Moving Day: ALLEZ CUISINE!

This is it. The last day at WordPress. I feel like I’m walking through an emptied house, making sure all the closets are cleared out before getting behind the wheel of the car for that last drive away.

The move to Patheos is almost complete, so this is a short note here to say that I’m going to take a day off from blogging (I KNOW, RIGHT) and give y’all time to locate, re-bookmark, and start hanging out on the new site, link right here, you betcha. We’re still ironing out the tabs and banner heading and whatnot but I want to get started.

I can’t say enough how excited I am about this move. Patheos has always been a favorite catch-all site for me for the conversation it hosts about all facets of religion, humanism, and freethinking, and I’m thrilled to be asked to join that conversation and add to it.

I really hope that y’all will follow me there. I know Disqus can seem kind of persnickety sometimes, but I’m going to be running with the same commenting rules and expectations there that I do here. I really hope we can maintain the community we’ve built up here–together–over the last couple of years.

When I look back at those first few panicky, uncertain days of this blog’s life, I am struck by how far we’ve come and how amazing a ride and journey it has been, and you–yes, you, you reading, right there, I can see you through your computer’s microphone holes*–have a lot to do with that amazing journey.

ALLEZ CUISINE!

See y’all at the new site on Tuesday!

Reminder linkity link link: Roll to Disbelieve

Dice rolling.

Rollin, rollin, rollin, keep them dogies rollin… (Credit: “The 19th Comes from above,” by fady habib, Flickr, CC license.)

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* When I worked in computer tech support for a major computer hardware company, I was downright shocked at how often consumers called in saying stuff like that. I should probably write a post about it sometime. Seriously, I’ve got an embarrassment of riches as it is for post ideas; you should see my drafts folder. It’s probably almost as bad as The Apostate’s.

Posted in Meta | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

God’s Not Dead: Moving Targets.

We’re about to launch into a discussion of the Christians in God’s Not Dead, but before we get rolling on that, I want to spend a few minutes talking about the dissonance between this movie’s stated audience and goals, and what its audience and goals actually are.

An empty classroom. (Credit: Shaylor, Flickr, CC license.)

An empty classroom. (Credit: Shaylor, Flickr, CC license.)

I bring this up because I ran across a reviewer discussing an interview with the movie’s creators wherein they confessed that they’d removed references to Catholicism from the movie. I was startled me enough that I had to double-check it, and yes, they’re right, they did. There’s not a single reference to Catholicism in that whole movie that I could find. That got me thinking about one of this movie’s many dishonesties: who its target audience really is.

The removal of all things Catholic might seem like an unusual thing to confess, at least at first. You’ll probably be as shocked as I was to discover that the creators of this movie are in fact Catholics themselves, in the interview in question about scrubbing references to Catholicism. This movie’s vibe is that it wants to be an all-singing, all-dancing reason to believe in the Christian god, and it relies heavily on apologetics and scientific ideas advanced by Catholics. Catholics are a huge chunk of the Christian body–at least an arm or a leg, right? So logically they shouldn’t care what Christianity people convert to. But they do, very much.

There’s a particular flavor of Christianity they want people to consider, and that flavor really hates Catholicism–almost as much as it hates atheists and liberals.

But you won’t hear anyone in this movie say that. Kevin Sorbo is on record as saying that he wants the movie to convert agnostics at least, and that he thinks he “opens up discussion.” (And it does, just not in the direction he’d clearly like the conversation to go!) I’ve heard other people involved with this movie say similar things over the last year as well. But if they want to do that, they’ve got a funny way of showing it.

I think that this movie is having a discussion all right–one aimed at a very particular and very ugly flavor of Christianity: the toxic Christian.

Toxic Christians are that subset of Christians that all the other Christians rush to distance themselves from. They actively make the religion’s credibility and reputation falter. They’re proudly ignorant, happily self-deluded, dishonest in their testimonies, and bull-headed, stubborn, and unwilling to listen to anybody who doesn’t parrot back their ideas. They don’t even generally realize how far they’re setting back their religion’s cause; they are the anti-witness for Christianity and don’t even know it. They’re the ones advocating pseudoscience in lieu of actual education in public schools; they’re the ones who understand neither religious liberty nor freedom of speech but oddly fetishize both; when issues of the Separation Clause come up, it is toxic Christians out in front whining about their loss of privilege. And they are known far more for who and what they absolutely hate than for who and what they love. Not for nothing did Rachel Held Evans push back against what she called the scandal of the evangelical heart. As a general rule, you can define these Christians by their favorite media network: Fox News.

Unfortunately those sorts of Christians are setting the tone for a lot of the nation’s dialogue about religion.

* Removal of all positive references to any form of Christianity that Fox News fans don’t like.
Fox News famously doesn’t like Catholicism. The Pope is just too liberal for a poor-hating, misogynistic, racist, classist factory of evangelical talking points, and Catholicism in general is suspicious for its “mariolatry” and saint worship. But Fox News didn’t invent evangelical hostility toward Catholicism. Before that network even emerged like grit under Christianity’s fingernails, Jack Chick was writing tracts accusing Catholics and Jesuits of everything under the sun (here’s just one!). And here’s an entire list of evangelicals’ problems with Catholicism, a list I was well familiar with in my day.

So obviously any references to Catholicism must be scrubbed out of a movie aimed squarely at the sorts of Christians who take Fox News seriously. For example, Josh calls astronomer Georges Lemaitre a “theist,” rather than a Catholic priest. It seems like a strange omission; wouldn’t it strengthen Josh’s fallacious argument from authority to mention that?

The movie also doesn’t contain a single other bit of dialogue or action that might serve to criticize Christians in any way. Christian culture refuses to see its members in any other way, and they tone-police and language-police each other to death constantly–one little cuss word, and they’d totally turn off. Can’t have real language infesting their sanitized movie, now can we? Even the violence and worldliness in it is totally acceptable to evangelicals–domestic violence done by a Muslim against his daughter and of course an evil atheist getting hit by a car, and a bit of light drinking by evil atheists in the course of a dinner party. Obviously there’s nothing more sexual shown than a light kiss from a young woman wearing a purity ring, bestowed upon her One True Love who she’s going to marry. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed that this movie scrubs anything from itself that might vaguely bother evangelicals.

* Duck Dynasty, Franklin Graham and the Newsboys as cameo appearances.
By including only cameos from well-known evangelical artists and performers, this movie broadcasts its general antipathy toward anything but the party line of evangelicalism. If they really want to have a “conversation,” they ought to know that conversations are two-sided. But the Christians in its target audience don’t really want a conversation. They want a “non-versation,” as Neil Carter says. They want a captive audience to listen to their preaching. Much like how Lee Strobel did not interview one single critic of Christianity in his “investigative” apologetics work The Case for Christ, this movie doesn’t include a single famous name who isn’t an evangelical. Everybody doing the talking in this movie is an evangelical Christian of the sort who’d appeal to Fox News-watching Christians.

The inclusion of the Duck Dynasty folks is particularly puzzling. Toxic Christians adore those fauxbillies, but in reality they make decent, moral people cringe with their constant stream of anti-gay bigotry, sexism, racism, and all the rest. (I’ve written about them in the past.) The filmmakers trot the reality stars onscreen, let them dutifully answer some softball questions about faith and preach a little, and then have the one guy return at the end to issue his command via an Orwellian screen to the movie’s intended audience–which is obviously evangelical Christians.

* Utter hatred of all out-groups, especially atheists, “with us or against us” mentality, insulting to the extreme of non-believers.
How exactly is this movie supposed to open up discussion if it’s busy insulting non-believers left and right and lying about pretty much everything it asserts about them? The discussion it’s opened up has been solely negative among non-believers–and sane, loving Christians. More often I see Christians separate themselves neatly down the line on this movie: toxic Christians on the one side, totally convinced that this movie is the next best thing to Jesus’ second coming and utterly persuaded of its total veracity, and sane, loving Christians on the other side who are just as repelled and mortified and angry as the rest of us are about how it treats both Christians and non-believers. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be called Christian” was a refrain I heard many times from Christian reviewers of this movie, last year and this. One guy even wrote that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to call himself Christian anymore if the definition put forth by movies like this one are supposed to be the operational definition.

And that was just loving Christians’ response. Non-believers have been overwhelmingly offended by this movie.

Some conversation!

* Pandering to toxic Christians’ insecurities about persecution.
Interestingly, the very information at the end of the movie that the filmmakers show specifically to demonstrate how so-very-persecuted Christians are serves to illustrate their sheer dishonesty. A number of court cases whizz by the viewer, each apparently an instance of college-based persecution against Christians just for minding their own business, GYAAH…. except as you can probably guess, none of the court cases are really instances of real persecution. This video neatly encapsulates the various distortions presented; here’s a link to it and you’ll want to see the whole review because it’s great (and it’s done by a Christian!), but the court case stuff starts around the 32-minute mark:

But the movie’s creators know perfectly well that none of their target audience will look up those court cases. That’s because their target audience doesn’t use critical thinking or look stuff up that Christians present, but rather believes everything their leaders say.

