Take a look at some of these reviews for the religious indie hit God’s Not Dead:
From Britain’s Socialist newspaper The Guardian: “This warped evangelist item… veers from the suspect… to the outright hateful: by the jawdropping climax, wherein a preacher is effectively granted divine right to mow down non-believers, ‘doing God’s work’ has become indistinguishable from Grand Theft Auto. Ban this sick filth.”
Here’s one from Movie Nation: “It’s a movie where rare is the voice that is raised, but deep is the rage bubbling through its rabid anti-intellectualism. When a non-believer is considered to be better off dead, that’s not brimstone you’re smelling. It’s bile.”
And from my old employers The Village Voice: “Judging by the ignorance and contempt with which the script treats nonbelievers, the real goal here is proving that non-Christians are worthless.”
I admit those reviews are the extreme ones. I disagreed with Claudia Puig’s negative review at USA Today, but it was fair and honest and gave credit where credit was due. She and I saw the same flaws and strengths but came out with a different overall impression. Tastes differ.
My take? God’s Not Dead is a pleasant and touching little entertainment, the core of which is an intelligent, succinct, well-reasoned and well-stated response to popular atheist arguments. There’s no Bible thumping, there are no threats of hellfire, there’s no attempt to “prove” God’s existence — the film admits it can’t be proved. But the script makes clear what I have thought for a long time: most atheist arguments, no matter how brilliant the scientist or philosopher who makes them, are just simply not very good judged on the merits.
What’s more, the movie is bracing in its vigor. It doesn’t hesitate to depict both the unkindness and the pain of a Muslim father when his daughter discovers Christ. His is a perfectly plausible reaction and we all know there are Muslim fathers who would do much worse. Nor does the movie fail to confront the fact of suffering and death that many non-believers find a dispositive argument against faith. I was happily surprised at how far the filmmakers were willing to go in making their case.
Is this a cinematic masterpiece? By no means. The premise is forced: an atheist philosophy professor demands his students declare that God is dead and then has to debate the one brave Christian lad who won’t submit. The characters are a bit black-and-white: the atheists are pretty mustache-twirling — though Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain both bring strong acting chops to their villainous roles. And the plot is pat: those of us who are rooting for God can be pretty sure from the outset that the Big Guy will come through.
But so what? The same criticisms could be leveled against plenty of entertaining and enjoyable flicks. The premises of most Nicholas Sparks film are not exactly realistic. The villains in Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t multi-layered. And when was the last time you enjoyed a pleasant rom-com and were really, really worried that boy wouldn’t get the girl in the end?
My point is this. These leftist reviewers who attacked the film as hateful or angry are, in fact, themselves merely choking up their own rage — and not rage against the movie either, but rage against God. Their reviews are patently dishonest. Nowhere in the film is a preacher given any sort of right to mow anyone down. That’s just absurd. The script is the opposite of anti-intellectual, but rather meets intellectuals on their own terms. Non-believers aren’t considered better off dead — they are simply considered better off saved when they do die. And if non-Christians are held worthless, why would the film take so much trouble to convince them?
In fact, these furious atheist attacks aren’t even reviews at all really, they’re strategies — strategies for convincing their audience that they are justified in ignoring the movie and its arguments. “Nothing to see here. Just move on, little people. Don’t trouble your minds with those rational discussions about God. They’ll only confuse you. Follow me.” This would explain why the film gets a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, while it gets a solid 82% from humans.
Toward the end of God’s Not Dead, the believing student asks his professor: How can you be so angry at someone when you don’t believe he exists? I’d like to ask these raging reviewers the same question. Maybe they ought to ask it of themselves.