We’re about to take a quick break from our other projects to talk about this movie I blogged about watching last week, God’s Not Dead, which is a horrible movie in every single respect. There is a long list of movies that it is more horrible than, starting with my go-to benchmark of painfully unpleasant-to-watch bad movies, Absolute Zero.
Now, sometimes I really love bad movies that are fun to watch anyway, like Xanadu. There’s a lot of fun to be had in watching movies that are so bad they circle back around to enjoyable again.
This was not one of those sorts of movies, and let me explain why. It took me a few days to work out exactly why this movie torqued me beyond all recognition, but I got there eventually.
See, a long time ago I had this friend named Darcy who wanted to be an author. (I’ve briefly mentioned this anecdote in the past, but this is how it specifically went down.) She apparently took “write what you know” to mean “write what you wish you knew.” She wrote a novel based around the misadventures of a married couple whose names just happened to be almost identical to my name and Biff’s and who looked and acted like us in every respect. The woman–a career gal–adamantly didn’t want children, like I don’t, but her very traditional husband really wanted them, like Biff did. She got pregnant, and OMG IT WAS TWINS. Except the doctor told “Bill” that it was really quadruplets, don’t tell her or she’ll freak out and get an abortion or selectively winnow them down or something evil and feminist like that! So they had this absolutely deranged deception going on around keeping “Casey” from learning the truth–for her own good, of course.
After a lot of drama, emotional manipulation, and buckets of outright lies–all of it done for laughs, like it was all zany misadventures–the novel’s “Casey” delivered not two babies but four. Naturally she was upset that everybody had fibbed to her, but after a short while she discovered that she really and truly did “love it once it gets here,” just like the cliché–amazing, isn’t it? (Sorta like shooting an arrow into a wall, drawing a bulls-eye around it, and acting shocked about how accurate the shot was. And yes, that is exactly how all those New Testament prophecies can seem so strangely accurate to those who don’t know how the New Testament got written.) “Casey” also realized that really, deep down, she totally wanted to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom and all that feminism and career stuff was for the birds. The novel ended with “Casey” blissfully happy and wishing that she and “Bill” had gotten started on the babymaking years earlier.
Darcy had this idea that this book of hers would be the first one in a series about various young women she knew, and it’d be a line of Christian romance novels of sorts about the stuff “God” did to alter people’s lives without them expecting it. (Ever notice how often Christians do or say stuff like this without thinking it through at all?)
I was naive enough to read Darcy’s novel at her request as an editing exercise; I had no idea what it was about before turning the first page. To say I was beyond appalled when the storyline finally sank in would be an understatement. It was like she’d tidily rearranged my entire life to punish me with something that I’d frankly consider to be a fate worse than death, and used her power as the author of the story to force me–a very real person, someone she personally knew quite well–into a storyline that I hadn’t consented to star in, and forced me to endure virtual violations of my body and mind that I’d never have tolerated in reality. And in her universe, she could force me to be happy about it all, eventually.
She never understood why I was offended and creeped out, which is why we didn’t maintain a friendship afterwards. Not only had she gone to the trouble of writing an entire novel about pushing me into boxes I knew I’d hate, but since her inspiration were Christian glurge stories and urban legends, she didn’t see why I was so upset when I “knew” that this stuff really happened all the time, like, OMG. Every time I saw her after giving her back her awful novel (which wasn’t even good on a technical level, as if you needed me to clarify that point), I had this awful feeling like she was thinking about how wonderful it’d be if I just had a totally unexpected pregnancy, like that’s all I needed to calm my tits down and get into line. My entire church had the same opinion about young women, that they just needed a few babies to deal with and that’d settle them down tout suite, and moreover that it wasn’t a question of if but when this joyous event occurred, but Darcy didn’t actually belong to my church; she was an evangelical from another denomination, one that allowed female preachers and didn’t go for “holiness standards” of dress and hair. Hell, most of the people in that denomination thought I was crazy for staying in something as outright and obviously sexist as Pentecostalism.
Because Darcy belonged to a denomination that didn’t normally treat women the way she’d treated “Casey,” at first this drafted novel felt like it was an assault coming out of left field. But I don’t think any part of this story was accidental, in retrospect. I knew she was crushing on my then-husband (most of our female friends were) and was peeved that I was resisting Biff’s efforts to convince me to be a proper little Christian wife, so maybe that’s why the way she treated her “Casey” character seemed so hostile and cruel.
God’s Not Dead reminds me of Darcy’s novel.
Just as Darcy did long ago, this movie creates these shadow-puppets of those it wants to control but can’t, then abuses them and slaps them around for 113 minutes, doling out punishments appropriate to what its creators think are these people’s crimes.
See, in the real world, there’s no cosmic justice at all. Non-Christians must look downright annoyingly happy and fulfilled to Christians. Gay people are getting married and they’re generally perfectly happy, just like straight people who get married tend to be. Christians deconvert and no horrible disasters immediately befall them as if on cue, like the proverbial bolt from the blue. Atheists never cooperate with the accusation that they “just hate God.” Women have unapproved sex and aren’t being punished for it–and they’re choosing not to get married at all in a lot of cases, or to skip having kids, and they still turn out content and not even a little regretful.