I seriously cannot think of any other group that bleats this constantly about how persecuted it is on the one hand, but has to lie and distort everything under the sun to make it look that way on the other. But this movie expects its target audience to totally agree with this distorted view, and to take for granted that this persecution needs to be fought by TRUE CHRISTIANS™.

* A twee focus on cheap, meaningless tasks and struggles.
Josh wears a little cross around his neck and has Newsboys swag all over the place–shirts, posters, etc., which is meant to make us think he is very fervent, but there’s no indication that he’s ever really intellectually studied anything about his religion until his big debate, and we never see him attending any youth groups, on-campus faith groups, church services, or prayer meetings. The Duck Dynasty guy says that if Christians will text, at his command, a little message to all their friends, that they’ll greatly impress their god for their obedience. “Persecution” is defined not as martyrdom and physical torture, but rather as being forced to write a phrase on a sheet of paper and have a debate, or else lose part of a grade in an intro class.

If I were Christian, I’d be quite insulted by this movie’s simplistic take on devotion, faith, and personal discipline. Josh is a slack-jawed, befuddled boy who sees little to no character development during this movie, and who doesn’t appear to have really cared much about religion till he got challenged–or to have given much thought  to his faith. But the implication this movie makes is that this struggle is the defining moment in his entire life–something that he’ll never forget and always remember and cherish as the time he really devoted himself to Jesus. All this fuss, over a really shitty debate with an intro professor in college.

* Total, laser-like focus on Christians.
There is not a single thing in this movie that speaks to non-believers except to insult them and punish them. But there is lots in this movie that is aimed at believers–talking points they can use, pseudoscience they can argue, and tasks to perform to gain their god’s approval.

At the end of the movie, the Duck Dynasty dude advises Christians to text all their friends about how their god isn’t dead–since non-believers would not be able to arrive at this idea in literally any other way if Christians weren’t constantly saying it was so–and the end of the movie concludes with an implicit request to pursue, legally, any instance of persecution that Christians can imagine or distort into existence. The filmmakers want Christians to take action on these points–to text their friends, to get legally active if there’s the faintest provocation to do so. The movie is speaking to Christians friendly to that message, not to anybody else. People who don’t even believe in the Christian god certainly aren’t going to proselytize for him or raise lawsuits about imaginary persecution. But the Duck Dynasty dude is not talking to them, though. He’s talking to the sort of Christian who gets excited by cheap stunts and talking points, and who will pester their friends upon command.

And on that note, I can add that out of all the church youth groups and small groups that attended this movie en masse, not many of them “saved” any non-believers doing it. I’m guessing most non-believers who saw it did so because they were reviewing it.

I know exactly one atheist who saw this movie without that goal in mind–he had a limited amount of free time and the movie was starting up right then; he didn’t know what it was about and annoyed the youth groups filling the theater by laughing at all the wrong places. He thought it was a comedy for a long time. He is probably the perfect-storm case of the atheist that this movie purportedly wanted to reach: open-minded, friendly to the general idea of spirituality, imaginative, and from a culture that is deeply religious (albeit Catholic). But he called me upon leaving the theater and I can tell you for 100% sure that our conversation did not center around anything this movie wanted it to center around. He did not leave thinking “wow, I should check this religion out again.” No, he left it insulted at how atheists had been treated, at the intellectual dishonesty paraded in it as truth, and of course at the movie’s many technical flaws (the phrase “looked like something from a second-rate film school” might have come up).

What really weirded him out, though, was the reaction of the Christians who’d been in the audience; they all left totally jazzed and pumped for “saving” atheists and discussing the movie’s talking points, which they didn’t know had been debunked ages ago. He was already wincing at the thought of dealing with his small town’s Christians after they’d gotten collectively high on the fumes of this movie, and he was hoping none of them realized that he’d been the guy laughing at it. Thankfully, they don’t seem to have translated their short-term rah-rah into long-term action, but he was worried.

That’s because this movie wasn’t talking to him. It isn’t talking to any non-believers. It’s talking to Christians, and more than that it’s talking to a fairly narrow range of Christians. That’s why nobody involved in this movie even second-guessed the impulse to go with a “Christians very good yay!/Atheists very bad boo hiss” format.

This movie is hugely dishonest, and not just in the court cases it cites.

I’d have had a lot more respect for it if it’d just come out and said “yes, we’re totes evangelical.” It tries so hard to be ecumenical and universal by not mentioning any specific denominations, but its unwillingness to mention denominations won’t matter to its audience, who will interpret everything in it through an evangelical filter. And they’re meant to do that. Its theology is evangelical; its talking points are evangelical; its stars are evangelical; its guest cameos–Duck Dynasty actors, the Newsboys, Franklin Graham–are evangelical; its view of the world is evangelical; its opinion of atheists as the next big danger to Christianity is evangelical; its hatred of higher education and philosophy in general is even evangelical.

The only “conversation” being “opened” here begins with “Why are the fans of this movie so delusional?”

I wonder if any of this movie’s fans realize that saying “I liked this movie a lot” translates in outsiders’ heads to “I endorse this movie’s treatment of you.”

As one last note, in that interview I cited about the Catholicism-scrubbing at the beginning, the movie’s script writers were asked why they didn’t help make actual Catholic movies since they are in fact very fervent gung-ho Catholics. Their reply:

Konzelman: It’s because there aren’t any. Catholics do not fund films. I cannot think of a Catholic film [made in Hollywood] of any size funded in the last five years.

Of course, they blame this lack of a market for Catholic-specific movies on demons and a huge conspiracy to turn people away from Christianity.

Ah, yes, that huge conspiracy that is everywhere but also totally secret. Because it couldn’t possibly be the behavior and dishonesty of Christians themselves that turns people off from their religion. It’s got to be demons.

Yep.

Demons.

So next time when we talk about how this movie treats Christians, I want you to remember that it’s talking about its target-audience Christians, not all Christians, and trust me, non-Christians are usually well aware of the divide between those two tribes.

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Related:
* Average-person reviews of the movie on IMDB – many from outraged Christians and even ministers who realize that this movie is actually going to make it harder to do what they say they want to do: reach non-believers.

* Yet another group of Christian evangelicals totally upset that the movie softened the party-line Creationist stance to be more generally appealing to general Christians. You can’t win for losing, seriously, with that lot.

* Camel with Hammers’ Dan Fincke’s long-form review of the movie, with particular emphasis on where it falls down philosophically and realistically. Settle in and take some time to read this; it’s really good.

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Unwashed Heathens and Foreigners of “God’s Not Dead.”

(ZOMFG, SO MANY SPOILERS. Also: Racism, domestic violence, religious idiocy.)

We’ve been talking lately about the shitball movie God’s Not Dead. We started with a review of the movie itself, then a summary of why I hate this movie so much, an overview of the four romantic relationships in the movie, and most recently a close look at the female characters in the movie.

For some reason this movie makes me think of sharks on a beach. (Candiche, Flickr, CC license.)

For some reason this movie makes me think of sharks on a beach. (Candiche, Flickr, CC license.)

By the way, if you didn’t notice already, one of this movie’s serious shortcomings is that it crams entirely too many characters and subplots into one little space. I can tell they were shooting for a Magnolia or more probably a Love, Actually, where tons of characters and subplots that seem completely unrelated collide at the end and tangle together. There aren’t many movies that do that very well–Pulp Fiction to an extent is probably the best example of the type–and those movies are tighter than a hummingbird’s tweet. This movie is not made by people anywhere near that competent. If Christian creeper Nicholas Sparks tried to write Crash, God’s Not Dead is exactly what would spew out of his word processor. And this movie is as stuffed full of pride and hubris as Sparks is, so there’s that. And one character gets cancer and another dies in a car accident, plus the two central couples in it both break up because of the unstoppable force of religion, so yeah, I’m just going to leave this here.

In the same way, the person who wrote the script for this movie seems like one of those folks who doesn’t understand why a particular comedy routine is very funny and thinks if he says the exact same things that he too will be very funny, but lacks the nuance and self-awareness to make the routine work so he comes off as weird and offensive instead. This movie tries to do so many things, but it fails every one of them so grandly and roundly that one almost feels bad hating it so much. It’s like criticizing a seven-year-old putting on a show in the living room for not emoting enough.

But I said “almost” there, and I want you to remember that.

Today I want to talk about how this movie presents non-white and/or non-Christian characters. As you might expect of a movie that is made up 100% of wish fulfillment fantasies, fundagelical/Fox News talking points, and the sort of memes your racist cousin keeps chain-emailing everybody, we’re not talking about nuanced, sensitive, sophisticated portrayals. We’re talking about the kind of situations and characters that you’d expect out of a movie aimed squarely at a crowd furious about having to “press 1 for English.”

This movie perpetuates stereotypes, and moreover it finds the worst possible stereotypes to perpetuate. This movie hates everybody who ain’t a nice white evangelical TRUE CHRISTIAN™. It’s not just atheists it rags on.

