I recently watched Alt-Right: Age of Rage on Netflix. If you’re not really familiar with the alt-right and their connections with white supremacists (and holy shit, it’s 2019, you should be) then it’s a good primer. There’s a segment near the end though that has really gotten me thinking since I watched the documentary. During a montage there is a voice-over which goes on a conspiracy rant about how the alt-right is preparing society to accept mass genocides which are going to happen as a result of ecological and economic disasters. While I feel like the idea that this is the true intent of the alt-right, as if they’re being controlled by some shadowy puppet master, is a bit much, there are elements of this notion that ring true.
With the rise in nationalist movements, xenophobia has become a serious wedge issue which politicians are keen to latch onto. Governments which try to take a stand in favour of immigration seem to be on the brink of political collapse as populist movements push back, surged by xenophobic fervour. While there are certainly reasonable levels immigration restrictions (no one wants dangerous criminals in their country after all), the degree of xenophobia and straight-up racism which dominates this conversation now is deplorable. Syrian refugees are fleeing war? They must be hiding terrorists amongst them, or they’re going to become the majority and institute sharia law, so we can’t afford to let any in. We need merit-based immigration, the kind which most of our existing citizens couldn’t even qualify for! And hey, why can’t we get more immigrants from white countries instead of shit-holes? Ugh… Don’t even get me started on America’s disgusting campaign against illegal immigration, Dreamers and asylum seekers. It’s clear that the aim is to circle the wagons: keep the “right” people in the country and not let any more “others” in.
So what are these people so afraid of? How does it affect the average citizen at all for immigrants and refugees to get a slice of the American pie? Putting aside racism (which is a major factor), it comes down to the old parlance, “they’re stealing our jobs!” There’s this idea that if you let immigrants in, then they’re going to vacuum up money which could have gone to “real” citizens (you always get some idiot chiming in with something along the lines of “why aren’t you giving money to veterans instead of immigrants?”). Naturally, this ignores that immigrants are essential to a healthy economy, especially considering that our workforce is ageing and that the birth rate is declining. Regardless, there’s a notion that immigrants are a drain on our resources, one which is fuelled by disingenuous anti-immigrationpropaganda farms on social media. I’ve talked about it many times in the past, but this is a perfect example of the dangers of voter ignorance, where political activists are manipulating people into a frenzy in order to get them to vote the way that they want.
Like this bullshit right here.
As bad as the xenophobic trend is now, you also have to factor in the effects that climate change is going to have in the coming years. Climate change will affect everyone, but it’s going to be felt most keenly by poor people, especially in impoverished regions. This, in turn, is going to lead to even more refugees as time goes on and as people become displaced by rising sea levels and severe weather events. Make no mistake – this creates an environment in which people are going to be displaced and die en masse. Considering that industrialized nations have contributed to this environmental crisis and refuse to do anything serious to combat it, the notion that we can just wash our hands of the human impact of climate change is unacceptable. People will certainly die, but we can mitigate the death toll if we’re willing to allow refugees into our countries. If we refuse to act due to racial prejudice, this will be essentially genocide against anyone who isn’t one of “us”.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this to me is that evangelical Christians, the self-described “pro-life” types and the ones who believe that they are the moral bastion of society, are also the ones most likely to deny climate change and oppose immigration. This isolationist bent is, of course, in blatant opposition to The Bible that they claim to follow. Christians should be leading the charge to welcome refugees, to shelter Dreamers from ICE agents and denounce the disturbing trend towards fascism across the globe. Instead, I question whether they’ll even have the self-awareness to say “I didn’t know” when their apathy towards climate change and refusal to welcome immigrants leads to deaths across the globe.
Like I said at the start, I don’t believe that white supremacy is being trotted out once again in order to prepare us for this depressing future. I do, however, believe that if racism and anti-immigration sentiment continues, we’re not going to be able to do anything when there are people literally dying to find safety within our borders. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but we can’t call ourselves moral people if we’re going to stand by and allow people to suffer so that we can live just a little more comfortably.
Hey everyone, I am pleased to announce that I became a father on the 29th of October! This is super exciting, but if my writing schedule becomes more inconsistent, that’s my excuse. I’ve actually got a lot of content underway, some of which will definitely be done by the end of the year, but I’m just a bit crunched for time as you can probably understand.
Anyway, with the midterm elections now on the books and the Democrats thankfully winning Congress, hopefully the signs are pointing towards this global fascist nightmare finally losing momentum. All of the voting talk was making me think about my many articles about voting and how I kind of wish that people had to earn the right to vote (if there was a way to make that notion not totally evil). Upon some reflection after seeing the midterm campaigns unfold, I occurs to me that this idea doesn’t really fit into the modern American democratic process very well (let alone the Canadian one). Part of the problem is the pervasiveness of fake news and propaganda on hyper-partisan media. If the truth wasn’t being actively obscured by malicious agents that would be one thing, but when we have one side skewing the truth so much that its adherents are basically living in an entirely different world, that makes them have a false sense of confidence that they know what the issues really are that they’re voting for. Plus, these malicious influencers are driving people to vote through outrage, meaning that the parties are incentivized to be political scum in order to have a chance to win. It’s just a race to the bottom due to the way that the system is set up.
But… what if it didn’t have to be that way? I saw the following Tweet while browsing voting threads and I found its argument extremely interesting:
Aussie here: one thing that is oft repeated by Australian commentators on the USA is that because USA lacks mandatory voting the Republicans must rely on churches to get people to vote. Which is why your Conservative party is a lot more right wing tha ours.
I definitely think that AZMB is hitting on some truth here, as the Republican party and most influential evangelical leaders have been inextricably, publically tied together since at least the time of the Moral Majority. This, of course, hits on what I said earlier – pander to voting blocs to overpower opposing parties’ numbers, because all that really matters is that you get into power when you’re in politics.
I don’t know how you would enforce it, but mandatory voting definitely does stymie some of these issues and incentivizes parties to actually serve the interests of the majority of the public, rather than just voting blocs. To make this more effective, the government would either make voting significantly easier for citizens, or make voting days into national holidays. As we saw in America, this is not the case, as it plays to the strengths of those in power (the major parties in America are in bed with corporate interests, so they don’t want their employees not working) and suppresses the poor, working class from engaging in politics. Simply put, the system as it works now is rigging the fact that less than 60% of the population is actually likely to vote by being very selective on the ones who actually will get a political voice.
Hell, while we’re at it, getting rid of a first past the post system would also serve the public greatly. Justin Trudeau flirted with the idea, promising it in his election campaign, but when the time came to act he backed down, making the excuse that it gives extremists a voice. Unless the majority of Canadians secretly harbour a preference for extremist parties, I don’t think that this would be the case. In fact, I’d think that proportional voting would incentivize less extremism, as the parties are going to want to appeal to more voters.
Basically, I just wish that politics were actually in the interests of the people, rather than corporate interests as they mainly are now. Steve Bannon is an evil piece of shit, but he kind of has a point regarding populism being the way of the future – however, his nationalist, xenophobic bent makes this unconscionable. However, populism in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, merely that it is often co-opted by people like Bannon. Bernie Sanders was kind of a proof of this, as he was a populist and a socialist. I don’t think that the winds of change have gone out of the sails of populism and if progressives want to survive this fascist nightmare then they would do well to harness it for good. A progressive, populist movement could do some serious good and would hopefully have some real value to voters.
Welcome back to the God’s Not Dead retrospective! In today’s entry we’re covering the latest, and possibly last, entry in the franchise, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. After the garbage fire that was the previous film, could it be possible for this series to get even more insulting? Read on to find out…
The poster carries on the same design aesthetic as the previous films in the franchise. I like it a lot more than the previous one – visually, it’s a far more interesting design.
God’s Not Dead 2 released on April 1st, 2016 and was (unfortunately) only an April Fool’s joke if you paid to see it. That said, it landed in the year that evangelicals would help to put Donald Trump into office as the 45th President of the United States, a result which has been… contentious to put it lightly and which has shed a light on how brutishly tribal, steadfastly political and stunningly hypocritical the evangelical church is in America. I do not think it an exaggeration to suggest that the God’s Not Dead franchise helped to bring about these turn of events in their own small way. These films were just reflections of things that evangelicals already believed, but (as per Sean Paul Murphy) Pure Flix was drawn to creating inflammatory content to generate more ticket sales, which fanned the flames and drove evangelicals to act. Even before November 2016 rolled around, a third God’s Not Dead film had been confirmed, although the premise was not set. David A. R. White stated that“We’ve just been in a lot of prayer and trying to figure out exactly what God wants number 3 to be. Because you know we don’t just want to just do what we want to do, we really want to follow where God is leading on these movies.” Now, details on what exactly happened are hard to come by, but Harold Cronk (who directed the previous 2 films), Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (the writers of the previous 2 films) were not brought back to work on the new film. Instead, an unknown writer/director by the name of “Michael Mason” was brought on to spearhead the third entry in the franchise, signalling a new direction for the franchise. David A. R. White returns as Pastor Dave, this time taking on the film’s leading role. Benjamin Onyango would return as Pastor Jude and Shane Harper would also return as Josh Wheaton, but they both appear in relatively small roles and none of the other major characters from the series (such as Amy, Martin or Ayisha… sigh, so much for my Josh/Ayisha shipping) make any appearance. The new major roles are filled out by John Corbett as Dave’s estranged brother, Ted McGinley as the university chancellor and Jennifer Taylor as Dave’s love interest. The filmmakers also made a big deal about securing Academy Award winning actress Tatum O’Neal in a role, but it ends up being a very minor as one of the board members at the university. Owing to how hard it is to find information about this film’s production, I actually found some intriguing little tidbits. On the minor end of things, I found confirmation that this film was at one point given the subtitle of “A Light in the Darkness”, but that the “the” was subsequently dropped, presumably because they would have thought it was too long a title. This just gives me a bit more insight into Pure Flix’s marketing ideas and why I was probably on the right track when I was thinking about why they didn’t just call this series God is Not Dead, as they clearly should have. Perhaps more intriguing is the identity of “Michael Mason”, as I found some conflicting stories which suggest that this is a pseudonym for an unidentified director. The candidate which had been suggested was Jon Gunn, director of My Date with Drew, Do You Believe? and The Case for Christ and it was postulated that he used the “Michael Mason” pseudonym because it would have been his 3rd Christian film in a row and might have pigeonholed him as a “Christian director”. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but it’s also worth pointing out that a November 2017 interview with Shane Harper had the film’s director listed as “Jonathan Michael”. Perhaps this an early, half-masked psuedonym before Michael Mason was settled on? Regardless, it’s really interesting to speculate on. Also, one last thing to note before we move onto the story of the film: this movie bombed at the box office. While the first film had made around $60 million domestically and the second had made around $20 million, A Light in Darkness brought in just over $7 million – less than both of the previous films had made in their opening weekends. Ouch. I feel like by this entry the series’ reputation was already tanked, so there was less interest, not to mention that it was yet another unnecessary sequel. Perhaps most importantly though, the Christian film industry had really kicked into full gear since the release of God’s Not Dead, and as a result A Light in Darkness was beaten out at the box office by fellow faith-based films I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ, all of which released in a 3 week span around the Easter season (which I commented on at the time). It’s also probably worth mentioning that Black Panther was still tearing up the box office at the time as well.
The film opens with Pastor Dave getting released from jail after the post-credits scene in the last film because… well, we aren’t really told why, but they basically have nothing on him after all. Dave’s jailing creates a controversy about the church being on university grounds. Jude meets with Dave after his release and a couple nights later they hear a brick being thrown through the church window. Dave tries to catch the vandal while Jude goes to turn off the alarm – however, the brick accidentally caused a gas leak which explodes, fatally wounds Jude and burns the church. Dave is left in shock as the university uses this opportunity to try to seize the church grounds in order to build a student union centre, which Dave refuses. As a result, Dave seeks out his estranged brother, Pearce, who is a social justice lawyer and non-believer. With Pearce’s help, Dave goes to court against the university to retain control of the church, while waging a media campaign which inflames further controversy over both sides of the conflict. Eventually, Dave discovers that a local student named Adam was the one responsible for the gas leak which happened accidentally after taking out his frustrations over the church. Dave has Adam arrested after confronting him, but Dave’s lashing out further hurts his public perception and leads to Pearce dropping out of the case. As Dave’s life begins to spiral out of control, he does some major soul-searching with God and realizes that he’s hurting people with his needless crusade. As a result, he announces that he’s accepting a settlement with the university, drops the charges against Adam, builds a new church elsewhere and just asks everyone to stop fighting one another. As you can probably tell from this synopsis, A Light in Darkness is… actually a movie for once, not an over-glorified object lesson. It’s truly shocking to see the difference between this film after the last two entries – in fact, a significant chunk of my notes while watching were just me expressing surprise about how plot points are treated with far more nuance than they were previously. I have to give Michael Mason (whoever they are) some credit for just how much better this film is compared to the other two in nearly every way. Harold Cronk was a competent director, but his two films in this series had a very flat, workmanlike quality (and the less said about the scripts, the better). In contrast, this movie immediately demonstrates a considerably more interesting directing style and better cinematography. The script for this film is also miles ahead of the last two entries. In fact, I feel like A Light in Darkness only really has a couple of obvious issues that are worse than in the other films in this series. Worst of all, its pacing is glacial at times and without the batshit insanity or scenery chewing of the previous films, it’s easy to be bored for long stretches of this film. Also, David A. R. White is a decent actor for the most part, but having to carry a whole film on his shoulders seems like a bit of a strenuous effort for him. He had succeeded in the previous two films by being a bit of positive, comic levity combined with strong chemistry with Pastor Jude. However, A Light in Darkness sees Pastor Dave taking on a dark, dramatic role. There are a couple of moments in the film when David needs to display some sort of strong emotion (such as when he’s crying for Jude while the church burns and when he angrily confronts Adam about the fire) but he tends to be unconvincing, like he’s holding back for fear of looking silly. Again, he’s mostly solid though and his chemistry with John Corbett helps to keep things going strong. I also have to give Pure Flix some credit for actually listening to the criticisms they received this time and using them to actually take a step forward… but just how big was that step? Let’s take a closer look…
One of the first things that will strike you about this movie (assuming you’ve seen the other two entries in the series), is that the portrayals of Christians and atheists are considerably more nuanced. Let’s focus on the portrayal of the Christians first, because that is probably the starkest difference compared to the other films. The Christians in this film are considerably more unsure of themselves and Pastor Dave is even straight-up villainized by the film for most of its second half. When Dave starts a social media campaign to get public support for his cause, this causes an unintended harassment campaign against the university’s chancellor, Elsworth and his family, as he gets doxxed, receives harrassing phone calls, death threats and has his window smashed with a brick. This is an unfortunately realistic example of how Christians can be dicks and how they can cause evil without even intending it. I’m wondering if this was inspired by Christian ugliness that the filmmakers witnessed stemming from their own movies perhaps? To make matters even more complicated, Elsworth is explicitly portrayed as a good friend of Dave’s, and possibly even a Christian too. This doxxing causes Elsworth to violently confront Dave, but the Pastor refuses to relent to help his friend. Dave just becomes more of a mess from there. Adam texts him anonymously, hoping that Dave will forgive him for starting the fire. Instead, Dave confronts Adam, accosts him, pushes away a security guard and makes a huge stink which is caught on film and tanks his public reputation, but leads to Adam’s arrest… and we’re definitely meant to agree that Dave did the wrong thing here. Again, these should be obvious, but the fact that God’s Not Dead is agreeing with common sense is just so strange to me, they’ve conditioned me to expect the worst. Adam’s girlfriend, Keaton, has been questioning her faith throughout the entire film and it becomes obvious that it’s the actions of the Christians that are eroding that away. She confronts Dave, says that she’s seeing no mercy from the man of God and that Adam is “tired of feeling judged and rejected by the people who should be loving and accepting.” While the film is still clearly on the side of Christians, it at least is able to acknowledge that they’re often their own greatest enemy, rather than the external enemies that the other films leaned into.
