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Why the movie GOD'S NOT DEAD works (An Atheist On Why Christians Like It)

Updated on March 31, 2014
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The story begins on a college campus. Josh Wheaton, a freshman, is registering for classes. Josh is tall, white, unassuming, and clean cut. He looks honest without being naïve, confident without being obnoxious. He’s a Christian, but he is also someone many other college students would relate to.

When he’s registering for classes, he goes to the wrong desk at first. This is a small move, but what it does is show the audience that Josh is human. He’s not superman. This is a real college student who makes mistakes. College is intimidating, and this a precursor to a major message in the movie: humans are flawed, which is why they need to rely on God.

When Josh finds the right desk, a fellow white male student helps him out and advises him on his schedule of classes. The young adviser (who looks like a fellow student) sees Josh’s cross and realizes he’s a Christian. Because Christians wear apparel, often, as a sign of solidarity and a statement to others, this scene seems built to resonate with them. So, as the adviser sees Josh as a peer, so does the audience Christian-apparel wearing audience.

Upon seeing the cross Josh is wearing, the adviser winces a bit and states that Josh's philosophy class is going to be tough. “Think Roman Coliseum” he states. Now, this part of the scene is fairly carefully done. To make the metaphor of the Roman Coliseum work, Josh has to be reluctant to enter the class -- too much confidence would make keep him from being the underdog who is helpless without Christ. This is a consistent feature of the movie – the Christian who is forced to defend his faith, often against his own will, because he is chosen by and instructed by God to do so – and it starts here, where the hesitant Josh seeks a different class, only to find that this is the only one that fits into his schedule.

Josh later goes into class and is introduced to…Professor Radisson.

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Professor Radisson is actually a fairly believable character in some respects. First off, he’s confident and sets up early an attitude of wanting to skip the pleasantries and get down to business. His introduction shows he is skilled at weeding students out who don’t belong in his classroom. It also further conditions the watcher to accept stereotypes -- a regular feature of the movie. By keying into these stereotypical thinking through humor, it conditions the sympathetic watcher to connect to them a bit more throughout the movie.

For example, when Professor Radisson states the class the students are in and says that if this is the wrong class for anyone, they should leave, the student who leaves looks a bit irresponsible and hurriedly goes out the door, slightly embarrassed. This student is the stereotype of the lost student – the one not keeping track of his schoolwork, a little aloof, and so on. It sparks some laughter and a general relaxation from the audience. Then, the professor states that if anyone wants an easy grade, they should leave. One student confidently gets up with a swagger and says, “I’m out” and leaves. He’s a stereotypical lazy student, trying to get out of the work. The professor states, “There’s always one.”

This beginning shows that Professor Radisson knows classroom dynamics well, making him fairly intimidating but, at the same time, someone you can trust to lead a class. To be fair, many professors may use this technique, especially with freshmen, to put themselves in a position of authority at the beginning of a class. This position is often necessary to encourage rigorous thinking and the following of class policies. Here, it works brilliantly – for the fictional classroom and the audience. We are effectively intimidated by Professor Radisson, and Josh is the underdog to root for. This is the drama that is set up, and it takes a lot of the audience’s attention. It’s a drama the Christian audience will love – a true David and Goliath story that you, as a Christian, can key into.

The plot takes advantage of the intimidation the audience is feeling to up the ante with more suspense by having Radisson bring up other intellectuals who seem intimidating or overly intellectual to most of the audience, like Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky. Now…Dawkins is a biologist, and Chomsky is a linguist, so it’s not clear why Radisson would refer to them as “philosophers,” but this doesn’t seem to matter to Radisson or, for that matter, to the Christian audience of the film. Dawkins is a smug atheist who probably, honestly, comes close to Radisson in approach (or, at least, his caricature does, although he is far from him in the actual content of his thought). Chomsky is a flaming liberal by most Christian Right standards…so attacking his intellectual position is a move many individual Christians would appreciate. Radisson is a combination of these – he is arrogant, and he is intimidating – or so the audience is made to believe – in his intellect.