1. The Weirdly-Upbeat African Guy.
There’s a major streak of racism in evangelical Christianity, largely because of its adherents’ belief that societies work best if everybody in them knows his or her place and doesn’t try to buck the system or change it–and their naked longing for “the good ole days,” which includes a hefty dose of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and pretty much every other -ism and structural bias available, is one thing that baffles outsiders considerably but which makes perfect sense to them (“structural” means that society is built around the -ism and is largely blind to the -ism’s existence; it isn’t so much a person vs. person thing like personal race-based prejudice). So when evangelicals–like Franklin Graham, one of the religion’s Big Name Fans, did recently–decide to tackle race, generally the situation blows up in their faces–and their reaction is usually total indignation and astonishment. By the way, remember this reference because we’ll be coming back to this blithe racist coot soon.

And, too, when it comes to missionary work there’s also a major streak of colonialism and imperialism in how it’s done. By that I mean that when a missionary comes into a foreign culture it is with religion tucked under one arm to civilize and tame the savages there, and makes them into a mini-me of the originating culture. As it is, modern evangelical kids go off on these “poor-ism” tours that are now a USD$1.6 billion enterprise from just our country alone. It’s downright weird to consider how often missionaries come here from other countries considering how deeply religious this country already is. But if they didn’t, then we wouldn’t have the African caricature character in this movie, now would we?

The African missionary (AM) reminds me a lot of the character Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide. Did you have to read that in high school too? Pangloss always thinks that whatever happens is the “best of all possible worlds.” Even when he’s sick and hurt, even when he’s lost everything, Pangloss continues to maintain this overly-optimistic belief.

Out of every single person this movie’s creators could have forced into the role of Pangloss in this shitstorm, though, they chose the African guy. AM comes off as provincial and not quite human because he’s just so unrelentingly optimistic and simple-minded. All we know of him is that he is very optimistic and fervent in his faith, and that he is African. He is supposed to be a missionary I think, but we never see him doing anything missionary-like. Nor do we ever find out what country in Africa AM is from. I’ve met plenty of people from Africa and generally they’re quick to say they are from Zaire, or Nigeria, or wherever; they tend to resent the idea Americans have that Africa’s all one big nation. But we never find out where AM is from, what church he’s with, or anything else specific about him.

When AM arrives in the States, he just wants to go to Disneyland to ride the roller coasters there, and his entire subplot revolves around his childlike goal. Whenever he’s thwarted, he has a mantra he repeats: “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good” to stop all thought. When told that the roller-coaster at Disneyland isn’t anywhere near the tallest, he says that in his mind, when he is on it then it will be–because what he feels and believes matters more than what is true and real.

When Professor Radisson is hit by a hit-and-run driver and is dying in the street, AM magically knows where Radisson got hurt and that it’s not fixable. And he doesn’t seem fazed at all by Radisson’s death, a particularly grotesque and creepy reaction. Hell, he’s happy about it. Hooray! Radisson is going to meet Jesus now! Let’s be happy!

I’m a white American and I’m already downright offended by AM. It’s mortifying just to think about what black people must think of him. Indeed, it wasn’t hard to turn up bloggers who were also offended by AM’s characterization–and that first particular blogger is also Christian. As he put it,

To say that this movie was over-the-top is a puerile understatement. Not only was this a propagation of bad theology, but it gave credence to bad social norms that the mostly white evangelical movement supports ad nauseum.

And nobody involved in the entire movie seems to have any kind of problem with this vague whiff of racism, and we’re expected not to either.

2. The Chinese Guy and His Father.
The second racist caricature is of Asians. Not content to have Sambo-ed up the African missionary, they go after Asians next.

You know who the Chinese guy really reminded me of? Takashi from Revenge of the Nerds. Like the Chinese guy in this movie and many others, Takashi was simple, childlike, overly-studious, and utterly naive–but shockingly competent at his chosen field. There was no nuance to Takashi; like his fellow nerds, he was a one-note character played for laughs. Exhibit A:


(The song is a Japanese rendition of “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)”, if you were wondering.

In the same way, the Chinese Guy (CG) is studious, quiet, disciplined, intelligent, and completely awkward socially. He has to explain in some annoyance to a registration lackey in the movie’s first few minutes that he’s from China, and that’s the last time we see him display any sort of humanity or three-dimensionality.

His father is a stereotypical super-duper-wealthy tycoon who has a chauffeur driving him around for most of his scenes. The two communicate via cell phones and apparently international calls are covered by their plan, because Junior calls Daddy several times in the movie. This movie seems to represent the first time CG has ever been away from home, which I question because I know how many Chinese kids go to boarding schools in their country. CG is intellectually advanced, we infer because of his studiousness, but emotionally he is a child; his worried father warns him to quit fussing about all that god stuff because eavesdroppers might report them to the Chinese government (oh those evil evil Communists! Boo! Hiss! Grrr!), but is otherwise not terribly paternal toward his son.

CG ends up in Josh’s philosophy class, so he hears about and is is appropriately convinced of “God’s” existence by the movie’s central debate. All that analytical power of his goes right out the window because of the power of Josh’s sincerity. CG has never heard about Christianity before heading to college, you see. When the class finally votes on who won the debate, CG is the first to stand and utter the words “God is not dead.” But weirdly, Josh doesn’t pounce on the guy at the first opportunity. This would likely be the very first time an evangelical hellbent on proselytizing hasn’t done so; it’s a strange oversight, but then, Josh is perceptive and opportunistic when the movie needs him to be so, and dense and lackadaisical when it doesn’t.

CG represents the godless heathens in countries that have never heard about the Good News, which is funny because Chinese Christian churches send quite a few missionaries around the world, including to godless America. He is overwhelmed and converted by the superior Romulan weaponry of the white guy and folds immediately.

One of the last things we see CG doing is bouncing around at the Newsboys concert as a brand-new Christian. When the folks there tell the audience to text “God’s not dead” to everybody, CG texts his father. Hooray! That’ll show the uptight old fart, right? The father gets the text and stares at it in irritated befuddlement. And that’s that.

3. The Muslim Girl and Her Family.
If you’re not already pissed off by the other two stereotypes this movie offers, this is likely going to do the trick.

Ayisha is an Arabic-looking Muslim girl (not all Muslims are Arabic; I kept wondering what would have happened in this movie if this character had been a blonde, blue-eyed white girl rather than a POC). I am guessing she was raised in the United States. She lives with her father and young brother in a walkup apartment; she has her own room. She somehow talked her very strict Muslim dad into letting her attend college and get a job on-campus in the cafeteria. That’s basically what we know about her for the entire movie.

Before we go further let me mention this: the super-pretty white girls in this movie don’t seem to have jobs at all (Mina, Josh’s girlfriend). One of the not-so-pretty white girls has a job in the library on-campus. But the person of color gets a job in the goddamned cafeteria?? And nobody saw anything wrong with this? Why didn’t they just make her a hotel maid and have done with it? That’s not even taking into account why Ayisha’s dad allowed his daughter to have a job at all. He’s incredibly controlling and over-protective, which this movie goes to pains to demonstrate. But the plot needs Ayisha to be in a position to eavesdrop on Josh as he’s talking about his debate, and the script’s writers couldn’t think of anything else besides making her a menial laborer.

Ayisha is, however, secretly subversive. Her father makes her wear a hijab and demands she cover her nose and mouth with the headscarf, but doesn’t seem to care about her wearing otherwise totally-Western clothes. She considers the headgear “old-fashioned” and clearly resents her father’s control over her, but doesn’t dare defy him.

When a so-very-sad white girl tells Ayisha that she’s sorry to see her putting her headscarf back on when Ayisha’s father is due back to pick her up from school/work, Ayisha doesn’t get angry at all–in fact seems to welcome the casual racist intrusion. Privileged people have this idea in their heads that their opinions are needed, welcomed, valued, and desired every single moment of the day, and once an opinion or thought forms in their minds then those ideas must be released into the wild. You can almost hear them crying aloud to these ideas, like Mork from Ork throwing eggs into the air, “FLY! BE FREE!” Maybe the sad white girl thinks that Ayisha will gain courage or solidarity or something from the lame expression of sympathy offered. In reality, Muslim women don’t generally care what makes non-Muslim women happy or sad about their choice in clothing or hair coverings; even I could have told these filmmakers that. Whatever Western folks think of Muslim dress codes, however involuntary it looks to us, it’s not hard at all to find Muslim women fiercely defending their right to dress that way.

But in this movie’s universe, Ayisha cares very much what the sad white girl thinks and doesn’t seem to get piqued or annoyed at all about the unsolicited opinion being thrust at her. The movie’s creators think everybody cares about what white Christians think, and they want to depict a world wherein everybody actually does.

The movie asks us to see this small family as representative of Muslims. But watching their scenes, I thought often about Pentecostalism and its equally-severe control of young women’s bodies and lives. When I was Pentecostal, I knew lots of young Christian women who bristled just like Ayisha, and lots of Christian dads who were just this extremist! We’re supposed to forget that, though.

