When I saw the movie God’s Not Dead show up on my Netflix thingie, I knew I’d be doing this. I’ve written a couple of posts about its general ideas already–about a similar situation I found myself in, about confronting a professor who was actually kinda like the one in this movie, and about my thoughts on the movie generally. Additionally, a number of my friends have done reviews–Neil Carter, Dan Fincke among others. But I’d never actually sat down and watched the whole thing. Turns out what I’d seen was completely accurate and indicative.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD. ***
I loaded the movie up and immediately it showed an image of the most priggish Christian I’d ever seen with the most priggish Jesus Smile I’d ever seen, and I knew I was not going to be able to handle this movie sober. So I am halfway through my first glass of 2011 Masi Campofiorin, which is very good, and we are going to watch this movie and I am going to keep a running note of what I see and think. At least I’ll come out of it with at least one happy memory.
Beginning credits and soulful opening song: idyllic scenery scrolls. A soulful young man in a backpack–our hero–walks along the street and people bicycle into Hadleigh “ofcourseit’sfictionalsilly” University. A pretty girl hugs the guy in the backpack and it’s all very chaste. Also trite and boring.
There’s a Muslim gal in a scarf that covers all but her eyes, contrasting with the godless Western girl who finally chastely kisses the guy in the backpack who doesn’t seem in the least interested in anything else). While this setup is going on, I was going to say, this movie is apparently already due for a sequel, and there’s a “spiritual successor” to it out in the form of a movie called Do You Believe? which I have every reason to think is as bad as this one. On that note, the Muslim gal tears off her headscarf when her dad leaves and she looks really relieved to be free of that restriction. My hatred has just been turned up to 11. Not that I blame her for wanting to tear off the scarf, but it’s just such a heavy-handed way to talk about the issue of women’s dress in Islam. I can already tell this subplot is going to turn out really horribly in every sense of the word. Y’all know I was Pentecostal, right? “Holiness standards” and all? I knew lots of girls who did this same thing in Christianity.
The chaste guy goes up to the registration area, which is apparently held outdoors (wait what?!?) and the hip registration-dude tells him that he’s signed up for Philosophy 150 with Radisson and maybe he needs to think about something else. He’s wandering into “the snake pit,” it seems. OH NOES. By the way, I just want to say that there is no reason for this entire bit of dialogue to take place. Most universities don’t do in-person registration anymore. And there is even less reason for “Josh Wheaton” (oh my, like Joss Whedon? Or is this a riff on Wheaton College, a big-name Christian university?) to need to tell the registration dude what his elective is. But we need to have the OH NOES. Again, it’ll look good to anybody who’s never been to college, the way the registration dude looks up with his OH NOES look because he’s seen the simple little cross and Newsboys T-shirt that Josh is wearing and needs to warn this sweet young Christian lad about the persecution he is wading into. (PS I’ve never seen any university employee do anything like this. That is because even rabidly anti-theist professors are expected to do their fucking jobs and teach, not persecute religious zealots.)
“It can’t be that bad,” jokes Josh, with a strained smile, and the registration dude tells him “Think, uh, Roman Colisseum, lions, people cheering for your death.” Finally he sighs and tells Josh, “it’s your funeral.” There’s more bullshit around registration with a Chinese guy, and then we cut to a disorganized, hurried reporter leaving her house that morning. She rushes to her car only to discover it’s been vandalized. The car, incidentally, bears bumper stickers reading “MEAT IS MURDER,” “I <3 Evolution,” and “American Humanist.”
We cut to Dean Cain, who is on the phone in an office talking about some business thing. From his assholish chuckle we know he’s a bad person. When the reporter calls him to ask for directions to her interview with some Duck Dynasty guy, Cain refuses till she tells him what’s in it for him. When she obediently complies, he praises her like a dog, saying, “That’s my girl!” And wow, he looks different from his Superman days; I guess we all do though.
A pretty lady who looks like she walked in off a Real Housewives cast meeting, Mina, visits her mother, who has dementia and doesn’t recognize her. Her mother must have had Mina at 45 or something because she is ancient, but she immediately notices that Mina doesn’t have a wedding ring on; Mina smiles painfully and tells her, “It’s complicated.”
None of these subplots sound remotely interesting.
