repeated again, for good measure.
Get this: the car rental guy is going to audition for a role in Death of a Salesman. Why is that relevant? Who the hell knows? I don’t even understand how he gets to his audition without any transportation.
This whole time I’m thinking, obviously their car doesn’t start because God doesn’t want them to get on a train that God plans on crashing. Turns out it’s actually because God wants them to convert an atheist and then dance over his grave. Props to the movie for being unpredictable.
4. That Chinese kid
There’s one Chinese student on campus, and he is a visiting student from China. His entire story arc is that he converts to Christianity, which his family finds inconvenient because maybe the Chinese government won’t let his brother visit the US anymore (??).
I am Chinese American, and this is one of the most blatant examples of tokenism I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t they imagine that some Chinese people actually aren’t from China? It’s also suffering from White savior syndrome, wherein a white American male hero rescues a foreigner from his ignorant foreign culture. I’m pretty sure the Chinese Christian communities are much more effective at converting Chinese people, thanks.
5. The Duck Dynasty cameo
Early in the movie, a character has an interview with the guy from Duck Dynasty. This served no purpose whatsoever, except to allow some celebrity to spout stuff about Jesus and ducks. Later I found out from the synopsis that the interview was supposed to be hostile, because the character is an angry blogger. I totally missed that because the rest of the blogger’s story arc is about how she’s dying all alone from cancer.
In case you didn’t get enough of Duck Dynasty, he makes a second cameo. For no apparent reason, he shows up at a music concert and encourages everyone to participate in a viral texting campaign (send “God’s not dead” to all of your contacts!). This is, of course, a very good idea, and is well-received by all.
Re: #4, The Chinese kid was actually the ultimate inspiration for the movie, based on true events… but revised substantially. http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2014/04/09/revisionist-history-in-gods-not-dead/ (also happens to be one of my two favorite comment threads there….)
tl;dr–Real life: insecure student from China is preached at by Christian prof.
Movie: Atheist prof challenges Christian student, Chick track ensues.
Given that the “true” events took place in the 80s, that might explain why the Chinese story felt so anachronistic. I did a double-take when everybody in the movie was so shocked to hear he came from the PRC. It felt like everyone was gasping that there was an Asian in their midst.