About twenty years before God’s Not Dead, artist Robert Crumb authored a pair of provocative satirical comics entitled “When the Niggers Take Over America!” and “When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America!” Both are hyperbolic examinations of the delusional, paranoid mind of the racist and anti-Semite. As Crumb explains in The New Yorker: “I just had to expose all the myths people have of blacks and Jews in the rawest way possible to tilt the scale toward truth” (1). The parallels between Crumb’s comics and God’s Not Dead are striking, but disturbingly, the latter work is never intended as satire.
Crumb’s paranoid fantasy world depicts blacks as uniformly single-minded, controlling, and violent: “They still have not evolved beyond a great love of violence and mayhem!” the paranoid narrator warns (2). Similarly, the sole adult Muslim character in Harold Cronk’s fantasy world of God’s Not Dead is depicted as single-minded, controlling, and violent: He relentlessly beats his daughter into submission the moment he sees her listening to Franklin Graham on her iPod.
Atheists are depicted even more maliciously–for example, one character responds to the news of his girlfriend’s cancer by callously asking, “This couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Much later in the film, the same character commits vehicular homicide and doesn’t bother to stop to check on the victim. The characterization is absurdly hyperbolic on its face, but it becomes even more nonsensical when one considers the fact that atheism is actually inversely correlated with homicide rates–and that atheism is actually directly correlated with other societal health indicators such as physical health, adult literacy, and educational attainment (3).
Much like Crumb’s vile portrayal of blacks and Jews, the fantasy world of God’s Not Dead unwaveringly depicts atheists as callous, inhuman, immoral, and hopeless. This depiction is equally as repulsive as Crumb’s intentionally extreme satire, but it also starkly contrasts with reality. According to a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health, “[S]piritual participants were nearly three times more likely to experience an episode of depression than the secular. The strength of belief also had an effect, with participants with strong belief having twice the risk of participants with weak belief. There was no evidence of religion acting as a buffer to prevent depression after a serious life event” (4).
The film’s disconnect with reality is further exemplified in the character of Amy Ryan, who proudly displays an American Humanist bumper sticker next to the one that reads, “I love evolution.” When asked where she derives her hope, Amy has no recourse but to stand sullenly in a prolonged, stunned silence. If the writers of God’s Not Dead had bothered doing any research at all (or at least exhibited a modicum of integrity), perhaps they would have referred to Nikki Stern’s Hope in Small Doses, published by the American Humanist Association. Perhaps they would have referred to physicist and Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism Lawrence Krauss, who stated in a 2012 interview, “I find the possibility of living in a universe that was not created for my existence, in which my actions and thoughts need not bend to the whims of a creator, far more enriching and meaningful than the other alternative” (5).
In the end, in a transparent act of the writers’ wish fulfillment, the atheist (but not actually atheist) antagonist of God’s Not Dead is killed off at the end–but not before two reverends coerce him under duress into converting to their brand of Christianity (rather than contacting paramedics). As the victim lay choking in a pool of his own blood, the two reverends smile at each other approvingly. “What happened here tonight is a cause for celebration,” one of the reverends wistfully announces, grinning from ear to ear, as the victim’s body lay decomposing before his eyes.
As the victim dies in agony, upbeat Christian pop music plays in the background, and we see scenes of a massive crowd rocking out to The Newsboys intercut with the death scene. By this point, virtually every character converts to the film’s particular brand of Christianity (including the Muslim’s daughter)–because, after all, why wouldn’t any rationally thinking person accept the proposition that a man sacrificed himself unto himself to save us from himself based on revisions of revisions of nonexistent autographs originating from an ancient, superstitious culture?
The attendees I saw my screening with reveled in the character’s death, matching the actions of the protagonists on screen. Some danced in their seats and clapped to the music, some beamed cheerfully and nodded, and others wept with joy. I couldn’t help but wonder: How would they feel about a movie produced by an Islamic organization that showed a villainous Christian visiting, say, Indonesia coerced by a virtuous Imam into reciting the Shahada moments before his death? Would they be so cheerful then?
And what about that seventy-plus percent of the world population that does not identify as Christian? Do the fans of God’s Not Dead honestly believe that millions of Indonesians are going to Hell–for the crime of being born in the wrong country? Do they believe that millions of Japanese people share the same fate? I’ve asked questions like this many times to believers, and I always expect some type of apologetic hand-waving away of such a vile doctrine; but instead they respond in the affirmative, describing with anticipatory glee the thought of being comfortably perched atop the heavens as they witness billions of Africans and Asians burning for eternity (or being sorrowly “separated” from God for eternity, depending on one’s exegesis). Similarly, they see no problem with the idea of sharing a spot in Heaven with jailhouse convert Jeffrey Dahmer–and they see no problem with the idea of civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi spending an eternity in Hell at the same time. Both intellectual and moral bankruptcy are prerequisites for adopting such an inane, narcissistic philosophy–which God’s Not Dead proudly and hypocritically triumphs as virtuous.
