September 3, 2014

Thoughts on God's NOT Dead

OK, it took me awhile to watch it, but I finally did. And now a few weeks after watching it, I am commenting on it. However, for both of you who read my blog, you may note that my posting has been rather sporadic anyway due to my current schedule at work. So I apologize for my timing.

Now on to the movie. I loved this film. However, due to the ending, I only give it an A-. More on that later. My fear though is that many people are going to misunderstand exactly what the film is doing and who the film is for.
It is important to notice that the film is for Christians, and not for Atheists. If you show this film to an Atheist, they are likely to be unimpressed, and perhaps even a bit angered. However, this is more due to a misunderstanding of what the movie is doing. It is not offering arguments for God's existance, but offering counter arguments to the two main arguments we tend to get from Atheists. So in this sense, if the Atheist is angered, this is more likely due to them being unreflective of their own bad arguments, or to them misunderstanding what the film is doing (or perhaps at the bad ending, which I will get to. Promise).

So what are the two arguments being dealt with?

Counter Argument 1: Argument from Authority

This is what is really being countered by the main storyline. It is important to note that the Professor only offers this as an argument. Now from an Atheist perspective, this may seem to be a straw-man. However, there are many professors who do precisely this, and there is a lot of this form of bullying going on on-line.

So how does the movie counter? By exposing it as the fallacious argument that it is. Ultimately, an argument from authority is a fallacy because no human being, no matter their credentials knows everything and because ultimately it isn't the credentials that would make an expert right, but the evidence that had convinced that expert of their opinion. At some point, we need to examine the actual evidence.

The story does this with 2 plot moves. First, it portrays the professor as a bully. This is because that is what this argument is doing. It is bullying.

The second is by the Christian presenting good arguments. Now, he doesn't present them fully, but only an a kind of introductory way. This is because they are not really what the plot is about. Instead it about how this professor tries to defeat them merely by appeal to authority. I feel the apex of this counter-argument is with the Stephen Hawking quote. He is stumped by the appeal to authority, does his research, and counters with a second authority. After this, the appeal to authority is, within the movie, dead. We instead focus all of our attention on that second argument.

Counter Argument 2: The Argument from Evil

After the professor's defeat in regard to the Stephen Hawking quote, and his embarrassment, we get to the real reason why the professor is such a bully: he lost his mother. From his perspective, God would never let his mother die.

Now, there is a problem here that needs to be acknowledged. It is a common Evangelical Argument that Atheists are all simply hurt, and that is the only reason why the reject God. This is a bad argument and shouldn't be made. You shouldn't ask the question that the main character asks of his professor "What happened to you" to every Atheist that you encounter. It is belittling to their beliefs and, on the whole, ineffective for precisely that reason. Many Atheists are going to see that argument in the movie at this point, and that is unfortunate.

However, it isn't the professor's Atheism that causes the student to ask this question. It is his bullying. The professor is clearly angry. He hates Christianity and God and he demonstrates it by how he acts, not by what he espouses. Now the movie could still be advocating the above argument, but I do think that the character is justified asking the question when he does.

But in either case, this explicitly introduces the second argument: if there is suffering in the world, then God doesn't exist. While the student does present an intellectual answer to this, in the form of the free will argument, he barely gives any time to it. Instead, he merely asserts it, and then gets the professor to expose his own hypocracy. But we aren't left with too much of an answer.

Unless we broaden our scope to the rest of the movie. Most of the movie is a series of stories of individual people dealing with various problems. But if you notice, the theme of dealing with the evil in our lives is the common thread holding all of these stories together. Ulimately the counter-argument to the problem of evil isn't some intellectual argument, but the very fact that Christianity brings healing to the suffering. It is the multi-faceted nature of Christianity in reaching into those dark places of hurt and confusion and to hold and help us that is truly the answer to the question. Christianity doesn't ignore the question of evil. It solves it.

Two Criticisms

There are some criticisms that can be made of the film though that I feel are worth looking at. And warning: spoilers ahead.

First of all, due to it's conservative source, I am sure that it is going to be critiqued from minority voices. And, quite frankly, I don't think it does too well. When we look at it from a race perspective. every non-white character is a foreigner (with the exception of Michael Tate, but he's a celebrity). Now the Chinese student, the Arab teenager, and the African missionary are all portrayed in a positive light, but one could easily get a sense that Americans are all white from this film. Even the Arab father is portrayed positively in the sense that he is heart-broken by what he feels he must do. Indeed, the portrayal of Arab culture in that scene is quite accurate (though Arab culture is of course quite varied. I am assuming the family is Sunni). But from the perspective of an American minority, they could easily feel unrepresented.

The other critique would the professor's death. I could see many atheists being offended by how this was done. Indeed, I think it is a failure of the film. It isn't so much that they killed him, but that the atmosphere around his death was so happy. I get that it is showing that the professor is saved in the end, but it should have given the moment of his death more respect than it does.

Here is how I would of done it, and maybe you can see my point. I would have had the professor see the advert for the Newsboys and leave. Then I would show the scene with Duck Dynasty (though I wouldn't have used him, but whatever) talking about sending the text message. I then would have had the montage of the various texts going out, including the Arab girl texting her younger brother, but not having one go to the professor. The last one I would show would be the girlfriend sending her text to her brother. After she does, she sees the voicemail message, and exits the auditorium. We then cut to the professor walking down the street, with no music. We see the pastor and the missionary are there. Then the professor gets hit by the car, and the scene of his bed-side confession precedes the same, except continuously, and just the sound of rain. Then he dies, and we pause... with the pastor over his body, in the rain and his head down. Then the missionary puts his hand on his shoulder and starts giving his speach. As he does, we cut back and forth between him talking to the pastor, and the girlfriend listening the voicemail left by the professor (with the sound of the Newsboys coming in quietly). Then she sends the text message to him. The pastor hears it, picks up the phone, and reads the message. He smiles, and then we cut to the concert, which now can serve as a symbol of the celebration in heaven.

Do you see how that is more respective to the death? In the movie it feels, well, vengeful. There is no beauty in the moment. And it is at such a pivotal part of the movie (you know, the ending). Indeed, it feels like the promo of the film, that is the sending of the texts and of the Duck Dynasty guy, was more important than the story, and that is just a shame.


Overall, if we understand this movie as inspiring Christians to be bold and not to be afraid, then I have to say the film succeeds, in spades. It definately could have been better, but considering the low budget, I would say that it does an excellent job. I highly recommend the film, and pray that you forgive it for its imperfections.

It does a very good job at pointing us to good arguments for God's existance, as well as telling thought provoking and probing morality stories to inspire us to think more deeply about pain and suffering. I especially like the point about the pastor not being on the side lines, but being on the front-lines, just like any missionary. Life is complicated, and one cannot be expected to answer its questions with pat answers to pat questions. We need to look deeper into the fundamental human experience and see God there, and I am thankful that the film reminds us of that.