Professor Radisson basically states that he wants to skip all the early discussion on God, and he relies on the students’ consent for this. He tells them that if they want to skip this discussion – and the low grades that tend to come with it – as well, they should each write on a sheet of paper “God is Dead” and sign it with their name. Almost every students does so, unquestioningly. Pensive music plays, and the camera goes from Josh Wheaton back to the classroom, back to Radisson, and back to the classroom, and back to Josh Wheaton. Josh Wheaton doesn’t look confident in his refusal to do as the professor asks; this would make Josh Wheaton arrogant and not dependent enough on God. Rather, Josh, looks a bit nervous…and when the professor finally gets to him and looks surprised that Josh hasn’t filled out his paper, Josh answers, at the professor’s prompting, “I'm sorry, but with all due respect I can’t do what you ask. I’m a Christian.” It’s not that he WON’T. It’s that he CAN’T. It’s not because he has a powerful will. Rather, it’s that he is defined to his core with the title “Christian” and can’t do this.

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The movie is very careful here. It doesn’t explicitly state that Professor Radisson wants the class to state that God is Dead. Radisson explicitly says, with emphasis, that this is an assumption to be made “for the purposes of this class.” When Josh Wheaton refuses to oblige Radisson, Radisson states that Josh Wheaton will have three class periods to defend God’s existence, and that each of these defenses were to be twenty minutes long. If he didn’t do satisfactorily here, he would fail the course. Josh Wheaton states that the professor might not be an objective grader. And then the professor asks Josh Wheaton what he suggests, and Josh Wheaton states that the class should decide. Then the professor, in a move that the scene has been building up to in making him the professional weeder and authoritarian over the students, asks, “Why would I want to empower them?” before eventually being convinced by Wheaton.

Now, this is actually a bit believable. I could see an impatient philosopher trying to get rid of the notion that God exists for the purposes of a philosophy class, because, honestly, it can be an irritating hypotheses if you're studying certain philosophers. But…I don’t know that he would do it like that. Most freshmen in the class (in a country in which 76% are Christian) would be Christian, and all they have to do is go to the dean for him to get penalized, and most Christians in the university wouldn’t hesitate to do this if the professor did something that extreme.

But a professor might say at the beginning of his class that he doesn’t believe in God, and state that he’ll be teaching with that bias. He’ll probably also add that objections will be examined rigorously, because philosophical claims need reasoning and support and evidence. But if you reasoned well, he’d probably give you a decent grade (and this is possible, actually). He wouldn’t have you stand at the front of the class and deliver 20 minute lectures, and he certainly would not fail you for believing in God.

However…that’s not really important. When a Christian’s faith system is attacked, it can feel worse than it may appear to an outsider. There are the facts of what happened, and then there is the actual way it felt for what happened to happen. So an atheistic professor can say, “Why do you think God exists?” and the student may suddenly feel his grade is on the line, that the atheist professor is out to get him, that the atheist professor is an agent of Satan himself at worse or, at best, an arrogant asshole, and so on.

Basically, this movie keys into the basic fear of the David-and-Goliath situation and dials it up – starting out with believable things that may actually happen, in some shape or form, and then keying into how the Christian feels about the more realistic scenes in order to create more dramatic scenes that validate these feelings. Sorta like if someone crashed into your car – you may be prone to exaggerate the accident later and, if your friend not only agrees with your exaggeration but exaggerates a bit himself, you’ll feel validated and like your friend a bit more. Same with the movie. The professor is an atheist, so that sets up a ton of assumptions and fears in the college students’ (and their Christian parents’) minds, and the movie then fully embraces those assumptions and fears.

The Pastor
The Pastor | Source

Then…there’s the pastor picking up the black missionary from Africa.

The missionary from Africa is, arguably, the most committed Christian in the movie. He says, “God is good” and the preacher answers, “All the time.” It’s the missionary from Africa who takes the initiative to get closer to God, which fits squarely with the belief that people in Africa are more spiritual and more strongly Christian than people in the United States. But the missionary is not anxious to hear sermons or conduct Bible Studies, because the plot requires the United States to be a place that those in the third world are somewhat envious of, or as a kind of beacon of hope. We may be behind spiritually…but Africa still needs our help, because we have so much Americanness to offer. So the missionary wants to go to Disneyworld, and get a picture of him there to take home. Most Christians do, in fact, see Africa in this way – full of spiritual knowledge that the west is missing out on, and yet in desperate need of the west due to its higher development. The movie follows this storyline perfectly, reinforcing the Christian environment many in churches key into and are attracted to. The missionary is larger than life spiritually – so that even in the more secular, imperfect Christianity of the United States, one can have faith that a purer, more vibrant, more alive Christianity dwells in Africa. At the same time, the missionary really wants to connect to American culture and is fascinated with its development, in need of taking a vacation after being “in the trenches” in African missionary work. So he needs the United States and its advancement. In other words, Africa is a valuable place spiritually because it is a third world country, but this strong spiritual connection makes Americans feel better due to the desire of Africans to supplement this spirituality with the material benefits Americans can provide, so although Americans are less spiritual, their first-world position makes them a beacon of hope for those who are spiritual, and so American Christians can feel deeply spiritual by association, if that makes sense.

