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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"God's Not Dead" Christophobia on Campus; Disappointing

Christophobia on campus is all too real. I have attended faculty meetings that open with professors making the most egregious comments mocking Christian students. I have helped students who were harassed and bullied by professors once they made their identities as Christians known. I know of cases where hiring committees did look askance at applicants after discovering that they were Christian. I have seen hostile professors mock not just Christians, but also devout Muslims for belief in God. I have heard reports of devout Jews also being openly ridiculed in university settings.

"God's Not Dead" was a profound let-down. Christophobia on campus is a real problem, and it deserves better treatment than this ham-fisted, simple-minded, sadistically triumphalist film.

"God's Not Dead" opens provocatively. Josh (Shane Harper) a college freshman, takes a class with a professor (Kevin Sorbo) who requires his students to write "God is dead" on a piece of paper. Josh refuses to do so. He and the professor square off. The professor challenges Josh to convince his fellow students of God's existence. Harper and Sorbo are both good in their roles. The film's premise is excellent. The film does almost nothing with it.

Instead, through choppily edited scenes, it juggles several strands of subplots. A Muslim college girl converts to Christianity and her father reacts with hostility and heartbreak. An American minister wishes he were in Africa, but learns, through a providentially malfunctioning car, that life here in the US presents important challenges. A reporter having an affair with a callous, selfish man gets some bad news about her health. An elderly woman has Alzheimer's. Her daughter is involved with … the arrogant, atheist university professor. Two Duck Dynasty TV stars appear; this celebrity scene took me out of the movie completely. There is a concert with a Christian rock band called the Newsboys.

The duel between the frightened but determined college student and the arrogant professor was the most promising plot thread. It could have made a great, great movie. Instead the script fritters this contest away. It is never developed.

For me the most moving scene from the various subplots was also one of the most obvious and ham-handed. In a darkened room, a woman who is otherwise rendered senseless by Alzheimer's suddenly delivers a powerful sermon about how Satan can keep people trapped in comfortable prison cells.

Commentators have blasted the movie for depicting a Muslim father reacting with hostility to his daughter's conversion to Christianity. In fact Marco Khan depicts the father with great sensitivity. He obviously loves his daughter and he wants to protect her from negative influences. When he learns of her conversion, he is practically in tears. This is a complex and human character, not a hateful stereotype.

I won't reveal the end of the movie here, except to report that it is shameless. The movie handles the atheist professor shamelessly. This ending portrays God as much more shallow than he could ever be.

"God's Not Dead" struck me as a film that reflects some of the, to me, less attractive features of modern American Evangelical Protestantism. I reflected on Catholic films that, I think, handled issues of faith in deeper, more complex, more human ways. I'm thinking of pop movies like "Going My Way" and "Bells of Saint Mary's," blockbusters like "Sound of Music" and Fred Zinnemann's 1959 classic, "The Nun's Story."

These films show all the ups and downs, the pimples and pockmarks, the real-life roadblocks, mazes, and dark nights of the soul of a life of faith. In "Bells of Saint Mary's," a pacifist nun teaches a bullied boy how to box. In "Sound of Music" faith goes up against lust and Nazism. In "The Nun's Story" the atheist, Dr. Fortunati, is an ally of a person of faith. In "God's Not Dead," all the Christians are purely good, and all the non-Christians are close to being purely bad. In "God's Not Dead," it seems all you have to do is say, "God is good all the time" and presto changeo, even cars obey God's will to make your life better, and everything ends up as a triumphant sing-along.


  1. Welcome to my world! In my university town in a drought-stricken area of the Southwest, there are "Pray for rain. Fill our lakes!" signs all over. The imperative voice on the signs is so typical, and comical. It's as if the Christians here think that all they have to do to end a historic drought is to comand their good buddy Jesus to do it with the right amount of enthusiasm and confidence.


  2. That is true, the only good line in the whole movie comes from the lady with Alzheimer's disease. Right wing people have no artistic flare, it our curse in life.