“God’s Not Dead” and Neither is Atheist Prejudice

5

October 24, 2013 by Devin

The following trailer for the upcoming Christian movie, God’s Not Dead, has popped up on my radar recently, and honestly, several aspects of it disturbed me. I’ll get into why in just a sec, but for now, check the trailer out for yourself.

Oh boy, here we go.

Now, there are several things that bother me in this trailer, but I am going to talk about the most pertinent one: this trailer characterizes atheists/agnostics/secularists as complete jerks. Every character who is not a Christian treats Christianity like being in a cult that sacrifices babies. Even the main character’s girlfriend treats the protagonist’s religion like an annoying habit that he should have grown out of.

I mean, look at the teacher. Immediately without any further explanation, he tells the students to agree with the idea, “God is dead.” [1] He does not make his point through teaching the students about the philosophy and rationality behind atheism but rather through simply stating his point and acting like it is a divine command.

In short, he is an a-hole.

I hope you can see the problem in this, but sadly a lot of people will not. I want to point you to an actual debate between an atheist and a Christian. The entire debate is worth watching, but if you do not have an hour and a half to watch it, just watch the beginning of Dr. Philip Zuckerman’s opening statement starting at 13:35.

Compare these two atheists, one a fictional creation and one an actual human being. Dr. Philip Zuckerman starts out his debate by thanking the Christians that invited him to speak and for the effort to increase interfaith communication. He is polite and courteous even when he is being critical of religion. In short, he acts like a normal human being. He even points out the many beneficial ideas Christianity espouses (in other words, like most atheists/agnostics he is not an anti-theist)

I also want to point to another video, this one by way of The Friendly Atheist. [2] Again, the whole thing is worth watching, but I want to point out how Hemant Mehta responded to an attack on his job as an educator starting at 7:42.

These atheists act like normal human beings, and that should not be a revelation to people but sadly, it is. [3]

I am not saying that Dr. Philip Zuckerman is indicative of all secular humanists, as I have seen many atheists act like jerks, but I am telling you that that caricature in God’s Not Dead is just that: a caricature that is rooted in exaggerations of the most extreme examples.

The problem is that atheists are a poorly understood group. Sure, most people look at atheists as logical, but in my experience, the popular characterization of atheists is that they are a group of people who have sacrificed meaning, beauty, and optimism for cold-hearted rationality, which is probably a contributing reason to why atheists are one of the most disliked groups and the least trusted group in America.

I think this disconnect comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism. For example, in the trailer for God’s Not Dead, the main character looks at the atheist antagonist and says, “Why do you hate God?” I guarantee you in the movie that this question shakes the professor to his core and makes him reevaluate his position, but in real life, such a question directed at an intelligent atheist would be met with ridicule. Such a question would be the equivalent of asking a Christian why he or she hates Thor. [4]

Ultimately, the problem with contemporary society in regards to atheism right now is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of who atheists are and why they are the way they are. This fundamental misunderstanding has led to mistrust and gross mischaracterizations of atheists, and this movie is not helping.

And furthermore, I am going to go out on a limb and say that this propaganda is not incredibly Christlike. Matthew, one of the 12 apostles, was a tax collector, a profession that was not trusted or liked by the general populace in that culture. In fact, Matthew’s presence was what a lot of the Pharisees used as an argument against Jesus. “Look at how he eats food with the tax collectors” they said, yet Jesus saw beyond the general perception of that group and treated people like people.

Yet this movie seeks to expand upon misconceptions and further the divide between Christians and atheists. From what it looks like from the teaser trailer, it will not address any complaints serious atheists will have. It will not better prepare Christians for talking to atheists. It will not foster communication between these two groups.

Debates like the one linked above will help foster communication and help both groups come to a greater understanding of each other, but those efforts are marred by those who believe atheists are spiteful individuals out to get them.

I want to end this with a quote from Hemant Mehta that he says at the end of his talk.

It’s very easy to vilify and demonize these people that we always hear about. It’s a lot harder and probably way more productive to reach out to those people.

He was not talking about atheists. He was talking from the perspective of an atheist trying to connect with Christians and seeing the best in them. He is making the effort, and I really wish more Christians would respond similarly.

Other observations:

  • Josh Wheaton sounds like a weird expy of Joss Whedon.
  • “Science supports his existence!” Wait, what? As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, science answers different questions than theology, so saying that science supports God’s existence is like saying my opinion of The Dark Knight affects the taste of butter.
  • I am interested in how they can justify a Newsboys concert in the middle of the movie. I bet it won’t be nearly as good as the justification used for Down Under the Big Top.

__________

1. What I find interesting is that many in the Christian movement will criticize the “God is dead” saying while not realizing that the saying, at least as far as I understand it, is more about the cultural and societal rejection of God: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Many of these same people who claim “God’s not dead” also claim that we live in a sinful and fallen world that is rejecting God… which is what Nietzsche was getting at.
2. It is important to note that The Friendly Atheist blog regularly corresponds with Rachel Held Evans, and the two are an excellent example of interfaith communication done well.
3. For another view on this subject, check out this article from Relevant Magazine. I borrowed several sources from this piece.
4. Which is preposterous because why would anyone hate Thor?

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5 thoughts on ““God’s Not Dead” and Neither is Atheist Prejudice

  1. tinyorc says:

    Wow. That professor character is a supreme example of a straw atheist. Also, has anyone involved in the making of this movie ever… been to a philosophy class?

  2. Charle says:

    To be fair, these are a whole lot of conclusions to draw from the trailer. For all we know the movie in its entirety might not be so bad.

    • Devin says:

      On one hand, that’s fair, as the trailer does hint at another side of the teacher and so he may be a lot more sympathetic in the actual movie.

      On the other hand, even in this short trailer, he used several arguments that at best are inaccurate and at worst are simply dickish. I think it is clear that the professor is not supposed to be a good guy and fall in line with many other atheist professor caricatures.

      If the movie comes out and it’s excellent, though, I will gladly eat my words.

  3. ramiro hernandez says:

    propaganda possibly with money from the republican party, the palin movement, or the ducks. lol. so unfortunate that the educational level of america is so low and will actually see this low quality movie.

  4. […] wrote about the time the Newsboys made a movie (no not that one) and how well it holds up today. I hope you check it out, both the blog post and the movie if you […]

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