Josh's Girlfriend (with slightly revealing top)
Josh's Girlfriend (with slightly revealing top) | Source

We’ll come back to that dynamic later in this plot discussion. The plot cuts from the missionary to Josh’s girlfriend, so we’ll discuss this for a moment. In the “Plugged-In” review of the movie that is put out by the conservative organization Focus on the Family, the reviewer states under “sexual content” that the girlfriend’s top is a bit too revealing. This was no idle choice on the filmmakers’ part, I think; she is supposed to be slightly immodest, hinting to a conservative Christian audience here worldliness. She’s focused on her career. She met Josh through youth group at a Newsboys concert, and definitely represents a “hip” Christian, a desirable girlfriend…but not focused on God unless it serves her social and career interests. In short, she is a bit less submissive to the Word of God than many Christians would like.

The relevant scene here is in the cafeteria, where she talks to Josh Wheaton about the stand for God he’s taking in class. She explicitly tells Josh that his focus on trying to prove Radisson wrong shows he is not thinking about their future. She is clearly NOT at all respecting Josh’s lead in the relationship. She’s not submissive, and she is very focused on trying to control Josh. So all these things – her focus, her dress, her behavior towards Josh – subtly makes her attractive, yet probably not the right person for Josh to the average conservative Christian. Thus, when she states in the cafeteria that she thinks he should stop taking a stance in the classroom and just go with the flow, there is a strong feeling that Josh should probably break up with her for many reasons.

The reasons for the discomfort Christians feel towards Wheaton's girlfriend (her "revealing top," her unsubmissiveness, and her domineering personality) are used so that the Christian is led to think that any discomfort with her behavior should translate to the belief that her stance on the proper place for God in one's life is wrong. This is a technique done several times in the movie – the movie uses sometimes horrifying relationship dynamics in order to prove the wrongness of beliefs in the one the audience will see, because of biases, as the worst offender in the relationship. This use of relationships to expose the rightness or wrongness of one's beliefs starts here, rather subtly, and once the audience opens itself up to this dynamic, the movie builds on this use in more dramatic ways that would be fairly unbelievable if they didn't start with the more believable manifestations, and it does so up to the very end.

As the girlfriend is talking, there’s an attractive Muslim girl in the background. Now…this is sensitive, because the movie can’t really directly say Muslims are bad. Many Christians are aware of anybody that Islamaphobia is worrisome. The hate is at what the religion of Islam does to those who believe it. So they try to encourage pity for the Muslims, who, they think, secretly want to be Christian. At the same time, Muslims have good qualities – unlike Josh Whedon’s girlfriend, the Muslim girl who works in the cafeteria is always modest, and after school she wears a niqab, covering her face, except for her eyes, in the traditional Muslim dress. The video shows her checking Josh out – with a bit of subtle admiration – as his girlfriend, strongly encourages Josh to stop fighting Radisson, and Josh refuses.

The Cafeteria Scene

So…Josh Wheaton has another potential girl, basically, who supports him and what he wants to do in Radisson’s class. Because this girl is a “foreigner” in a way (she is told by her father she is “in ‘their’ world but not of it), she keys into the penchant Christians have for international missionary work. As a side note, a male immigrant from China, who later converts to Christianity and accompanies Josh to the Newsboys concert at the end of the movie, also serves to reinforce the belief that commitment to Christianity is something deeply desired by the international community, even if it’s not appreciated by many casual Christians in the United States. Anyway, moving back to the Muslim admiring Josh -- girl this seems to be an important part of the movie. Had Josh Wheaton’s girlfriend broke up with him, without another potential love interest in sight, Josh Wheaton’s credibility in the film, it seems, would be damaged. To explain this, I have to talk about another character in the film – the reporter.

