Once I have decided to watch a movie, there is only one piece of information I want to know in advance, which is when the movie was made, because that provides the context that might be needed to appreciate the movie and understand it. Of course, I already have other pieces of information in advance, such as the title, but basically, I like to watch the movie without having any more advance knowledge than necessary.
There is, additionally, my reason for selecting the movie for viewing. In particular, I recently decided to watch movies that featured an atheist as a prominent character, in order to see how the treatment of atheism has evolved in a hundred years of American cinema. The result of this endeavor resulted in my essay “Atheism in American Movies.” Naturally enough, God’s Not Dead (2014) was on my list.
Normally, when I review a movie, it is neither necessary nor desirable to talk about myself. But this calls for an exception. I majored in philosophy in the late 1960s, and my favorite philosopher was Friedrich Nietzsche, who was the one who originally said, “God is dead.” Needless to say, I was an atheist and have been ever since, although now my favorite philosopher is Arthur Schopenhauer.
The movie is set on a college campus. Josh Wheaton is a freshman. (I wonder how long it will be before we start designating first-year college students as “freshpersons.”) He signs up for an introductory course in philosophy. He is warned by another student not to take the course from Professor Radisson, but he is undeterred. During the first class, Radisson says he doesn’t want to waste time debating the existence of God, so he demands that every student in the class write “God is dead” on a piece of paper and sign it. Josh refuses to sign it. I must admit, Nietzschean atheist though I was, I wouldn’t have signed it either, but for very different reasons.
Radisson tells Josh that for twenty minutes in the next three classes, he will have to defend the proposition that God exists, with the implication that if he fails in this endeavor, he will flunk the course. On the first day that he has to defend his belief that God is not dead, Josh essentially advances the cosmological argument for the existence of God, which is that an eternally existing God is needed to explain how a contingent world arose out of nothingness in a big bang. On the second day, he advances the teleological argument for the existence of God, also known as the argument from design. The thrust of this argument is that God is needed to explain life. Evolution alone will not suffice. On the third day, he addresses the problem of evil, in which the all the sin and suffering of this world seems to be inconsistent with the existence of an all-powerful, loving God. His answer is that evil is the price we pay for having free will, which includes the freedom to accept Jesus as our savior, which will allow us to dwell in Heaven for eternity. He also presents the moral argument for the existence of God, which is that God is needed as a foundation for morality.
Naïve me. I thought that Radisson’s presentation on the first day was just a pose. I thought what would happen was that in the end, Radisson would give Josh an A for having the courage of his convictions, for being able to defend his views in front of the classroom, knowing that he was being judged by a militant atheist. Boy, was I wrong! That became clear after the first presentation, when Radisson becomes physical and threatening, presumably because he feels threatened by Josh. (Maybe I should have suspected something when I saw Radisson’s goatee, which is often seen in popular images of the Devil.) After the third day, Josh gets the better of Radisson when he asks him why he hates God, and we find out that he hates God because God let his mother die when he was young. Then Josh asks him how he can hate someone who doesn’t exist. Golly! Radisson never thought of that.
The rest of the movie shows how sweet and wonderful Christians are, and how mean and selfish atheists are, including Chinese communists. Of course, not everyone who believes in God is sweet and wonderful. You have to believe in the real God, because a Muslim kicks his daughter out of the house when he discovers she is an apostate who secretly listens to sermons on Christianity.
Radisson is hit by a car, receiving fatal injuries. But that’s all right, because God kept Reverend Dave in town by not allowing any car he got into to start until he was needed at that intersection where Radisson was hit. And so it is that in the long tradition of atheists in movies, Radisson repents and lets Jesus into his life just before he dies.
I learned something from watching this movie. I learned that it was made by Pure Flix Productions, a company that specializes in the genre of Christian paranoia, and it does so with a simple-mindedness that makes Sunday school look like a Jesuit seminar. At the beginning of this essay, I said that I try to keep my knowledge about a movie to a minimum before I watch it, except for such things as the title and the date in which the movie was made. I now add one more item to that list. From now on, before I watch a movie, I want to know if it was produced by Pure Flix, because if it was, there is no way I will subject myself to another movie like this one.