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'God's Not Dead' sets up an atheist strawman for Christian propoganda

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God's Not Dead

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I saw this movie because it had Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) and Dean Cain (Superman) in it. I also went into it knowing that it was Christian propoganda. But I was not prepared for how utterly it maligns and misrepresents atheists, and anyone else who doesn't believe what Christians believe.

In short, the movie states that atheists really believe in God after all, but simply hate him and say that they are atheists. It also states that Muslims will slap and then disown their daughters who convert to Christianity (possibly true of some Muslims, but the single example in the movie is not going to make the Muslim community happy). And it states that there is no such thing as a moral atheist, completely ignoring the concept of empathy that real atheists use as a moral compass. Finally, it sends a loud message that Christians are being persecuted by the fact that some people don't believe in God, or in their version of God. (This is made explicit by the long list of university-related court cases cited after the credits in which Christians apparently had to defend their right to practice).

In the movie, a college freshman named Josh enrolls in a philosophy class where Professor Raddison (Sorbo) seems to be on a mission to quash any belief in God in his classroom. The professor tells the students that they can skip over a whole unit in the course by simply signing a piece of paper that says, "God is Dead." Josh refuses to sign it, so the professor tells him that he must get up in front of the class and prove that God exists, and that failing to do so will result in a loss of 30% of his grade.

Josh feels the call of the Holy Spirit and takes up the challenge, which costs him his relationship with his overbearing girlfriend. His girl doesn't think that going up against the professor is a wise idea and is most certainly not a part of her plan for him and for their relationship, so she dumps him simply for being willing to stand up for his right to being Christian. His parents (never depicted, only mentioned) seem to feel the same way, telling him that he should do what the professor says.

Professor Raddison is an angry, thoughtless clod who behaves in a way that should get him fired as a professor. The writers of the show portray him as someone who will personally make sure that anyone who dares to believe in God in his philosophy class will "not make it into law school." As the ostensible spokesperson for atheists, Raddison is petty, demeaning and, in the end, not really an atheist at all, but someone who decided at the age of 12 that he hated God. Now, as a philosophy professor, he won't allow anyone in his class to say anything on the subject of God other than "God is Dead." Doing otherwise will cost them 30% of their grade.

I have personally known many atheists, myself included, and I don't believe a single one of them would behave in this fashion. All the atheists I know are also secular humanists, which means we believe in doing good for humanity. That includes allowing theists their beliefs (the word theist is actually defined for us in the movie as someone who believes in God, leaving out the possibility of belief in Goddess or multiple gods). Furthermore, real atheists don't "hate God" the way Raddison does - we simply don't believe he exists. But there is a scene in the movie where Josh asks Raddison, "How can you hate God if you don't believe in him?" Since Radisson is the straw man representing atheists, this is supposed to be some slam-dunk argument about the supposed illogic of the atheist viewpoint. But real atheists (not at all like Radisson) don't hate God precisely because we don't believe in him.

Raddison isn't just mean to his students. He also talks down to his girlfriend Mina (who is Christian, and whom he started dating while she was his student). Raddison belittles her in front of his colleagues at a get-together he has at his house. He even makes fun of the way she stored the wine she bought for the event. In short, we are supposed to believe that atheists are mean-spirited, act in academically dishonest ways, and secretly hate God instead of not believing in him.

Mina gets the advice of one of the ministers in the film that she doesn't need Raddison, so she decides to leave him. He forbids it, but she tells him it's not his choice. Then, there is a point near the end of the movie when Raddison seems to be looking for redemption, and it comes as he reads a note his dying mother left for him, in which she tells him to always keep his faith in God. As Raddison rushes off to make peace with Mina, he gets mortally wounded by a hit and run driver. The same minister that told Mina to leave him sees him dying in the street, and convinces Raddison to convert, accepting Christ as his personal savior just before he breathes his last. After he dies, the minister and his friend who is also a minister smile at how wonderful it is for Raddison now that he is in heaven. And we are supposed to feel good about this.

Dean Cain played Mina's brother, and was both a very immoral person and an implied atheist. His role rounded out the straw man tactic of the writers, suggesting that atheists are not moral. This point was driven home by Josh when he quoted Dostoevsky, "If there is no God, everything is permissible." Dostoevsky aside, as I have already said, all the atheists I know are humanists who are very moral people. But this reality of atheists is never hinted at in the movie. The Dostoevsky quote and the behavior of Raddison and Cain's character are all we have to gauge how atheists supposedly behave.

When you take the unfair portrayal of atheists in conjunction with the Muslim father mistreating his daughter for finding Christ, you have a paranoid view of non-Christians that amounts to nothing more than intellectually dishonest proselytizing. It's possible that the writers really believe their own propaganda, but either way, the movie never gives real atheists a chance. The film purports to show both sides of the issue, but falls far short of it.

The only good things I can say about the film are that the acting and production value were both good. But the story itself was simply a contrived way to misportray atheists, and to show that Christians are the subject of persecution. And to give Willy from "Duck Dynasty" a cameo. Two stars.

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