Professor Radisson enters his classroom. He is a tough, no-nonsense professor with a mustache and goatee that looks sinister. He informs the class that if they just want an easy A for their liberal-arts requirement that they should leave. Now, I admit: I took Intro to Logic in college purely to get away from the math requirement for my major, but the class was designed for non-philosophy majors. For that matter, the instructor was a TA. My first intro to psych class was by a full professor though. Damn he was great. You know, we talked often and I visited his office regularly, but I have no idea what he thought religion-wise.
On Radisson’s whiteboard list of important philosophers, Ayn Rand is on the list and I have no idea why. Jesus, I can’t imagine a real philosophy professor putting her on a list like this. Ironically, fundagelicals heavy into politics tend to adore her, but the movie asks us not to remember that. Radisson asks what the people on his list have in common and someone guesses that they’re all dead, but no, he insists, flipping another whiteboard over for emphasis. They were all atheists, he tells the class, and Josh gets a thoughtful, pursed-lip look as he listens.
Oh my god, this guy is a terrible professor.
That’s his lead-in. He’s got the definition of atheism on his whiteboard and he’s splaining about what atheism means. He talks about strong atheism versus weak atheism, saying that strong means “to know there is no god” and weak means “to doubt this god’s existence,” which aren’t strictly accurate but better than expected (weak means more like “doesn’t see any reason to accept Christianity’s claims”). He doesn’t want to debate the existence of this god, he says, because that is a waste of time. I’d agree but not for the same reason. A philosophy intro class seems like it wouldn’t be the place for that. He demands that his intro class write “God is dead” on papers and hand it in with a signature; if they reach consensus unanimously, they can skip the part of the class devoted to arguing about whether or not there is a god because that is a thing that all intro philosophy courses do all the time.
Okay, what the fuck? I’m now seeing why Dan Fincke–who is a real live philosophy professor–was peevish about this movie.
Josh swallows meaningfully as his classmates comply without a single objection, then bravely tells Radisson that he can’t comply because he’s a Christian. When Josh continues to resist, the professor tells him that if he won’t do it, then he’ll need to defend his entire religion or else he loses 30% of his final grade. Josh negotiates that the class will decide if he succeeds or not in proving that the Judeo-Christian god exists. The professor reluctantly agrees and gives him three class periods to make his case. Very The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Gang, this is totally not how college works. (Also Radisson talks like vintage William Shatner.) I’d be furious if a YouTube-level debate was on the menu for my hard-earned tuition dollars. Radisson assigns David Hume’s Problems with Induction and Descartes’ Discourse on Method before the next class session, which I assume is in two days given that we know from the registration scene that it’s a MWF class. The Hume book is apparently about the errors in Hume’s thinking. The Descartes is about how knowledge can be assumed by reason. Those seem like really next-level books to assign right out of the gate in a freshman-level intro course. He also suggests Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian in preparation for the upcoming debate. So 250+ pages in two days. For an intro course. For freshmen. And one of those books is a criticism of Hume without the class actually having covered Hume yet.
Yeah, sure, that totally happened.
Josh’s girlfriend, the chaste hugger, is mad that he’d “risk our future” over this debate. She makes clear that she’s mapped out their entire futures together. She has chosen to attend this college instead of her first choice because she wants to be near Josh. I can see why she’s second-thinking that idea but it’s not his fault she’s a short-sighted idiot. She insists that his entire college education hinges on whether or not he loses 30% of his grade from Radisson in an Intro course. Excuse me, but I missed like 25% of my grade in Human Sexuality because I refused to watch the videos in it, and I still did fine. (I lasted all the way up till the one comparing cut vs. uncut penises, if you’re wondering, and then showed up again only to take tests.) Christians seem like they do this a lot, though, blow up huge huge huge penalties for relatively minor offenses. Wonder why? Anyway we learn that Josh wants to be a lawyer and that the Muslim girl works at the cafeteria, which is how she overhears Josh talking about this upcoming debate.
Maybe I need more wine. By the way, I’m drinking out of this gorgeous handpainted wineglass I got at a gift shop my first week in my current hometown. Love these glasses. People just amaze me with the beauty they can create. And then there is this movie.
Next, we see the Duck Dynasty werewolf and his very worldly-dressed wife get out of their luxury SUV. He’s whining about her high-heeled shoes because they make her taller than he is. Well, if he didn’t dress and groom like Cousin Itt then maybe he wouldn’t feel so inadequate next to her glamour. Incidentally, aren’t these people like Jesus Nuts or something? Why is she wearing a miniskirt tankdress with soaring high heels? And why is the werewolf dude dressed like he’s homeless while she’s dolled up to the nines? Seems disrespectful of him, especially with him whining about her choice of shoes. He sounds like a petulant, misogynistic man-child.
