“God’s Not Dead” — The Good and the Bad

god's not dead

If you haven’t seen this movie and do not want to know what happens, you definitely should not read this article, as there will be several spoilers. You have been warned.

God’s Not Dead is set up almost exactly like the movie Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. There are several different story lines that are all eventually revealed to be connected through the characters’ relationships. Despite the multiple story lines, the main story is of a college freshman who is required by his philosophy professor to prove that God is not dead in order to pass the class. This all stemmed from Josh’s (the student) refusal to sign a piece of paper stating “God is dead” as required by Radisson (the professor) at the beginning of the year.

Let me say up front that I’m not here to completely bash this movie. In fact, I really enjoyed some parts. Hot Spencer from Good Luck Charlie plays the part of the protagonist, Josh Wheaton, which is a casting choice I fully endorse. And even though the whole movie looked like a commercial for the Newsboys (the final scene happens at their concert), I always enjoy a good throwback to my time growing up in the church….. “Not Ashamed”, “Love Liberty Disco”, “Take Me to Your Leader”, “Reality”, “Shine”…. All songs by the Newsboys that defined my idea of good music in the 90′s. And since when was Michael Tait (of DC Talk) a part of Newsboys??? I’m really off my contemporary Christian music game.

Joking aside, there were parts and ideas in the movie that really led me to think about my beliefs.  Josh presents some interesting support for the idea of believing in the Christian God. I won’t relay all of it here, but I do suggest you watch the movie and form your own opinion. Radisson and Josh both use theories from well-known philosophers to try and prove their respective opinions, and it provides for great conversation.  Josh has this great quote during his discussion on evolution and creationism where he says, “You don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to believe that God exists.” That’s a statement I can get behind. But what I mostly drew from his reasoning was that you can’t prove God is dead because you can’t prove that God exists (my thoughts, not what the movie was saying). Both arguments were almost solely based on theories and philosophers, leading to no tangible “proof” that God exists, just more questions.

There are a few scenes in the movie that were especially thought provoking for me. During a scene with the Muslim father and daughter, the father tells the daughter that he understands that it’s hard for her to be a part of a world that she cannot partake in (because of her Muslim beliefs), but those who are not Muslims are not truly happy even though they may seem to be because they do not worship God in the way he demands.  It was eerie to me how similar those words are to beliefs expressed by Christians… that they are to be “in the world, but not of it”, that non-believers are not truly happy because they aren’t living according to God’s will.  Maybe that was the point of the directors, I’m not sure.

In the final showdown between Josh and Radisson, Josh specifically states that without a belief in God, morality has no basis.  This is a statement that deserves (and will get) a larger discussion, but know that I find this incredibly problematic and also incredibly offensive.  I do not currently hold a belief in God, I don’t really know what I believe, but that does not mean that I no longer hold reason to believe in basic morals.  For that to be true, the two-thirds of the world that does not believe in Christianity would have to be living in utter chaos, uninhibited by the morality exclusive to Christianity.  A situation that is as absurd as the idea it’s founded on.

What I found most troubling was the portrayal of non-believers. The antagonist, Professor Radison, is a borderline physically aggressive asshole, who demands his students state that “God is dead” and accept that fact in order to move on in the course. He’s even called verbally abusive by his Christian girlfriend (a former student), who later decides that she is “unequally yoked” after being made fun of by him and his seemingly all-atheist fellow philosophy professors for being Christian. A Muslim father hits and disowns his daughter for becoming a Christian.  Another atheist we meet is Amy Ryan, who is your stereotypical, “Meat is Murder”, evolution-believing atheist that ambushes famous believers (like Willie Robertson *eyeroll*) for unexpected interviews about their faith for her atheist blog. When she later finds out she has cancer, her atheist/lawyer boyfriend BREAKS UP WITH HER BECAUSE SHE HAS CANCER. He even gets mad at her for bringing up her awful news right after he happily announces that he made partner at his firm…… I am not making this up. In the end, it is revealed that Radisson, the professor, actually believes in God, but he hates God because he believes that God did not answer his prayers to heal his mother who died of cancer. So Radisson exacted a one-man battle against the belief in God in order to exact some sort of sad revenge. It’s honestly the most heart-breaking story out of them all, especially considering that in the final scene Radisson is hit by a car and killed on his way to find his ex-girlfriend at a Newsboys concert (but not before a last minute salvation, led by a pastor who sees the accident happen).

