Saturday, April 05, 2014

Review: God's Not Dead

Spoiler Alert: While my youngest two were at Fusion and my wife was visiting the oldest two, I snuck off to see the movie God's Not Dead last night.

1. I love the Newsboys' song, God's not Dead. What a great song to culminate the movie with! Love it. Big spoiler (skip to the next paragraph). It's really moving when everyone texts from the concert that "God's not dead," and the characters who aren't at the concert read it. It's moving enough to feel a tear coming on. To me, there was especially a lot of power to that text coming to the (now formerly) atheist's cell phone, given the irony of where he's at when the text comes. I'll leave it at that.

2. I like the humility of the main character throughout most of the movie. He got a little cocky to me in the final confrontation with the philosophy professor, but that was a deviation from his character most of the movie. In most of the movie, he takes the position that 1) it comes down to choosing faith, since God is not ultimately a matter of proof and 2) there are moral people who just don't believe.

3. However, a critique I have is that, although the movie tells us such things, it doesn't show us. IMO, the overall tone of the movie is one of "the evidence demands a verdict" and "all atheists are sleazebags." And let's face it, a lot of people are going to enjoy this movie because they like seeing intellectuals and liberals get stuffed by Duck Dynasty. The calm qualifications are overridden by the overall tone.

4. Back to the good. Most Christians are portrayed as incredibly humble and loving in the movie. Let's ask God to make us actually be like that. :-) Most real churches are probably more like the church of Corinth in the New Testament than like the perfect believers in this film.

There was of course one Christian who wasn't portrayed in dreamy perfection--that nasty feminist girlfriend who obviously didn't get the memo that the man is the head in the relationship. (sarcasm intended)

5. Ultimately, most of the characters in this movie, both Christian and non, are "flat" characters. They are predictable caricatures rather than real people.  The philosophy professor is a straw man rather than a real debate partner. I'm sure there are professors like that out there, but they are not good professors and certainly not good philosophy teachers. Philosophy is not about indoctrination but about examining assumptions.

To help illustrate what I mean by flat and straw man characters, there are some movies where Christians are portrayed negatively in a similar way to the way the professors are portrayed in this movie. There's a movie called Easy A where Amanda Bynes plays a Christian character who is infuriatingly flat and unreal. The way she acts, the way her circle prays, is an absurd representation of what Christians are like. That is exactly how this movie's philosophy professor will feel to real philosophy professors and non-believers. (John Hawthorne, did you catch the dig at sociologists ;-)

6. Josh presents two positive arguments for God and one defensive argument. The first is the argument that the world had a beginning, the cosmological argument. He gets Aristotle wrong. Aristotle actually argued that there must have been a first mover. Thomas Aquinas actually made the same basic argument Josh makes in the movie by building off of Aristotle's argument.

Josh mentions Lemaître, whom I mentioned last week as a twentieth century cosmologist who argued that the universe must have had a beginning. I may be stupid but I would at least agree with the tone of the movie toward Dawkins and Hawking, both of whom I consider cocky imbeciles when it comes to the question of God. Nevertheless, I find some of the dialog about them generally unbelievable, both in terms of how lame the philosophy professor is and in how Josh gets a little too "boo-yah" ish.

So yes, I think the cosmological argument makes it reasonable to believe in God. It doesn't prove God. It certainly doesn't prove the Christian God. It simply suggests that it is reasonable to believe in a Creator, given that the universe seems to have had a beginning.

7. The question of evolution and the problem of evil are big topics. For example, the "free will" explanation for why God allows evil is one of best, but there are other ideas and there are counter-ideas.  It's really not believable that Josh could convince the whole class with as little as he presents (or that the professor would have so little to say in response).

We need to be humble as Christians about these sorts of arguments. A lot of them make basic sense but they are far from slam dunks. They do not "demand" our verdict. As Josh also says, however, arguments to the contrary do not disprove God either.