The atheist characters are all given far more nuance that in the previous films as well. Dave’s brother Pearce is probably the most compelling character in the film. He has this playful “older brother” routine that he does with Dave in all their interactions, but it’s obvious that there is a tension due to some sort of major falling out with his family’s faith. That said, he helps Dave because they are family. Pearce even gets some digs in on Christians which ring true, such as when he accuses Dave of “playing the victim”. Everything comes to a head towards the end of the film when Dave chews out Pearce for leaving him to care for his parents alone. Pearce reveals that when he was struggling with his faith, no one took the time to help him to sort out his feelings, it left him feeling like no one cared. As a result, he lost his faith, which broke his parents’ hearts. The callousness and inaction of Christians bred tragedy which led to even more tragedies. By the end of the film, Pearce is still an atheist and this isn’t portrayed as some moral failing. He does take his childhood Bible with him, implying that he may go back to searching, but that’s left entirely up to the viewer to speculate.
The other major atheist character is Adam, who is immediately hostile to the church when he’s introduced. This might seem like old hat for God’s Not Dead, but it’s a bit of a misdirection as we are very much intended to sympathize with Adam. At the start of the film, Keaton breaks up with him for belittling her struggles over faith, which leads him to vandalize the church and then accidentally starts the fire when a thrown brick breaks a gas line. He is no Mark from the first film though, Adam is devastated by his part in this and immediately wants to turn himself in to the police. In fact, Keaton is the one who tells him not to for fear of getting into trouble. Later we find out that Adam is so hostile to religion because his mom was beaten by her dad and when she divorced him to get away, the church called her a sinner for it. Once again, we’re given an admission that Christians are the monsters sometimes and that the “rules” aren’t nearly as black and white as some people claim. That said, the pattern with Adam and Pearce is that they are atheists because the church pushed them away from faith, rather than because they have a logical foundation for their belief. Keaton supports this idea when she says that “the whole world knows what the church is against, but it’s getting harder and harder to know what it’s for.” Their experiences certainly don’t represent all atheists or people who fall away from the church, so I’m not sure that the filmmakers “get it” yet – they still don’t seem to understand that the things that the church fights so hard for (eg, homophobia) run counter to the things that it’s supposed to be all about (eg, loving your neighbour). Still, the non-Christian characters are still miles better than anything in the previous two films.
The other non-believing characters are treated in a similarly, mostly-reasonable manner. For example, the university board members actually have a pretty legitimate reason for why they want the church off of the campus – the church was there when the university was founded, but times have changed and now there is an issue of favouring one religion over all the others. That’s a textbook example of Christian “persecution” which is actually just treating them the same way that they would any other religious group. Furthermore, Dave’s arrest had been drawing unfavourable attention and the fire showed that there was violence starting to be committed over the building’s presence on campus. There are even some discussions about whether they might just keep the church on campus for historic reasons, but they decide that it’s better to build a student centre in the long-term. There’s no moustache-twirling, sneering, villainous monologue about how they’re going to kill God this time, they just have a very legitimate concern about favouring Christians over all the other faiths on campus (for an example of why this is reasonable and relevant, take a look at how Christians respond whenever the Church of Satan does anything). On a similar note, it’s also worth pointing out that the conspiracy theorizing of the previous film is mostly gone. In addition to the reasonable motives of the board, Pastor Dave is released before we’re even two minutes into the film because, the franchise has realized, there’s absolutely no reason for them to even arrest him in the first place. This should be obvious to everyone, but the fact that God’s Not Dead is acknowledging it as well goes to show just how different these films has become off the bat. That said, the film does have some weird, lingering issues when it comes to its non-Christian characters. Early on we have a scene with Keaton and Adam hanging out with their friend Teo and his girlfriend. Teo leads the conversation, chatting about the Mandela Effect at length, which he equates to being as legitimate as the idea of Jesus walking on water. It’s a weird scene, because it’s either completely pointless, or the film is trying to say that the things that non-Christians believe are equally as ridiculous as any supernatural belief in Christianity… except that the Mandela Effect is not in any way a serious scientific belief, so I’m not sure why they had this scene at all. Furthermore, the non-Christian characters specifically get set off whenever Dave says that he believes in “one truth”, which suggests that the filmmakers clearly still believe that non-believers have some sort of knee-jerk hostility to Christians.
In addition to providing more nuance for the atheists and Christian characters, A Light in Darkness also erodes much of the persecution complex that the previous films were cultivating. The acknowledgements that Christians cause issues as well goes some way to establishing this. There is also one famous scene near the end of the film which makes this most starkly clear, where Dave speaks with Pastor Roland at a local, predominantly-black church:
Dave: “What’s important is that Christians stop rolling over all the time, when is it our right to fight? I’m tired of being pushed around. I’m tired of turning the other cheek. […] I’m just saying that I think it’s time that Christians stand up for themselves.”
Roland: “People were drawn to Jesus because of his love, his patience and kindness. He managed to preach the truth without losing himself in the bargain. He was gentle with the meek and hard as a rock with the arrogant. And when he talked to the foolish, he was patient and never became a fool himself. And he was never proud David.”
Dave: “This has nothing to do with pride, Roland. And no offence, but maybe you’d understand a little better if you were the one being attacked.”
Roland: “Brother who do you think you’re talking to? I’m a black preacher in the deep south. I could build you a church with all the bricks been thrown through my windows. […] We cannot respond to hate with more hate. And don’t forget: we are called to be a light in the darkness.”
The message seems clear, even if Dave doesn’t necessarily “get” it at the time: black people have been persecuted for centuries and when the first sign of trouble comes to evangelicals they act like they have a monopoly on suffering. The fact that this film’s title is dropped in this exchange is also proof that this is one of the film’s fundamental messages, and honestly it’s a pretty damn good one. Hearing Pastor Roland talking about not responding to hate with more hate resonates far more effectively than the heavy-handed equating of Grace to Martin Luther King Jr in the previous film. This is also reflected on the God’s Not Dead blog where, after the second film came out, suddenly the tone changed from sensationalist and combative to calm and reflective.
For all the good steps that A Light in Darkness has taken, it still has some major issues gnawing away at it. I’ve alluded a few times now that the filmmakers still don’t quite understand what they were wrong about in the previous two films and, while I give them credit for trying to fix their problems, I can’t ignore how their lingering issues taint this film’s attempts at change. The proof of this is found in this film’s cameos. The only Christian celebrity cameo comes from the Newsboys, who make a very brief appearance on a news program where they make this nonsense metaphor about the symbology of the cross which doesn’t really add anything to the film. Despite this film’s efforts to step up their Christian message, the two main cameos in this film come from the conservative world: Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the NRA, and Judge Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality. If you have no idea who these people are then you might take this movie’s efforts to improve Christian and non-believers’ relations at face value. However, if you do know them, it undermines this movie’s efforts entirely because they are “two of the most aggressive and combative voices imaginable” and yet are portrayed as the voices of reason throughout the film. The AV Club review of this movie sums the situation up well:
“Frustrated Dave might well be paraphrasing Loesch’s video from last April, where she ranted against Trump protesters who “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding […] The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” When Loesch appears in the film, it’s to pull a “so much for the tolerant left” line in flagging the university’s decision. Later, Judge Jeanine gets to voice the film’s moral: “It’s a sign of the time: everybody’s yelling, nobody’s listening.” What she means is that the left is yelling and not listening to the right”.
The fact that Judge Jeanine is the one saying the film’s other moral stands in stark contrast to what Pastor Roland was saying, which puts this film into a major identity crisis. On the one hand, we have a legitimate effort to bring people together, to portray Christians and non-believers in a more respectful and realistic light and to urge its audience to be less divided. However, on the other hand, we have a film which is still in bed with American far right activists and portrays them as being far more reasonable than they are without any sort of irony. The film makes this even more embarrassing during an exchange between Pearce and Josh. Josh says that he was studying to be a civil rights lawyer and Pearce says that he didn’t strike him as a liberal. Josh replies that “I don’t think standing up for the oppressed is exclusive to a political agenda” and that “my beliefs are the foundation of change” because all humans are made in the image of God. He then lets out the ultimate stinker of a line when he says that “Jesus was the ultimate social justice warrior”… whoo boy. What “oppressed people” are you referring to Josh? Are you in favour of the rights of homosexuals? It should be obvious to anyone watching that evangelicals don’t have a good history of standing up for the oppressed, for even being “social justice warriors” and that conservatism is by its very nature uninterested in the rights of minorities. It’s one thing to make the not untrue statement that Jesus supported social justice, but it’s another to say that evangelicals are a force for social justice. These are, after all, the people who voted in, and continue to support, Trump in spite of everything that they profess to hold good and moral.
Combine all of this with the film’s ending, where Dave sacrifices his crusade for the church in order to stop both sides from fighting with one another, and we’ve got a conclusion which seems to run counter to the message that the film had been building towards. “Let’s stop shouting at each other and start listening. It’s the only way that things will get better” could come across as a legitimate call for Christian peacemaking in a time when the country is divided. However, by putting their message into the mouths of out-of-character conservative activists, I have a hard time seeing the film’s ultimate intent as anything but the following: after eight years of Obama, evangelical get their own candidate into power, decide that there’s no reason for anyone to legitimately protest now and are just trying to shut down all opposing views. After all, “stop shouting, start listening” suggests that the people you’re shouting down have something legitimate to say, which is hard to justify when you consider the surge in racist and nationalist movements, or that America is drawing itself dangerously close to fascism.
A Light in Darkness is a confused film. It’s a bit dull at times, but I was actually enjoying myself for the most part. There are moments that I legitimately liked quite a bit, particularly the shot where Dave prays and the church around him melts away into a view of space, getting across the idea of God’s presence without requiring words. It’s the first time in this series that God appears and is actually a loving deity for once, giving guidance to a lost and grieving soul. However, as I have said at length, the filmmakers’ refusal to break from their right-wing associations completely undermines the sincerity of the film’s message. This has led to some very polarizing reviews from audiences, with some fans of the other films disliking it for not being “inspiring” enough, while others appreciated the strides the film took to improve the series. For my own part, I feel like A Light in Darkness is just short of being a truly good film. I never would have expected to say this, but it’s almost too bad that we’re probably not going to get a fourth film – I’m extremely curious to see how the franchise would have evolved given one more try. Oh well, hopefully Pure Flix doesn’t backslide after this film’s tepid reception.
And here is my final ranking of these films:
1) God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness – 5/10
2) God’s Not Dead – 4/10
3) God’s Not Dead 2 – 2/10 Thanks for tuning in for another retrospective series! This one was a bit more torturous than the others just due to the films involved, but I always love writing them. Until next time!
Welcome back to the God’s Not Dead retrospective! In today’s entry, we’re going to be looking at the second film in the franchise, the succinctly-titled God’s Not Dead 2 (although I think we all know that it should have been called God’s Still Not Dead, c’mon guys!). After the commercial success of the first film, a sequel was basically guaranteed. However, would the filmmakers be able to overcome their insulting depictions of Christians and non-Christians this time? Read on to find out…
…eh, I don’t really like this poster much. I mean, it’s fine, it gets across the point of the film, but I preferred the more minimalist design of the original.
Considering that God’s Not Dead put Pure Flix on the map and raked in more than thirty times its budget in theaters alone, a sequel was a virtual certainty and was quickly announced by the studio. After the success of the first film, the studio was able to tap some higher-profile actors to fill the main parts, most-notably Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) as the film’s leading lady. Also filling out the main cast were Jesse Metcalfe, Ernie Hudson, Pat Boone and Ray Wise as the mustache-twirling antagonist, in addition to a few returning cast members from the first film (most notably, producer David A. R. White as Pastor Dave). The first film’s success also meant that Pure Flix was able to get some Christian public figures to appear as well, including Lee Strobel (who had been name-dropped in the first film), J. Warner Wallace and Mike Huckabee.