The reporter lady ambushes them both and asks the wife why she isn’t at home, barefoot and pregnant. She’s mad about the Duck Dynasty business of selling duck lures. He’s a hunter and that’s the worst thing in the world. Also she’s mad about the way the Duck Dynasty faux-hillbillies pray all the time on their show. OH NOES! Except I’ve never heard anybody really get mad about that. Amid soaring violin music he preaches about how life is temporary, Jesus is eternal, and well, that’s just how he is. Apparently this reporter’s entire ambush, the super-important one she told Dean Cain about, consists of softball questions about hunting and a snarky comment about a Christian’s religious devotions. Dang, she is one sucky reporter.
If you can’t guess, I seriously fucking hate this movie.
Wait, is the Duck Dynasty dude’s wife wearing high heels and a mini-tankdress to church? Yes. Yes, she is. When did Christian women start dressing for church like they’re going to a nightclub?
The Muslim girl puts her scarf back on while a white girl tells her she’s beautiful and wishes she “didn’t have to do that.” The Muslim girl says it’s for her father’s benefit. He’s a threatening asshole but he tries to make his daughter’s subjugation look like THE BONUS PLAN. This entire scene could be played out over Pentecostal holiness standards, but the filmmakers chose to focus on Muslim women’s dress because SHARIA LAW OH NOES. These people are fucking reprehensible as well as irresponsible.
Meanwhile, Josh walks around meaningfully and goes to church to FIND ANSWERS™. Josh–and the guy in charge of the church–guess that none of the kids in Radisson’s class are Christians. I don’t know why they’d think that. Kids Josh’s age are way more likely to be Nones or ex-Christians than youths in any point in history, but still 2/3 of them are statistically likely to be Christians. So that’s a strange assertion. The church guy says that this debate might be the only exposure they get to the Gospel and suggests that Josh read up on Matthew 10:32-33, which goes like this:
Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
He also suggests Luke 12:48 which seems weird, but okay, we’ll talk about it later. Josh snorts in derision but he’ll read it all later. Also, the church guy appears to be one of those youth pastors who can’t handle aging.
Josh goes home and reads aloud the Bible verses in question. His room has a Newsboys poster. Did I mention the acting in this movie is about on par with a high-school drama class? He texts the chaplain/pastor that he’s going to give the debate a shot. The chaplain/pastor beams a satisfied, beneficent Jesus Smile.
Cut to reporter lady at the doctor’s office. In between her consta-checking her cell phone, the doctor tells her she has cancer. Her response: “I don’t have time for cancer.” She is scheduled for an MRI, which seems like it should have been part of the diagnosis. I get them all the damn time–my specialist doesn’t diagnose anything serious or make sweeping recommendations without a recent one in hand. But I’m not a doctor. Feel free to correct me in comments if sometimes cancer gets a hard diagnosis without MRIs. The type of cancer isn’t specified, either, and she’s obviously in pretty good health and very young so there’s little reason to think that her prognosis is that bad, but the movie assumes the worst.
Back to Josh, studying for his debate. Josh’s girlfriend wears a purity ring in her left ring finger. She semi-apologizes for being kind of nasty earlier. It turns out today is their sixth anniversary, which means they met when they were like 12, which is creepy and weird for a movie to stress. Apparently they met at a Newsboys concert and he’s taking her to see them for the big celebration (product placement ahoy!). She issues an ultimatum: does he value her or Professor Radisson more? She’s Christian, but she wants him to sign the “stupid paper” and move on with his life. Uh oh, she’s a dreaded lukewarm Christian!
If you’re wondering, I’m actively ignoring the “African missionary trying to reach Disneyland” subplot because frankly it’s dumb, imperialistic, and vaguely racist. It’ll get a post of its own later, but basically it’s a comedy of errors where this blithely optimistic African missionary and the church chaplain/pastor dude are trying to get to the iconic theme park but every obstacle possible seems to be in their way.
The debate begins. (Let me say again that I’d be angry if I paid Professor Radisson to teach me philosophy and got a freshman student debate instead.) Josh begins by saying that nobody can “disprove” that his god exists. Um, what? Of course not. Nobody can disprove homeopathy either. Is Radisson such a shitty teacher that he lets a student evade burden or proof, one of Christian zealots’ favorite tactics? Apparently!