The Interview
The Interview | Source

The female atheist reporter/liberal blogger is someone who ambushes celebrities and interviews them. One of the people she interviews is Willie Robertson, CEO of Duck Dynasty, on his way to church. She plans to ambush him with an interview on his way to church. At the church, Willie’s car pulls up, and out steps – not Willie, but his fairly attractive wife, dressed up pretty classy in her Sunday best. And then the camera pans out to the truck, which is fairly large and doesn’t really match the classy wife. And then further out to Willie, who is dressed in the same casual clothing he regularly wears on the show, along with a long beard, and gives his wife a hard time about her shoes. This is a feel-good part of the movie – the sophisticated connecting with the down-home country South. The conversation showcases Willie’s casual Southern air. The South, which may feel attacked for its strong faith by the surrounding culture that sees itself as more “sophisticated,” is portrayed here as actually belonging in culture without apology. It’s the Bush charm here, basically – a lovable character that is at the same time a bit no-nonsense and clear headed. And the strong relationship between husband and wife is used to bolster the beliefs of both.

In contrast, the reporter’s relationship is a bit more shaky. She is at the doctor’s office in the her next scene, thoroughly preoccupied work business on her cell phone. By having her work on her cell phone, the film shows that she is busy and obsessed with work (a common trope in today’s environment, among Christians and non-Christians). The doctor sitting across from her, after being interrupted by the phone a couple times (irritating both the doctor and the audience) states that she has cancer. She says that she’s too busy to have cancer, and the doctor utilizes his bedside manner skills to say, “I know you’re a very important woman, and the world can’t get along without you. But it looks like it’s about to do just that.” In her next scene, she is sitting at a table to eat dinner with her boyfriend of nine months. He comes in, late, and briefly apologizes. When he tells her she has cancer, he says, “We had a good run, but this isn’t working because you have some personal issues,” basically, and walks away in the space of about a minute without any pity, leaving her in tears. Her resulting brokenness indicates to the audience that her life strategy is bad and cements that she is probably in the wrong about her career (she’s a woman obsessed with her career, which may be somewhat problematic for some watchers, though certainly not all), but is most definitely wrong about her beliefs, because they have no hope.

The Reporter Telling Her Boyfriend of 9 Months She Has Cancer (He Breaks Up Without Emotion Or Skipping A Beat)
The Reporter Telling Her Boyfriend of 9 Months She Has Cancer (He Breaks Up Without Emotion Or Skipping A Beat) | Source

This breakup may seem a bit over the top, and many critics – Christian and non – have complained that it is. But what’s important to see here is that scenes like the one in the cafeteria, with Josh’s girlfriend yelling at him and the admiring eyes of the Muslim cafeteria worker looking on, actually condition the viewer to think that bad relationships come from being (as Radisson’s Christian girlfriend puts it) unequally yoked, or being in a relationship with a less Christian or non-Christian individual.

So the film consistently uses relationship dynamics to inflate or deflate the amount of pity and anger the audience gives to those watching the film, and it conditions the audience to do this by starting believable and then keying into the audience’s tropes and life experiences to ramp it up and validate these tropes and experiences. The fact that there is another girl in the wings waiting to validate Josh – who is shown looking on for several seconds as Josh’s girlfriend – off camera – complains about the film, indicates that this other girl is for Josh, and that Josh’s girlfriend should be rejected. It also indicates that Josh may be right and his girlfriend may be in the wrong (the reporter didn’t have anyone “waiting in the wings” as it were, so there was no character to identify with her and indicate she was right) However, Josh can’t be with the Muslim girl yet. First, he has to see he’s nothing without Christ.

And so, the next day of class comes around. Professor Radisson finishes his lecture, and Josh Wheaton now has to provide his argument for the existence of God. Consistently, Josh Wheaton has a colorful 3D HD animated powerpoint presentation that looks quite hip and stylish – Professor Radisson has nothing. After Josh Wheaton makes his argument (which seems to have gone fairly well, outside of a couple awkward moments) the professor, who has been smug throughout it (except when he looks a bit horrified when a student asks what a “theist” is, as if that question deflated his own atheist stance a bit for some reason) quotes Stephen Hawking, citing his credentials and stating Josh Wheaton is wrong. He then asks Josh Wheaton, there, on the spot, to refute Stephen Hawking’s claim. Josh says “I don’t know.” And then the professor makes a couple digs, and class is dismissed.

