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God's Not Dead

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God's Not Dead is a series of crappy fundamentalist Christian propaganda films released by Pinnacle Peak Pictures,[Note 1] with a recurring character, Reverend Dave Hill, played by the studio's founder, David A.R. White. The films drudge out well-known urban legends and stereotypical Christian persecution myths. All of the films suffer from poor scripts, bad acting, and questionable premises.

God's Not Dead (2014)[edit]

It's bad and I'm sorry
—Anonymous Christian pastor[1]

The first movie was made by a director no one's ever heard of named Harold Cronk. It follows the story of a designated WASP hero, a freshman at the fictional Hadleigh University, That one kid from Good Luck Charlie Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper),[Note 2] who takes a philosophy class in which he is challenged by atheist professor Hercules Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo).[2]

The film currently boasts a rating of 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been criticized by secular and religious reviewers alike.[3] It does have an absolutely bitchin' theme song, though.[Note 3]

Plot[edit]

You know, it's economical not to have a storyline, 'cause then you can just film people saying things.
Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater: 3000 (Werewolf)

The movie follows Josh in his quest to prove God's existence to his classmates after Professor Radisson threatens him with a failing grade unless he either proves that God exists or admit to the contrary. A few sub-plots include: a Muslim dad getting pissed at his daughter for converting to Christianity; Radisson's relationship with his Christian girlfriend, whom he constantly belittles for her belief in Jesus; Radisson's girlfriend's brother, Mark (Dean Cain), refusing to visit his mother, who has dementia; the brother being in a boss/employee relationship with a woman who loves to hate on Duck Dynasty (considering the role the Robertson family played in making this film, that's just being petty); and a lovable Chinese exchange student being led to Christ by Josh. After some preliminary debates, Josh trounces Radisson in a final debate by asserting that there had to be a first cause, and then prods Radisson until he yells that he really does believe in God, but he hates him because his prayers as a child, to save his dying mother from cancer, didn't work. After this debate, Radisson tries to go to a Newsboys con Bert to apologize to his girlfriend, but is hit by a car and converts to Christianity as he lies dying. Then everybody has a big Christian alt rock party as Raddison goes to Heaven.[4]

Why this would never happen[edit]

The entire premise of the movie is reliant on Josh being persecuted for his religious beliefs by his professor. The problem is that most colleges have policies against the faculty discriminating on religious grounds. All Josh would have to do is complain to the administration and Radisson would be disciplined. Not that he would have to, because no self-respecting expert in philosophy would force his class to accept a view without question, as that would defeat the entire point of studying philosophy in the first place. He also wouldn't let the student take up the bulk of the time, unless he was exceptionally lazy (not generally something associated with rabid persecution).

Portrayal of atheists[edit]

Are you a Christian? Well, you're the persecuted hero who can do no wrong! Liberal blogger? You're a bitch and you'll get cancer! Atheist? You just hate God, verbally abuse your girlfriend and you will fucking die! Muslim? Your father will beat the shit out of you when he finds out you're reading scripture! Dean Cain? Bastard!
Brad Jones, The Cinema Snob[5]

The movie portrays atheists as militant assholes who hate God, Christians, and everyone else. Mark is portrayed as an inconsiderate asshole who dumps his girlfriend as soon as she gets cancer (and we thought that was Newt Gingrich's specialty!). When he finally visits his mother, he insults her for being a demented old fundamentalist. She responds by saying "Your financial success was given to you by Satan." (And all this time we thought Christians felt wealth was a sign of God's favor!) Radisson is portrayed as what most fundamentalists think atheists are: God-haters, who really do believe in God. It is worth mentioning at this point that believing in and hating God is not atheism: it's misotheism. Radisson only uses weak arguments such as the Argument from authority by citing Stephen Hawking.

The "Inspiration"[edit]

The movie claims to be inspired by the "real-life court cases" of the Christian legal group "Alliance Defending Freedom". The credits of the movie include a list of several of the ADF's cases. Few of the ADF's cases are clear-cut, and none of them involve a professor violating a student's religious belief. Instead, there's a case of the ADF getting sexual harassment charges against a librarian dropped by threatening counter-action, and a fair number of cases involving students getting in trouble for discriminating against non-Christian students in their Christian clubs.[6]

Due to the cost of making these being so low that it's nearly impossible to make a loss[Note 4] regardless of how bad it's received probably means they're gonna keep churning these out until Armageddon.[citation NOT needed]

Critical reception[edit]

The film's 14% Tomatometer rating (as of 23 April 2018) means it is 14 percentage points better than such classic films as Jaws: The Revenge, Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, Highlander 2: The Quickening, A Thousand Words, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, and Adam Sandler parody Western The Ridiculous 6, although perhaps featuring fewer sharks, swordfights, or Native American caricatures.[7] Rotten Tomatoes does list some positive reviews: The Hollywood Reporter praised its production and cast, and gave it credit for discussing the ideas of atheists Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, concluding "The film has entertaining moments, but these are clearly secondary to its proselytizing intentions."[8] Along with 18 negative reviews, RT also lists praise from jackiekcooper.com and parental information site Screen It, which awarded 5.5/10 and admired its makers' earnestness[9].

God's Not Dead 2 (2016)[edit]

Released on 1 April 2016[10], sources confirmed that it, unfortunately, was not an April Fool's Joke.Do You Believe That? The film has grossed a telling amount of $23 million worldwide.[11] To no one's surprise, it has a much coveted 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[12].