Josh begins with cosmology and astronomy, an odd choice given that he’s in a philosophy class. He refers to Stephen Weinberg’s description of the Big Bang, then says that the 1920s “Belgian astronomer” George Lamaitre thought the Big Bang was exactly what one might expect to see if the universe had been sung into existence by the Bible’s god. If you’re wondering, this reference is not entirely honest on Josh’s part, reflecting either a deep misunderstanding of the source material or a deliberate distortion of it. Take your pick. I despise this character and this movie so I’m going with deliberate distortion. That link includes a lot of other criticisms of Josh’s presentation so I’ll let you go look at it.
I’d heard that Josh really focuses on pseudoscience on his presentations but hadn’t realized just how much he relies on it. I bet that his logical contortions sound good to fundagelicals, but they sound terrible to me. He said that people shouldn’t have to “commit intellectual suicide” to believe in “a Creator,” while he commits intellectual suicide. He says that atheists and theists alike need to answer how the universe began, but I don’t see that as a real metaphysical issue for most folks. It’s good to know our origins, sure, and we will eventually discover the answers we don’t have now, but more and more it seems like a god wasn’t required for any of it. You not only must commit intellectual suicide to believe in his nonsense, but you must also be terribly dishonest. Radisson tears him apart over Stephen Hawking, who isn’t a philosopher at all. Apparently philosophers are very concerned with astronomy. Radisson does make a good point; Creationists don’t generally have up-to-date information about science. But the thing is, Radisson is making an argument from authority and one would think a philosophy professor would be aware of that fallacy.
Afterward, Radisson confronts Josh in the hallway and blusters, “Do you think you’re smarter than me, Wheaton?” and says that there’s a god in his classroom and he, Radisson, is that god. It’s hard to imagine how this dipshit hasn’t gotten fired or sued. He even threatens Josh’s future as a lawyer. Obviously, this isn’t something real professors do; it’s just a forced dilemma to make the stakes sound higher.
Josh’s girlfriend dumps him right after this encounter. Because of course.
The Muslim girl is listening to a Christian sermon on her iPod in her room. Her little brother sneaks in, sees the iPod, and she frantically makes him swear he’ll never tell their father (but he’ll be ratting her out anyway, we already know). The reporter lady tells Dean Cain, her boyfriend, that she has cancer, and he instantly dumps her for “breaking their deal” by wanting some basic human empathy from him. The Chinese dude sees Josh at the library and asks softball questions about Christianity; he’s clearly about to convert, but Josh doesn’t even seem to care or notice, or press his advantage–a strange attitude for an evangelical lad. Also, the girl Mina with the demented mother is Dean Cain’s sister as well as Radisson’s girlfriend, and she argues with Radisson about being “unequally yoked,” meaning she’s suddenly deeply concerned that Radisson isn’t a Christian. She was fine with it at first, apparently, but not now. He insults her at dinner over the wine she’s served, and none of the guests call Radisson out for being a pompous asshole because why would they care? Atheists are so meeeean y’all.
This movie sucks so, so, so, SO bad.
As the reporter lady gets her MRI, Josh gives his next speech, this time about John Lennox. I’ll refer you back to the earlier link about the topic because as usual Josh is distorting or lying about his references, including a cherry-picked quote at the end. Why are Christians so dishonest? Note: When a Christian uses the word “Darwinist,” you know that person has no idea what science is. It’s like the perpetually-blinking turn signal of science denial.
Then we discover the truth about Radisson’s weird hostility toward Christianity: he is actually really mad at “god” for his mother’s death from cancer.
Radisson’s professed atheism has nothing to do with evidence; deep down he’s just an angry and sad believer. Though I’ve never met a real atheist who thought this way, this caricature is exactly what fundagelical Christians tend to believe atheists are like–and who could blame them, considering that most of the “I used to be a mean ole atheist but I totally really believed deep down!” figures prominently in many “ex-atheists'” conversion narratives.
Then we see the Muslim dad slapping the shit out of the daughter and throwing her out of the house for being Christian. I guess it’s okay for Christian parents to throw their LGBTQ kids out of the house or dispossess their ex-Christian kids and spouses, but totally awful for a Muslim man to do the exact same thing to his daughter. Reporter lady has a freakout over having cancer, which is totally not how a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would act, and Radisson’s flips out when Mina dumps him and declares that he doesn’t “accept” the news. I wonder if these filmmakers know that Christians do every bit of these things they imply only atheists do?