But her rebellion goes a lot deeper than just her refusal to follow dress codes.

Ayisha, you see, is a secret Christian. Not only is she tearing off her headscarf the second she escapes her father’s view, but she also listens to Christian podcasts in her bedroom! OMG! How shocking!

Of course, she’s listening to Franklin Graham podcasts. It’d be hard to imagine a preacher who’d be less appealing to a college-aged ex-Muslim convert than an elderly racist, extremist fearmonger, and political panderer. You’d sorta think she’d be looking for her spiritual direction from someone younger and more understanding of the struggles of non-white people in America. Did Mr. Graham pay for product placement in this movie? I’d like to know that, seriously, because his mention in this honker makes about as much sense, coherence-wise, as that of the Duck Dynasty stars. It’s done to pander to the movie’s audience, not because it makes sense.

While Ayisha is blissed-out listening to her guru with her headphones on, her little brother sneaks into the room, spies on her, and sees what she’s listening to because it’s got a picture of Jesus praying on the screen, and Ayisha freaks out and shakes him, telling him he can’t tell their father. She doesn’t say why or what will happen; the boy doesn’t quite promise, but she releases him. Now, it’s kind of a stretch to imagine a boy that young and that far outside Christian evangelical culture would know who Franklin Graham was, though he might know about painted representations of Jesus. I don’t know why he’d leap from that to “OMG my sister is a Christian now!” But the movie needs us to think he’s figured it out.

By the way, as one of our commenters, Glandu, has mentioned, Ayisha is also kind of an idiot because she is clearly technology-savvy but hasn’t researched how to deconvert from Islam safely. Many young women in her situation face similar risks in leaving their religion (so much for no compulsion in Islam), but they keep it on the down-low till they can get out of their houses. I’ve been reading up on this topic as well and it sure looks like people who leave Islam tend to be very careful about expressing their doubts at all. That Ayisha is so obviously contemptuous of her father’s demands and listening to Christian sermons in the family home makes her seem desperate get caught.

Indeed, that’s exactly what happens. The brother rats her out and the father beats her and throws her bodily out of the apartment building.

Yes, you heard that right.

This movie has a father beating up his own daughter and throwing her out of the house for being a Christian, because persecution reasons.

I was revolted by this scene, but not for the reasons the filmmakers wanted me to be so. Firstly, the stereotype of the abusive, misogynistic, controlling Muslim patriarch was downright disgusting to see from the get-go, but when his control-lust turned into physical violence I couldn’t even believe my eyes. (They have him crying afterward while his daughter pounds on the outer door, screaming and begging him to let her back into the building, but that doesn’t help at all.) Though most flavors of Islam demand that apostates be given time to repent or reconsider their decision, he throws her on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back! Hell, he doesn’t even talk to her about having deconverted–he just explodes into immediate violence, because ickie Muslims do that. And we never see him again; the movie has no interest in redeeming him. At least Radisson didn’t beat the shit out of Josh or Mina or slap anybody around, but Radisson gets a redemption. Not this Muslim dad. He’s just screwed. And Muslim.

Secondly, I know way too many ex-Christians personally who have been mistreated, disinherited, dispossessed, ostracized, abused, and even hurt for their lack of belief. But ex-Christians’ stories don’t fit as well into this movie’s framework, and TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would never do that ever.

So Ayisha goes to the college’s Pastor Dude’s office in hysterics. She has nowhere to go, is barely even started in her new faith, and obviously has no money or resources at all. All she has is her new Christian family.

And what does her new Christian family do? Well, Pastor Dude has to go take the African missionary to Disneyland, so whatever he does to help her it doesn’t take long. AM is a man, after all, and roller coasters are beckoning. The secretary lady tells Ayisha that “we’re here for you,” but then we never see exactly what the secretary’s idea of help looks like either. I can tell you from experience what a “Christian church family’s” help looks like, though: bup divided by kiss. Sometimes they’re wonderfully helpful; sometimes they’re maddeningly unhelpful; one cannot count on them at all. It’s almost as if there’s no Jesus making them do anything different.

The next time we see Ayisha, she’s bouncing around at the Newsboys concert behind Josh. She talks to him briefly and there’s a hint there that they’ll be getting together romantically. There’s no sign at all of her earlier distress, and no explanation at all of where she’s going to sleep tonight or do to take care of herself, and no sign of those she’s asked for help. For all we know, the secretary dropped her off at the concert and said, “Have fun!” (How did Ayisha get tickets? Does the admissions counter have a “poor abused recent convert” scholarship fund?) Like Job, she lost everything, but that’s okay because God is giving her a new family and a boyfriend maybe! Hooray!

It’s like this movie beat the crap out of her, then forgot all about that to show how triumphant she is in praising Jesus. And of her family we see nothing at all. They just vanish. She is completely disconnected from everything in her past; the movie implies that everything is going to be peachy-keen-jelly-bean from here on out, when in reality her struggles are only just beginning.

So there you have it: three different races, three different but equally offensive and one-dimensional stereotypes.

I’m seriously pissed at this movie because of how it treats its non-white characters. How hard would it have been to have made these folks actual people instead of walking, talking Fox News fantasies? And do the movie’s creators not realize that all the bad stuff they have non-Christians doing, Christians themselves do? Do they not realize how transparently they indicate their biases and prejudices?

No, they do not.

We’re going to look at that question next, because in the grand scheme of things, how this movie treats Christians may be the most offensive stereotype of all.

————————-

Related:
* Even diehard Creationists didn’t all like this stupid movie.

Posted in Feminism, Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Easter: I’d Rather Be a Lion.

Hi and Happy Easter! I wanted to post something really quick for my friends stuck in church today and sneaking off to look at blogs.

There’s a neat Italian saying: It’s better to live for one day as a lion than for a hundred years as a lamb.

Sheep in Ireland

Sheep on a Hill, Ireland. (Source: ccharmon, Flickr. CC license.)

I was thinking of that not long ago when I ran into yet another of those really tiresome Christian glurge sites chirping merrily about how wonderful it is to be a sheep, oh how happy he is to be a sheep, oh how wonderful it is to be a sheep. The cartoonist points out that in his religion, Christians are often referred to as sheep and their god as a shepherd:

The Bible doesn’t call us brave lions. . . The Bible calls us sheep. Sheep are not the smartest specimens in the animal kingdom. Sheep have been known to follow each other off cliffs by the hundreds, and chase each other around in circles until they keel over. They’re helpless. Defenseless. They have no survival skills. They’re completely dependent on their shepherd for everything from food to protection.

That’s not 100% true, but forget it, he’s rollin’. He goes on to say that yes, it’s quite true that he’d fit all of those descriptions if “left to himself,” but goes on to say that he’s got a shepherd who keeps him from all of those horrible fates. He ends by saying, “I happily acknowledge being totally dependent on the Good Shepherd.”

I’ve got to ask:

Has anybody actually ever told this guy why shepherds tend sheep?

Does he seriously think that shepherds keep sheep as pets or something?

Does he not understand what a sheep’s fate is? Or what its life is like, even if it’s got a shepherd?

Sheep are pushed around every day of their lives and bred to be docile and compliant by generations of selective breeding by shepherds whose main interest and focus is improving their flocks and making money off the sheep.

Lambs are either kept to grow up to eventually be bred to make more lambs, or they are slaughtered for lamb chops and roasts. Adult sheep exist to be fleeced for the benefit of their owners whether they’re kept for breeding or meat, and then slaughtered for mutton when their usefulness is over.

So this cartoonist is happily acknowledging being totally dependent on a master who is looking to fleece him and then kill him for food.

I have no words for how beyond-grisly that is to me, how grotesque. I never did like all that lamb and shepherd bullshit; even as a teenager when I saw all the glurge paintings of Jesus wandering around with a lamb across his shoulders, I wondered if people thought he was rescuing lambs just for the sake of doing it. It wasn’t just out of love, I’ll tell you that.

I just got finished reading a very good book about a shepherd–just in time for Easter!–and came away with a real respect for the work these folks do. The love this guy had for his flocks, and his diligent care in tending them even at risk to his own life at times, shone through in spades! But in the end, it was about fleece and meat and improving the flock. He wasn’t sentimental about it. One scene involved how shepherds re-home orphaned lambs to ewes that had lost their own lambs in birth: shepherds in his area skin the dead lamb, put the little jacket on the orphan, and then put the orphan with the ewe, who smells “her” lamb on the orphan and eventually accepts the little fella. That is absolutely shocking to me–the idea of skinning a newly-deceased baby lamb like that is bad enough, but then to dress another newborn lamb in its skin?!? I almost felt sick reading that. But that’s how they save the lives of orphaned lambs. That’s how they stop another death from occurring.

That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about shepherds. It’s not a glamorous life; it’s not sentimental or misty-eyed. And as time marches on, shepherds are having to get more and more creative about how they market themselves to the next generation and how they market their product. To consumers. Who will consume the sheep.