As for the making of God’s Not Dead 2, I’ve been having trouble finding really interesting information about the making of the film and I don’t want to speculate too much, so take the next part with a bit of salt. Unlike the first film, there isn’t as much information about what actually inspired God’s Not Dead 2. However, considering the content of this movie, I would not be surprised if Pure Flix’s association with the Alliance Defending Freedom played a major role in the creation of this film, which is further evidenced by ads for the ADF in the end credits and on the movie’s website. As Sean Paul Murphy had said previously, Pure Flix’s audience were growing more interested in films with political agendas rather than simply “Christian” films.
It’s also worth noting that the filmmakers were clearly very aware of the backlash that the first film had inspired from atheists. Responding to claims that the God’s Not Dead films misrepresent Christian persecution, David A. R. White told The Blaze “It’s an interesting thing, because, if it wasn’t real, why do they get so offended by it? […] I don’t think it would annoy people if it wasn’t true.” I… what?
David… you know that people get annoyed by lies too… right? Are you so deep into the evangelical bubble that you can’t see anything else? Sigh… I think I’m starting to understand why the “logical” arguments in these films are so unconvincing.
The story of God’s Not Dead 2 picks up a few months after the last film ended and follows a high school history teacher named Grace Wesley. One of Grace’s students, Brooke, comes to Grace for advice because her brother has recently died and she doesn’t know how to cope with the loss. Grace confides that she trusts in Jesus, which helps to prompt Brooke to explore Christianity after she discovers a Bible that her brother had kept hidden. Brooke then asks a question in class about the non-violent protests of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr, relating them to Jesus, which Grace answers and explains. However, one of her students reports her for doing so, which prompts the school board to try to fire Grace. Grace is represented by a young, non-Christian lawyer named Tom Endler who tries to get her to stand down and concede to an apology. Grace refuses because she believes that she did nothing wrong. Brooke’s parents are then approached by Pete Kane of the American Civil Liberties Union, which wants to represent them in suing Grace with the explicit intent of stamping out Christianity in America once and for all.
Grace is then put on trial for violation of the separation of church and state, with Pastor Dave managing to end up on the jury for the case. Tom mounts a defence by arguing for the historical authenticity of Jesus with supposed “experts” Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace showing up to explain as much. Brooke is eventually brought in by Tom and Grace to testify, but she ends up giving further evidence to the ACLU’s case by revealing that Grace had spoken to her about Jesus outside of school. Everything’s looking grim for Grace when Tom comes up with a baffling final gambit, putting Grace on the stand as a hostile witness and badgering her to tears about her faith, saying that they’re going to silence, fine and jail all the Christians. Somehow, this causes the jury to rule in her favour, much to the embarrassment of the ACLU. After the credits, Pastor Dave is arrested for not handing over sermon transcripts earlier in the film.
As you can probably tell from the plot summary, God’s Not Dead 2 ditches the previous film’s interconnected storylines in favour of one main plot. There are still a couple subplots, but these are given far less prominence than in the first film and all tie directly into the main plot. This, honestly, is probably to the story’s overall betterment, as I did suggest previously that God’s Not Dead could have used some stronger focus overall. Honestly, in a lot of ways God’s Not Dead 2 is an improved sequel – the production values are a bit better, the performances are all good across the board, the story’s a bit more focused and the scope and stakes get raised enough that this doesn’t just feel like a straight rehash of the first film. There were also some subplots that I thought were legitimately really good – basically everything revolving around Martin (Paul Kwo, reprising his role from the first film) is great as we witness him grow from an awkward and excited young Christian to one who is resolved to preach, even when it costs him the respect of his family. I also found elements of Amy’s subplot (Trisha LaFache, also reprising her role) to be interesting, as she grapples with her faith after her cancer goes into remission. Unfortunately this intriguing aspect of her character gets dropped pretty quickly and, while Amy remains in the film for quite some time thereafter, she doesn’t really add anything interesting in the rest of her screentime.
The only problem is… well, God’s Not Dead 2 sets itself up in such a manner that an objective and detached review of it is basically impossible. Like I just said, technically this film has the pieces needed to be better than the first movie. Story-wise, I found its courtroom melodrama and proselytizing duller than the first movie’s classroom drama, despite the overall tighter focus of the sequel. I think this simply comes down to the rivalry of Josh and Radisson, which was far more interesting than Grace and Tom’s flat characterization and Pete’s scenery chewing. That’s not really the main issue though, as it’s the actual themes of the story that lets this movie down so hard and make the two hour runtime into even more of a slog. Once again, the filmmakers ideological bent is on full display, but this time they really lean into it, to the point where it straight-up ruins their movie from conception. The plot is just plain dumb and stretches credulity to the breaking point. That said, if you’re a part of the conservative evangelical bubble then you might not even notice that there is an ideological bent to this movie at all – or worse, you might even feel validated by it.
Let’s just get right into the portrayal of atheists in this film. It’s clear that the filmmakers were aware of the atheist backlash that the first film inspired, but it seems that it only inspired them to double-down, because God’s Not Dead 2 is way more offensive to atheists than the previous film was. This is evident from the very first scene of the movie through the portrayal of Brooke’s parents, Richard and Catherine. Brooke is clearly struggling and withdrawn because of the death of her brother, but her parents are totally over it and don’t seem to care anymore at all. Right off the bat this is a step beyond anything that the filmmakers had portrayed in the previous film. They imply once again that atheists are incapable of love, but now they also seem to believe that they can’t even care about their own children!? I was watching and wondering if this might just be a coping mechanism for Brooke’s parents, but no, this movie straight-up implies that atheist parents don’t give a shit about their own kids. I’ll be honest, I was floored by the very start of this film, it was unbelievable that the people behind this film would think this of atheists. I mean, as I have reiterated multiple times now, they were aware that atheists were offended by how they were portrayed in the first movie, so you’d think that the right move would be to be more careful in how you represent people going forward to make sure that there are no misunderstandings, right? Well, we’re getting the message loud and clear here, the filmmakers clearly think that atheists are heartless automatons. I had thought that the filmmakers just sucked at portraying non-Christians in the previous film, but here we get to see right off the bat that everyone involved in the production of this movie is totally incapable of empathy. Brooke’s parents never get better throughout this movie. There is no sympathy from or for them. During the trial, Richard is more worked up about his daughter getting “preached to” than the fact that his own son died. Seriously, shouldn’t atheists mourn harder when someone they know and love dies? Hell, at the end of the last movie, we were supposed to think it a good thing that Pastor Dave and Jude were celebrating the death (and last-second conversion) of Radisson. Just… how could they be so lacking in empathy for people who have different views?
Also worth pointing out is Martin’s father who shows up for one brief, but important scene. After Martin converts to Christianity, his father arrives to take him back to China because he believes that Martin is disgracing his family and that Martin is throwing away his future and the sacrifices that his family has made for him. It isn’t really explained why he believes this, but I think that the audience is supposed to understand that China persecutes Christians and implies that this is the end-result of state-sponsored atheism. When Martin refuses to recant, his father slaps him (which now means the God’s Not Dead films are two for two when portraying non-Christians of other nationalities as violent degenerates, hooray!), disowns him and then immediately returns to China. In all honesty, this scene works far better than the domestic abuse sequence in the first film and could have maybe been an affecting scene if there had been any sort of reasoning given for Martin’s father to be so vehemently anti-Christian. Instead, it just comes across as more of the same “atheists are bad and hate Christians just because” message. Give me the God’s Not Dead movie about Martin going back to China to be a minister, that could actually be incredibly interesting if it was written well (although knowing this production team, I have my doubts).
The most prominent atheist character is Pete Kane of the ACLU. For what it’s worth, Ray Wise puts in a deliciously hammy performance, turning every line from Pete into a sneering, sinister proclamation that guarantees that you’ll at least be entertained when he’s on-screen. That said, the material he’s working with is just plain stupid. I’ll get to the fact that the ACLU are the villains in this movie later, but Pete Kane is meant to represent how dastardly and hateful the organization (apparently) is. From his very first scene, Pete is seen as eagerly relishing the chance to make an example out of Grace and to “prove once and for all that God is dead”. He’s not even subtle about it when he’s around Grace and Tom, telling them straight-up that “I hate what people like your client stand for and what they’re doing to our society”. Bloody hell, I know that there are militant atheists who talk like that, but this movie acts like they’re the status quo.
Of course, the film tries to make Pete out to be a hypocrite during the trial when he claims that “Christianity is not on trial here” in his opening statement, despite it being obvious to the audience that this is not the case. To hammer that home, he also makes a big fuss about not wanting to offend any Muslims in the court, dog whistling to the audience the idea that liberals are afraid of offending Islam but hate and attack Christianity. Basically, throughout this movie Pete grins gleefully any time something happens that negatively affects Christians, while looking exasperated any time someone in the defence acknowledges that it’s pretty much a settled fact that Jesus existed. Hell, he looks downright shocked when J. Warner Wallace reveals that he was an atheist and that “I’m a Christian because it’s evidentially true” (in your opinion, sure).
As cartoonishly evil as Pete Kane is, his characterization is echoed in a number of smaller atheist authority figure roles in this film, all of whom are totally hostile to Christians. Whenever the news media gets shown in the film, the newscaster goes on a tirade about how Grace and Christians are zealots, fundamentalists and that the only extremists we need to worry about are the hardcore Christians. This portrayal of the media just felt so weird to me because it has the tenor of a Fox News segment, but with right-wing talking points swapped out for insults that get thrown at conservative evangelicals. Maybe I just don’t know the American media and how sensational their reporting style is, but I feel like this might just be the filmmakers projecting their own media’s style and assuming that that’s how everyone does it.
In addition to the media, the entire school board is immediately against Grace (her union rep even says “What were you thinking?” when asked whether Grace said the “words of Jesus” in class). Principal Kinney is particularly villainous, giving Grace these over the top evil looks and during her testimony against Grace is almost as much of a mustache-twirler as Pete Kane. Kinney is also seen shutting down a student protest led by Brooke in an effort to further silence Christians (that the audience this movie was directed at would be trying to shut down student protests that disagree with their politics less than two years later gives a contemporary viewing some delicious retrospective irony). Meanwhile, when Pastor Dave refuses to hand over sermon transcripts to the prosecutor’s office, the officer overseeing this goes from being fairly casual and routine to something resembling a body snatcher. I’m not kidding, he stands up, stares and ominously asks Dave if he really wants to refuse to comply, before stating that “a nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.
Now before I get into the next section I need to write about the only sympathetic non-Christian character in the film, Tom. We’re never really given his opinion on faith at any point in this film, other than that he’s a “non-believer” at the time when he agrees to represent Grace. Surprisingly, we don’t even get a big conversion scene by the end, although it’s probably safe to assume that he is totally convinced by the pro-Christian arguments as the film, since the movie seems to think that they “proved the existence of Jesus Christ” as the ACLU puts it at the end. The thing about Tom is that he’s just doing his job without letting personal biases get in the way, which shouldn’t be that unusual but… well, this is God’s Not Dead 2 and it’s shocking whenever this series doesn’t imply that a non-Christian eats babies for breakfast.
Anyway, one of the strangest parts about the portrayal of atheists in this film (Tom aside) is that there’s this uniformity to their actions which suggests that the filmmakers seem to think that there’s some kind of enormous atheist conspiracy unfolding in America looking to silence all the Christians. How else can you explain the uniformity of the atheist characters’ hostility to the Christians, their unspoken agreements about what is “unacceptable”, their encroachment into Christians’ freedoms and their certainty that Grace is going to be destroyed from the outset? The way that this film’s plot gets kicked into motion even suggests conspiracy, as the second Grace mentions Jesus in class, a student secretly gets his phone out and texts… somebody about it (it’s unclear who, it could have been Obama himself for all we know), as if this was a surveillance state like North Korea. At worst, a student might mention that their teacher talked about Jesus in class, but odds are that absolutely none of the students would give a shit. Hell, I live in godless, heathen Canada and when I was in high school we had a history teacher throw on a VHS tape about how the Bible was useful for archaeologists – a couple of students in the class scoffed, but that was about it. I know that’s anecdotal, but c’mon filmmakers, do they really think that students would immediately rat her out?
The whole conspiracy angle of the film gets more obvious when the ACLU become involved, as even before Pete arrives the school board discusses how the ACLU has been waiting for a case like Grace’s for years, as it provides them with the opportunity they need to silence Christians for good. The choice of the ACLU as villains for this film, especially when painting them as hypocritical and evil bastards, is truly baffling and I can only think that it’s a result of the filmmakers’ ideological leanings and their association with the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ACLU often sticks up for the rights of LGBTQ people, access to abortion and the separation of church and state, which turns them into an obvious target for conservative evangelicals, despite the fact that the ACLU defends the rights of pretty much anyone, Christians included. To put it simply, “essentially all of [the ACLU’s] positions irritate social conservatives […] the ACLU supports free speech including the free expression of religion; what they oppose is government funding or lending official (or the perception of official) support to religious activities in violation of the Establishment Clause. Furthermore, the ACLU has defended the rights of religious bigots to espouse those views, although it does not condone the contents of their speech.” Interestingly, the ADF are totally absent in this film, as is any sort of public support for Grace (up until Brooke organizes a protest for her). Does anyone remember Kim Davis, and how her refusal to issue wedding licenses landed her support from public and political figures, such as Mike Huckabee (who shows up in this film to fellate the evangelical audience for a vote)? The film instead makes it seem like no one supports Christians in order to make it look like they’re a minority class.