But the intellectual problems with God’s Not Dead are not merely theological, as it understands physics and philosophy as little as it does Christianity. It doesn’t bother to differentiate the two subjects–it miscategorizes evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as a philosopher, for instance–and in in both cases, its mind-numbingly myopic perspectives on them are excruciatingly reductive.
For example, rather than taking an honest approach to Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design, the bulk of which is actually a compelling analysis of M-theory, the film dumbs down Hawking’s book as nothing more than an affront to God (which, incidentally, the film never clearly defines). Similarly, it takes the genuinely thought-provoking character of the madman in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science and dumbs it down to the single, literalist, out-of-context phrase “God is Dead.” The film’s interminable array of broad misconceptions about both physics and philosophy (complete with an appeal to the odious Lee Strobel) are so vast they warrant their own separate reviews, but thankfully, philosophy professor Daniel Fincke has already done this excellently in “A Philosophy Professor Analyzes God’s Not Dead’s Case For God” (6), as well as by logician David Kyle Johnson in “God’s Not Dead? Neither Is Philosophy” (7).
The persistent dishonesty and dehumanizing nature of this propaganda piece is not lost on all of the Christian community, however. Chris Attaway of The Discerning Christian writes: “So when I see a movie like God’s Not Dead, and I see the fear it has of atheists, liberals, Muslims, and the like, I can’t help but think something is wrong. I know what it is like to dedicate one’s life to seeking the truth, and this isn’t it; it is the opposite. This movie actually hides from the truth! Why doesn’t the movie actually engage with the atheists, liberals, and people of other religions which it depicts? Instead, it chooses to attack straw men and forge a counterfeit victory at the end in order to pretend it has done something of substance. This movie is terrified of real discussion, or else the movie would put such discussion on display” (8).
In a world where Muslims and atheists are the two most mistrusted and maligned minorities in the United States (9), a movie like God’s Not Dead–which demonizes both groups–is precisely what we do not need. It proudly triumphs every false stereotype imaginable, from the deeply insulting (and confused) “atheists just hate God” trope to the “atheists just had a bad experience” trope. It ignores the fact that most atheists are people who seriously considered the evidence, and as a result came to the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence for the claims of religions–as evidenced by the fact that atheists and agnostics are on average more informed about religion than all other religious groups, according to a 2010 Pew Research survey (10).
For these reasons and many more, God’s Not Dead‘s thesis is equally as repugnant as “When the Niggers Take Over America!” and “When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America!” In the latter comic, the paranoid narrator in the final panel proudly proclaims, “Our Dear Lord Jesus Christ awaits us with open arms on the other side. AMEN!” The conclusion of God’s Not Dead is just as arrogant, and it is just as contemptuous and dismissive of those who do not join the (reformed evangelical) Christian cult–led by The Newsboys, which the film shamelessly promotes throughout.
When Chris Attaway of The Discerning Christian writes that “our common humanity unites us much more than our beliefs divide us,” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t care whether or not one believes in a god–it’s what one does with that belief that matters. Unfortunately, it’s precisely movies like God’s Not Dead that facilitate the division that debilitates human progress.
In that regard, those who financially support and promote dehumanizing propaganda like God’s Not Dead are the enemies of humanity.
1. Als, Hilton. “When Comics Aren’t Funny.” The New Yorker, November 14, 1994: p. 48.
2. Crumb, Robert. R. Crumb’s America. London: Knockabout Comics, 1994.
3. Paul, Gregory. 2005. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health With Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies.” Journal of Religion and Society 7: 1–17.
4. Leurent B., Nazareth I., Bellón-Saameño J., Geerlings M.I., Maaroos H., Saldivia S., Svab I., Torres-González F., Xavier M., King M. “Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Oct. 2013
5. Krauss, Lawrence M. “Everything and Nothing: An Interview with Lawrence M. Krauss.” The Blog: Sam Harris, Jan. 2012.
6. Finckie, Daniel. “A Philosophy Professor Analyzes God’s Not Dead’s Case For God.” Patheos, Mar. 2012.
7. Johnson, David Kyle. “God’s Not Dead? Neither is Philosophy.” Psychology Today, Mar. 2014.
8. Attaway, Chris. “God is Dead, and the Newsboys Have Killed Him.” The Discerning Christian, Apr. 2014.
9. Jones, Jeffrey. “Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates.” Gallup, Jun. 2012.
10. Lugo, Luis. “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Sep. 2010