This cartoonist–and a great many other Christians besides–seriously doesn’t understand that if they view themselves as sheep, they are saying they are meat to be eaten, profit to be fleeced, and alive only to chew grass and grow fat and breed at their owner’s command. They live to benefit their master, and have no other purpose in life.

But in Christians’ opinion, I’m the one who, as a non-believer, has no appreciation of the value of life and no purpose in life, who drifts rudderless through my sad and dreary days, who eats and drinks and makes merry without consideration of the horrific torture awaiting me.

No no, Christians imply, it’s much much better to go through one’s days eating and shitting and sleeping like an animal whenever told, to go where one is told, to do what one is told, to be fleeced whenever one’s master desires profit, to be mated when and to whom the shepherd wants, and to eventually be slaughtered and eaten when one’s usefulness is done. And through it all, through all that control, through all that directed tedium, through all that forced mating, through all that day-in day-out boredom of eating and shitting and sleeping for no purpose whatsoever but to make meat and fleece and babies for the shepherd, Christians not only don’t object to it all but praise their master for making available this life for them.

The more we think about what it means to be a sheep under the care of a shepherd, the more it ought to repel and repulse us to even vaguely consider adopting that lifestyle.

No, thanks. Until someone comes up with a legitimate reason to take anything in this religion seriously, I’ll be my own person. I’ll decide where I go, what I eat, when I have sex and with whom, and what purpose my life will have. If someone wants to harm me or fleece me, they’ll have a fight on their hands. And I will not end my days, however many I have left, proud of having been a herd animal fattened for the slaughter for someone else’s benefit.

It’s better to live one day as a free and independent creature than a hundred years as Christians think best.


“I Just Wanna Be a Sheep.” (Youtube link). She sure doesn’t want to be a Canaanite! And one can imagine why, though it’s strange that the song doesn’t quite mention the full ramifications of that slaughter perpetrated by their god’s chosen people. Also: Are Christians actually teaching little kids about the slaughter of the Canaanites?


Related:
“He’s Not a Zombie. Or a Lich.” — A lot of atheist memes claim that the gospels’ account of Jesus makes him a zombie or a lich or something, but last Easter, after diligent study, I can conclusively tell you that he is actually neither of those.

Posted in Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

The Women of “God’s Not Dead.”

Changed my mind; we’ll do the Christian episode later. Today I want to talk more about how the movie God’s Not Dead deals with its female characters, because last time we talked I touched briefly on one aspect of the movie–its sheer dismissiveness toward them, and their utter two-dimensionality.

Remember our premise about this movie: it is a peek into the minds and hearts of its creators, and it creates a universe where evangelical Christians can finally win all of those culture wars they started, and where people act exactly the way they imagine people act. In the world created by this movie, non-Christians and lukewarm Christians (the term is Christianese for “a Christian who isn’t quite as gung-ho and hardcore as I am”) are all evil and nasty, while TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are all wonderful and perfect. In this world, atheists especially just hate the Christian god or are otherwise in rebellion, or just too stupid or backward to know much about the religion. Nobody has a good excuse for disbelief, and nobody is let off the hook–or unpunished.

The movie actually has a pretty decent mix of male to female characters for this kind of storyline, but the male characters really carry the story. Of the subplots, only one is exclusively carried by a woman–the Muslim girl’s story. Otherwise, all other female characters bounce off male ones. So this movie distinctly flunks the Bechdel test.

Because this movie’s chosen method of characterization is either expository dialogue or over-the-top visual cues, almost all of these characters are detailed in broad strokes. They are meant to illustrate a concept, not to be real people with three-dimensional motivations. When the script requires them to be indignant, they are so; when it needs them to be weak and vulnerable, why then they are; when it needs them to be committed to their cause then they are; when it needs them to buckle and be lukewarm or wishy-washy then that’s what happens. To say that this movie insults women in general would not even do half justice to its offenses; it insults people as a whole.

So here are the women in this movie, presented in their groupings like they’re about to get on the Ark:

THE ICKIE ATHEISTS–or rather, the one ickie atheist.

1. The reporter lady.
Yes, only one woman in this movie is presented as an atheist. I think. She has bumper stickers on her car that talk about vegetarianism and humanism, and she works for a magazine or website with “liberal” in its name, so I imagine she’s supposed to be an atheist, because only atheists are liberals and only liberals are atheists. She’s the very worst kind of atheist: the straw atheist. She’s a straw feminist too, we’ll learn. She’s also disorganized with a poor work ethic and next to no idea how to be a journalist, which is a problem because she’s supposed to be a journalist. I never learned her name and nothing I’d seen up to then mentioned the secondary characters’ names, which is why I nicknamed her Cravat last time around (since then I’ve noticed the IMDB synopsis, which puts her name as “Amy”). The movie certainly treats her like an inconsequential accessory, flinging her around willy-nilly whenever it needs to collide her with some other characters or plotlines; her function is to get beaten up so much that she converts from sheer emotional self-implosion because that’s how Jesus “woos” people and oh my god that’s so creepy we’ll just move on.

Like Professor Radisson, the reporter lady has some serious issues in general but around Christianity in particular. She seems downright enraged when she meets Korie (detailed below), but she is especially furious about the idea of Korie being happy in her domestic role of Duck Dynasty cheerleader. She obviously can’t even believe that’s even possible.

She’s also a bit of a self-deluded idiot when it comes to men and relationships, a trait she will turn out to share with a good many of her comrades in this movie. She’s clearly been with her boyfriend, Dean Cain, for some time, but when he turns out to be a cad, she seems totally blindsided by this information. But that seems like something she should have guessed long ago. I mean, he won’t even give her driving directions without her jumping through hoops for him. I don’t see why she would be so shocked that he might be less than enthusiastic about emotionally supporting her in her time of greatest need.

Because this movie can’t have atheists being happy, well-adjusted people, Amy has to be kicked around numerous times. She starts the movie by waking up late for her big interview, only to discover that her car was vandalized in the night–and her expensive GPS unit stolen. Her phone gets signal enough to call Dean Cain, but not enough to run its GPS app. We see during this conversation that she’s also a little shady in that she likes to surprise her interview subjects with blitz questions, which the movie presents as a mustache-twirling attitude for her to have; clearly we are not expected to remember all the times that Christians try to “gotcha” people in exactly the same way (indeed, Josh does exactly that during his last debate scene), or how bothering people without an invitation is one of their favorite witnessing tactics. Never mind! Amy does it, so she is evil, and Christians never ever ever ever ever do.

Also because this movie can’t have a female character being a happy, well-adjusted person living on her own and handling her business in a mature and self-respecting manner, Amy is shown to be a total flutterbudget who freaks out at everything. Without exception she is always shown hopping around frantically, running late to something, or teetering on the verge of tears. She doesn’t need a boyfriend; she needs a handler, a therapist, and an accountant on retainer. It’s hard to believe that anybody who works in her field and lives on her own would be that incredibly flaky and–yes–brittle. I hate using that word because it’s used against women who seem emotionally high-strung, but Amy is brittle as hell. Also bitter, another favorite Christian slam word used for women, and catty. Amy is all the terrible stereotypes that evangelicals imagine of non-Christian women. She might be independent, but she isn’t happy, not really. She might be living by herself, but she aches and yearns to be in a loving relationship. She might be an atheist, but she is actually hurting inside with a Jesus-sized hole in her heart so she’s pursuing all these other interests trying to fill that hole.

And she is murdered for her audacity and noncompliance.

The movie’s creators give her cancer to up the stakes as much as possible, and Amy is forced to begin treatment for it alone and without any friends or loved ones at her side. Because atheists don’t have friends, I guess? Bereft of any kind of companionship, she turns to Jesus–an atheist in a foxhole, proving that when someone’s in great enough need they’ll be vulnerable enough to seriously consider Christianity’s nonsensical claims. Her reaction to her illness is exactly what evangelicals tend to imagine non-believers’ reactions to such serious diseases would be; they prey upon the vulnerable through hospital/prison/hospice outreach because they are well aware that truly desperate people will go to truly desperate lengths to try to find relief and help. By the time Amy ends up at the concert to blitz-attack the bubblegum pop group going onstage any moment now, she is like a little lost lamb, ripe for slaughter. The Newsboys pounce on her on cue, leading her through a requisite Sinner’s Prayer before taking off for their performance. Seriously, they pray with her and then run away. Hooray! A new soul for the harvest! You gonna be okay? And she nods and weakly affirms that she will, and they’re gone.

Personally, I find such Christians’ predatory behavior revolting. But in God’s Not Dead, we’ll be asked to view it as laudable and praiseworthy–though we’ll talk more about that later.

THE LUKEWARM CHRISTIANS.

1. Josh’s Girlfriend.
The IMDB synopsis says her name is Kara, but I honestly couldn’t remember what it was either. She is blonde, pretty, and incredibly simplistic in both characterization and expression. She tells us through exposition that she is intelligent and chose this second-rate college to be near Josh. She has been with Josh for six years and wears a purity ring, and apparently is one of the few young Christian women who take those pledges seriously because the extent of her affectionate gestures to Josh look more like platonic gestures–hugs, kisses on the cheek, draping herself over his knees at one point as he’s laying on a bench.