Anyway, when the ACLU gets involved in the film, they sway Brooke’s parents to sue Grace by promising that “there is not an Ivy League admissions board that could resist giving Brooke a spot because she was involved in a landmark separation of church and state case”. This was another one of those moments that made my jaw drop at the audacity of this film. So the entire Ivy League is populated by militant atheists who only admit similarly-atheist students? Bloody hell, is it any wonder that evangelicals are accused of being anti-intellectual? Similarly, the prosecutor’s office demanding sermon transcripts is treated like this grand next step on the road to making Christianity illegal, the sort of thing that evangelicals always say is definitely coming. This scene is actually based on something that happened… but it feels like the writers totally jumped the gun, because “Houston mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed sermons from five churches in her city in an ill-advised reading of rules about churches, tax law, and politics. The subpoenas were rescinded a few months later, after widespread outcry and several lawsuits, as well as a national campaign to mail Bibles and sermon notes en masse to the Houston mayoral offices.” Simply put, they take an event that happened, but change the outcome to make it seem like the atheist conspiracy is all-powerful and overreaching in America and that the audience’s freedoms could be snuffed out any day.
This conspiracy theorizing is borderline-hypocritical when you consider that one of this film’s defences of the historical veracity of the gospels is that there wasn’t a conspiracy involved in their authorship. Their justification for this is that since there were too many witness involved, someone would slip up. It’s actually not a particularly great argument, since conspiracy isn’t exactly the issue. I’d definitely recommend diving into the history of the gospels and early church, but in short the text of the gospels we have today were all very likely second-hand accounts, would likely have been coloured somewhat by the burgeoning schools of thought within the young religion about who Jesus was and what he represented, and weren’t even necessarily meant to be what we would now consider as “historical” accounts. Anyway, this conspiracy defence seems odd when you consider that this film is throwing in its own atheist conspiracy theory, although the filmmakers would probably say that it’s self-evident when you look at all the “persecution” in America. I’ll just let Sister Rose Pacatte of the National Catholic Reporter comment on this aspect of God’s Not Dead 2: “the premise of both films is nothing more than politicized religion as a vehicle to feed conspiracy theories.” Ouch.
All of this feeds into the fact that God’s Not Dead 2 is explicitly a more political film than the first was. In his interview with The Blaze about the film, David A. R. White said that this film was “all about making an impact” and that it was an intentional move for the story to shift to the public square. It shouldn’t be surprising that this film was released in the middle of the 2016 presidential leadership race, with the aforementioned Mike Huckabee clearly making a cameo just to appeal to the evangelical vote. By portraying government overreach and painting all authority figures as openly hostile to Christians, the filmmakers also incentivize their audience to mobilize against these institutions in order to “take back America”. After all, Tom’s opening argument in the case is that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution or bill of rights, which seems to imply the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation that has morally eroded over time. Tom’s opening statement is a baffling argument which is only technically true, but the First Amendment makes it crystal clear that not only is separation of church and state enshrined within the law, but it was also a principle of the nation’s founders. Hell, if we’re going to be nitpicking constitutional amendments, then the Second Amendment is free game as well. This is another moment that just feels like the filmmakers won’t understand the people that they’re writing about, because arguing technicalities about church and state separation does not feel like the sort of thing that a non-Christian lawyer would engage in – rather, it sounds like the sort of weak argument an evangelical might espouse impotently to other evangelicals.
In the first film, there were plenty of characters who were atheists or hostile to Christians, but it was always framed as a personal and individual thing. In God’s Not Dead 2, this is reframed into being a political issue. The scene where Grace mentions Jesus in class does so in a manner which also correlates the message of Jesus with that of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Taken by itself, this is a reasonable comparison to draw. However, the film also very explicitly wants us to see Grace and her situation throughout this film as being a parallel to Jesus (even having her echo the words of Jesus during his crucifixion, asking God if he has forsaken her), and therefore implies that the struggles Christians face in America are on the same level as the Indian independence and black civil rights movements. It should go without saying that this is unthinkably deluded and borderline insulting when you consider that they’re appropriating progressive icons to attempt to justify their conservatism – not to mention that only months after release this movie’s audience would, by and large, be voting for a man who was blatantly racist, xenophobic, authoritarian and immoral.
I also find it quite interesting that, for a movie which so blatantly proclaims the existence of God in its title, He is completely absent in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, the characters talk about God all the time, how good He is, how much of an impact He has on their lives, etc… but God doesn’t actually do anything in this movie. At least in God’s Not Dead, God was very clearly present in Dave and Jude’s storyline, even if it did end up portraying him as some sort of Final Destination murder-force. In comparison, Grace’s victory is portrayed as a surprise, but there isn’t any sense that it was some sort of miracle from God. The film also makes arguments about the historical existence of Jesus, but these are far less frequent and given less prominence within the story compared to Josh’s lectures. Furthermore, at least the first film seemed concerned about the fates of its non-Christian characters. In God’s Not Dead 2, the only people that convert are the ones who were immediately receptive to the Christians’ message, and the rest of the non-believers are nothing more than evil, unrepentant obstacles to “the truth”. As a result, God’s Not Dead 2 is arguably not really a “Christian” film in the sense that it’s not about the virtues of the faith – rather, it’s a political film about the imagined struggles of the American brand of evangelicalism.
Add it all up (the disingenuous portrayals of Christians and atheists, the conspiracy theorizing and the political rallying cries) and you have a film which puts the evangelical persecution complex on display greater than just about any other film out there. This also ties into this not really being a “Christian” film at all – after all, the conflict in the movie is entirely driven by the persecution that all of the Christian characters are subjected to by the rest of the world (Amy is the only exception, although her very minor crisis of faith is resolved the next time that we see her). Grace makes this clear in what is clearly intended to be the film’s core message: “I would rather stand with God and be judged by The World, than stand with The World and be judged by God” (“The World” in evangelical nomenclature meaning the necessarily sinful and immoral culture outside of Christianity which clashes with the “true” values of the Bible). This also applies to the numerous court cases listed in the film’s end credits, similarly to the first film. Naturally, the film’s audience takes the presentation of these cases at the filmmakers’ word, although if you look into them closer, it becomes clear that these cases revolve around Christians not understanding discrimination in business settings, Christians refusing their professional obligations as healthcare providers, or involve the filmmakers intentionally leaving out crucial details entirely to make the cases seem like persecution when they clearly aren’t (if you’re curious about all of the cases, The Friendly Atheist has a comprehensive rundown). You can see the persecution complex on full display on the God’s Not Dead website, which for years was documenting similarly one-sided accounts of Christian persecution throughout America, and had this exceptionally nasty, sneering, combative tone that it would apply to everything, even when celebrating the film’s release.
If you’ve checked out any of those links to the film’s blog, you might also have noticed how this movie constantly markets itself. God’s Not Dead 2 has more product placement than a Michael Bay or Adam Sandler movie, the only difference being that it’s exclusively advertising for products in the evangelical bubble (a bubble which, might I remind you, heavily commodifies religious adherence and expression). Just look at this list of really obvious plugs throughout this film:
We’ve got Lee Strobel showing up during the trial, is placed as an expert we should look up to, literally name-drops his books in a manner that doesn’t make sense within the scene, and then gives us a sales pitch about why he’s an authority on the historical existence of Jesus.
We’ve got J. Warner Wallace showing up in a similar manner, name dropping his books and then being poised as a credible expert with evidence that Jesus is God (which he never really gives us, so I guess you’ll have to buy his book).
We’ve got the Newsboys who show up to perform a new song and hope that it becomes another #1 hit after their success with the first film.
The end credits directly advertise for the Alliance Defending Freedom in the event that you feel persecuted for your faith.
In addition, the film advertises itself no less than 3 separate times during its ending, telling the audience to once again text “God’s not dead”, and even offers a handy, prebaked hashtag for everyone to send out on social media in order to generate buzz for the film. Bloody hell…
I’ve had to do a lot of thinking to give this movie a final score that I could feel secure in awarding. It’s easy for this film’s audience to say that people who hated this film merely disagreed with its message (in fact, it’s probably playing into the filmmakers’ intent doing so). On the one hand, I have to give the film some points for being fairly professionally made, and Ray Wise is always entertaining to watch. However, the film refuses to present itself in an enjoyable way to anyone outside of a very narrow political worldview – in fact, it’s openly hostile to worldviews that don’t match the filmmakers’ own. As a result, I feel more than justified in saying that this film is straight-up trash which exists only to stoke evangelicals’ persecution complex and to cynically rake in cash and political fervour in doing so. I would rather watch a freaking Bibleman video than this movie again.
Bibleman, Bibleman! Does whatever a Bible can! This isn’t a joke, it’s real guys! Can’t afford sets? Proselytise! Look out! Here comes a Bibleman!
Be sure to tune in again soon as we come to the final entry in this series: God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness!
It has been quite a while since my last Retrospectives series. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of ideas for write-ups during the past several months (some more conventional than others), but I kept getting drawn back to the same series: the God’s Not Dead franchise. Hoo boy… Considering that this is a series rooted inextricably in ideological arguments, hopefully you can understand why it took me so long to get around to this one. To be upfront, I’ve heard a lot of commentary on this film, but I tried to not let it colour my opinions on the film too much going in – I wanted to see if there was any merit to all the vitriol this film has inspired. So strap in, we’re going to start this at the beginning, with 2014’s God’s Not Dead.
The film’s poster is decent, I have to admit. I could do without the crowd at the bottom, but there’s a certain evocative element to this design which I can’t deny (even symbolically, down to the black/white contrast), plus it makes sense for the film’s story… Good job, I guess.
God’s Not Dead ended up being a surprise hit at the box office in its limited theatrical release, bringing in around $65 million on a $2 million budget, despite having no real mainstream star power or marketing associated with it. As I havewritten aboutin the past, this success came about from the free viral marketing that churches offer these kinds of projects – the pastor tells their congregation to go see this movie because it will affirm their faith, and so the film has a built-in audience that it doesn’t even need to dedicate a marketing budget towards to reach.
The story of God’s Not Dead is structured in a manner similar to Paul Haggis’ Crash, with a number of characters’ narratives intersecting, and all centred on an overarching theme, in this case Christianity and faith. The main plot revolves around a student named Josh Wheaton who takes a philosophy class taught by the notoriously hostile Jeffery Radisson. Radisson tries to get everyone in the class to declare that “God is dead”, but Josh refuses and is forced to defend his position over the course of the next three lectures, while Radisson grows increasingly hostile at his defiance. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a few side-plots: Amy is a hostile liberal journalist who gets cancer, her boyfriend Mark is a psychopathic and self-interested businessman (there isn’t really any thrust to his scenes beyond that), his sister Mina is Radisson’s girlfriend (or wife maybe? It isn’t clear at all and I have heard conflicting answers) who is growing apart from him because she is a Christian, Ayisha is a secret Christian within a very traditional Muslim family, and Pastor Dave and Pastor Jude can’t get their car to start when they want to go on vacation (seriously, that last one is a subplot which gets a lot of screentime during this film).
Eventually, this all culminates in Josh winning the debate against Radisson, most of the atheist characters convert to Christianity and Radisson gets hit and killed by a car, being converted on his deathbed by Pastors Dave and Jude (and thereby justifying all the screentime they’ve had throughout the film on their seemingly pointless subplot). Everyone rocks out at a Newsboys concert and the film encourages everyone to advertise the film for them (again, seriously).
With the plot out of the way, let’s get to the positives for God’s Not Dead first. For the most part, this is a very competently-made film. The directing and production values are better than you’re probably expecting – it certain looks like an independent film, but not an amateur made-for-TV movie. The acting is also mostly solid across the board, with only Josh’s girlfriend putting in a clearly bad performance (although she is dispensed from the plot pretty early on, luckily).
Other than that though… hoo boy. I’m just going to get the technical issues out of the way first; the editing is really weird sometimes. For an early example, Radisson is handing out pieces of paper to his class to sign “God is dead” on, when the film suddenly cuts away to Pastors Dave and Jude arriving at the airport. This cut was made for seemingly no reason, and I can’t understand it because it deflates the tension of the classroom scene. The only justification is that at the end of their scene the pastors say “God is good”, which is then contrasted by Radisson saying “God is dead” before cutting back to the classroom, but this doesn’t justify that first, abrupt cut in the slightest. There are weird edits like that sprinkled throughout God’s Not Dead, in part due to its story structure. That said, the script is definitely the main issue in this film, and it brings down an otherwise competent production. I’ll get to the broader implications of the script later, but for now aside from the pastors and maybe Josh, the characters are, on the whole, very one- or two-dimensional at best, serving more as object lessons rather than fully-realized characters. Obviously, that is a major issue for a character drama like this. Furthermore, this film’s script is just plain dull for the most part, stretching itself thin over an almost 2 hour runtime. I recall that around the 40 minute mark I was feeling like the movie was starting to drag, and then I saw that there was still more than an hour left and I just thought “How!?!” Honestly, the film could have done better by focusing much more on the main plot, maybe building some tension by actually giving us some insight into Josh’s research (he just sort of shows up with his big presentations each time), and show us more of the strain that this stand was apparently putting on him (he loses his girlfriend due to ridiculous circumstances and Josh says that he is falling behind on his school work because of it, but we never really see how this is really weighing on him).
Still, God’s Not Dead would have probably just come and gone without a fanfare if that was all that was wrong with this film’s script, but I think we all know that that is far from the case. God’s Not Dead fails spectacularly in two main departments: its apologetics and its portrayal of Christians vs non-Christians, both of which I feel are rooted in the filmmakers’ ideological bases. I feel like the filmmakers were expecting a negative reaction from the secular world when they made God’s Not Dead, but I do not think that they were expecting that the most vehementdrubbings of the film would be from within the Christian world itself, due to these two major flaws.
Let’s start with the apologetics. Both Josh and the film itself are quite explicitly tasked with proving that God exists, but their arguments in favour of God are not particularly compelling. Josh presents three lectures which I’ll boil down simply:
The Bible always contended that the universe didn’t always exist, whereas science assumed the universe had always existed until the Big Bang was discovered, implying that science shouldn’t be taken as an absolute. He also argues that something had to have caused that Big Bang to occur in the first place. When a student asks who created God, he says that that’s based on an assumption that God must be created.
