An atheist’s take on God’s Not Dead: Here’s to morally-serious cinema.

One of many brutal questions God’s Not Dead brings up along it’s way: What happens when a carousel girl gets cancer?

One of many brutal questions God’s Not Dead brings up along it’s way: What happens when a carousel girl gets cancer?

I saw God’s Not Dead with Cathleen and I surprised myself by actually liking it. It’s baldly tendentious, as any polemical film would be, but it’s needlessly strawmaniacal where it could have been more effective, in my opinion, by not so egregiously stacking the deck. Even so, it’s a serious film about serious ideas, and I was fully engaged with it from start to end – which almost never happens for me at the cinema.

The big story is Romans versus Christians, modernized to a university classroom. There are half-a-dozen parallel threaded sub-plots weaving in and out of the main story, and all of this is deftly handled. The forces of persecution are represented by a truly diabolical professor, and this was a dumb move. You are persuasive when you best your opponent’s best arguments, not when you cherry-pick for his worst.

But I always like a story about standing your ground, and God’s Not Dead delivers that in many of its stories, making a big Capraesque show of the triumph of the individual in the end. I don’t love the foregone intellectual conclusion, and I could have argued either side of the ‘debate’ better than the screenwriters did, but I am five-by-five with the Nazarene about rendering unto Caesar, so standing up to bullies always wins with me, even grossly-caricatured Snidely Whiplash bullies.

I love the Red Cam, and the Red Cam loves God’s Not Dead. The photography and sound are both very professional, and the acting almost never jars. This is a better than average indie, all the way Hollywood in every way that should matter.

I could wish the Christians writing this film had had greater confidence in their arguments, because making the atheist such a monster makes the theistic case look weak and corrupt, unsuited to a fair fight. The consequence is that God’s Not Dead preaches only to the choir. Anyone who might have been persuaded will be put off, instead, by the blatant unfairness of the ‘debate.’

Not my problem. God’s not dead because there never was a god, but my atheism typically matters only between my ears. I have nothing but contempt for pronouncements about the origins of the universe; they’re all cargo-cult nonsense whether made by the priests of a church or of the academy. If you tell me your god requires me to do something, we’re going to have a fight. But while your god will always fail to smite me dead, I won’t have to bother affecting to have faith in Colonel Colt for our dispute to be settled with dispatch.

Even so, I have much praise for God’s Not Dead in the end. It’s emotionally satisfying as cinema, but more importantly, it’s a morally-serious film. It’s about something, wrestling gamely with big ideas without getting lost in the arcane. The arguments are weak throughout and the putatively-dispositive argument is simply a stunt, but for any film anywhere to take on anything like a matter of moment – this is too rare not to be celebrated.

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  • http://selfadoration.com/ Greg Swann

    Nota bene: This film is paying investors off at 30-1, $2 million to $60 million, SO FAR, with years of income still to come. Everything the left says is a lie, but the one about those ‘greedy capitalists’ seems most outrageous in this context.

    Here’s one for those apparently-mythical avaricious investors: The novel Quo Vadis rendered as a 12-15 hour telenovela, a one-story-arc extended mini-series. RNC in Colombia gets away with outright biblical stories, and I’ll bet HBO-quality religious-ish content could pull huge audiences on cable. Too much dogma is too much dogma whether the dogmatist is Paul or Marx, but there are a lot of great stories in the religious canon that the other-theisted can still enjoy.