Kara is supposed to represent all the false Christians opposing the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in the story. She exists solely to up the stakes in the debate by constantly restating and underlining just how important this debate is to Josh’s grades in Radisson’s class–and to his future law degree, and therefore to their future together. She is infuriated that he is going ahead with the debate because she’s so sure he’ll lose, and thereby fail Radisson’s class, and end up in a dumpster muttering to himself somewhere about how he coulda been a contenda. There is no rhyme or reason to her complete opposition to Josh’s plans. She’s not being a sweet submissive girlfriend, obviously, but she’s also totally overreacting to the debate itself. You’d think a girl holding herself pure for marriage and getting so excited about a Christian bubblegum pop concert would be totally behind Josh even if he lost. But she isn’t, and we are supposed to despise her and hope they break up and that Josh will go ahead anyway despite the persecution she is offering him.

2. Mina.
Mina is Dean Cain’s sister, Professor Radisson’s girlfriend, and the old lady’s daughter. I know she’s supposed to go with the list of TRUE CHRISTIANS™, but she really isn’t. She’s presented as very firm in her beliefs and willing to sacrifice even love for her faith, but gang, she’s having non-marital sex and a very long-term relationship with an anti-theist atheist. She is an empty vessel in a lot of ways; she may indeed need some kind of validation, and she may indeed be seeking that validation from external sources. But she seems so genuinely floored when Pastor Dude squints at her through his very cool hair, cold-reads her and armchair psychoanalyzes her, and finally tells her that Jesus is her validation and loves her much more than a mere boyfriend ever could. It’s such a shocked reaction that I must wonder if she’s also an idiot, since that’s a message that is pushed damned near daily in Christian evangelical circles (and as we mentioned last time, she also seems totally unsure if she’s “unequally yoked” with Radisson, which isn’t something she’d ever wonder about if she was even halfway as fervent as she acts during the argument and dinner party scenes). All of that puts her firmly in the camp of lukewarm Christians by this movie’s definition.

Mina, like the other women in this piece of shit movie, changes whenever the movie needs to propel her to the next plot point. When we first see her she seems like a pretty normal person, but when she argues with her atheist boyfriend Radisson suddenly she’s a very firm Christian with resolute faith. Though utterly undermined and cowed by Radisson in the argument, she suddenly finds the strength to defend her religion later against a room full of tipsy college faculty at her dinner party, though when they insult the wine she serves, she crumples again. The movie wants us to believe that these folks are monsters because they are clearly not Christians rather than because they are boorish assholes, which is closer to reality-land, but Mina (and the movie) clearly sees the problem differently.

When she recounts the argument to Pastor Dude later on at the discount Steak and Shake, she totally mischaracterizes the reason for the argument. In fact, she totally mischaracterizes her entire relationship with Radisson. Is she really that totally out of touch and dishonest to herself? Or is the movie being lazy again? The real truth is that she chose to start an argument about a topic she knew was off-limits, then got upset when the response she got wasn’t the one she wanted (which was total and complete capitulation). I’d agree that Radisson is a terrible boyfriend and certainly guilty on all charges she makes, but the argument they had onscreen doesn’t even half look like what she tells the pastor dude later. Of course, having been in a relationship with a hardcore Christian, I can certainly remember a number of times when I was mischaracterized or something I said got distorted. But the movie wants us to forget that Christians do this too.

THE TRUE CHRISTIANS™.

1. Korie.
Korie is the Duck Dynasty dude’s wife. She is tall, thin, and glamorous, with perfect makeup and well-styled blonde hair. She wears expensive-looking clothes and rides shotgun in her werewolf husband’s black luxury SUV. She totally supports her husband in every single respect, which extends to agreeing with all of his opinions and offering none of her own.

The movie asks us to see Korie as the perfect Christian wife, even contrasting her with Josh’s shitty girlfriend who can’t even support him in a lousy college debate with a professor. Kara has opinions and blows up about stuff, while Korie stands by her man and seems totally unflappable when pushed by the reporter lady. Kara is weirdly asexual, while Korie and her husband joke around about impregnating her. Kara is not seen as domestic in any sense of the word, but Korie is totally at ease with the idea of inhabiting her husband’s kitchen.

Korie is, in essence, a Stepford Smiler. We have no idea what inner demons she faces or how she really feels about the reporter’s sneaky leap out at her and her husband. She is “on” all the time; she is selling an image, a product. And I didn’t have to know that she’s a Duck Dynasty reality-show character to see that.

2. Mina and Dean’s mother.
She might be confined to a nursing home and totally senile, as in utterly and completely so, but she rallies at the end to deliver a huge come-to-Jesus speech to her son Dean Cain because she is a Magic Insane Person who somehow manages to say the perfect thing after an entire movie of her being totally non compos mentis. I’m sure that’s a TVTrope somewhere.

Her entire subplot was superfluous to this movie, but that could be said about most of the subplots in this movie. After Dean Cain’s callous breakup with the reporter lady, the whole movie seems to be embarrassed about him and just wants to give his whole subplot a quick token ending to get him out of the way, which means he has to go pester his poor mother after hours in her nursing home or something. Did the come-to-Jesus speech have to come from the mother? No, it could have been some chance encounter with Pastor Dude or another sad white girl (see below). But that’s how inept this movie is; it throws all these characters at the wall hoping something will stick, and obviously that means it needs a crazy prophetess character to speak the truth at the perfect moment to get through to a wayward son.

And what is the great cosmic truth that Dean Cain’s mother comes up with in her sudden moment of blinding clarity? Sometimes Satan makes a person’s life very easy so that person will be less likely to be Christian.

Someone better tell all those prosperity gospel wackadoodles about this newsflash rendering their entire worldview unfalsifiable. The problem is, the people who go in for this kind of movie also go in for prosperity gospel. They think their god lavishly rewards obedience in his followers with material wealth, easy lives, true love, and all that other fun stuff. So which is it here? If someone’s having a good life, is a god making it happen? Or is a demon doing it? Josh is certainly getting beat up pretty badly for most of the movie–is that his god’s doing? Or could it be…. SAY-TAN? Or can we only be sure it’s their god’s doing if it’s happening to a Christian? (Back in my day we thought demons could do that to a Christian, but prosperity gospel’s come a long way since then.)

This movie makes less and less sense the more I think about it, seriously.

3. The secretary at the pastor dude’s office.
She’s Pastor Dude’s office receptionist or something like that at the chapel at Josh’s school. She gets one line about being there for Ayisha when the Muslim girl ends up in tears and understandable distress at the chapel’s office, but she nails that line hard. We know nothing about her except that she is very handy with tissues and very earnest.

Given that the secretary’s reaction to Ayisha’s troubles is to drag her newly-converted ass to a Christian bubblegum pop concert for some rah-rah, I question just how good these folks’ judgment is. Oh, were you surprised? So was I to realize this truth. But the secretary has to have been the one to have taken Ayisha to the concert–Pastor Dude was with the African missionary, you see. Nobody else seems to interact with Ayisha at all; we’re not privy to where the girl spent those few hours between being in that office and ending up at the concert. I refuse to believe even Pastor Dude is as frivolously oblivious as to have just dropped her off there and then left her there alone. Someone had to be there with her. I’m including her in this list because the movie wants us to see her as a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ supporting her new sister in Christ.

4. The very very sad white girl.
She only has one line as well–about being super-super-sad that Ayisha has to wear a hijab. Oh, she’s so very saaaaaad. She’s so sad that she has to walk up to a total stranger and make a judgment about her cultural preferences in clothing. Ayisha might love wearing what she does; the girl doesn’t know either way. It’s weird how people in dominant demographics think that their opinions are so incredibly necessary and valuable that they must be aired the very second they are conceived in mind.

We are meant to see the very very sad white girl as being kind and sympathetic. I saw her as offering a microaggression to someone about something that is totally not her goddamned bidniss.

And by the way, when I did the same exact thing when I was in college in the same exact way, about the same exact garment, and in much the same exact context, I got an earful from the Muslim girl in question about how she liked dressing this way, thankyewverymuch, and it felt natural and totally fine to her to cover her hair, and in addition I got some comparisons to what she thought non-Muslim women might feel like if they stepped outside without wearing, say, a brassiere. It definitely shut me up pretty danged quick. This time around, the white girl happened to run into a Muslim girl who didn’t like her hijab. But she might not have been that lucky.

We’re going to cover the movie’s treatment of non-white people in the next installment of this series, so we’re going to look at Ayisha herself next time because her story overlaps much more with that theme. If you think I sound kind of pissed off now…

So there you have it: TRUE CHRISTIAN™ women are wonderful; they support their husbands all the time no matter what and fulfill their wifely duties with a smile. Atheist women are dishonest and ickie but they will convert if “God” beats them up enough. Lukewarm Christian women are almost as bad as atheists and are not adequate mates for a proper Christian lad. Got it?