When faced with Stephen Hawking’s assertion that the universe created itself, Josh uses some quotes to undermine Hawking’s authority and suggest that since Hawking also said that philosophy was dead, taking him at his word would contradict Radisson’s entire career. He then says that evolution doesn’t prove where life came from and claims that in a cosmic sense, life and all of evolution has occurred very suddenly (that particular argument was just confusing when watching and, on review, makes no sense – it’s just plain wrong, evolutionary time isn’t measured on a cosmic scale, it’s measured on an… evolutionary scale).
Josh argues that evil exists because of free will and that we can join God in heaven because He allows evil to exist temporarily (also very funny in this part, the filmmakers use a slide of The Creation of Adam by Michelangeo and airbrushed Adam’s dick off so as not to offend any prudish evangelicals in the audience). He argues that without God there are no moral absolutes, although Radisson would say that cheating on a test would be “wrong”. Josh quotes Dostoyevski, saying that “without God, everything is permissible”. Josh then makes the claim that “science has proven God’s existence” without any basis, and gets Radisson to admit that he hates God, to which Josh asks “how can you hate someone who doesn’t exist?”
I don’t really want to spend a lot of time breaking down these arguments (if you’re interested, there’s a good article on Psychology Today which does just that), but suffice to say that they don’t even come close to proving that God exists, despite Josh’s assertion otherwise. Most of his arguments are just turning atheistic arguments back at themselves or creating an intellectual uncertainty that an individual could choose to fit God into. At best, his arguments convey that we don’t know where life came from, so if you want to believe in God then that’s your choice, but that’s still a failing grade when your stated task is to prove the existence of God. Even worse, while Josh could conceivably make a case that God exists in general, he instead makes his task basically impossible by immediately restricting himself to proving the existence of his own Judeo-Christian God. This results in quite a few potential objections that could have been made towards Josh, but are never brought up, such as that his argument over evolutionary leaps sounds an awful lot like he’s trying to justify the creation narrative, of which there is absolutely no evidence. It’s clear that the filmmakers did some apologetics research (there’s even someone credited with this in the film crew), but I question whether they put the film’s claims up against real philosophers or academics. If they did, then it certainly does not come across in the film, because the arguments are clearly weak. All that said, considering that this film is clearly directed towards the evangelical bubble, it’s expecting its audience to already have formed the same conclusion as the filmmakers, meaning that the need for strong proof is basically non-existent.
The other big issue with God’s Not Dead‘s script is its portrayal of Christians vs non-Christians. Let’s start with the Christians: they’re all portrayed as intelligent, respectful, happy, even-tempered people which everyone should aspire to be like, from the applauded heroism of Josh, to Ayisha’s faith in the face of persecution, to the eternal optimism of Dave and Jude. The one exception to this is Josh’s girlfriend, Kara – she is set up as someone who is a Christian, but when Josh decides to stand up for his faith she constantly orders him to just lie and sign the paper. She’s also a total idiot: she picked a crappier school in order to be with him, she has the next 50 years of their life together mapped out and him failing this philosophy class is enough to derail the whole plan. Kara is an awful, stupid shrew of a character who only exists to up the stakes for Josh when she breaks up with him (although considering how he reacts, they weren’t going to last 50 more years anyway) and to contrast against the “virtuousness” of Josh. I’d argue that, based on the way Kara is written, we’re meant to her as”lukewarm” or “not a real Christian”, since she does not give God priority in her life.
In contrast, let’s look at our atheist characters… individually, because holy crap is there a lot to say about all of them. Let’s start with Mark, played by ex-Superman Dean Cain – Mark is an unabashed, self-described asshole businessman who only cares about making himself better off. In his introduction, he won’t even give directions to his girlfriend unless she will do something for him in return (I keep having to make this same aside throughout this review, but again, seriously). Even when his girlfriend tells him that she has cancer, he accuses her of “breaking our deal” that their relationship is just about getting something out of each other for personal reasons, and then immediately breaks up with her because a cancer-striken girlfriend is a total drag. Oh, and he also has a mother with dementia who he refuses to see because she won’t even remember that he was there. And to put a cherry on top of it all, it is very much implied that Mark is the one who hits Radisson with his car and then leaves him to die. Mark is a deplorable, selfish, unsatisfied, loveless person who is very clearly meant to be the object lesson for Josh’s assertion that “without God anything is permissible”. Put simply, Mark is meant to represent the fundamentalist idea that atheists are amoral (it’s a pervasive enough idea that even atheists tend to think it’s true), but is such a cartoonish dick that you have to wonder if the filmmakers really think that there’s anyone like this. Look, I shouldn’t have to say that being religious doesn’t make you a moral person any more than being an atheist makes you amoral. In fact, if the filmmakers had done some actual philosophy research, they would have known that ethics and morality are an entire school of thought in their own right which doesn’t require a religious background.
Next we’ll look at Amy, Mark’s girlfriend who is a gotcha journalist and blogger. Amy is clearly intended to be a left-leaning character, although thinly drawn and from the perspective of someone who obviously doesn’t understand why a leftist might legitimately hold those kinds of beliefs. This is shown early on when Amy ambushes… sigh… Willie Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and his wife. Her interview questions consist of the following: does he hunt (duh), what gives him the moral right to maim animals (“I don’t maim ’em, I kill em!”) and what does he say to people who are offended that he prays on his TV show (he shuts her down with Bible verses). Naturally, Willie throws out some way-too-eloquent-to-be-real answers and Amy doesn’t even respond or react to them with her own questions or follow-up. Look, obviously there are anti-hunting people, just like there are people who don’t want to see prayer on TV, but these are definitely a very small minority – most reasonable people don’t really give a shit about either. Now, what if Amy had been upfront about the sorts of things that actually rile people up about the faith of the Duck Dynasty crew, the sorts of things that a real journalist would probably be interested in capturing in an interview? Would it have seemed like the secular world is just targeting people of faith unjustly? Would his rebuttals have seemed to reasonable when he’s trying to explain that he doesn’t hate gay people? Somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, Amy gets cancer out of nowhere and spends most of the film grappling this grim reality after Mark dumps her. By the end she’s back to her old tricks, sneaking into the green room with the Newsboys before a concert and asking the band “How can you sing about God and Jesus as if they’re real?” Umm, because they believe that they are, duh? The band then throws out some more very obviously scripted answers which cause Amy to break down and convert out of absolutely nowhere. If Mark is meant to represent the amorality of atheism, then Amy represents the liberal media. However, in addition to making Amy a really poor journalist in general, the filmmakers once again show that they don’t understand why Christianity is so often “targeted” by the media by not realizing that it is the beliefs associated with Christians which come under fire (such as homophobia or, ahem, anti-intellectualism), rather than belief itself.
Rounding out the main atheist cast is Jeffery Radisson, Josh’s philosophy professor, representative of the “liberal elite” in education… I have a ton of notes to get through on this one because he is so, so bad. Before we even meet him, Josh goes to enrol in his class and is discouraged from doing so because Radisson has such a history of anti-religious fervour that the entire school is well aware of it. Somehow Radisson has never been disciplined for being blatantly discriminatory, even though he starts every semester off by trying to get everyone to sign a paper to say that they agree that “God is dead” (the act of which, he reveals, is worth a whopping 30% of the students’ total grade!?! What kind of a bullshit class is this?). Radisson seems simultaneously shocked when Josh denies this, and smug in his belief that a first year philosophy student won’t be able to prove the existence of God.
As events unfold, a number of things about Radisson’s character become more and more clear to the viewer. First of all is that he is incredibly hostile and clearly nursing a personal grudge, which is truly apparent when he stalks and confronts Josh after class on a couple occasions and tells him that he’ll freaking destroy his future for defying him. Radisson ends up being straight-up dictatorial, wanting all his students to fall in line with what he believes and turning into a giant man-baby in the face of any sort of dissent. This is also demonstrated in Radisson’s relationship with Mina, a former student of his who he somehow fell in love with despite the fact that she is a Christian! During a faculty dinner party, Radisson constantly belittles Mina and her faith for no other reason than because he is a smug, misogynist dick, which the entire faculty goes along with (because they are all atheist monsters as well, even down to shark-like glances at Mina when she pipes up about her faith). When Mina (understandably) breaks up with him, Radisson says that he won’t accept or allow Mina to leave him, a move which obviously doesn’t work. I mean, who aside from a narcissist or a sociopath would think like that?
As Radisson’s life just falls to pieces, between Mina leaving him and Josh “beating” Radisson in each debate, it’s revealed that Radisson is such a militant atheist because when he was 12, his mother died of cancer. God didn’t answer his mother’s prayers or his, so he hates God for taking her away from him, a fact which proves to be the coup de grace in the final debate. This makes Radisson demonstrative of the infuriating fundamentalist belief that “there are no atheists”, since they can’t even conceive of the reasons why someone could logically and reasonably not believe in God. The end of the film seems to suggest that his experiences have caused Radisson to undergo a fundamental change in his life and he goes to try to reconnect with Mina before changing his life and becoming a better person. Just kidding about that last part, the filmmakers have him get hit by a freaking car and make a deathbed confession to Pastors Jude and David (justifying their role in the plot and implying that this was all part of God’s convoluted murder plan), rather than provide first aid to the severely injured man. It all makes Jude and David come across as callously perverse in a sense, as they say that this deathbed conversion is a cause for celebration – I mean, I understand their logic, but a dude just freaking died here.
Beyond all that, Radisson is just further proof that the scriptwriters don’t understand the kinds of people this movie is supposed to be portraying, nor did they bother to consult any. I doubt there’s any atheist philosophy teacher who hates God so much that he would avoid even discussing him. I mean, if I was in that class I would take the invitation to sign “God is dead” as a teaching tool to show the class that you’re not supposed to take anyone’s word for granted – this is a philosophy class after all, which is supposed to be about the art of solving problems using logic. Radisson also seems to hold quotes from scientists such as Stephen Hawking (even on subjects he is not accredited for such as theology and philosophy) to a level bordering on reverence. When Josh dares to challenge Hawking’s belief that the universe created itself, he scoffs at Josh’s insolence. It’s almost as if the scriptwriters believe that an atheist believes that science or scientists are inerrant on the same level that evangelicals hold their Bible. Even the philosophical quote that makes up the film’s title, “God is dead” from Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is botched in this film so badly that I had to look up to make sure that my interpretation of it wasn’t wrong (it wasn’t). Radisson claims that the phrase means that it is settled that God does not exist, nor has he never existed. Rather, this quote is tied to a very specific time and place – the advent of the Enlightenment and modernity at the turn of the 20th century had brought about social changes which were causing belief in God to plummet in the Western world. As a result, the concept of an “absolute moral reality” (God) was now meaningless, which would lead people into nihilism. As David Kyle Johnson puts it:
“Radisson doesn’t know what the phrase ‘God is dead’ means. […] He thinks it means that ‘God never existed in the first place.’ The phrase, coined by Friedrich Nietzsche, means nothing of the sort and in fact has nothing to do with God’s existence. Instead, Nietzsche was trying to argue that belief in God no longer affected how people live their lives; specifically, God was no longer used as a moral compass or a source of meaning: If only Radisson, and the makers of the film, had bothered with a four second Google search.”
Oh and I would be totally remiss if I forgot to mention the worst subplot in the film, the one revolving around the only non-Christian religious character, Ayisha’s father, Misrab (is… is that intended to be a pun on miserable? Bloody hell…). From his introduction, Misrab comes across as controlling and traditionally conservative in his Islamic faith, most notably by forcing Ayisha to wear a niqab in public and questioning her when he sees someone make casual conversation. From her introduction Ayisha shows that she does not want to wear the niqab, taking it off whenever her father is not around to see her. Misrab comes across as very sinister from little more than the way that the camera frames himself and Ayisha. It is later revealed that Ayisha has secretly converted to Christianity when we see her listening to a sermon by… Franklin Graham!?! Oh what the literal fuck were the filmmakers thinking when they dropped that name bomb here? Could they be any more tone-deaf? Again, bloody hell, this is the worst subplot in the whole damn film. Anyway, Ayisha listens to Graham’s sermon and then her brother sneaks up on her for absolutely no reason, sees what she’s listening to and then tells Misrab. Misrab goes into a rage (presumably because she’s listening to other religions, but who knows, maybe he’s suitably pissed that she’s listening to Franklin bloody Graham) and begins angrily slapping Ayisha in an incredibly uncomfortable domestic abuse sequence that ends with him throwing her out onto the streets as both of them cry at the circumstances that led them to this outcome. As villainous and reprehensible as Misrab is, I can at least understand where he’s coming from here and see that what he’s doing is breaking his heart, rather than just being cartoonishly evil like the atheist characters. I realize that this sort of awful shit happens, but bloody hell, what does it say about the scriptwriters when the only non-white family in the whole movie is a stereotypical, misogynist, domestically abusive Muslim family, especially considering the sort of audience this film is supposed to be catering towards?
Part of the problem with Ayisha and Misrab’s subplot is that I question whether the scriptwriters really knew what they were doing with it, or whether they just threw it in for an example of Christian persecution and an opportunity for some serious melodrama. I feel like the main reason this was added to the movie was because most of Josh’s proofs of the existence of God could apply to Islam as well, so the filmmakers felt the need to show that they were just as wrong as the atheists. Islam ends up being a contrast to Christianity – whereas the Christians are free and don’t hate women, the Muslims come across as dangerously old-fashioned and violent. The thing is though, this subplot is disingenuously one-sided. For example, while the film portrays Islam as being stifling and oppressive to women, I have seen and heard numerous stories over the years of women who have left the Christian church because of the way that it treats women. The sort of Islamic tradition on display in God’s Not Dead is a clearly conservative one rooted in “sharia law”, which is not too far off from the sort of theocracy that American evangelicals seem to hypocritically push for. Furthermore, Misrab tries to comfort Ayisha early in the film, saying that:
“It’s hard living in their world and being a part of it. A world you can see but can’t touch. I know they seem happy, but know that when you look around at all these people, there is no one who worships God, not the way he deserves and demands to be worshipped. We must never forget who and what we are. That is the most important thing.”