It’s almost as if there’s no god up there paying attention to any of it. And that runs totally contrary to Christian mythology, that states that gay people are secretly (despite their fabulous moniker) miserable, that childfree women are desolate, that women who have unapproved sex are always devastated, disobedient Christians always get punished, and atheists are always non-believers because they’re angry at “god” or haven’t yet heard some all-important apologetics contortion–and in fact every human alive believes in Jesus, but some don’t want to admit it.
So in the filmmakers’ fevered fantasies, they can make this movie and have total control of its universe, and in that universe, finally they can see non-Christians get what’s coming to them and finally see a world that looks like Christianity says it should look like.
That revelation isn’t the shocking realization I came to last night. I’d already noted that this movie is nothing but an escapist fantasy, a compensation for an indifferent reality, a year ago when the trailer came out. Trust me, I knew going into this piece of shit that it was going to be evangelicals’ vision of what the world would look like if their religion’s claims were true.
What’s new is the sheer extent to which this movie punishes every single person in it who doesn’t hew to the party line–and that includes Christians and non-Christians alike. That I had not expected to quite this extent. Nor had I quite expected this level of projection upon non-believers.
Most especially, I hadn’t counted on how this movie explicitly leaps from the fantasy of movie-land into reality-land.
Neil Carter wrote about Christians’ habit of projecting onto non-believers their own shortcomings, and this movie is one of the best illustrations of that concept that we could ever find.
There is literally not a single person in this live-action reenactment of the Chick Tract “Big Daddy?” except maybe the truest of the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who isn’t completely in keeping with evangelical Christians’ stereotypes about them, and not a single one of those stereotypes escapes damage and harm–with it implied throughout by the movie that much of this damage and harm is supernaturally-caused to either punish or “woo” (egad, I hate that word; it’s a common one in fundagelical parlance, but it always sounds so abusive and creepy–and they never understand why that word, used to describe a form of courtship defined in this context by predation and deliberate harm, backfires so much with non-believers).
As for the few TRUE CHRISTIANS™ represented in this movie, they all come out looking dishonest or totally lacking in human empathy and cognition, if not nonsensically so.
I understand this movie is supposed to be a proselytization tool; one of the Duck Dynasty fauxbillies is in it, and I’d heard numerous ads and interviews about it back when it came out about how its creators hoped it’d “save souls,” with Christians encouraged to drag non-believing friends into the cinemas, as well as told to annoy their friends with fundie text messages about “God” that I suppose the target audience will take as magically effective (more on this later).
So I’m left with the impression that the people involved in making and promoting this movie really think that they’re creating some kind of persuasive case for atheists in particular to consider. But when I watched this movie, one thought kept running through my head: Why would anybody want to join a religion that thinks of outsiders in such a hateful way and abuses them this much?
The answer that this movie wants to give to that question is, “Because its claims are true!” and the whole movie is devoted, ostensibly, to demonstrating that point–in between punishing non-believers and making believers look inhumanly evil. But those demonstrations aren’t in the least persuasive to anybody sitting outside the pews. The talking points used are tired and debunked six thousand ways from Sunday, which means that Christianity gets considered in the same manner as every other religion: not based upon the veracity of its claims, because they’re not true, but by what kind of people result from following its precepts.
Christians themselves don’t understand that this movie is a symptom of their disease–the disease being that their religion is based upon, at best, metaphorical and culture-contextual “truths” rather than absolutely true facts, but that most of its adherents can’t accept that simple fact and simply must have a sourcebook that is objectively true in at least some respects. The more of those respects they want true, the worse the disease manifests. Because they can’t have any of those respects be really true, though, we get movies like this instead of any genuine attempts to persuade. But is this movie really meant to persuade? As I’ve mentioned on this blog many times, let’s ignore the stated and implied goals and look only at what this movie actually does.
The movie is presented 100% as a factual movie, as a movie that represents what its target audience Christians really want and really value. The moviegoers are told to translate its demands into real-world actions. It is not just a fantasy like The Last Starfighter, whose premise certainly has its shaky aspects but which doesn’t actually pretend that video game proficiency translates to a new career as a space-faring dogfighter. People who love The Princess Bride may seem a little obsessive about reciting lines from it (ahem), but they don’t seriously try to live life as if the six-fingered man is out there menacing anybody. But God’s Not Dead sends Christians off to do real-life things, implying that they will greatly please their real-world Savior by annoying people they actually really know with their smug, unfounded, baseless fantasy assertions. I’ve already got a post planned about this super-cheap form of devotion, believe you me.
By stepping from the silver screen into reality, this movie marks a watershed moment in Christian propaganda efforts. That’s why I’m saying this movie isn’t just some Christian compensation fantasy; its treatment of people is also implied to be how things should work in reality and how its target audience genuinely thinks their god’s universe should look. This movie is actually evangelicals’ way of punishing and smacking non-Christians around in a universe where they can actually win for a change–where non-Christians can’t fight back, and where the rules always work exactly like the creators always want.
If that’s the kind of universe they think their god operates, then little wonder their religion is failing as hard as it is.
This week, we’re going to look at what those rules are and take a look at what this movie’s target Christians would love for the universe to look like, by way of examining what this movie tells us about Christians, Muslims, atheists, science, philosophy and education in general, women, relationships, and other such stuff. We’ll examine how closely this movie hews to a standard-issue fundagelical worldview, why it’s baffling that it’d do so, and how well it agrees with other movies that push the same worldview. I’m definitely looking forward to next week, and I hope to see you there.