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Is God Dead? A Review of "God's (Not) Dead"
God's Not Dead movie review
What would you do if someone in authority over you - someone who had the power to destroy your future career plans - demanded that you deny something that is core to your very being? What do you choose? Accept the demand and play along, pretending that you don't believe what you know to be true, doing what everyone around you is doing, or stand up for what you believe in, even if it means doing what those you love most tell you you shouldn't?
That is the position Josh Wheaton (played by Shane Harper) find himself when Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo) demands everyone in his philosophy class write out the words "God is dead" on a piece of paper and sign it, on their first day of class.
Josh's choice to stand up for his faith leads to Professor Radisson forcing him to either prove God exists, or be failed in class, and losing his chance to get his degree.
In the end, the class has to decide, based on the evidence they are presented with, who is right; the freshman or the professor.
Is God dead?
What do you think? Answer now, then again down below.
Is there a God?
On the first day of philosophy class, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands that his entire class deny the existence of God, or fail. Everyone in class is willing to write out and sign their names to the words "God is dead." Everyone, that is, but Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper). Josh, a Christian, refuses. Professor Radisson responds by tasking Josh with proving God's existence in only three 20 minute lectures. Under those limitations, while facing Professor Radisson's mockery and antagonism, he must convince his classmates that God is real. If he fails to do so, he fails his class, ending his hopes and dreams for his degree. Or, he could just sign the paper, like everyone else in his class, and life would go on.
Josh chooses to stand up for his convictions. In the process, he is confronted by an aggressive professor who threatens to ensure Josh never gets his degree. He goes against the wishes of his family, and even his long-term girlfriend abandons him.
Is it worth it?
Three Arguments for God
Josh has only three chances to prove God's existence. He uses this time to put forward three arguments for the existence of God.
Josh's first argument is scientific. In this lecture, Josh demonstrates how "science" once believed that the universe itself was eternal and uncaused, but that evidence shows that the universe had a beginning (the Big Bang theory), and was therefore caused. He shows how science and reason favour the existence of God; not just any god, but God as described in Christianity.
The shortest version of the cosmological argument is the kalam cosmoligical argument:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
At the end of his lecture, Professor Radisson "destroys" his entire argument with a single quote from Stephen Hawking. That quote becomes the starting point of Josh's second lecture.
In his second lecture, Josh does his research and returns to the Stephen Hawking quote, pointing out how it is circular reasoning. He also points out that, in the same book, Stephen Hawking states that "philosophy is dead," as well.
For the remainder of his lecture, Josh addresses evolution, and the challenge of how life could form from non-life, demonstrating how Darwin's gradualism theory was proven wrong by fossil evidence, suggesting that, while such evolutionary leaps could not occur through random events in such a relatively short period of time, they can be explained if they were guided by a creator.
After this lecture, Josh finds himself in a face-to-face with Professor Radisson. In this altercation, Professor Radisson reveals his own Christian past, and how he abandoned faith as a child, when his prayers to save his dying mother went unanswered.
The Problem of Evil
In this lecture, Josh addresses the reality, that bad things happen to good people. If there is a God, how can this God allow evil to exist? In this lecture he talks about free will, and the consequences of our choices.
Just before this lecture begins, however, Professor Radisson changes things up at the last moment. Rather than allow Josh to simply give the final lecture, he instead turns it into a debate; the seasoned professor taking on the freshman. The professor's anger is palpable, leading Josh to demand of him, why does he hate God so much? When the professor finally does answer the question, admitting his hatred for God, Josh then asks, "How can you hate someone who doesn't exist?"
At this point of the movie, I heard a number of people watching it with me break into applause.
The three arguments Josh uses in his lectures are common in Christian apologetics. The main problem I had with them is that time constraints prevented them from being fully addressed to the viewers, leaving significant gaps.
After the end of his third lecture, it is up to the class to decide if Josh succeeded in his goal; proving that God does exist. Almost (but not quite) the entire class eventually stands to say, "God's not dead."
Throughout the movie, there are a number of subplots. One involves a journalist, Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache) who writes for a blog called the New Left (at least I think that's what she said it was called). She ambushes people for interviews, including Duck Dynasty's Willie and Korie Robertson, while openly hostile towards her subjects. Her world is turned upside down when she learns she has cancer, and is promptly dumped by her wealthy, selfish boyfriend, Mark (Dean Cain).