Radisson says that he made a “mistake” letting Josh “spew propaganda” in his class and will be altering the deal, though it will turn out not to look very altered. Josh goes for the Problem of Evil this time around, using the standard-issue Christian contortion of “free will” to excuse why the Christian god allows horrific evil to exist in the world. He makes a false analogy comparing Radisson’s final exam to moral absolutism (interesting refutation here). Funnily enough, not all atheists believe that there is no moral absolute, and even when someone does think so, that doesn’t mean a god is handing morality down to humanity. Josh finally challenges Radisson, saying that he just wants the students in the class to “make their own choice” and that Radisson himself is not just atheistic but anti-theist, which is incredibly bad (and implies that Christians want people to “make their own choice,” which I would 100% disagree with–they say this, but constantly disprove their own words). Then Josh accuses Radisson of hating “God.” And then Radisson admits he hates “God” for taking away his mother.
It’s the courtroom denouement scene, the pointed-finger “AHA!” that every Christian dreams of. How, Josh asks, can Radisson hate someone “who doesn’t exist?”
So there you have it. One by one, though Josh’s presentation has been terrible, the students stand and announce that the Christian god isn’t dead. I’m suddenly wondering what youth group the students in this movie came from.
Dean Cain visits his mother, that old lady with dementia, and he’s an asshole to her, but then she suddenly starts talking in a very lucid way about how sometimes people live awesome lives because Satan secretly wants them to be so comfortable they can’t think about religion. Talk about an utterly unfalsifiable belief! Reporter lady rushes up to the Newsboys before they go onstage. She asks them another softball question about how they can possibly sing about “God” like he exists, and they preach at her on cue. Seriously, she sucks at her job. They ask her where she finds hope, and she’s lost suddenly and whimpers that she’s dying. These guys, who are dressed like Murph and the Magic-Tones, cold-read her and tell her she’s got some deep spiritual need, which isn’t hard to guess given that she just told them she’s dying and is obviously as emotionally stable as an upturned pyramid. At the same concert, the Muslim girl and Josh and the Chinese guy and a host of other folks show up. Meanwhile, Radisson is reading his mother’s last letter to him–jeez, what a manipulative piece of shit this movie is–and tries to call Mina but she isn’t answering, and Radisson realizes she must be at that concert even though there’s been no hint whatsoever that she’s into teenybopper Christian pop. He leaves to go to the concert too, to find her and reconcile.
The Newsboys in their suits pray for the reporter lady before their concert. They ask if she’ll be okay, and she nods and smiles weakly in assent even though nothing has changed for her. They run off to their concert. Did their publicists pay for this movie? I’m sorry, but the only movie that did this kind of end-scene well is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and that’s because it was Morris Day and the Time.
Meanwhile, Radisson tries to get to the concert.
And he gets hit by a car.
The missionaries are right there and while the ambulance is coming, they preach at him to convert. That’s right. They prey upon a dying man at his most vulnerable moment.
I fucking hate this manipulative piece of shit movie and every single person involved in bringing this cinematic abortion to the big screen.
This movie is evil.
Radisson dies after having been thus preyed upon, and the predatory missionaries are just happy that he’ll die and know everything there is to know about Jesus because that’s all that matters.
And then as an off-note, the Newsboys announce a speaker who turns out to be that Duck Dynasty dipshit, who tells the audience to text everybody they know that “God’s not dead.” I wonder if that’s really his accent or if he’s exaggerating it, and why he thinks this smarmy gesture is going to come off well to anybody on the receiving end of it. The movie hints that Josh is going to get together with the pretty Muslim girl while the audience does what the fauxbilly tells them to do.
Who hit Radisson? At first I thought it was Dean Cain. Here’s a discussion of it; the car does look similar and it’s something his character would do. But the license plate and lights are different. It bothers me completely that the hit-and-run driver isn’t anybody important; the whole mother/Dean Cain/Mina arc is left hanging.
This loose end and unanswered question define this movie’s shittiness in a lot of ways. The acting is terrible, the storyline is pathetic, and overall it is nothing but a compensation fantasy for evangelicals nursing persecution complexes–but how they handle Radisson is possibly the worst, meanest-spirited thing I have ever seen in my entire life.
We’re going to talk more about this movie’s various lessons over the next week, but I wanted you to have the storyline in mind before we get started. And speaking of which, have a video that is ten million times better than this piece of shit movie: