God’s Not Dead, the 2014 film about a college student who challenges his atheist professor, is the perfect encapsulation of a strange persecution complex that exists in certain factions of the Christian community. For whatever reason, despite the fact that Christians make up 70% of the United States, this notion still prevails that the world has a vendetta against anyone who believes in God. Harold Cronk’s movie is designed to rile up all those who proudly display a “Keep Christ In Christmas” bumper sticker, calling on them to shake their head in response to a rage-worthy but completely preposterous scenario that could only occur within the reality of a chain email. It should be retitled FW: FW: FW: FW: GOD’S NOT DEAD.
If you enjoy bad movies, though, it should not be overlooked. This is a baffling piece of propaganda, which features all the nuance of an episode of The O’Reilly Factor combined with the production value of The Room. Outside of the main character, literally every single person is a stereotype meant to reinforce the audience’s warped view of the world. God’s Not Dead, then, provides a fascinating glimpse into the alternate universe your grandparents probably have nightmares about.
College professors are arrogant atheists who punish all Christian students
God’s Not Dead plays off of the viewer’s belief that college campuses are liberal training facilities run by militant atheists who punish anyone who thinks differently. As such, our antagonist is Professor Raddison, a man who opens his very first Philosophy 101 class by declaring that God does not exist, and anyone who believes otherwise is a fucking stupid peasant who needs to accept the truth. But that’s not all: he requires all of his students to sign a pledge agreeing that “God is dead.” If they refuse, that will negatively affect their grade.
This so clearly written by somebody who does not understand how a modern college campus operates. Have you ever heard of a professor so blatantly pushing his agenda on students, unleashing his wrath upon those who don’t comply? I have not, at least outside of bullshit stories passed around via Facebook memes, in which a brave young Christian speaks out against an atheistic boogyman and all the bystanders erupt in applause. That Christian? Albert Einstein. I attended a fairly liberal college myself, but in every course I have ever taken, it was considered a faux-pas to dismiss anyone’s personal beliefs, and never did I encounter a professor who did not actively encourage an open exchange of ideas.
God’s Not Dead‘s fictional universe is not only one where this kind of arrogant professor is the norm, though. It’s also one where nobody questions the fact that the university allows this to go on. Not one person except our lead character raises an eyebrow when a teacher threatens to lower the grade of anyone who believes in God. Really? How would he not be fired immediately? How terrifying must it be to live in a world where you buy into this as a plausible storyline?
Josh, being the gallant soul he is, will not sign the “God is dead” pledge, after which Raddison makes him prepare several days worth of lectures that will prove God’s existence. If he fails to convince his fellow students, he will fail the class.
We’ll get into the specifics of Josh’s argument shortly, but the final exchange between Josh and Professor Raddison is particularly rich. Josh paints himself as this open-minded young man who simply wants the class to decide for themselves what to believe, whereas Raddison is forcing everyone not to believe. Josh is obviously correct, but the movie so lazily paints him as the moral center by inventing a villain with a set of opinions literally nobody holds. When Josh declares, “I just want them to make their own choice,” it’s supposed to be a stunning twist during which he gains the upper hand with a compelling rebuttal, yet what professor on Earth would disagree with that statement? Only this made up, straw man one.
Nobody but Josh appears to have any understanding of Christianity
One of the film’s implicit themes is that in Obama’s America, kids don’t have even a basic understanding of Christianity anymore. That’s how persecuted religious folks are, man. All these students are being brainwashed by the Liberal Media and by the Playstations and the X-Boxes! Josh is outraged by the “God is dead” pledge, but everyone else in the class goes along with it without an objection. Um, have you met college kids? You’re seriously telling nobody else in this entire group would be offended by what Professor Raddison is doing? In real life, at least half the class would immediately walk out and storm the university president’s office.
Not only are they all ambivalent, but when Josh starts arguing for the existence of God, the film thinks so little of millennials that it appears all the students are hearing this debate unfold for the very first time. Josh opens his first lecture by actually explaining what the Big Bang is. To a group of college freshmen. When he uses the word “theist,” a student asks what that word means (the word “atheist” was taught in class the previous day).
And if you’re wondering why Josh doesn’t just drop the class immediately once Raddison starts treating him unfairly, well, he sees it as his mission to educate the masses and defend God, quoting C.S. Lewis to outline why he must stand up to the nefarious professor. Josh ends up visiting a reverend named Dave, who applauds him on his journey and says that of the eighty kids in this classroom, none of them would ever even think to step into a church without Josh’s help.
Yes, because of a random sampling of eighty college students, only one would not be an atheist. That’s how statistics work. If Josh accepts the challenge, Reverend Dave argues, it will be many of his peers’ first exposure to God, because we live in such a secular, post-war-on-Christmas society that Jesus is only spoken about in hushed tones, otherwise the NSA will whisk us away to be tortured for daring to praise God’s name instead of Supreme Leader Hillary Clinton’s.
