God’s Not Dead “flatters Christian viewers with the triumphalist message that we are the heroes, that our enemies are bankrupt and miserable, that we will be rewarded and they punished. It tells its target audience exactly what they would most like to hear, rather than challenging them with what they need to hear. It’s not just bad art, it’s bad morally as well. God’s not dead, but movies like this don’t help His cause.”
That’s how Steven Greydanus, Catholic movie reviewer at Decent Films, summed up his critique of the movie (read his entire review here), and I couldn’t agree more. This example is perhaps more illustrious of Christian attitudes towards atheists than we’d like to admit.
In response to these attitudes, Randal Rauser has written a new book you need to get. I have it, and I found it to be a bold, refreshing call to Christians to rethink their attitudes about atheists. The book is entitled, appropriately, Is The Atheist my Neighbor?
Here’s a recent brief exchange we had about the film:
Matt: I thought your assessment of the recent film God’s Not Dead was excellent! Could you share with us why this was, how should I put it, not a stellar contribution to American cinematography?
Randal: Just over twenty years ago conservative film critic Michael Medved published the bestseller Hollywood Vs. America in which he chronicled, among other things, the lamentable way that Christians and other people of faith are often portrayed in film.
Medved certainly had a point. The negative portrayals of Christians in Hollywood far outweigh the positive. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen depictions of such tired tropes as the sexual prude, the gossipy pastor’s wife, the emotionally abusive pastor or religious leader, and so on.
Given this fact, you’d think that Christians would be very sensitive about invoking their own stereotypes when making their own films. But on the contrary, God’s not Dead is full of stereotypes of other groups, and the most egregious of all is the portrayal of the atheist philosophy professor, “Dr. Radisson”.
In the film, on the very first class of the semester, Dr. Radisson forces the entire class to write out “God is dead” on a piece of paper. And then he immediately begins to attack the single student who refuses. Now I’ll be the first person to agree that university can sometimes be a hostile place for those of Christian faith. But this scenario is absurd. It’s a caricature which plays off the worst fears of the conservative Christian community. And it gets worse from there.
As the movie proceeds Dr. Radisson shows himself to be an emotional bully. At one point he snarls: “There is a God and I’m him!” And as for that one Christian student who bravely refused to write “God is dead”, he proceeds to humiliate Dr. Radisson by persuading the entire class that God does exist. As the movie unfolds, Dr. Radisson is shown to be an angry, petty, emotionally stunted man who gets shown up by a first year undergraduate. To say the least, this is an uncharitable stereotype of the atheist community.
If Christians feel picked on by Hollywood, the proper response is not to make movies that pursue “an eye for an eye” cinematic justice by merely swapping caricatures! On the contrary, Christians should seek to respond by producing films that provide a sympathetic and generous portrait of their ideologica opponents.