In that scene, where the uncertain Josh said, “I don’t know,” however unrealistic an atheist may see it, Josh connected to every single Christian who has been intimidated by atheist arguments against the existence of God – to every Christian who simply did not know how to defend their faith. It’s a depressing feeling. It shows that you’re inadequate. It triggers all the times in every Christian’s life when other people have made them feel vulnerable and desperate for a friend – even an imaginary one. And, once that mindset is triggered, the movie plays into it. Josh is moved down a couple pegs, and all the other current and future Christians – save professor Radisson – get put in difficult situations that make them much less confident. As the confidence decreases, the audience starts to get the increasingly strong impression that Radisson’s confidence needs to be decreased as well. Everyone else is getting humbled before God…except Radisson, and that anomaly is part of the suspense driving the film to its conclusion.

When Josh walks the hallways after class in the next scene, the professor comes up to Josh, forcibly turns Josh around, and tells Josh, “Do you think you’re smarter than me? You are not smarter than me. There is a God in that class; I am him. Don’t ever try to humiliate me in front of my students.” After mocking Josh’s major of “pre-law” (which keys into the push for Christians to become lawyers), the Professor says that he’ll do his best to keep Josh out of law school if he keeps trying to humiliate the professor in front of the professor’s students. Remember, Josh and the audience is still reeling from the “I don’t know” in class.

"Don't ever try to humiliate me in front of my students!"
"Don't ever try to humiliate me in front of my students!" | Source

But that’s not enough. Josh Wheaton’s girlfriend breaks up with him over Radisson’s class – right after they discuss their anniversary of the first time they met, he says he brought Newsboys tickets, and she apologizes for being bothered about the class in the first place. While this breakup might sound unbelievable to an outside reviewer, it’s actually a brilliant plot move, the Christian watcher is used to the notion that every individual is undependable but Christ, so this is seems natural to him. Due to the “I don’t know” humiliation, the Christian feels the despair of Josh, and the metaphor of that despair is validated by the things that keep going wrong in Josh’s life. And this spreads to others in the next scenes.

The Muslim girl goes home with her father (after being pitied for her niqab by a white girl as she’s waiting to be picked up), and is later discovered listening to Franklin Graham (one of many plugs). When the father finds out, she is thrown out, breaking that relationship. She cries, and the father cries, as well. The relationship here didn’t work without Christ.

Then there’s the atheist reporter who, as previously discussed, finds out she has cancer, and then tells her boyfriend of nine months that she has cancer, after which he breaks up with her and in about a minute flat. The relationship here didn’t work without Christ.

Radisson makes fun of his Christian girlfriend at a dinner party, and she worries about being “unequally yoked.” She is embarrassed for the wine (it was ruined after she left it in the car) by the dinner guests of Radisson, who are all stereotypically smug academics. She is visibly shaken. This relationship seems very similar to Josh’s relationship with his girlfriend, almost as if that relationship is a primer for the watcher to accept the dynamics of this one. Radisson is like Josh’s girlfriend – focused on career, and a bit concerned with being erudite and polished and successful. His girlfriend, a Christian, is concerned about being “unequally yoked” with him, and she keeps, like Josh, making moves that seem unprofessional. Basically, Radisson’s professionalism and her lack of knowledge on how to be professional causes the relationship to work (because she admires him), but also creates a rift in their relationship that deepens. This dynamic seems to resonate with Christians who feel that their professionalism is constantly being challenged by atheists.

Professor Radisson And His Girlfriend -- She Just Said She Feels "Unequally Yoked"
Professor Radisson And His Girlfriend -- She Just Said She Feels "Unequally Yoked" | Source

Who is going to solve these problems? The pastor.

The pastor, as I mentioned previously, seems to be in his thirties, and has a hip, casual air about him. At the same time, he’s human. He comes across as someone well studied, and his advice comes from the knowledge he’s gleaned from his studies and his relationship with God.

For example, when the pastor meets the depressed Josh in a church, he listens patiently to all of Josh’s struggles, up to the part where Josh states that maybe he should just stop trying to fight Radisson, and then he asks Josh, “How many people in that class would come to church on Sunday?” And Josh answers “probably none” (which is unbelievable, but it makes sense to the Christian who Josh resonates with who has been convinced he is alone). And then, for advice, the pastor quotes bible verses. Josh is surprised, and says, “That’s it?” To which the reply is another Bible verse.