My point not being that these situations never happen (because they most certainly do), but that these are the only portrayals of non-believers in the entire film!  It’s every self-proclaimed martyr’s dream-come-true, that all non-believers are out to get Christians.  That everyone who doesn’t believe in God is an arrogant ass, unless salvation magically cures their ego.   Where’s the case for the atheist who simply does not believe in the Bible, who finds more truth in science?  Where’s the case for the agnostic who doesn’t claim to hold the end-all, be-all knowledge about the existence of a god?  Where’s the case for the former believer, who is searching for a truth that might not necessarily end in Christianity?  I know that not all Christians perceive non-believers in this limited way, but oftentimes it feels like those voices are being drowned out by the stereotypical drivel displayed here.

The sad fact is that our world does not deal well in the “grey”, in the areas where life is not necessarily black or white, where people can’t only exist in two opposing boxes.  But in the grey is where real life happens.  It’s where people search and struggle, where beliefs are lost and found.  In the grey is where reality begins.  We might want to try and spend more time there.

 

Did you see God’s Not Dead? What are your thoughts?  

When I thought Catholics weren’t Christians

That was long, long ago.  But it’s an idea that has been a source of wonder to me for a long time.  I grew up learning that Catholics “worshiped Mary” and heard anecdotes about how Baptists weren’t as good Christians as we were, from the pulpit, no less.  Apparently there are levels of Christianity, and speaking in tongues puts you on a higher level, closer to God.  And God-forbid you attend a non-denominational church, because those people are just backsliders, through and through.  It was a weird “us versus them” mentality that really shouldn’t exist in the church.  And it’s not an idea that solely exists in the Church of God.

There are hundreds of denominations (if not thousands) that make up the Christian church.  It is evidence of the human nature of faith, that so many interpretations can be taken from one book.  To be fair, it is a very long book.  But as beautiful as that reality is, it can also create some ugly things.  Some of the most spiteful things I’ve heard or read, have been spoken from Christian to Christian.  All you need to do is read the comments on blogs covering the World Vision decision/reversal, to see the true vitriol that can be brought out by a difference in theological opinions.  And if that’s the way that Christians treat each other, it’s no wonder that the percentage of American’s claiming “no religion” doubled over the course of 20 years or that millennials are leaving the church in droves.

It’s an environment where my faith and heart were questioned because I supported LGBT rights.  Where my belief in evolution and advocacy for women in all forms of leadership left me feeling ostracized.  Sometimes it just feels easier to step away.  To take a breather and figure out if it’s really worth it.

In John 17, where Jesus is speaking to God, he says, “All the glory you have given to Me, I pass on to them.  May that glory unify them and make them one as We are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be refined so that all will know that you sent me, and you love them in the same way you love me.”

If the church isn’t unified…. if it isn’t “one”, it’s not effectively sending the message that Jesus stated.  And I’m sad to say that I don’t think the church is “one.”

 

Are we really surprised? *Mississippi signs RFRA into law*

Yesterday, the governor of Mississippi signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A bill very similar to ones that tried to recently pass in Kansas and Arizona, that claims to be protecting the exercise of religious freedom.  And while there was some problematic wording removed from the bill, it still could potentially be used to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.  A statement from Tony Perkins (President of the Family Research Council) ,who attended the signing in support of the bill, affirms about as much.  To be honest, as much as I love the state in which is was born and grew up, I’m not really that surprised.

First let’s get some numbers out of the way.  When compared to the rest of the country, Mississippi ranks 49th for rate of teen pregnancies, 50th for number of people below the poverty line, 47th in overall health,  49th for graduation rates, and 50th for infant mortality rate.  So yes, please use valuable time and taxpayer money passing this law, when you clearly have no other issues at hand to deal with.

