God’s Not Dead is the latest offering from Christian film production house Pure Flix. Grossing $60 million when it screened in the US earlier this year, the movie has recently snuck into a few choice Event Cinemas complexes across the country (or at least those in close proximity to mega churches).
Our protagonist is squeaky-clean, teeth-you-could-perform-a-white-balance-on Josh Wheaton, playing a college freshman who has enrolled the philosophy stream taught by militant atheist, Professor Raterson. In his first class, every student is made to write ‘God is dead’ on a piece of paper. Josh refuses, and Raterson tells him that if he wants to pass the course he’ll need to defend his faith in front of the class in a series of three twenty-minute seminars.
As Josh scurries off to the library to disprove Dawkins, we are introduced to a series of other characters. There’s Josh’s girlfriend of six years (so, yes, they must have gotten together around the age of 12) who leaves him because he’s such a crazy boat-rocker, the cast of Duck Dynasty (who kind-of-maybe attempt to justify hunting on religious grounds), and Aisha, another student at the college.
When I first see Aisha in her hijab, listening to her father bemoan secularism, I am so damn excited. The solution to our white-toothed hero’s problem is going to be interfaith co-operation!
I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. She is – like all Muslim women, obviously – feeling incredibly oppressed, tearing off her hijab as soon as her father is out of sight and spending her days listening to podcasts of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. (Because St Paul “chicks can’t speak in churches” the Apostle was all about women’s lib. Obviously.) Oh, and then she’s brutally beaten by her father and kicked out of her house. But no time to dwell on that – back to our brave defender of the faith, Josh!
By giving three presentations on how religion and science can logically coexist, Josh manages to convert every single person in his course to Christianity. It helps that he manages to expose his professor’s atheism as fuelled by his mother’s early death in a cross-examination that makes the ending courtroom scenes of Legally Blonde appear plausible. He’s even converted the Chinese international student whose dad wants him to hide his faith to keep his brother’s chance of studying abroad intact! What a hero.
Did I mention that the atheist professor has a former-student girlfriend who he emotionally manipulates and who has been hiding her Christianity from him? Well, there’s that. And she’s Greek Orthodox! Just kidding: she’s the exact same brand of evangelical, charismatic Christian that Josh, Aisha and the Chinese international student are.
The film ends with the last remaining non-Christian – the professor, for those keeping tabs – finding a letter written by his God-fearing, cancer-stricken mother on her deathbed.
Probable conversation had in writers’ room at this point:
Writer 1: “Is he converted at this point?”
Writer 2: “It’s unclear.”
Writer 1: “Let’s make him be fatally hit by a car near an ordained minister who can convert him on his possibly non-consensual death bed.”
And with that – everyone’s a Christian!
Except for Aisha’s family. They aren’t in the movie anymore. End film.
When a cultural group develops its own film industry, it has the opportunity to define how the rest of the world sees it. Unfortunately, the Christian film industry hasn’t quite grasped this concept.*
The religious expression is homogenous, the end goal is mass conversion and the atheists, Muslims, and Chinese are the bad guys.
The isolation of religious young people in tertiary education institutions – particularly in courses like philosophy – is a legitimate problem. Atheism is presumed, and equated with intelligence.
But, alas, the way to get that message across is not with a cameo from the cast of Duck Dynasty and a heaping of anti-Islamic sentiment.
*Or maybe they have, in which case: shit.