Josh’s audience is also so fucking uneducated that his very basic points about religion are all taken as mind-blowing revelations. During one monologue, Josh responds to the question of why God allows evil to exist with two words: “FREE. WILL.” He spaces the sentence out like that as if to drop the mic and yell “BITCH,” and the camera pans around showing the whole class nodding as if they are thinking to themselves, “Holy shit, now that is a powerful fucking concept I have never heard before in my 18 years on this planet.”
The underlying issue is that the movie’s arguments for God’s existence never go far beyond what you might find on a Wikipedia page, yet story wise, Josh’s character is supposed to be incredibly persuasive. The student body must therefore be dumbed the fuck down so that Josh’s not-very-well-thought-out ideas manage to convince them. And as a fun side effect, the film implies that without brilliant young prophets like Josh, who inform folks about facts they would learn on the first page of Google results for “Christianity,” the Earth would be a gloomy place dominated by atheists and hybrid cars.
All atheists are just people who are mad at God
God’s Not Dead also reinforces the notion that nobody actually thinks God doesn’t exist. Rather, atheists are simply people who are angry with God. See, the film’s big twist is that Professor Raddison does believe in God after all, but he’s only an atheist because his mom died of cancer when he was a kid. That’s the only explanation for why anybody wouldn’t be a Ted Cruz-style evangelical Christian, right? Because they experienced some tragedy one time and are super salty about it? No one can possibly come to the conclusion, after much thought, that there is not enough evidence to make them believe in a higher power. Nonsense.
In fact, the climatic battle of words between Josh and Professor Raddison concludes when Josh continuously pesters the professor about why he hates God, until Raddison gives in and screams that yes, it’s true, “because he took everything away from me!” Josh then comes back with the ultimate zinger to end all zingers. Get ready to have your brain fucking destroyed.
“How can you hate someone…if they don’t exist?”
HOLY. SHIT. He did it! Josh exposed this hater liberal fraud for what he truly is: a complete phony! Except that literally no atheist doesn’t believe in God because they’re angry. That is now how it works at all. Once again, this is a response to a point-of-view that the film has invented.
But, of course, Raddison ultimately comes around: at the very end, he randomly gets hit by a car and converts to Christianity with hi dying breaths. Okay, then, I guess all atheists are merely insecure cowards who are one crisis away from accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Gotcha. By the way, I love how when Raddison is struck, Reverend Dave happens to be there, and he immediately declares the professor’s situation dire without bothering to call an ambulance or anything. When did this weirdo graduate medical school, exactly?
Then there’s Amy, one of the film’s 10+ superfluous characters who at no point interacts with the main storyline at all. She’s a blogger for the subtly-named website The New Left, and early on conducts an abrasive interview with Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty. Not an analogue of Robertson; the real guy shows up playing himself. Finally, the Duck Dynasty movie cameo you’ve been patiently awaiting.
This malevolent left-wing reporter simply can’t believe that Robertson and his family are religious and that they dare to tell the public about it. Amy, who is meant to be our serious journalist stand-in, asks Robertson how he could dare to “openly pray to Jesus in every episode” of his show! That’s why Amy hates Robertson. In these filmmakers’ minds, if you don’t like the show Duck Dynasty or folks like Willie Robertson, it’s because you simply can’t stand watching a series hosted by people of faith. Are you getting a sense now of why this might as well be titled Straw Men: The Movie?
Anyway, Amy ends up getting cancer and converting to Christianity. Just another loser who was denying the truth of God’s Greatness all along and only needed a tragedy to show her The Light. When she meets up with a group of believers later on, it’s heavily implied that the only reason she’s a bitter liberal atheist is because God gave her cancer, and she immediately is converted to Christianity when a member of a religious rock band tells her she’ll never find hope without Jesus. Like Raddison, when faced with her own demise, the natural next step for Amy is suddenly changing her entire belief system and accepting the infallibility of the Christian God as opposed to all the other ones.
You can believe whatever you want, unless you’re Muslim
Remember how Josh made the point earlier that he wants everyone in the class to simply form their own conclusions and believe what they choose? That clashes awkwardly with the film’s other message that Muslims are all evil pricks who beat their loved ones mercilessly.
Yeah, one of the thousand other useless subplots involves a Muslim girl whose father is forcing her to believe in Mohammad, but she accepts Jesus as her savior! The girl rebels against her father by listening to biblical podcasts, and when her dad finds out, he immediately beats the living shit out of her and kicks her out of the house.
Imagine if there were a film made by Muslim filmmakers in which everyone who praises Mohammad is heroic and sexy as hell, and the only Christian in the entire movie was a drunk redneck who beats his wife and kids for daring to open the Quran. The same people praising God’s Not Dead would organize protests.
Not only is every atheist a Dr. Claw-style, mustache-twirling villain in the God’s Not Dead universe, but so are any non-Christians in general. The Muslim father receives no redemption whatsoever, and we never hear from him again. Besides, it’s implied we should be rooting for this young lady to abandon her family’s faith and join up with Christianity, the correct belief system. All atheists are people who are mad or scared about God, and anyone of any other faith will realize how wrong they are eventually. So much for preaching tolerance of all people, huh?
