Why God’s Not Dead Isn’t Worth Watching (or Watching again)

gods-not-dead-movie

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 Filmssummed 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.

8 thoughts on “Why God’s Not Dead Isn’t Worth Watching (or Watching again)

  1. Matt, thanks for posting this! Readers should be aware that “God’s not Dead 2” is slated to be released in March, 2016. And given the success of the first film, one can assume the producers are not about to adopt a more charitable and nuanced perspective for the second film.

  2. Hello! Matt, love your work. I am Catholic, and I watched this film last year and the ending left me feeling a little less than satisfied and even a bit queasy. The student who argues with Dr. Radisson did propose some “fair” arguments for the existence of God in my opinion. I watched it with my dad (who is Protestant) and my mom who is a former Catholic. I caught the reference to Georges Lemaitre, and told my dad they were speaking of the priest; Father Georges Lemaitre a detail which I’m sure they accidentally left out… I also recognized the allusion to the scandal a couple of years ago when a professor made his students write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then stomp on it. (http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/professor-makes-students-stomp-on-jesus.html) I really hated the ending when they kill off Dr. Radisson as he’s going to the Christian rock concert -which I assumed was to apologize- and he gets hit by a car instead, and as he’s dying he finally accepts Jesus publicly. As if to say; “yeah, you might be an atheist today, but if you were dying you’d think differently!” Which, may be true, or may not be true. Not only that, but it was so stinking obvious that that was going to happen! What a “groaner” of an ending… I also didn’t like how they portrayed that, like an Atheist probably won’t accept Jesus until they’re on their deathbed, or worse that Justice was somehow ironically served to Dr. Radisson by his accidental death. The whole thing was rife with cliche Protestant theology, strictly for the purpose of giving Protestant viewers what they want to see. Lastly, I know this is a long comment… I work in an assisted living home, and one of my co-workers brought that movie in for the elders to watch if they wanted to in the communal living room that has a big screen TV. Only one lady watched it the whole way through, and she was really upset by it. I asked her why and She said, “I just didn’t like the way they talked to that man that didn’t believe in Jesus.” “You don’t force the faith on someone by humiliating them like that, you don’t argue about Jesus like that.” She said she had an uncle who was a non-believer and her family “just loved him” and didn’t try to force anything on him. Thanks.

  3. I watched a free screening of this movie in a local Protestant Church. I even brought a copy of “The Portable Nietzsche” edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann in case anybody wanted to intelligently discuss the movie with me afterwards. There was no discussion afterwards as the showing was only meant encouraging entertainment. I had been wanted to watch the movie so that I could write the following review and I am thankful I was allowed to view it for free. This movie exceeded my expectations as very strong propaganda in favour of anti-theism.

    http://jonasthedunce.blogspot.ca/2014/11/gods-not-dead.html

  4. I’m sorry, Matt, but I would have to disagree with Mr. Rauser and yourself about the review of this film. I’ve seen it and I loved it. What some people may not understand is that curriculum the philosophy professor portrayed in the film, Dr. Radisson, presents is not too far from the reality that exits in the life of public, secular University classrooms today. Although I never had to sign my name as an atheist, I do remember the moral relativism that seeped in the air during my first year as an undergraduate at a secular state school 2 years ago. During my philosophy classes I can remember debating other students and professors whether morality even existed! I also remember at the end of one of our classes being handed a sheet of paper asking 2 questions: Is abortion okay? And why? I guess to no surprise at all, I was the only student who said “Absolutely not” and then explained my answer. By the time I was done, I was the last student in the room and the only one who used the front and back of that paper. And that was in Kansas. People are nice in Kansas. Ask Lila Rose how her years at UCLA went…

    If you don’t think the film is “fair” or “accurate” in portraying modern day American public university moral relativism, I suggest you spend a semester auditing an ethics course at your closest state school. You will be amazed at the similarities.

    And if you have a problem with the end of the movie, or better yet, if you think the Christian men and women who produced this film are at some kind of moral fault for portraying Dr. Radisson the way he is so that the universal atheistic community is seen in that same light, I really hope that you can understand how ridiculous that claim is in the first place. Just because an atheist is portrayed as a cruel person in a film does not mean any or all atheists are that way. That’s like saying you saw a film about 3rd world African people living without any modern day amenities and concluding that’s how everyone in Africa is when, in reality you have no clue that the people in a good amount of countries in Africa (the continent) live in a very modern society. This is the danger of a single story. If you don’t know what I mean check out this Ted Talk that will change your entire life perspective http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

    The point is that the plot is the way it is so that the story illuminates on the fact that there is a God. There are no scare tactics here. Because the professor undergoes an emergency baptism before he dies does not mean this is how atheists are seen in the eyes of Christians. The “you better convert or you’re gonna get hit by a car in the rain and die” mentality is not real and not how the script writers are embracing their evangelizing methodology.

    This movie portrays the reality of university life as well as scripting a plot that is intended to add drama and action into a movie. Let’s take away the truth that is shown and also understand the intention of this movie was not to implement scare tactics for the purpose of evangelization, but simply, make a plot that is geared more towards dramatic sensationalism. If those who view the movie cling to the dramatic sensationalism of what happens in the plot line as a bad light shown for all atheists, you have fallen into the danger that is the single story narrative… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

  5. Yes I will give Randall much credit on his assessment that the movie ‘God’s Not Dead’ does pander to the stereotypical roles of those groups opposed to Christian values. The movie was a low budget film, but still the message resounded that ‘God’s Not Dead’! I’m a Roman Catholic who recently, by the grace of God, experienced a full conversion; so for somebody like me who is hungry to hear positive and reinforcing messages of faith, this movie fit the bill.
    I disagree that we should have a ‘sympathetic and a generous portrait of our ideological opponents’, namely atheists, in our times. Yes I’m sure our Christian faith should espouse those virtues, but in our present days, where our Christian faith is being attacked all the more by the powers of darkness, this is no time to be generous to those who are against us in our belief in God.

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