Posted in Feminism, Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: Relationships in God’s Not Dead.

(Please consider all of my posts about this movie to be spoilerrific.)

Last week I got hammered and watched God’s Not Dead so you don’t have to. One thing I learned watching it was the rather surprising fact that the various reviews and trailers I’d watched and read of it actually were completely representative of the movie. At the time of its release last year, I was nervous about writing posts like this one in case I accidentally committed this movie’s favorite sin–straw-manning an opposing view. Now I know I would have been on completely safe ground.

This movie represents not only evangelical Christians‘ wishful thinking about the world and people around themselves, but also their viewpoint on a variety of subjects. It is like the distillation and summation of all their preconceptions and distortions, and so I think it’d be instructional for us to peek into evangelicals’ heads by looking at what this movie says regarding various subjects. Some of those subjects have been done quite at length–like how the movie treats atheists themselves, so I’ll let my peers’ and friends’ posts speak there. I want to focus on topics I haven’t seen discussed much, starting with relationships.

Here are the main romantic relationships depicted in God’s Not Dead. I have no idea what some of these characters’ names are and more importantly I don’t care; they are caricatures anyway so we could name them after articles of clothing and it wouldn’t matter. I’m also presenting these relationships in order of desirability to Christian eyes.

Notice that the movie’s creators basically chose four relationships that highlight all the permutations of faith and non-belief, and especially displays their dim view of “unequally yoked” couples.

Yoked oxen.

(Credit: Sean, Flickr. Unmodified photo.)

1. Dean Cain and the reporter lady: EVIL ATHEIST + EVIL ATHEIST.

These two are both atheists, so obviously this relationship is completely doomed, shallow, and dysfunctional. Dean plays a complete dick, while his reporter girlfriend, Cravat, is his obedient, low-self-esteem-suffering lapdog. Dean views relationships in cold, rational, transactional terms; he won’t even give street directions to Cravat unless she tells him exactly what’s in it for him. We don’t see these two interacting much, but it’s clear that she likes how important he is, and he likes how hot she is.

When he takes her to a fine restaurant to share the news that he’s gotten some kind of promotion at work for being a really proficient dick, she ruins everything by telling him she has cancer and will die. He immediately dumps her. When Cravat protests that she thought he loved her, he laughs in her face. From their conversation it’s clear that as long as everything was going the way Dean wanted it to go, he was willing to let Cravat believe whatever she wanted. But now that she actually needs him for support, he just hasn’t got the maturity to handle that request.

Lesson: Atheists have no idea what love is, and would never sacrifice for each other. They only care about what they’ll get out of other people. When someone really needs his or her partner, then it’s “game over, dude.” Evil, evil atheists. Ickie.

2. Mina and Dr. Radisson: UNEQUALLY YOKED TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + EVIL ATHEIST.

Mina is Dean’s sister and the only female character important enough for her name to be said often enough that even I remembered it, though I thought it was “Nina” all the way till I was about to post the review and noticed that IMDB’s cast list had it differently; I have the hearing of a goddamned cocker spaniel, so I’m going to take this opportunity to rail against the growing trend toward poor enunciation in movies. Mina is also Dr. Radisson’s fuckpuppet and his former student. This last bit is very important. Given how Dr. Radisson acts in his classroom–believing wholeheartedly that he is the classroom’s “god” and giving first-day lectures about atheism and famous atheists, and he makes a big deal of how he has this routine of demanding that students write “God Is Dead” on papers for part of their grades–there is no way whatsoever that Mina could have missed that he is not a Christian. Mina herself must have handed him a paper with “God Is Dead” on it–or her defiance would have been noted in her first expository dialogue. So she chose to date a man who is downright hostile to her faith, didn’t fight his hostility against it, and their difference of opinion doesn’t seem to have been an issue… until now.

This relationship is what Christians call “unequally yoked.” And Mina was totally fine with that for a long time. She’s been screwing Dr. Radisson for years. But now suddenly she’s got a big problem with her boyfriend being an atheist.

Radisson seems like a decent boyfriend at first, if a little controlling. We know from this scene that they’re doing the deed; it’s hard to imagine a young-ish, decently-attractive guy like Radisson dating students without an expectation of sex, and he’s on intimate enough terms with Mina that he lets himself into her house without knocking and “freshens up” in her bathroom before parties they throw together. They have a long expository conversation to tell the audience how they met–under an ethical cloud, being that, again, she was his student at the time–and how they handle being a mixed-faith couple. His main concern is that Mina seems to have changed. He wants her to change back to her previous carefree self, because people should never change, especially not hot younger girlfriends. Like Dean Cain, he’s not capable of allowing his girlfriends to be real, three-dimensional people with needs and independent desires. She exists to make him happy, and thus she must always be exactly the same person she was in his class years ago. The movie wants you to forget that Christians frequently make this exact same demand of ex-Christian partners, as I’ve noted in the past; you’re supposed to think that only atheists do this.

That’s when she drops the UYC Bomb: Talking of herself in the third person, she says: “She has got a mom who’s failing fast, she’s sensing time is passing by, and she’s starting to wonder if, uh, if she’s unequally yoked.”

The “time is passing by” might be a reference to the fact that Radisson hasn’t popped the question yet, something she’s already indicated bothers her a lot (in an earlier scene with her senile mother), but it might also be her expression of disappointment that Radisson hasn’t reconverted to Christianity during their time together. But Mina’s UYC Bomb is also untrue. If she is an evangelical who is so fervent that she’ll challenge a room full of slightly-buzzed philosophy professors on issues of faith, she already knows damned well that she is unequally yoked. That shouldn’t be a question she wonders about. She’s dating a man she knows for 100% sure is not a Christian, and evangelical culture doesn’t stutter on that point. So at best she is being disingenuous; at worst she is lying. And Radisson is right to call her out for it, as much as it pains me to say anything supporting a character who acts, otherwise, so ridiculously unsympathetic.

What’s funny is that in response to her concern, Radisson reminds her about their compromise. Namely, they just don’t talk about religion. But as he puts it, “the not-talking is starting to get louder and louder, and soon it will be deafening, and I don’t know if I can put up with that.” Chances are this is the only really honest observation about mixed-faith relationships involving evangelical Christians that this movie actually contains. That part is quite true. Often mixed-faith partners try to ignore their difference, but if one partner is really really buggy about his or her beliefs then it seems like their difference starts to take on a sinister life of its own, coiling and lurking in corners of the room waiting to strike. As long as Mina keeps her beliefs to herself, he’s content to pretend there’s no difference at all. But evangelicalism is a pernicious beast; it is not content to coil and lurk. Evangelical Christians need everybody to believe like they do. So like many Christians in the Unequally Yoked Club, Mina manufactures some drama because Radisson continues to resist her missionary dating.

When Radisson seeks some kind of consensus with her, saying “we need to be clear about this,” it comes off as him being completely honest with her. He really wants to be a mustache-twirler, but it’s really hard to find fault with someone setting boundaries. And like a lot of dishonest evangelicals I’ve known and run into, Mina pretends to be fine. My Christian then-husband Biff did this exact same act with children, so maybe that is why this scene irks me as much as it does. That little moue Mina makes with her mouth as she agrees to drop the subject? I’ve seen that on Biff as he pretended to “leave the desire for children on the altar.” Radisson’s apostasy still bothers her, and he has to know it does, but he treats her like an adult–this time–and takes her at her word.

But the movie can’t have Radisson being sympathetic anywhere, so they rescue his evilosity a few minutes later. Here is what kind of a dick boyfriend Radisson is: before the manufactured drama above, he asks her if she got the wine he wanted; she says she did, but admits she accidentally left the bottle in the car. He forgives her and says she has a lot going on, so he totally understands; it’s quite sweet. Then, at dinner, which is–again–hosted at his girlfriend’s house and personally and completely prepared by her for his benefit, with his college-professor buddies around them, he insults the wine and by extension Mina as if he has no idea why it tastes bad, and his buddies all join in the humiliation of their hostess, driving her to tears. Because atheists are evil bastards and Christians never do that.

Later, while Mina is talking to the pastor dude from the movie’s school–because she hasn’t got her own pastor and still relies on her college chaplain for spiritual advice–she gushes with him about how wonderful her boyfriend is. This scene tells us what Mina sees in Radisson: after she complains that he is verbally abusive toward her when religion comes up, the pastor guesses that she likes him because he’s bright–no, make that brilliant, handsome. He gives her attention that makes her feel special and gives her a sense of completeness (surely the most creative Christian euphemism I’ve ever seen for “bangs you like a screen door during a hurricane”). The pastor dude says she suffers from Cinderella Complex, which he mistakenly says means she needs others to give her a sense of value and worth rather than generating one internally. Then he tells her only Jesus can give her a sense of value and worth (wait what?!?). I bring up this scene because while Mina praises Radisson to the skies, we don’t actually see the two of them interacting in ways that actually fit her description. Going by her description in this scene, he’s perfect–except that he “verbally abuses” her whenever religion comes up. He’s verbally abusive all right, as well as controlling, contemptuous of her, and dismissive, but during their actual argument about religion, he wasn’t verbally abusive. He was upset and annoyed that she was bringing up religion because they’d made an explicit agreement not to discuss religion. He doesn’t deal well with those emotions, but he doesn’t call her names or tell he she can’t be Christian or anything. When she drops the subject, he does too. So this movie is wrong again here.