It looks and feels like a student film
Al the nonsensical ideas presented would be easier to swallow if this even felt like a real movie, but every few minutes, I was scratching my head at some sort of new and bizarre filmmaking decision. Just a few that stood out include…
- What’s with the opening credits? Several minutes are spent showing our main characters walking to school and shopping in the supermarket, seemingly just so a Christian rock song could play in its entirety.
- Why do all the students in Josh’s class seem bored as hell during nearly every scene, but then at the end, they suddenly stand up and applaud Josh’s stunning victory? Could the crew not afford to hire any decent extras that could act as if they were slowly being won over?
- What the fuck is going on with Amy’s boyfriend? As yet another example of how everyone who isn’t Christian is a dastardly son-of-a-bitch, Amy is dating a suit-wearing business douchebag who is constantly on the phone selling bonds and stocks, and the scene where she tells him she has cancer is something to behold. After she breaks the news, he shakes his head, smirks, and says, “This couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” This movie is incapable of writing an antagonist who does anything but actively seek to make our main characters’ lives miserable. That is how some people see the world, I guess.
- Oh, and what about the fucking rental car subplot? There’s a solid 20 minutes of this movie devoted to Reverend Dave and his friend trying to rent a car to go to Disney World, but every vehicle they get won’t start. First of all, the rental place never even tries to fix any of the cars, simply declaring them a lost cause after turning the key two times. But the ultimate payoff is that God himself was presumably making the cars stall in order to keep the reverend in the area so that he could administer last rights to Professor Raddison when he dies at the end. I’m so glad we spent this fucking long watching characters rent cars just to get to that amazing punchline.
- Speaking of which, over what period of time does this film take place? The storyline with Josh presumably spans several weeks, as we’re following him and the rest of the class over the entire semester. But then the rental car subplot, which is supposed to be happening simultaneous to everything else, occurs over 24 hours. It becomes especially confusing when Reverend Dave of Rental Car Storyline fame meets up with Professor Raddison in the final scenes – so a guy for whom a mere 24 hours has passed meets up with a guy for whom weeks have passed.
- What happened to Josh’s girlfriend? Once again demonstrating the movie’s inability to write two logical sides of an argument, the girl Josh is dating immediately leaves him upon finding out his plan to debate the professor, thinking it will get him kicked out of school even when all the evidence suggests Josh is doing a fine job and there is no real danger. And this girl is a devoted Christian, so it’s unclear why she’s so opposed to the plan anyway. But regardless, you’d think this would lead to a moment when she returns later on and they reunite, but nope. We never hear from her again.
- The fucking music. Every single track appears to be lifted straight from YouTube’s library of royalty free songs – that is, when various Christian rock bands aren’t showing up for some free promotion.
- The film ends by actually calling on the audience to text everyone they know the phrase “GOD’S NOT DEAD” – ostensibly to declare their belief in Jesus Christ, but it just so happens this also works wonderfully as free promotion. Can you imagine texting everyone in your phonebook the phrase “GOD’S NOT DEAD” with no context?
- There’s a wildly offensive subplot involving an Asian student whose eyes are opened up to Jesus Christ, but his father won’t allow him to pursue religion because it would distract from his Math and Science classes. I say subplot because this is probably 90 seconds of the movie in total that was randomly stuffed in there to fill out some sort of racial stereotype bingo card.
- You know how Professor Raddison, the antagonist turned tragic fallen angel fucking dies at the end? Josh never even finds out about it. The movie wraps up with Raddison dying in the street while Josh enjoys a nice Christian rock concert, and that’s it! Not only does it violate basic storytelling to not give Josh even a brief scene where he finds out what happened to the professor, but we end on such a happy note after the tragic, bloody death of an innocent man. What are we supposed to feel here?
What the hell is going on with this movie? It is one of the most inexplicable religious propaganda films I’ve seen, and I have seen a lot. It’s not merely that it’s poorly written and acted; that’s to be expected from this subgenre of movies made specifically to screen at Sunday School. What’s more perplexing is that the whole story is a rebuttal to an argument that is not actually unfolding. It takes the firm stance that college professors should not force all of their students to reject God and declare the wonders of atheism, and yeah, that’s true. Good thing that is not fucking happening. It would be like making a film that declares it is a moral travesty for all Christians to be assaulting atheists in the street every day and shitting down their throats. You know, that’s a situation I just made up, but if it were to be a widespread problem, that would be horrible.
By gathering together and watching this film, though, Christians everywhere can feel real high-and-mighty, pretending they’re the victims and the sinister Liberal World is keeping them down. It may not be real life, but it feels like real life, and that’s what matters.
Oh, and I forgot to mention: God’s Not Dead 2 is being released tomorrow. This got a sequel, and it’s hitting theaters worldwide. The second thrilling installment has nothing to do with the plot of the original, instead following a high-school teacher who decides she wants to teach Jesus in public school but is being persecuted simply because she wants to blatantly violate the law. I presume she has no intention to tell kids about Muhammad or Buddha. Apparently God’s Not Dead is going to turn into an anthology series where every movie tells some new bullshit tale of a thinly-written Christian character being kept down by the oppressive Liberal Media. It’s probably going to make millions.