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So the pastor builds credibility by showing a knowledge of the Bible and letting God do the talking. Josh is convinced by the scriptures, further, underlining the pastor’s credibility. After this credibility is gained – in the eyes of Josh and the audience – Josh texts the pastor, asking him what he should do next. The pastor texts back that Josh shouldn’t try to be clever; that he should let God speak.

The pastor also talks to the Muslim girl who has been thrown out, giving her sanctuary and safety, further establishing credibility.

Finally, he talks to Radisson’s girlfriend. By this time he has enough credibility in the eyes of the audience to give her straight up advice about her relationship with Radisson. He states that she is in a relationship with Radisson because she feels inferior to him, and constantly wants his approval. But this, he says, isn’t necessary. People are unreliable, but Jesus loves her and will always be there for her; she doesn’t need to rely on Radisson for her sense of worth.

And now…now that the faith is in God, the tides turn. But it’s not people who are making the tides turn, due to the plot line. It’s Jesus.

The Pastor and Radisson's Soon-To-Be Ex Girlfriend Conversing
The Pastor and Radisson's Soon-To-Be Ex Girlfriend Conversing | Source

And so Radisson’s girlfriend breaks up with Radisson. Not privately. This wouldn’t be appropriate. In a metaphor for the resolve in resentment many Christians feel regarding their relationship with who they see as the smug or intellectual snobbery of atheism, she walks right into the university, in front of his students, up to Radisson, who is having a conversation about Richard Dawkins with his colleagues (which is strange, as academics in philosophy departments don’t seem to talk about him that much – do they?), and breaks up with him in a theatric fashion. The atheist audience may be horrified, but the Christian audience, from what I saw in the theatre, was ecstatic. Her ability to turn Radisson, in the matter of about a minute, from a towering intellectual into a broken man to be pitied seemed to clearly show that these conversations weren’t all about intellect, and that the armor of the atheist individual in the university wasn’t impenetrable.

And then Josh Wheaton makes a few arguments for God’s existence in class (in a curious disregard for the pastor’s advice to not try to be clever), and leaves the professor actually admitting that, underneath it all, he really believes in God. Most Christians actually think this – due to Romans 1:20. Underneath the Atheist’s denial is an anger at God that he really believes in. So the Christian need not fear the intellect of the atheist – that’s just there so the atheist can hide the fact that he really believes in God and is angry at him. Josh Wheaton, in the scene you see in the trailer, presses into this, to the cheers of the Christian audience. “Why do you hate God?!” he asks the professor. The professor states that he prayed for his mother to live when he was younger, and God never heard his prayer, so he was upset at him. And then after this admission, Josh makes his closing argument, “How can you hate someone you don’t even believe in?” Now, there are answers to this question, to be sure. Every atheist who has come away from religion scarred has been asked this a zillion times. But for Christians, this is a knock-down question. Not because they are bad people, but because they themselves may have been mad at God and told that this anger showed they believed in God -- so it's natural for them to think that atheists would be as convicted by this logic as they are. Thus, the audience laughs and cheers at the Professor's silent non-response to Josh's question -- or at least, that's what they did in the theatre.

The professor, on the way out, quotes a few scriptures, indicating he knows the Bible (Josh and the professor are the only ones left in the classroom at this point). Josh is a bit surprised, and asks Radisson, “What happened to you?” This is interesting, because many Christians, surprised that an atheist knows the Bible, may have a similar reaction. The professor gives the answer many Christians already suspect, thus validating their suspicions: Some of the staunchest atheists were once Christians. This underlines the notion that atheists are atheists because they are mad at God.

A Sample of the Beginning of the Last Debate

At this point, Radisson is reeling from the breakup and from the awakening of his old memories. The watcher starts to feel sorry for him – Christian and non-Christian…he’s not a blustering professor now. He’s someone Christians can love. He just needs to see the truth…

A bit like the reporter, who has now found out her cancer is terminal. She tries to write her liberal, atheistic column, but is too distracted by the thought of her death, which is drawing tears from her eyes, to concentrate. Finally she angrily breaks down in tears, shouting that she's dying and upset that she's alone. Later she goes to the local Newsboys concert to ambush them with an interview -- apparently, their statement that God's Not Dead is one that she is curious about in her difficult time, but her atheistic reputation causes her to hide under a veil of antagonism towards religion. She interviews them, upset, and they respond in a collected way by talking about how their hope is in Christ…and then they ask her what her hope is.