That statement could have just as easily been given to, say, Paster David and no one would question it, but I’m not sure the filmmakers even realize how their depiction of Muslims in this film really isn’t far off from the reality of Christians. After all, how many LGBT youth have been disowned or thrown out of their houses by supposedly Christian families for coming out of the closet*? There’s just so much disingenuous cognitive dissonance in the portrayal of Christians and Muslims that it’s just as insulting as the characterization of atheists.
If I haven’t made it obvious, I feel like a lot of this film’s failings stem directly from the filmmakers’ skewed evangelical ideology. This is quite evident throughout the film as I have already stated, from the lack of understanding of basic philosophy (in a movie about a philosophy class), to the arguments convincing only to someone who already believes in them, to the insulting depictions of “the other”. It even shows up in the little moments throughout the film – at one point, Josh and Pastor Dave estimate that, out of 80 students in Radisson’s class, Josh is the only one who has ever been to church. This is a preposterous estimate considering that nearly 80% of Americans are Christians, but it belies the belief shared by evangelicals that they are an oppressed minority (growing up in an evangelical household, I certainly believed this too). As Alissa Wilkinson said, “White evangelical Protestants, who make up the lion’s share of the so-called faith-based audience, are the only major religious group in America who believe they face more discrimination in America than Muslims do. And nearly eight in 10 white evangelical Protestants believe that discrimination against Christians is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities”. This is made all the more obvious by the end credits, which list a number of “examples” of Christian persecution in America… if you count business discrimination, largely revolving around refusing to serve homosexuals and providing health care for abortions, as “persecution”.
The filmmakers’ conservatism also plays into some of the film’s failings. Now, I don’t believe that there was an explicit intent to make God’s Not Dead into a piece of conservative propaganda, but the filmmakers very clearly fall on that side of the political spectrum, from the people they choose to credit onscreen (Lee Strobel, Franklin Graham, Willie Robertson, etc) and those that influenced the film off-screen (the Alliance Defending Freedom). This leads to such previously mentioned failings as having a Muslim character listening to Franklin Graham, to having Amy be a left-wing caricature. Sean Paul Murphy, a scriptwriter for Pure Flix, actually might have some insight into how politics were influencing the studio’s direction by the time God’s Not Dead was being produced:
“I grew up watching indie films of the 80s and 90s, those filmmakers managed to make art with small budgets because they had a passion for the medium. It’s not the budgets. It is a disregard for the art of filmmaking. And faith films will not get better until the audience demands something better, but they tend to evaluate films solely on the message itself. As for the counterproductive hatred of atheists and other non-believers, I tried to buck that trend. In Hidden Secrets, the first film produced by Pure Flix (but its second release), my co-writer and I sought to create a fuller, more sympathetic portrayal […]. Nowadays, however, the audience reward films that fight the Culture War for them. It is easier to generate anger than compassion. I have no interest in that.”
As a result, we’ve got a film with aspirations to sway agnostics towards God, which claims that it has empirical evidence for His existence, but which fails to even understand the positions of those it is arguing against. Meanwhile, it draws in Christians with cameos from celebrities within the evangelical bubble, has a cross-promotion with Christian music label Inpop Records (which provided the film’s soundtrack, including the title song), sets up a blatantly cynical viral marketing campaign which encourages the audience to tell everyone to watch the film and provides an affirmation that everyone’s out to get the poor, innocent Christians. After all, the conflict in this film stems from a hostile atheist forcing his beliefs on a Christian, when that Christian was content not to force them on anyone.
In summation, God’s Not Dead is just a boring movie to watch, with a crappy script and extremely problematic portrayals of Christians and non-Christians at its core which undermine any sort of debate which they may have been trying to foster. It’s not even like I fundamentally disagree with the premise of the film (I do believe in God as well), it’s more the filmmakers wrongheaded notion that the world is suppressing Christianity that’s the issue. There is a line of thought on this film which claims that this film is about “being forced to accept that other people might believe something different”, or that the filmmakers hate atheists and relish in their suffering, but I don’t believe that is the intent. Their conception of them is, however, downright insulting, owing to a profound lack of imagination and empathy. When it comes down to it, I just don’t believe that evangelicals understand why it is that students tend to grow out of the church when they go off to school, and the answer is, quite simply, evangelicalism. When you create such a rigid, dogmatic and fragile structure which requires a denial of science and intellectualism, coupled with a belief that every word of the Bible is infalliable, and that this is the only way to be a true Christian, then of course they’re going to come to the conclusion that it’s all wrong. Maybe if they could actually step outside of the evangelical bubble, then perhaps they could have come up with some stronger arguments for why God is not dead**.
Be sure to come back soon when I cover the next entry in the series, God’s Not Dead 2!
*I’d recommend reading Unfair by John Shore for some heart-wrenching examples of this. **Sigh, why did they call this “God’s not dead” anyway, considering the quote it’s named after is “God is dead”? The only thing I can think is that the producers assumed that there wouldn’t be enough audience members familiar with Nietzche’s quote, and therefore “God is not dead” would be less natural-sounding than “God’s not dead”. Again… doesn’t give much credit for the intelligence of your audience.
Recently my girlfriend was looking for a movie that we could watch on Netflix and, surprisingly, asked if I wanted to watch Christian Mingle. She isn’t a Christian herself, so this was particularly unexpected, but as someone who’s interested in crappy movies, this movie had been on my radar for quite some time and of course I said yes to the offer to watch it. It was basically just a reasonably well-done version of one of those low-budget W-network romantic films, with a religious spin on things to differentiate itself. I’m not really interested in a full review of the film (I’d give it a 4/10), but the film’s religious elements did get me thinking because they were implemented in some strange ways which I feel run counter to the intended message.
First off, Christian Mingle is very much an archetypal low budget romance movie. If you’ve seen one of these before, you know the drill – you’ve got your generic white couple who get drawn together, a manipulative mother, an unbearable romantic rival, a stupid conflict that draws the characters apart and which would have been easily solvable with a little communication and common sense, etc. Perhaps the weirdest thing about all of this though is how Christianity has been shoehorned into this archetype. Usually the central conflict comes because of some nefarious falsehood or because of some sort of scheme on the part of the villain, but in this story that means that the villain is… God, or at least this form of Christianity. It might have actually been interesting if this was intentional, but it definitely does not seem like that is the case here.
Much of the early conflict in Christian Mingle is driven by Gwyn feeling like she isn’t “Christian enough” (she’s a Christmas and Easter Christian, but that still makes her Christian) and Paul overestimating her devotion to God. Gwyn and Paul fall for each other, while Gwyn tries to learn how to be a better Christian. Interestingly, the film’s focus seems to be primarily directed on Christian lingo, rather than on the actions that would set someone apart and in fact seems to be the villainous mother character’s issue as well. She’s trying to set Paul up with goody-goody church girl Kelly, who’s clearly “in” the Christian group but clearly doesn’t have a connection with Paul like Gwyn does. Then, while volunteering together in Mexico*, Paul finds out that Gwyn isn’t Christian enough and decides that they can’t be together anymore, despite both of them clearly being in love. So, what this film is saying is that because Gwyn isn’t at the same faith level as Paul, they can’t be together? I mean, she basically says she wants to be better, she wants to know God the same way he does. Isn’t this every Evangelical boy’s dream, to save his girlfriend’s soul? Apparently not, according to this movie, because they split and he gets matched up with Kelly for a while.
So what does Gwyn do? She starts praying, going to church, reading her Bible, etc. And then she quits her job because she doesn’t feel honest marketing products she doesn’t believe in (as the Common Sense Media overview of the film puts it, “Why does no one ask if there are clinical trials to back up the product’s claims?”) and goes and volunteers full-time in Mexico. As a result, she apparently reaches a point where she’s “Christian enough” and Paul seeks her out on his own accord… and reveals that he loved her all along. So, wait, would he have gotten back together with her if she hadn’t completely changed her life for him? Would he have gotten over his own barriers and accept her in order to make love work? Who knows, because the movie’s story conveniently swerves to avoid having to actually answer this! Hell, it would even have been interesting to me if they had done something to suggest that this was supposed to be a metaphor for God’s love and that he seeks her whether she believes the “right” way or not, but obviously this kind of film doesn’t have any sort of ambition to it.
As I’ve probably hammered home by now, the biggest issue in Christian Mingle is that it really harps on this exclusive form of Christian belief that Gwyn fails to measure up to, although the film never really says what that involves outside of loving God. I’m not sure if this is just Evangelical dog whistling, or if the film just thinks that if it doesn’t take a stance at all then it will be able to reach a wider audience. This makes me wonder why the hell Gwyn’s faith maturity is such a big deal, because she clearly is game to grow. The aforementioned Common Sense Media’s review put it well when they said that “most followers of Jesus tout the claim that God loves everyone, which is a policy of religious inclusiveness, but this plot hangs on the exclusionary position born-again parents take when they fear their son is being wooed by a non-believer”, and not only that but the film seems to reinforce that exclusionary message. Everyone has to begin a journey of faith somewhere, not to mention that spiritual growth develops over a lifetime, so why does everyone expect Gwyn to be fully developed in order for she and Paul to have any sort of relationship? It’s just a baffling message and I can’t understand why it is treated like a given assumption throughout the film, unless it’s just pandering to the mindset of the hardcore Evangelical bubble.
Furthermore, the film really drops the ball on what a Christian life should look like. In addition to making the Christian characters the real villains of the piece and having Christianity and God become the obstacle which is preventing love from being achieved (without any sort of self-consciousness about this message, I may add), God barely seems to have any real positive effect in the lives of the characters in the film. Like, Gwyn says that the Christian characters are all so happy and different, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Again, Paul’s mom is uptight, Kelly is clearly a jealous schemer and most of the Christians are portrayed in a manner which I can only describe as “low budget TV romance quirky”. Again, if you’ve seen enough of these films, you’d know what I mean – characters who are supposed to be fountains of humour but whose actions make them feel inhuman. Even Paul himself is quite bland and feels tethered by his faith, rather than liberated, and he is only actually interesting when he’s breaking free of that shell to be with Gwyn. The film also doesn’t help its case when it reveals that practically every other character in Gwyn’s life is secretly Christian, most notably Gwyn’s sassy black friend, Pam. As a result, we don’t really get any unfulfilled non-Christians to compare the faithful to. The result of all of this is that God basically becomes window dressing in a film which is clearly intended to actually be about Him. Everyone’s talking about God, but He has no actual presence in the film, which doesn’t help the resulting perception that Christian Mingle is about “authenticity […] to a specific way of worship”.
Obviously the film has other issues (the fact that it’s basically a paid advertisement using faith as a springboard being most notable), but I felt like these ones here are the most central to the film’s failings. Like I said in the intro, it’s otherwise just a competent made for TV romantic film, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, the one thing that it does to differentiate itself is handled really poorly when you apply any sort of critical thought towards it… y’know, assuming that they were actually trying to make Christianity and God look appealing anyway.
*Or, well, a super cheap cowboy set doubling for Mexico. Seriously, I laughed my ass off at this part.
I saw Ready Player One at the movies last night (it was a fun time), but there was one poster in the lobby which really captured my attention:
If you have read my previous posts about the Christian media industry, then you’ll probably guess what caught my eye on this. That big, red declaration at the top lays bare the entire reason this, and any other big Christian movie for that matter, gets made: you, as a Christian, are part of an easy-to-manipulate market demographic who will bring in a strong return on a small investment. It’s no coincidence that the new God is Not Dead film* came out this weekend as well – Christians often make a big stink about how evil Hollywood is, but studios will still throw them a bone because they are a built-in audience that will run on word-of-mouth marketing and, most importantly, they have money at their disposal. It just sickens me how blatantly they’re commodifying faith and how we as a community have turned this into a whole commercial enterprise.
Like, look at those statements. First, gather your church – even a modest church could net you 50+ people, but with mega churches you could have hundreds of people roped into seeing Paul: Apostle of Christ. Again, word-of-mouth marketing. You, as a Christian, are amazing to a studio because they spend way less to make these films and they’re pretty much guaranteed to return a modest profit because of how we pressure each other into seeing these sorts of movies that suck up to Christians living in a bubble.
Second, gather your friends and family – this part sickens me the most. To me, this essentially is saying “Hey, you want to evangelize to your family but don’t know how? Boy, do I have the perfect product for you…” I mean, hell, it’s one thing if you let that sort of thing happen organically, but the fact that you’re trying to sell your film on that notion rubs me the wrong way. Of course, this can also be interpreted as “gather your Christian friends and family and go see this”, but either way this is just another word-of-mouth attempt to get butts in seats.
Finally, come be inspired together… bloody hell, that is so condescending, and yet, probably accurate for the sort of person who would see this film. It’s like the template requires that every Christian movie has to be “inspiring” in one way or another. The Kendrick brothers, for example, have built a career on this concept. Even silly comedies, like Road to Redemption, have to renew your faith and try to proselytize to your unsaved friends who definitely aren’t cringing the entire way through this film you forced them to sit through. It is what it is, I guess, but some variety would certainly go a long way, especially considering that most Christian media isn’t really made for the people outside that bubble anyway. Perhaps that’s why God is Not Dead is not telling you to bring your unsaved friends and family, while Paul: Apostle of Christ is… which actually is making me start to re-evaluate exactly which notion is more disgusting. Ugh. Here’s “S.M.C.” (aka Sunday Mass Consumption) by Project 86 to play us out…
*…I seriously considered putting quotation marks around the word “film” here.
