“You prayed and believed your whole life. Never done anything wrong. And here you are. You’re the nicest person I know. I am the meanest. You have dementia. My life is perfect. Explain that to me!”
Friedrich Nietzsche first proclaimed “God is dead” in his seminal 1882 work The Gay Science. Finally, 133 years later, a counter-argument has emerged: a cinematic, philosophical treatise to reawaken our godless secular culture, the 2014 Christian drama featuring Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo and Duck Dynasty, the bluntly titled, God’s Not Dead.
Josh is an evangelical college student that makes the mistake of enrolling in a philosophy course taught by vocally atheist Professor Jeffrey Radisson. On the first day of class, the professor propositions his students that if they write “God is dead” on a sheet of paper and turn it in, they will pass for the semester. Seems easy, but Josh, the fearless God warrior, declines and stands up to the tyrannical, liberal heathen. This clash of faith and reason leads to a repetitive series of classroom debates and subplots that drive home the film’s central point (Atheists bad, Christians good) ad nauseam.
The way God’s Not Dead unabashedly stacks the deck against the nonbelievers is one of the only truly entertaining things about it. Throughout the film, Christians are portrayed as caring and virtuous while every single atheist is mean-spirited and morally bankrupt. Radisson belittles his religious girlfriend Mina in front of his colleagues. Josh’s wholly unsupportive girlfriend Kara breaks up with him because he will not renounce his faith. Mina’s atheist brother Mark is a sleazy businessman who won’t visit their mother suffering from dementia and dumps his girlfriend when she gets cancer. Without God, how can we make moral decisions? God’s Not Dead‘s answer is we can’t.
In their final debate, Josh crushes Radisson’s soul with the question “Why do you hate God?” The broken professor admits that he began to hate God after his mother died and storms out of the classroom amidst triumphant chants of “God’s not dead”. All this culminates in a particularly nasty ending that leaves Radisson fatally injured after a car accident. Luckily, there is a priest nearby who absolves him of his sins and converts him to Christianity moments before he painfully dies on the rain-soaked pavement. Does it matter if someone converts under duress? God’s Not Dead says no.
Evangelical Christianity celebrates its self-righteous victory as the film concludes with a performance by Christian rock band The Newsboys and an appearance by Duck Dynasty‘s Willie Robertson, who speaking on behalf of the always “tolerant” Robertson family, states that “reports of God’s death were greatly exaggerated.” The concert attendees are then asked to text the phrase “God’s Not Dead” to every contact in their phone. It’s an amazing evangelical strategy, but I suspect few people received these messages, as most viewers weren’t able to make it through the film’s almost two hour minute run time.
To be fair, the actual classroom debates in God’s Not Dead are pretty informative and do offer some balance and insight, but the film is still blatantly manipulative and the ridiculous ending negates much of the film’s redeeming qualities. Compared to other recent Christian exercises like Left Behind, God’s Not Dead has a decent script, is well acted, and shot competently but its sermon-heavy tone and overbearing, melodramatic moralizing will turn off viewers who don’t already agree with its message, even if they only tuned in looking for a laugh.