Side note: I’m watching that part of the movie again now and noticing that when Mina accuses Radisson of being all “blood and thunder” during the first day of class, he tells her with a self-deprecating laugh that he was just putting on an act for her benefit. He might be lying, sure, but he certainly seems full of blood and thunder in this movie’s first day of classes. Is he grooming his next girlfriend in Josh’s class?

Lesson: Don’t date him, girl. Christian women who date non-Christians will waste years and years of their life, never get married to their boyfriends, and end up humiliated at their own dinner parties. Christian men are never, ever verbally abusive to their girlfriends, ever. Or dismissive. Or callous. Or manipulative. Or controlling. And Mina certainly isn’t culpable for anything she does with regard to timing or dishonesty.

Josh and his lukewarm girlfriend: UNEQUALLY YOKED II: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + LUKEWARM CHRISTIAN

Josh’s girlfriend doesn’t have much time in this movie. Her function is to artificially inflate the stakes in Josh’s debate with Dr. Radisson and to be one of the Christians in his life who oppose him because they aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™, to highlight Josh’s persecution.

Of the girlfriend, Blouse, we know only the following: she is blond and says she’s intelligent, she thinks it’s totally reasonable to map out her future with Josh, she doesn’t know how to apologize, and she wants to marry a guy who is a fervent Christian yet who takes a pragmatic approach to challenges to his faith. She wears a purity ring too; make of that what you like because I sure did.

Blouse is the worst girlfriend ever. Judgmental, overreactive, and adept at making mountains out of molehills, she goes about her day by turns draping herself over Josh, chastely hugging and cheek-kissing him, and whining at him about how he’s going to ruin his entire academic career by losing 30% of the grade in one single intro course–when she’s not issuing totally unreasonable ultimatums. You see, she sees nothing whatsoever wrong with Josh completing Radisson’s “God Is Dead” assignment even though she’s a lifelong Christian. In fact, her parents are annoyed with Josh’s recalcitrance on this point as well. Everybody is against him, even her. Far from being offended, most evangelicals would feel smugly satisfied by Blouse’s behavior; they are totally convinced that most other Christians aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like they are.

It’s worth noting that when Blouse dumps Josh, burning a six-year-long relationship to the ground (as well as likely the first and only one both of them have ever had), he’s not very upset at all–a fact she notices and mentions, so the problem isn’t that he’s a terrible actor (though that’s true of every actor in this flaming shitball except Kevin Sorbo, who is clearly having a fantastic time chewing scenery); it’s that there’s not much loss and heartbreak to convey here. We don’t see much of her at all after the breakup; having helped orchestrate the total dilemma Josh faces, her work here is done, so she drifts away. We don’t see him losing much sleep over it.

Lesson: Not a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, obviously. Josh has as little business being in a relationship with Blouse as Mina has with Radisson and for the same reasons. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities because lukewarm Christians are ickie. Good TRUE CHRISTIAN™ lads like Josh need good TRUE CHRISTIAN™ lasses because proper Christian girls never, ever, ever try to control their menfolk, make unreasonable demands and ultimatums, argue over stupid shit, or totally overreact.

Korie and the Duck Dynasty Werewolf: PRACTICALLY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + TRUE CHRISTIAN™.

There is only one relationship here treated completely sympathetically, and that’s the one between the glamorous Korie and her unkempt fauxbilly husband, Willie Robertson from TV’s Duck Dynasty. Strangely, Korie’s name I knew, but not that of her husband until I looked it up.

When the reporter lady leaps out at the couple to ask them questions, she seems singularly offended by Korie’s mere existence and snarks at her, snidely saying that she would have expected Korie to be left behind at home, barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Korie steadfastly supports her husband, which outrages the reporter even more, but Korie looks at Cravat with condescending smug sympathy–she knows the reporter lady will never understand. Cravat’s hostility is so far past Korie’s comprehension that she might as well be an alien species; the implication is that Cravat is jealous and bitter of this Christian lady’s happiness.

I don’t know what this couple’s real-life marriage looks like, but their movie marriage looks exactly like what evangelicals imagine marriage between two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ should look like. She’s thin and pretty, while his appearance is, uh, unimportant. She seems to have no opinions of her own that differ from his in any way. They never argue, though he does whine a couple of times in their short time onscreen about how short he feels next to her in her high-heeled shoes. Their robust sex life is hinted at when Willie offers to rush off and impregnate Korie again so she can be properly pregnant next time she’s in their kitchen and barefoot (Korie hurriedly declines, though from the tone of her voice it almost sounds like she’s not entirely sure Willie will listen). At the end of the reporter’s softball questions, Willie sweeps his beautiful wife into the church. The family that prays together, stays together. Right?

Lesson: If you find a man or woman like Willie or Korie, put a ring on it. Gosh, just too bad she’s a bit old for Josh, huh? Non-Christian spouses are never this supportive, playful, or committed to each other!

Arguing Tigers

It’s like this. (Credit: Tambako the Jaguar, Flickr.)

So there we have it. Four relationships, four different permutations of belief and non-belief, all fed through a filter of Christian evangelical delusions about how relationships do–and should–work. If a space alien watched this movie knowing nothing about relationships, that alien would come away with a few unmistakable impressions:

* Atheists can’t possibly make relationships work with each other because they are shallow ickie people.
* Christians can’t possibly make relationships work with non-believers, especially atheists, because atheists are mean and ickie.
* Even Christians can’t even make relationships work with other Christians if one is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and one is lukewarm. Lukewarm Christians are almost as bad as atheists. Almost.
* TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have the nicest relationships of all, because Jesus-reasons.

It’d almost be convincing, too, if I didn’t know that Christians act like the atheists depicted herein all the time, if I didn’t know many atheist couples who are loving, happy, and devoted to each other, and if I didn’t know that divorce rates are just as bad for evangelical spouses as they are for anybody else.

Once again I am left with the conviction that if Christians had any integrity, they would denounce and despise this shallow, puerile piece of shit movie. It sees relationships in the exact same distorted way that it sees atheists, and treats people in those relationships the same contemptuous, dismissive way.

If you’re in the Unequally Yoked Club, please don’t listen to this bullshit.

The conventional wisdom peddled by evangelical leaders is wrong. I talk to people in these pairings every single day–and for most of them, they’re muddling along fine. This movie is as wrong about relationships as it is about atheists, and that is saying something because there is not a single thing it says about atheists that is true.

Hopefully the next GND post won’t be quite this long. We’ll be looking at how it treats Christians next–see you then!

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Moving Day is Coming: To the Lee of the Stone!

Duct-tape Moving Van

Duct-tape Moving Van (Photo credit: Wikipedia). NERRRRDS!

Good news, everyone!

Most of y’all know I’ve been helping the Recovering from Religion group with their Patheos blog, Ex-Communications, for about the last six months. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed helping them in such a meaningful and loving endeavor. The editor of their atheism group, Dale McGowan, has asked me if I wanted to join them on a more formal basis, and I’ve accepted. So in the next week, Roll to Disbelieve is heading for Patheos.

I’m floored and honored to be counted among the number of Dan Fincke, Libby Anne, Hemant Mehta, Neil Carter, and the rest of the fine writers there, and could not be happier about this move.

You shouldn’t notice much of a change. On the back end, I’ll be setting up redirects that should take care of the worst of the joggling around; if you type in my normal URL you should go straight to the new Patheos location. The content will remain much the same–our usual free-ranging examinations of hypocrisy, harmful ideas and practices, ways to improve ourselves and our world, freethinking and humanism awakenings, and 80s movie references.

We’ll obviously be dropping the WordPress commenting system and moving to Patheos’ standard system, Disqus, so that’ll be a big change; for the last year and a half I’ve been moderating this blog with a fairly tight hand, but let’s be honest: though I was really nervous about what Christians would do if allowed to run amok, I haven’t had a lot of trouble out of them. I’ve only blocked like three people since we began our journey and I haven’t had to edit very many comments at all. I was going to open comments up anyway here, so this isn’t a bad time to just loosen the throttle and “Let It Go, Let It Go.” (Sorry, but if it’s stuck in my head then it’s going to be stuck in yours too.) If you need a Disqus ID, now’s a good time to be thinking about it.

I hope you’ll enjoy the blog’s new home as much as I’m sure I will, and that you’ll continue to journey with me. Thanks again for an absolutely incredible couple of years. Seriously, I couldn’t have done it without y’all. Together we have built up the best community on the whole internet.

If I’m supposed to be miserable after leaving Christianity, I sorta wonder when that’s going to start happening.

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