It’s important to underline here that the reporter is completely socially isolated. Her boyfriend left her, and she doesn’t have any friends. A subtext here seems to be that militant atheism can often result in social isolation. So at this point, any human connection is badly needed. She’s dying of cancer; she wants it. And the Newsboys give it to her…in a way. In Christianity is a powerful social connection. This opportunity seems like such a big deal that many Christians will miss what atheists may see as cruel, when she is asked by the Newsboys (as a woman dying of terminal cancer), “What is your hope?” after saying their hope is in Christ, and they look at her in seconds of awkward silence as if waiting for her to fall to pieces. After praying for her, they go out and perform on stage.

The reporter is on the left; the four men are the Newsboys waiting for her response to the question: "What is your hope?"
The reporter is on the left; the four men are the Newsboys waiting for her response to the question: "What is your hope?" | Source

Cut back to Radisson, who is in his large office. He takes out a letter written by his mother that speaks of her hopes for him to be a man of God. His agitation upon reading the letter leads him to also see an ad noting the Newsboys are in town, in a “God’s Not Dead” concert. He starts to race towards the concert, where it seems he intends to repent, embrace his girlfriend, and worship God once more.

But that would give him a happy ending, which may not resonate well with Christians. It wouldn’t show his inferiority before Christendom, and the Christians are still a bit resentful, it seems, of his performance as an intellectual deadset against their concept of God. As a representative of the lie that there is no God, the lie, in a sense, has to die with him. And so, he gets hit by a car, and the pastor, who happens to be driving by with the African missionary, sees it and jumps out of his car to save Radisson.

The pastor gets out his car, tells the African missionary with him to call the ambulance, and starts working on converting Radisson. He says that Radisson’s death is a blessing, and Radisson hesitates to convert but, under the pain of dying, and as if the pain is coercing him…he finally repents before he passes away.

Many Christians have probably been faced with the question of whether it is more important to save a dying person's soul or his body, and this scene keys into the dilemma. Although the pastor does ask the African missionary to call an ambulance, the focus is on saving Radisson's soul. Radisson is an excellent choice of someone to play this dilemma out on, because he is the character the watcher wants most desperately to be converted and humbled before God (atheists would replace "God" here with "Christendom"). Radisson's deathbed conversion, then, may seem the best part of the movie to many Christians who see the scene as validating the hypothesis that it is more important to save one's soul than to save one's body.

The Christian is not encouraged to feel sad for Radisson. He is still an enemy, at least in part, because the Newsboys and Willie Robertson both bring him up in their show – as Willie Robertson puts it at the concert, a professor at a college campus tried to say God is dead, and a young man stood up for God. The young man is then anonymously congratulated on stage in front of thousands of people (although he is not identified by the Newsboys or Willie). The Muslim girl -- who conveniently happens to be behind Josh Wheaton, taps Josh on the shoulder at the announcement, looks at him and says with an excited smile, “It was you!” as Josh smiles back. There seems to be the promise of the romance that was hinted at earlier in the film, which further boosts Josh's image in front of the congregation. In addition, the ex-girlfriend of Radisson is shown smiling and singing the words to the song: “God’s not dead he’s surely alive/ He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion” – and now these Christians and every Christian watching the movie feels ferociously and triumphantly unapologetic, like the roaring lion of the song. At the end, Willie Robertson encourages all viewers to text “God’s Not Dead” to their friends – and, in their euphoria, I imagine many Christians did just that.

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    • Jonathan Bingham profile image

      Jonathan Bingham 3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Can't say I've seen this movie yet. I am a Christian & will probably check it out at some point although now I know everything that happens. That was my fault for knowing this had spoiler alert all over it. I couldn't help myself from reading your opinion anyway. I was interested in an atheistic take on the film & yours does seem perfectly fair. Obviously, movies have target audiences & it sounds like this one hit the mark for the most part. Thanks for providing your intelligent & intriguing opinion. One thing I do still want to see is the actual arguments our "hero" makes in the classroom.

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      barrierbreaker 3 years ago

      Interesting. Come back let me know how accurate this is after you've seen it! Thanks for your feedback!

