I had heard reviews that the movie “God’s Not Dead” was bad (like really bad). For the first 90 minutes, seeing some of the absurd elements of the plot, I was torn between blurting out “Oh come on!” or laughing because it was so bad. I think having a movie about doubt and Christians confronting atheists could have been done well. But there was no depth to the characters. The Christians were unrealistically pious. In showing the lives of the secular characters, they were too heavy-handed in contrasting how messed up they were to how the Christian characters were depicted.
I knew that part of the premise of the film was that Dr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) is a philosophy professor whose staunchly atheist, and where he gives a challenge to Josh (Shane Harper), the film’s protagonist, to prove that God exists. As someone who studied philosophy in college. The scene which builds to the professor issuing this challenge is one of the most absurd movies scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
There are these urban legends about atheistic philosophy professors. I’ve head it different ways. The most recent one I’ve seen going around is that the professor addressed his class about the existence of God, but was eventually put in his place…
And the student grew up to become…
In another version of the story, the professor tells his class that he is going to prove God is fake by challenging God to knock him off of his chair…eventually, a student (who’s obviously in the military because he’s patriotic and God-fearing) comes, knocks the professor down, and gives the response of a 1980s action movie star by saying, “God sent me because he was busy.”
Again, both are urban legends. But from my own personal experiences in college, as a Christian and as someone who studied philosophy at a state university, I cannot tell you how many times in college I had this conversation at church.
Church person: “What are you studying?”
Then there would be a slight pause. They marveled at how I could have possibly had the fortitude to endure what they were assuming was a constant barrage of intellectual assaults.
“Wow. That must be so hard,” they’d say.
Like I was some great martyr for the faith. I have no doubt that some of my philosophy professors were atheists. But I know I never encountered a philosophy professor who was dead set on having us agree with him or her on a religious stance (or any other stance for that matter). Philosophers are as tolerant of other views an opinions of any group of people I know! If you study philosophy, you live in a world of hearing arguments and counter arguments.
Someone might argue with me, that there have been numerous court cases in which people have sued universities for infringing on their religious liberty. That is true. A list of them is actually shown at the end of the movie.
But what’s in the movie goes so far beyond reality or how professors act. I don’t equate the fact that there is discrimination against Christians in some settings to a carte blanche justification to create a comically absurd atheist.
The movie covers the lives of several different people, all at different stages in their faith or unbelief. There’s Ayisha who has an overbearing Muslim father who’s extremely traditional in his beliefs. There’s Amy who’s a proud humanist writer, who relishes interviewing prominent Christians (enter Willie and Korie from Duck Dynasty) and grilling them on their faith. Amy is dating Mark (played by Dean Cain) who’s a high-powered lawyer. There’s Mina who’s helping take care of her ailing mother.
Here’s how ridiculous the movie gets…
(spoiler alerts…but really, are you going to watch it?)
The professor starts the class off by talking about how it’s crazy to believe in God, and says that he would just like to completely skip over that section of the class. All that his students have to do is write “God is dead” on a sheet of paper, sign it, and then they’ll get on with their lives. EVERYONE in the class does this, except for Josh. Who says he can’t.
At this point, I was thinking “Seriously?” We’re supposed to believe that everyone would be so brazen as to write that? That there’s no one else who would either object or think it was wrong?
So the professor harasses Josh over his views. He tells Josh that he can either drop the issue and sign, he can drop the class, or he can prove the existence of God. But if he cannot do this, he will receive a zero for that section of the course.
So Josh is given the final 20 minutes in the following three lectures to try to convince his classmates to believe in God. After the first session, the professor chases Josh down in the hall and harasses him again, saying he’s going to dig into his background and try to get him in trouble.
Meanwhile, with the seemingly unrelated other characters…
Amy gets diagnosed with cancer. And her boyfriend is almost annoyed at finding out. And since people who aren’t religious don’t have any compassion, he immediately breaks up with her. Again. Over the top. I wish they could have dealt with these characters like they were people living in reality.
Eventually, Amy goes back to the hospital alone. The doctor ominously asks if she has anyone who can join her.She does not. Because atheists don’t have relatives or close friends. And she’s alone and by herself when she finds out that the cancer is terminal.
Ayisha’s father discovers that she has secretly become a Christian and kicks her out of the house. That’s not to say that this has never happened, but again, everything in this movie had to be done to the extreme. I was honestly surprised he didn’t pull out a knife and perform an honor killing, with how this movie was written.
Josh has a demanding girlfriend (played by Cassidy Gifford…daughter of Kathy Lee Gifford) who’s looking to the future and who does not approve of him taking the class and demands that he drop the course or sign the “God’s not dead” paper. She’s worried that if he does poorly in this freshman year philosophy course, that it will entirely destroy his prospects of future success. A few days later, when she sees he books he’s reading and discovers he did not obey, she immediately dumps him. Another unnecessarily extreme action. Why couldn’t they develop these conflicts, instead of having one character completely cut off another character anytime there was conflict?
Eventually we also find out that Amy is dating the professor and that she is the sister of Mark, and while she’s trying to take care of their sick mother, Mark doesn’t really care. And we see more of the professor’s personal life, and that he’s not only an atheist, he’s a controlling jerk who cannot tolerate disagreement and belittles both Amy and Josh. Amy is a Christian (who, for some reason, is dating the most atheistic movie character of all time).
Pastor David is a local pastor. Josh goes to him for counsel about whether or not he should participate in the debate. He’s also the person Ayisha goes to after her father kicks her out of the house. He’s also the person Mina meets with to talk about her horrible philosopher boyfriend. He’s actually a pretty likable character. Eventually Mina dumps Jeff after an incident where he completely humiliates her at a dinner party with other snooty professors.
We see three scenes where Josh tries to convince them of the existence of God. In the first session, he tries to make a cosmological argument about the existence of the universe. The professor eventually refutes this by quoting Stephen Hawking.
In the second attempt, Josh refutes the logic of Hawking’s claim. In the third, the professor engages in more of a debate, trying to attack Josh’s points. We had earlier found out that the professor was raised a Christian but that his mother died as a child. During the heated debate, in the climactic scene of the movie, Josh finally gets the professor to loudly exclaim that he hates God.
To which Josh simply responds, “How can you hate something you don’t believe in?”
And then, like in the “O captain, my captain” scene in Dead Poet’s Society, everyone in the class one by one stands up and says “God’s not dead.” So they all went from saying he was dead, to Josh universally changing every single person’s mind that he was.
All of the characters lives come together at a local concert of the Christian rock group, the Newsboys. Josh, Ayisha, and Mina all happen to be there.
Even Amy shows up at the concert, again using her blitz style interview tactics on the Newboys. She eventually breaks down and says she’s dying. But she’s comforted by the group and they pray for her before their concert.
While all of this is happening, the professor realizes how much of a jerk he has been, and tries to contact Mina (who’s at the concert). And then the absolutely ridiculous movie, which had been painfully predictable gave one plot twist that I actually didn’t see coming (but which was also insane). While Professor Radisson is walking, Pastor Dave and his friend are sitting at a light and a car slams into the professor while he’s crossing the street. Dave (who had already had a role in almost every other character’s life) realizes that Radisson is mortally wounded, and right before he dies, leads him to Christ.
As I said, if they had tried to make this movie with rich and complicated characters and attempted to have a movie about faith and doubt but given it any degree of plausibility at all, it might have worked.