Mark turns out to be the brother of Professor Radisson's girlfriend, Mina (Cory Oliver). Mina is a Christian, and a former student of Professor Radisson's. In one scene, the professor talks about his early impressions of her, and how glad he was to find such a good mind attached to her good looks. Later, however, it becomes clear that he doesn't think much of her intelligence at all, partly because of her religious beliefs, openly mocking her to his more cerebral (and atheist) friends, until she finally leaves him.
Mina's mother, meanwhile, is suffering from dementia, no longer recognising her own children. Mina visits her and tries to talk her brother into doing the same. Towards the end of the movie, he finally does, leading to what turns out to be a very powerful scene.
Another subplot involves a young woman who works in the cafeteria, Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu), where she overhears Josh talking to his girlfriend about why he feels he needs to stand up for his Christian faith. This woman, from a Muslim family, turns out to be a secret Christian. When her father learns of her Christianity, he throws her out of their home - literally.
One person who supports Josh in his efforts to defend the existence of God is Reverend Dave (David A. R. White). Mina turns to him for advice as well, and he helps Ayisha after she is rejected by her family. He also turns out to be a man who is struggling with his own faith.
And finally, there is Martin Yip (Paul Kwo), a student from China who is fascinated by talk of God and wants to learn more, but is warned against it by his father.
All of these subplots do eventually come together, adding different layers of meaning to the entire movie.
Is this movie worth spending your money on?
This movie had a lot of things going against it. It's a low budget movie, limiting its resources. It's a Christian movie, a genre with an unfortunate reputation - not entirely undeserved - for making poor quality movies. It had a limited release in the US, only recently opened in Canada, in only 33 theatres across the country, and has yet to open in the UK at the time of this writing. Given the subject matter, it also opened with a large segment of the population already determined to hate it.
I first learned about the movie only because I follow Kevin Sorbo, one of the few openly Christian actors in Hollywood, on facebook. I've wanted to see it since, and was glad to find out it would open in Canada. I'd heard both good and bad about it, but given the sorts of comments made by those who hated it, I figured that meant it was a really good movie!
Was I right?
I think so, yes.
For starters, the acting is good. Sorbo and Harper do a great job with their characters. The script writing was good, too. While the subplots did run the risk of bogging the movie down, by the end, they were tied together fairly well.
There were times when I felt some characters were off, such as Josh's girlfriend, until I remembered that I've actually met people in real life that behave that way. One subplot did come across to me as more unrealistic; the young woman who secretly converted to Christianity. Based on first hand knowledge and experience, I felt that they underplayed the severity of her situation, and portrayed her father in a far kinder light than reality. The antagonistic behaviour of the journalist, as she ambushed people she openly dispised for interviews, is another one that, at first, seemed artificial, except that once again, I have experienced that sort of behaviour myself.
It is the behaviour of Professor Radisson that one would think would be the most unrealistic. It's hard to believe that this sort of open bigotry and bullying from a professor could be real. Yet it is. This is the sort of environment that is all too common in today's universities. The movie itself is based on a book, God's Not Dead; Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty, by Rice Brooks. It's also based on real life events. One of the most amazing things about the movie comes at the end, just before the credits, when lists of real court cases involving Christian persecution in US universities scroll by. The sorts of attacks Josh experiences in the movie happens to Christian students in real life. Most modern universities are openly hostile to Christians, and there are plenty of Professor Radissons out there.
Does the movie prove what is says in the title?
Yes and no.
It addresses the primary arguments for the existence of God, but only briefly. It is more of a teaser. For those who are interested in learning more, it gives starting points for further research.
This is a movie that's really aimed at the fence sitters. If you're a Christian, I would hope you are already familiar with these arguments. If you are a staunch atheist, chances are you'll dismiss them completely. If you're somewhere in between, this movie addresses a number of important issues, providing at least a launchpad for further investigation.
Is this movie worth seeing? Yes, I would recommend it.
Is God Dead?
No. He is very much alive, and there is plenty of evidence for this.
Are you open to learning more about what that evidence is?
Answer this after you've had a chance to explore the issue.
Is there a God? (Feel free to explain more in the comments)
Here are just a few books where you can start your journey to answer the question for yourself: Is God Dead?