8. Josh is right that a lot of the angriest atheists are former believers. Josh is also right that some people say they don't believe in God because they are angry with God. It's hard to believe that a real college philosophy professor would be as stupid as this one comes off, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who say they don't believe in God because they are trying to get back at him.

9. So I left thinking that I might take my kids to see it. I didn't think I would want to, going in. I'll be honest, the characters in this movie are so far-fetched that the whole movie drove me crazy, just like secular portrayals of Christians often do. But I liked the ending, for the most part. The moment with the mother was striking too, I thought. Well played.

P.S. The quote, "God is dead," comes from Nietzsche, who said it almost as a prophecy of the moral chaos that would dominate parts of the twentieth century. Agreeing with Dostoevsky, Nietzsche thought that if people didn't believe in God, then anything would become morally permissible to them. The context of this statement in Nietzsche's writing is a madmen who tells people celebrating God's death that they don't know what they have done by killing him off.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I suppose you can argue that fear is the first "cause" of "obedience" (creating social order). The Authorities hold the "sword". And scriptures say that "fear is the beginning of Wisdom".

But, just as with Job, evil and suffering are unanswerable, and God can be seen as Creator, but not as the "Christian God".

Deism has been argued for a "Moral Order" to the Universe, as C.S. Lewis defends in "Mere Christianity". But, determining what "moral" means is the question, as we assume a lot, esp. Biblicist.

Tradition has conditioned our society, but most Americans have no idea of Church History. (I'm no authority, either :)). And scripture is part of the Tradition.

I agree with your review and analysis! IMO, these movies do little to improve anything.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The question is really not about whether "God" is dead, but whether the idea of God and the Institution of the Church is Dead!

Why would anyone want to argue or support the Church or the idea of God? Those are the real questions.

All humans seek associations to promote their values, opinions, ideas, commitments, and understandings.

In a free society (voluntary association), the institution of the church has validity for the sake of liberty of conscience, as well as "group projects" and support of its members. The church is a "tribe". But America allows for many kinds of "tribal affinities", not just religious ones.

Of what public value is the Church? That is the question many liberals have addressed in "social justice" answers. Marginalization of the church is useful to promote ministering to the marginalized. That is and has become the "public interest" and purpose of the church.

But, it becomes problematic when not everyone in the Church identifies with "social justice" claims and views about life and the "public sphere" as their personal commitment to and about life. Doesn't "social justice" discriminate against other "tribal definitions" about the Church? Isn't America's understanding of justice an individualized one (at least up until Corporations were deemed "individuals")?

The Church is a "universal" concept, in Christian ideals and is no different than "humanitarianism". But, discrimination and judgment must be part of "the human" situation, too, otherwise, there are no boundaries, limitations or particularities that prevent dissolving the distinctives that any organization has to maintain to survive with identity intact. Similarly, the individual human has to be able to make the same determinations for themselves.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Wasn't the argument between the Church @ Jerusalem and Paul about such things? Peter wanted definition, or exclusion, while Paul wanted inclusion. Peter was a conservative, while Paul was a Progressive.

Christianity was initially a sect of Judiasm, but became less and less defined by Judiasm, as it developed theologically/philosophically under Paul and the oversight of the Government of the Church...and such covers the expanse of ancient and medieval times.

Modern times challenge the Church's claims about God and the Church's usefulness (except under this Adminstration). Now, the Church can be useful for "community organizing"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think our nation suffers because Progressives have limited any alternative vision for our country, other than a Globalized one.

National boundaries and modern understanding of the nation-state have been undermined for the sake of the "marginalized". Those like the illegal immigrant, Hezbollah, Muslims, and other groups that were termed "enemies of the State" in modern definitions of "illegal" and "terrorism".

Post-modernity brings about multi-cultural claims that undermine America (and the West) as "leaders" in and to the world. And this administration has undermined justice in the name of "social justice"! Now, we have cultural wars, not only in the larger world, but, within our own Nation!

Ruth Sellen said...

Thank you for your review. I agree. It was an OK movie--some good parts and some lame parts.