So recently I have been rocking out to “Termination” by Book of Black Earth on a pretty regular basis. I think my favourite part of the song though is the last minute or so, which closes with a rather intriguing sample from an interview panel featuring a Christian and a Satanist. As you would probably expect from this sort of setup, the Christian interviewee gets trounced in the debate:
Christian Dude: “To suggest that you can create your own reality, my goodness, that’s what they did in Tiananmen Square. That’s what they did in Germany in 1933. […] These are examples of people who created their own reality.”
Satanist Dude: “Everyone creates their own reality, the thing is, you speak for a consensus of reality that is acceptable. We speak for one which, at this point in history, is not acceptable.”
Christian Dude: “Oh, so it’s a question of who manipulates the media, who has the most money to put their reality forth? But would you pardon me for saying that I find the world where your ability to conjure your own reality that you perceive as being a very frightening world for people like me. Because you see, I am guided by some codified rules that tell me what is right and wrong. In your world, I’m not so sure I’d feel very safe.”
Satanist Dude: “Well that’s your problem. […] In the Satanic world of the future, Christian churches will be allowed to continue, because they pose no threats to us. We don’t need Christianity, Christianity needs us.”*
The Christian interviewee’s obliviousness to the fact that everyone is conjuring their own reality to at least some degree is just the first of many events that have occurred to me recently which have gotten me thinking about perception and reality. As the old saying goes, “seeing is believing”, but it seems pretty clear that our perception is not necessarily truth. Maybe this is a pretty obvious statement when you really think about it, but it seems like many people just aren’t confronted face-first with this idea, even though it plays a major role in much of human conflict (both on the large and small scale).
For example, one of my brothers didn’t realize he was partially colour-blind until about a year ago when somebody asked him to grab them a flower with a specific shade of blue. When he wasn’t able to locate these flowers, the person realized that my brother is actually unable to see this shade of blue, and that it actually appears purple to him. As far as he knew, the flowers were always purple and really, within his perception of the world, they still are – he’s just aware that other people see it differently now. “The Dress” was a similar case of this on a larger scale, with a large portion of the “controversy” it created coming down to people realizing en masse that not everyone sees the world the same way that you do (and then trying to force that viewpoint on everyone else, naturally).
One of the scientific methods that can measure differences in perception is through the “clock test”, which is used to determine the severity of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease. You might be familiar with the idea if you watched the first season of Hannibal. Basically, the test requires the subject to draw a clock – simple, right? Well the results can be pretty surprising as patients with neurodegenerative diseases draw their clocks lopsided, squeezed into half of the face or even just as a series of unintelligible squiggles. As far as they know, they’re just drawing a normal clock, but to the rest of us their drawing appears far different than how they perceive it. Such imbalances can be chemical as well as physical. A similar idea went into that viral website of the man who took dozens of different drugs and drew a self-portrait for each one. This little experiment, while not exactly scientific, showed how chemical changes in the brain can wildly affect how a person sees the world.
In addition to my taste in black death metal, another occurrence which has gotten me thinking about perception is that I have recently finished reading John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. The book was significantly more out-there than I was expecting – I was just looking for first-hand accounts of the Mothman legend, what I got was lots of theorizing about extra-dimensional entities and accounts of people who were contacted by aliens. It was incredibly strange and unbelievable, with a large percentage of my reading time being dedicated to trying to figure out what the hell was up with John Keel. There’s really only a few ways you can attempt to rationalize the claims in The Mothman Prophecies: call Keel a compulsive liar (which I don’t really think is the case) and just dismiss it all outright, take his claims at face value (mischievous extra-dimensional beings are totally real I guess), or try to figure out what sort of skewed perception he has which is putting him at such great odds with rational society. This is harder to parse than you’d expect, since he has a very level-headed, analytical personality and is careful to note that he almost always has some sort of witnesses to his first-hand experiences. It’s almost convincing… until you step back for a second and remember that all his claims of extraterrestrial contact and shifty conspiracies are completely unsubstantiated in our modern world, and especially with the modern proliferation of cellular technology. Did he have schizophrenia or some sort of mental illness? Were his contactees suffering mass hysteria? Was every Ufologist on PCP in the 70s? I honestly have no idea, but the conviction with which Keel lays his unbelievable case forward is one of the more extreme examples I’ve experienced of how irreconcilable perception can be between two people.
This disconnect between perception and reality has repercussions on religion as well. Christianity (along with many other religions) likes to claim a monopoly on the singular truth of the world – in fact, “The Truth” is a bit of a dog-whistle term within Christian culture. However, if even a mentally-sound person isn’t able to perceive the world quite the same as anyone else (not to mention the countless individuals with physical impairments), just how concrete can we consider The Truth to be? In regards to sin and punishment, Christianity likes to assume that everyone is on an equal footing, but the “reality” of the world shows that this is clearly not the case. What about the woman who insured with my company who suffered a traumatic brain injury which drove her to commit suicide? Is she responsible for the actions of a clearly damaged brain? Or what about the man in my grandmother’s retirement home who fell off a roof and hit his head, eliminating the man’s entire personality and mental acuity in the process? When you are essentially transformed into an invalid, can you even be held accountable anymore? I’ll be honest, these sorts of questions trouble me quite a bit, and if we’re going to insist that we have a just God, it pushes me closer and closer to a universalist perspective.
So we’ve established that everyone only sees an objective perception of the world and not “the truth” – what do we do with this knowledge? Well ultimately that’s for you to decide, but I have a few recommendations. Be aware that other people may feel differently from you and treat them with due respect. Be open to other peoples’ ideas. You don’t necessarily have to accept their views, but don’t dismiss them outright. This is the basis of tolerance and an enriched life. Also, be aware that if someone is peddling a monopoly on “the truth”, they’re probably full of shit.
Oh, but be sure to read I Choose to Stand religiously, because I’m always right.
Only throwing this in here because I know I’m going to have to explain that was a joke eventually…
*Obviously this last statement is pretty much bullshit. Satanism is a counter-cultural movement, but if it suddenly became the dominant religion then it would begin consolidating power just like every other popular movement in history. **In doing some of the research on Bloodhounds, I came across this stinker from the always-entertaining Answers in Genesis. In it, they state that the Bloodhound’s nose is so amazing that it could only have been created by God. However, this is ignoring the fact that an evolutionist would not claim that the Bloodhound came about by accident – if we accept that dogs are descended from domesticated wolves, then the Bloodhound would have been designed through successive breeding. Is it that difficult to picture the best trackers amongst the wolf-dogs being bred together to produce an uber-tracker? Of course, this is AIG and they aren’t exactly known for their amazing debating skills.
So I finally got around to seeing The Revenant last night. I enjoyed it, maybe not quite as much as Birdman though (that said, it was clearly intended to be more of a crowd-pleaser than Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s big Oscar winner). As I often do when I see an interesting film, I decided to Google it to see what sort of conversation was still on-going around it. The first entry on Google’s news feed really caught my eye though: The Revenant Calls for Critical Christian Response.
Having just watched the film, I find the notion of Christian critics considering The Revenant to be a very good film for Christian audiences to be a baffling notion. It’s about as pure an example of the revenge narrative as you can get, a concept which (while very popular amongst storytellers and audiences) is very much at odds with the Christian philosophy of radical enemy-love and “turning the other cheek”. The article agrees with me on this response, and also lists 10 films which are typically considered very “Christian” within the popular critical consensus:
The Tree of Life
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Lord of the Rings
The Shawshank Redemption
Saving Private Ryan
Now, aside from The Matrix, The Tree of Life and The Lord of the Rings, which are all bursting with Christian themes, many of these films seem like a stretch to me. I mean, The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope, but that’s hardly a theme that really resonates with damn near everyone (hence why it has been IMDb’s top rated film for close to a decade now). Saving Private Ryan is arguably a Christ metaphor if you twist it into a pretzel, but if for example I was asked to mark a paper based on this argument I’d have a hard time accepting the premise. And what the literal hell is Fight Club doing on this list? As much as I loved that film, it is far easier to argue that it is a Marxist film and/or satire of modern macho-masculinity than a Christian film. I have no idea where they even start that argument. I’m sure there are other films on there which are just as baffling (unfortunately, I haven’t seen (enough of) American Beauty, Magnolia or Braveheart to comment on them, but I have a hard time seeing Braveheart in particular as being a Christian narrative.
By the way, I should make it clear that I’m not exactly shitting on these films. I’m not so stupidly religious that I can’t enjoy a film on its own merits or outside of my convictions (hell, one of the more intriguing films I saw this year was The Witch, which is debatably Satanic). Again, I really liked The Revenant, but I’m not deluded enough to believe that my enjoyment of it should be a validation of my belief system, because within that context it was an incredibly ugly film. Are Christian critics arguing that it’s “Christian enough” because it has spiritual themes, a central character who “rises from the dead” and that the hero stays his hand at the end? That might actually be enough if the film didn’t completely subvert each of these criteria – the spiritual themes amount to ambigious visions of the hero’s deceased family, our “risen Christ” comes back to sow death and destruction upon the man who wronged him (which would arguably make him into an “anti-Christ”) and the stays his hand at the end, but in doing so not only doesn’t forgive his enemy, but hands him over to his other enemies, who proceed to scalp him alive. Yeah, some lesson learned there, eh?
Naturally, another part of the article that resonated with me was the authour’s questioning of the masculine-dominated Christian critical opinion. This is obviously coming into play with such selections as Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart, where violence and masculinity are the sources of power, rather than forgiveness and mercy (in fact, Upham’s big moment of character development in Saving Private Ryan comes when he guns down a German soldier after letting on live earlier in the film in the same scenario). This definitely seems to tie into the reception of The Revenant, which has absolutely no room for forgiveness in its heart and very much is a glorification of violence (again, not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing, I just don’t think it’s a Christian thing).
Of course, I also question where these “Christian critics” are coming from. It’s pretty well known that there’s a strong culture of violent retaliation amongst conservative Evangelicals in the US which we saw with the acceptance of the Iraq War, or the typical response whenever there’s a terrorist attack on the news (“let’s bomb those damned sand n*ggers back to the stone age!!!!”). Coincidentally, today is the 5th anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, a day which saw people literally out in the streets celebrating. In hindsight, the celebration was premature and The War on Terror was only going to get worse (in fact, The War on Terror was in itself an escalating factor in creating terror), so his death solved little. I can remember my own reaction at the time upon hearing the news and seeing all of the people celebrating over the death – wasn’t that a little barbaric in itself? Weren’t we so angry to begin with because we thought they were celebrating over killing our own people? It especially rang true when, just a month later, Jackass star Ryan Dunn killed himself and a passenger in a drunk driving accident, but people were crying that you couldn’t speak ill of the dead – to which I quipped that you couldn’t criticize the guy unless he killed another 3000 people along with him.
Anyway, the point here is that we, as a society, are obsessed with violence. However, as they say, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. If we perpetuate the cycle of violence, it only makes things worse – just look at the shitstorm that we created in Iraq and Syria for a current example. Revenge is fun on the big screen, but when it spills over into real life and begins to inform our belief systems, then it’s time for some introspection.
I am 2 years late on this story, but my father told me about the Benham brothers, a real estate family-duo who had a reality TV show lined up with HGTV, but which was cancelled when it was revealed that one of the brothers was active in anti-LGBTQ protests. Someone had played a video about them at his Bible study, where he was saying they were pressured out of their TV deal by HGTV because they wouldn’t compromise on their faith. This sounded rather suspicious and obviously one-sided to me (plus it’s not like the world needed another shitty real estate reality TV show/60-minute home improvement commercial anyway), so I looked into it and it would seem that Right Wing Watch made some (arguably hyperbolic) statements about one of the brothers’ views on homosexuality and the “gay agenda”.
If you follow conservative evangelical circles, all the stuff they said is pretty much par for the course for that kind of worldview. This represented a rift between what was reported to me and what seems to have actually happened though – this was represented to me as the brothers being persecuted for being Christians and pressured to cave in to “The World”, whereas it seems like the show was actually cancelled because of shitty public statements that one of the brothers had made. Is this religious persecution? I think it would be hard to argue that it isn’t religious persecution in a sense, but do I feel sorry for him? Not really, because he’s being persecuted for not being able to persecute others (and if you believe that the show was cancelled due to persecution over being a Christian, then you’re basically saying that a core aspect of Christianity is the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people). If we simply looked at the brothers immediately after the HGTV cancellation then I’d be willing to potentially feel some sympathy for them, since they seemed to be just getting strung up for some statements made a few years earlier. However, that time is long past and they seem to be leveraging their persecution complex to get political attention. Naturally, they’re from North Carolina and have been showing up in the news lately saying stupid bullshit which is further solidifying the accusations that, hey, maybe these guys just don’t like gays.
Oh sure, the brothers will vehemently argue that “anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying”, but they seem to think that only applies to individuals, since they also claim “homosexuality and its agenda […] is attacking the nation,” and that it “erodes the moral fabric of our society” and “threaten(s) future generations”. Do those sound like the statements of someone who isn’t hateful of gay people?
This, of course, is just the logical issue with the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to the so-called “gay problem” in the church. You’re really just deflecting the argument by trying to be loving, but when you consider a major aspect of the person’s identity to be abhorrent, you’re going to have a hard time making them feel loved. Similarly, my father echoed this sentiment when he told me the Benham brothers story: “I’m not anti-gay, I’m just pro-Bible.” I’m sorry, but bull-f–king-shit. You’re anti-gay because that’s what you think you faith has told you to become, but you’re worried about the stigma that such a label gives you. Seriously, stop shying away from your unsavoury aspects because you think they’ll make you look like the bad guy – because really, that’s what us Christians are being here. We are the assholes here, denying people equal rights and respect that the rest of us enjoy because we believe that is what God wants us to do. If that’s still what you believe then fine, but don’t try to turn yourself into a noble defender who isn’t even incidentally hating on anyone, because it’s making us all look like idiots.