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      Don Gwinn 3 years ago

      Thanks for doing this. I'll probably never bother to see it, but this humanizes the audience for me. A lot of what you describe from the evangelical viewer's point of view would have been lost on me.

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      Jim 3 years ago

      Even as a devout Christian, I was uneasy throughout the movie. This analysis is, unfortunately, VERY close to how I perceived the movie. Some of my Christian friends said the interview with the Robertsons seemed cheesy and out of place - but that was the part I remember being most comfortable with (Not necessarily the awkward and unrealistic questions, but the answers given).

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      Ann Marie 3 years ago

      I respect your point of view, as everyone has the right to their own, but I feel that your explanation of the movie is slightly biased. I am a Christian, and have been all of my life. As a disclaimer, I am going to go ahead and say that my comment will probably contain bias, as everyone has their own bias as well.

      To anyone who is reading this, I hope you will not take this one point of view as a call to reject faith. Many points in this description were very intensely analyzed. For example: the African missionary. While watching the movie (I have seen it twice) I saw this man as just that, a man who loves God and is intent upon showing that. The author of this article seems to criticize the movie creators in an extensive argument for portraying an "American superiority, African inferiority" idea. This idea had not even crossed my mind until reading this article. Racism exists not only in actions, but also through a simple mindset.

      The writer of this article mentioned MULTIPLE times that the movie portrays that a relationship without Christ cannot thrive. I fully support your theory here, I firmly believe that a relationship without Christ is not reaching its full potential. In the bible, It is taught that God not only wants to give us life, but he also wants us to have life to the fullest. Such full life can, again in my own opinion, only be achieved/lived through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

      However, I do not fully agree with the approach at Professor Radison's 'saving' at the end. I personally believe that being a Christian should not be focused on whether one goes to heaven or hell, it should be directed more towards living a life loving God and all of God's people through, as Josh pointed out in the movie, free will. The choice of whether or not to be a Christian is one of free will. Christians have chosen to love God not out of a fear of eternal hell, but instead out of a choice of free will and belief that God is the almighty father, creator of the universe, everlasting, all-loving and all-knowing, (and the list goes on), and that he sent his one and only son to suffer and die so that we may have life to the fullest, free from sin.

      It is my hope that anyone who goes to see this movie it reads this article, will enter into it with an open mind. It was impossible for me to not watch this movie without tears in my eyes and without feeling the ever-present love of Jesus Christ. I felt that this movie was a wonderful revival of the spirit and a great reminder about the 'purpose' of being a Christian, if you will.

      In conclusion, my purpose for taking the time to write this comment is to, similarly to Josh Wheaton, stand up for God and help others not be guided to reject religion because of this blog post on the internet. Everyone deserves to see both points of view as there are two sides to every story, and make their own decision on what to believe because we are all given free will as a part of this wonderful life.

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      Alchemisterius 3 years ago

      Have I gone delusional? A non-Christian who liked this movie, or at least gave it a positive review? This contradicts what I predicted.

      Here is my review, but I doubt you can understand it since it is in Spanish:

      alchemisterius.blogspot.com/2014/05/resena-y-analisis-gods-not-deaddios-no.html

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      Christian 2 years ago

      As a Christian, I will greatly be moved if the professor lived instead

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      Kat 2 years ago

      I did love this movie; however, I did find it painfully cheesey. I grew up Christian and currently believe in God, although the "stereotypical Christian" is why I have not been to church in years. I still worship in my own ways.

      My least favorite part of the movie was when the professor "switched sides" as he was dying. The movie set you up to believe that he was rushing to the concert and convert, because he had been touched by what the kid said and then by finding the reference to God in his dead mother's letter. That may have been more believable, yet less dramatic. As someone who does believe in God, I think they totally missed the mark. There are no magic words that you can utter because you suddenly want to play it safe in case there is a hell. Belief is required. It irritated me that they treated this like, "whew, he said the magic words just in time- mission accomplished!" Also, amongst all the cheesey-ness I was shocked and dismayed that the preacher said nothing about the rain "washing his sins away"(baptism) lol

      I liked your review, I expected it to have bias, of course, but I must say that one would have to be drunk with Christian delusion to find this review offensive or untrue.

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      Juan Camilo 2 years ago

      You MUST be smart enough to be an Atheist and support your arguments, not a dumb character like Professor Radisson. BTW, definitely is not possible to "prove" a theory like God exists or not. (It's on you)

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