Secondly,  I want to point out that a RFRA has already been passed at the federal level, way back in 1993.  Also, Mississippi currently has no law on the books barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.  It seems like there was really no need for this law.  So let’s be real, this bill is anti-gay (possibly anti-non-Christian) legislation, cloaked in the guise of “religious freedom.”   Rep. Andy Gipson said to his collegues, “It protects Christians in the state from discrimination.”  And that’s the crux of it all.  This idea that Christians are being discriminated against.  I just want to ask, WHAT DISCRIMINATION?  Because this honestly just feels like bragging rights.  It feels like bullies who want to prove that they can keep bullying and face no repercussions. 

But I want to present an alternate to all these ideas of “protection for Christians.”  What happens if a Muslim store-owner decides that providing his service or product to a Christian violates his religious beliefs, and in turn, refuses to sell to or provide service to all Christians?  Is this an outcome that you are willing to live with?  Because the protections in this law aren’t limited to Christians.  Are you willing to be discriminated against in order to protect your “right” to discriminate?  It’s a never ending cycle.

That said, when we look at it plainly, none of these actions are very Christ-like.  Jesus never refused to associate with someone because of their perceived “sins.” In fact, he was kind of known for associating with people that the religious elite deemed unforgivable.  In the words of my sister, “He let a prostitute wash his feet with her hair!!”  So when are we going to stop using religion as an excuse?

I guess the easiest way to put it is, when are we going to decide to stop being assholes and just treat each other like human beings?

Let me be clear….

I was never meant to be a writer.  English was never my best subject, and the only writing class I voluntarily took in college was because it included a study abroad trip to Greece.  Putting my thoughts into words is a grimace-inducing process, and I hold several authors in high esteem who often seem to voice my opinions more clearly than I ever could.  But the biggest thing that holds me back from writing is fear.  Fear that my beliefs will leave me ostracized from some family and friends.  Fear of backlash from those who don’t agree.  Fear that I won’t be able to effectively communicate the things I believe.  But those things are small.  Those are things that I can overcome.

SO…. here are some things you should know about me and why I’ve started this blog:

I was born into Christianity. I guess you could liken it to being born as an American.  It wasn’t something I chose for myself, and it was something I never expected to change.

I grew up in the Church of God, a denomination of the Pentecostal/Evangelical variety, known for its potluck lunches, speaking in tongues, and “hell fire and brimstone” sermons.  I started attending a non-denominational church at the age of 18, which doesn’t seem like a big life change, but if you come from a Pentecostal background, you know how huge of a difference it is.

I don’t currently know what I believe about God. I don’t know if I believe he is real.  I’ve never known what it is like to “feel the love of God” or hear God speak to me.  I’ve gone my whole life feeling “less-than” because of one “Christian-qualifier” or another.  When I was young it was the “Gift of the Holy Spirit” and older “knowing His presence.”  I feel a constant need to seek out answers to questions, and I don’t rest well in the tension of the unanswered.  If I do believe in God, I want it to be because it’s a truth I rest in, not a conformity to those who surround me.

Even though I’m not sure what I believe about God, I’m fascinated with Bible and, more specifically, with Jesus.  Especially in light of the way he is perceived by the different Christians of our current culture.  From a historical and Biblical perspective, he was an amazing man that embodied beliefs that were radical for his time.  He came to spread forgiveness and love, and it pains me to see people use him as a scapegoat for their fear and judgement, because I don’t think that’s the message Jesus spread during his time on earth.

I would never want my lack of belief to be seen as a reflection of what I think about others’ beliefs.  Some of my very best friends are amazing people who are full of faith and incredible representatives of the love of Christ.  I admire their convictions, and I’m thankful for their guidance in my times of need.

It’s a weird position I sit in.  So I ask for your grace (and forgiveness for my bad grammar) as I hash out my thoughts on this humble sort of sounding board.  I welcome your criticism (as long as it’s constructive) and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in this journey, and I hope that you all don’t mind walking along beside me.

 

 

 

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