Happy Easter everyone! Unlike Christmas, Easter seems to be that holiday which Christian conservatives don’t seem to shove the “true meaning” of into our faces incessantly, for whatever reason. Of course, to pick up the slack, the neo-pagans have to get their word in:
Sigh… I know there’s a common conception that religious people are anti-intellectual and can’t accept facts, but it can be easy to forget that if you’re going to be pushing for paganism or atheism, then you have to do a quick Snopes check first. Beyond that, I think every Christian who celebrates Easter goes “why the hell do we symbolize this celebration with eggs and rabbits?”, it’s not like they thought that there was an actual religious significance to it.
The mention of Constantine was also rather interesting in that meme, as neo-pagans seem to have a really odd fixation on him:
Perhaps neo-pagans are salty about Constantine effectively ushering in the end of the biggest pagan empire? Do they wish that the modern world’s religious demographics were overwhelmingly pagan (after all, no Christianity also means that Islam would be non-existent or wildly different, effectively eliminating 2/3 of the current world’s religious allegiance)? Do they long for a day where the social conservatives are harping on about “In gods we trust!” and marginalizing those weird monotheistic Christian people which are popular amongst filthy hippies? I can’t help but feel that this line of thinking would be rather… vindictive and petty.
On a completely different topic, I put out a pair of posts a few months ago responding to theidiotic Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 “controversy” drummed up by people who freak out whenever someone says “SJW” (hmm… on second thought, this ties into “This Video Will Make You Angry” perfectly… seriously, watch it). Well the game is finally out and PlayAsia’s ploy seems to have worked well, as they’re raking in the cash importing copies of the game overseas to silly dumbasses who still think that us SJWs will give a shit.
As you might remember, my biggest criticism during the “controversy” was not so much that the game was sexist, but that the game was going to be a steaming pile of crap:
I can guarantee you that DOAX3 is not worth your outrage. I seriously question how many of these angry people have actually played a DOAX game, because they are utter shit. For a laugh, I tried out Dead or Alive Paradise, and it was absolutely wretched. If all you wanted to do is oogle girls in bikinis, you should realize that that is barely a feature in the game. Most of what you do is boring menu-based busywork until you decide to play a minigame for about 30 seconds. It has more in common with dating games than you would expect. Now obviously there is a certain niche market for that kind of game, which is fine, but I doubt that they’re the ones doing the bulk of the complaining here. The extremely creepy tone and general pervy-ness are just a veneer over a husk of a game which very quickly goes sour. […]
Well the reviews are in and from what I have read, DOAX3 is actually even more threadbare than previous entries in the franchise, having removed multiplayer, some of the mini-games and not making any real improvements on the stuff that stayed in (including apparent lag input on the pool hopping which existed in previous DOAX games, which rendered that activity practically unplayable). Of course, the graphics and physics have been praised, as they should be since that’s obviously where all the effort went. Reviews have beenarguably somewhat harsh (although some areridiculously easy on the game), but the overall feeling seems to be that, at best, the game is incredibly niche. I’m extremely curious to see how many of the people who were whining during the controversy will pick this up, play for about 15 minutes and then go “wait, that’s it?!” Considering that the people who complain about SJWs in gaming are also typically the “real true hardcore gamer” crowd, I can’t see them getting much joy out of DOAX3.
Oh and if that wasn’t enough, the game is actually even more cynically exploitative than even I was expecting:
Koei-Tecmo have demonstrated through DOA5:LR that DOAX3 is going to be packed full of many of the corporate practices that gamers have been rallying against for years now. If your favourite part of the old DOAX games was unlocking all the skimpy bikinis then prepare to be disappointed – DOAX3 is going to be a DLC factory. […] Oh, and all of those characters who failed to make the cut for the game, including such main characters as Tina Armstrong and Lei Fang? They’ll almost certainly be added in as DLC in the future as well.
While bikini DLC is still up in the air (at present there is only 1 in the store, but it seems like a 100% certainty that more will be added shortly) and upcoming DLC characters have been teased, I was not expecting Koei-Tecmo to introduce freaking microtransactions to the game. Apparently the game becomes a tedious grindfest as you do the same shallow mini-games over and over again to try to unlock anything worthwhile… unless you decide to spend real-world money (in a game which is already a full-priced release mind you), ranging from $6 to a whopping $190!!!! Just… why? You guys know that Youtube and Rule34 are things right? You don’t need to buy this game to experience it, and Koei Tecmo certainly doesn’t deserve to succeed with this game. As for you Team Ninja… can we just get Ninja Gaiden 4, please? At least make it better than Ninja Gaiden 3 and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, and I’ll be happy.
I’ve got to say, I have been looking forward to this playlist update for a while now. The reason for that is because I have REALLY gotten into Iron Maiden’s discography now and have been listening to their music pretty much every day lately. In fact, narrowing down to just one song from them this week was hard enough. In the end though, I decided to settle on the title track from arguably my favourite Maiden album, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. This album just exemplifies what I love so much about Iron Maiden, the sweeping epics, the tackling of simple (but deep) themes and some absolutely killer guitar solos. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son seems to get overlooked in favour of more of the “classic” Maiden albums (Piece of Mind, Killers, The Number of the Beast, Powerslave, etc), but for my money it’s criminally underrated. That said, it also demonstrates just how deep Iron Maiden’s discography is. Seriously, if you aren’t listening to them already, the damn well do it.
I also knew that I wanted to play some Showbread this week. I initially was going to go with “Dear John Piper”, but with all the insanity going on in the States at the moment due to the nomination process, another song really jumped out at me. “I’m Afraid That I’m Me” might be Showbread’s best song that encapsulates the political religiosity of American evangelicalism:
“Lately I have found frustration among the incongruence / a movement of peasants and pacifists drowning in patriotic affluence / I feel as though I should do something but I’m staggered by the ramifications / they’ve baptized the empire into the church and heralded its sanctification”
“‘Blessed are the meek’ succumbs to ‘might makes right’ / “turn the other cheek” succumbs to pre-emptive strike / “love your enemies” is fossilized beneath the frozen tundra / and ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ is devoured by ‘God bless America’.
You file the children into the classrooms, make them stand and say an oath / and when we ask ‘should I love God or my country?’ / you smile and tell us ‘both.’ / We’ve hidden the God we claim we serve and driven him beneath the floorboards / but I can still hear this still, small voice / and I can’t take it anymore”
What else can I say? For all the political and religious commentary, it’s clearly a very deserving song to add to the IC2S Playlist.
Good news – the Metal Gear retrospective is 100% complete and ready to go in the new year! I’ll be posting the first part on the 1st of January, and then a new post every second day thereafter, so be sure to tune in! It has been a lot of fun to go through the whole series and write up these analyses, so I hope you find them enlightening and enjoyable as well!
First up this week is “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen” by Santana from the album Abraxas. There’s a good chance that you’ve heard this song before, as it is a classic (plus it was in Guitar Hero III). There isn’t really much of a story behind me picking this song, I just really like it, it’s a great example of a guitar-driven song and a good demonstration of the oddly “spiritual” quality to Santana’s music.
Secondly we have “My Allegiance” by ILIA from their EP Reborn. Back when Weathered Steel was still in business, they used to play ILIA all of the time… which was annoying, because they are distinctly not a metal band. It isn’t that their music is bad by any means, but when you have an upbeat Christian rock song sandwiched between 2 angry death metal songs, it makes them feel very out of place. However, “My Allegiance” was their only song that felt like it might have a place on Weathered Steel, in part due to the bridge where lead singer Suzy Martinez just suddenly starts roaring for a couple verses. It’s unexpected considering how low-key most of their music is, but it’s a cool, passionate moment which puts the punctuation mark on an already-enjoyable song, cementing it as something special to me.
However, I recently bought Reborn and discovered that there’s a “radio edit” version of “My Allegiance”. As someone who enjoys heavy music, I knew exactly what this meant – a “screamless” version. Lo and behold, that is exactly what the “radio edit” is, an otherwise identical version of the song, if not for the screams being replaced with watered-down, regular singing. It’s a really disappointing difference to me, which just deflates the song in my opinion. I enjoy when an artist is willing to scream in a song as it often gives them a further degree of passion to express themselves with. Furthermore, I have a sneaking suspicion that ILIA felt like they had to water the song down in order to get “My Allegiance” played on Christian “rock” radio… with heavy quotation marks around the “rock” bit. Christian rock tends to be musically neutered in comparison to real rock, which probably goes some way to explaining why it has such an awful reputation. I wouldn’t be surprised if ILIA agrees – after all, they did make the “official” release the one containing the screams.
There’s a recurring argument which seems to occur within my family every couple months. Most recently it was triggered by Rajon Rondo’s anti-gay comments to a gay referee in an NBA game and his two subsequent non-apologies. On one side, the argument was being made that Rondo was being an asshole, but how was this different than player ribbing one another by making comments about their mothers/sisters? There was also the free speech argument being tossed around (even though this is a case where an employee is being punished by his employer because of a positive image that they want to project, not an opinion in the public forum). One particular party was also arguing that people are just too “soft” these days, love to complain about stupid bullshit and need to grow thicker skin (this party, for the record, is only 22 bloody years old). These comments did get me thinking though – when we SJW-types stand up and make a fuss about something, are we just doing so because we’re a bunch of cry babies? Are we doing anything productive? When I write about womens’ representation in pop culture, what am I actually trying to achieve? To put it as simply as possible: what’s the point?
Well let’s make one thing clear – for all of my feminist criticism, I don’t think that any one example of objectification is going to be the tipping point where someone becomes a misogynist. However, I’m not sure if that’s an excuse to go entirely the other way – in one of his videos, TotalBiscuit says that he doesn’t believe that video games cause real-life violence, so it would be hypocritical of him to believe that video games can cause misogyny. In my mind, this is not an equivalent analogy. Violence is something which our society looks down upon, whereas (if you’re a feminist at least) negative attitudes towards women are still quite prevalent – just look at a few of the things I have written here for some examples in “liberal” Hollywood. As a result, it would seem to me that examples of sexism are not the problem, but rather the social perceptions which they help to foster. Actually, Robert Evans put out a very interesting article on the mindsets of mass shooters while I was writing this post which helps illustrate the difference between causation and cultural perception.
Considering that pretty much all of western society has agreed that racism = bad, it’s probably best to demonstrate perception in that area. First of all, getting to the point where we could agree that racism was bad in the first place required a shift in social perception, which we’d all look back on and consider to be a good change, right? People also seem to be fairly familiar with examples of racism within culture: black guys are criminals, love fried chicken and have huge dicks, Asians are all geniuses with tiny dicks (it’s all about the dicks in racism), Muslims are women-hating savages, terrorists and have wild beards, etc. These sorts of things get passed around in our culture, but they are not necessarily true (and even if they are on a person-to-person basis, the fact that they colour our perceptions of a whole race is definitely problematic). I have seen this sort of mindset still persisting on white supremacy forums over this last week. This sort of hateful ideology must be stamped out and the only acceptable way to do so is through proper education and social dialogue.
Perceptions change over time. Islamophobia is not a thing which necessarily “is”, it is based on a perception that has developed based on the narratives put forth by various sources. For a non-SJW example, look at the Ebola panic last year. The American media threw people into a frenzy as they worried about whether this disease would come to America, go airborne and then kill millions of people… even though basically every expert agreed that there was basically no threat of an outbreak in America (not that they gave a shit about helping the 5000-10,000 people who died from the outbreaks in West Africa). Furthermore, before this story hit the news cycle, the public wasn’t worried at all about Ebola or pandemics, at least not since 2009’s Swine Flu “scare” anyway.
So how does all of this relate to blogging about Quiet’s sniper-stripper outfit then, for example? The point is quite simply to change the existing perception. Keeping it in the video game sphere, I have stated numerous times in the past that the status quo for female representation is to objectify, to damsel or to fridge them. By blogging about such representations and drawing attention to them, combined with all of the other feminists who are doing the same, we hope to create a shift in the social perception. The same can be said in other areas where people have been questioning why people even care – from sexual harassment in the military, to Black Lives Matter, to Caitlyn Jenner becoming the face of trans-rights. We are creating a dialogue by questioning the status quo. After all, if we did not speak up about an issue, the issue would never change.
The secondary consideration is that a change in perception will also (hopefully) lead to more diversity. If the status quo is never questioned, then most of our media will never even think to try something different. This is why so many video game protagonists have been white males, especially in the past console generation. Diversity also means that certain “negative” portrayals can also be totally acceptable. For example, in an early post on the blog, I questioned why it was wrong to objectify women, but men were fair game (eg, the Wolfpack in Twilight, Magic Mike, etc). I have come to realize that objectification is not inherently the issue here, but rather that women have been disproportionately objectified for decades. As a result, we need to rein back the objectification and make it more egalitarian. This is also why most SJW-types don’t give a shit about DOAX3 or Pirahna 3D, these are experiences which are really obviously little more than a softcore fantasy with a very limited audience. Conversely, The Phantom Pain‘s Quiet is problematic as she is the sole female character in an otherwise-serious, high-profile release who is dressed very inappropriately for her supposed role.
With all of this in mind, I don’t think my criticisms are going to suddenly turn you into a feminist/progressive Christian/etc either. However, my hope with this blog is that I can help push you in that direction, little by little. After all, that’s how I ended up where I am now in basically every walk of my life. Very few people just radically change in one instance, it took me years to understand why we still needed feminism, that dogmatic evangelicalism was killing my Christian faith and that I should value other people rather than being a self-interested prick. Just remember to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to other peoples’ opinions.
Postscript: I have this article scheduled to post within 2 and a half hours, but even in that time new supplementary material has presented itself which I felt that I must share. The article from To Do Justice on the Patheos network lambastes Christian misogyny, along with our culture’s casual sexism which stems from the perceptions of what is acceptable. Even if you think that binding and gagging women and saying “Peace on Earth” is “just a joke, don’t take it so seriously”, you have to admit that it is both an extremely tired joke and in really poor taste (you bound your freaking little daughters’ mouths as well!?!?!).