Plot[edit]

In this film, Sabrina the Teenage Witch Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) is an AP History teacher who mentions Jesus to Erica Goldberg Brooke Thawley (Hayley Orrantia), a student in class. She is then sued by Leland Palmer Pete Kane (Ray Wise), who now works for the ACLU despite — or, in this universe, because of — basically being a figure of pure evil. A cast of people you might dimly remember from old TV is bulked out by Robin Givens (Head of the Class) as an evil school administrator and Jesse Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives) as a nice lawyer. All your favorite characters from the first film pop up again, now even more extremist. Real-life Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace appears as a witness in the trial, plugging his book, Cold-Case Christianity, along with Lee Strobel, who plugs his The Case for Christ. Mike Huckabee also makes a cameo. Some subplots of the film include a former college blogger getting convinced by anecdotal evidence that prayers can be answered, and Martin Yip, a college student getting disowned by his father for being a Christian. In the end, Grace wins the lawsuit after Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe), her defense attorney, portrays Grace as a hostile witness. A sequel is set up at the end with Pastor Dave arrested when he won't turn over copies of his sermons under a subpoena (for no apparent reason). Overall, the plot bombs.

Portrayal of atheists[edit]

You would think that they would have made atheists seem less evil in the second movie than the first. However, it seems like they have yet to learn the difference between atheism and misotheism. In this film, atheists are portrayed as mean, selfish, and militant douchebags who believe God is Dead™ and that Christians are evil. Pete is portrayed as an evil lawyer who is such an atheist that he believes that the loss of a single lawsuit will somehow result in secularism ending. Martin's father is also portrayed as cruel, selfish, and just a complete asshole. It is important to point out that most atheists do not behave this way, and that any people that do are not representative of the entire atheist population, contrary to what this movie tries to prove.[citation NOT needed] Grace's lawyer however is an exception, as he's an atheist but nice and ordinary (being her defender may be the reason, even though that's literally his job).

Legal errors[edit]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film entirely botches US law. First of all, the plot wouldn't happen at all. At most, if Grace did something inappropriate, she would be fired (as the film shows). They wouldn't then sue her. If anything, if what the film shows is true, she would probably sue them for wrongful termination and violations of her constitutional rights. These cases involve the school, not just the individual teacher. So if Grace had been, say, preaching to her students, the school might be sued. However, it would be in federal court. This is portrayed as in state court, with a jury. When suing a government (the public school, here, which represents one) there is no jury however. During the trial there's mention of a "not guilty" verdict and "indictment", which come from criminal law, while this is a civil case. Further, the historical existence of Jesus (or lack thereof) would be irrelevant. The "experts" called by the defense are not that, so the plaintiffs could have them disqualified, as neither is a historian. Lastly, the ACLU would likely defend Grace if she were sued (somehow) for simply mentioning Jesus. However it isn't clear what Grace is even being sued for. Nor is a person's teacher's certificate something they could revoke for this. So to put it simply: they got every detail wrong.

Critical reception[edit]

Critics noted that the film was slightly more competent than the original, with Ray Wise in particular giving an entertaining performance, and generally more of an idea about basic things like structure, despite thumping its audience with a leaden and implausible one-note message no more advanced than the original.[13] Variety concluded that it operates at the level of your average middle-school play – except with far greater levels of upside-down logic and bald-faced intolerance for anyone not enraptured by the New Testament.[14] And yes, the Newsboys are back with more terrible Christian rock.

Rotten Tomatoes listed 3/36 good reviews, including one from bastion of liberalism Huffington Post,[15] although Bitdefender claims that the website of San Diego Film Critics Society member Diana Saenger is too virus-ridden to allow me to read her 5/5 judgment.

God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018)[edit]

The third installment in the franchise. The drama follows the story of a congregation displaced when their church burns down and the challenges they face rebuilding. The film was released by PureFlix Entertainment on 30 March 2018 to generally unfavorable reviews.[16]

The film includes cameos from Dana Loesch (a spokesperson for the NRA, and formerly a presenter on TheBlaze and journalist for Breitbart), and Jeanine Pirro (a Fox News TV personalilty, Republican politician, and former judge).[17] We're sure this film's political message will be, *ahem*, "Fair and Balanced."

The total worldwide box offices revenue for the film was $7,354,761. U.S DVD sales were estimated to be $2,671,837.[18] Pureflix Entertainment is a distributor of the film so the film is available through Pureflix which is an online streaming service.

Plot[edit]

Reverend Dave is the pastor of a local church that happens to sit on the property of a university. The church gets torched, killing an assistant pastor, causing Dave to lose his temper and question his faith. The church's presence on campus is deemed to be too divisive and the university uses eminent domain (incorrectly)[Note 5] to seize the church property. Dave will have none of this, and seeks legal help from his brother, a social justice lawyer and atheist. Eventually things climax in an ugly confrontation between groups for and against the church shouting at each other. Ultimately, Dave drops his lawsuit for reconciliation, and a new off-campus church is built.

The film features several subplots involving young people struggling with their faith, or lack thereof. The man who tossed the brick that broke the gas line that burned down the church blames Christianity for breaking up his relationship and mistreating his mother, and ultimately prays for forgiveness when he discovers he is responsible for the assistant pastor's death.[Note 6] Pastor Dave commits the sin of becoming an asshole, but draws inspiration from his girlfriend's simple faith.

Critical reception[edit]

Critics noted that the film is generally less hostile, defensive and political than the first two films, which are overwhelmingly considered to be outright political propaganda.[19][20] Sheila O'Malley noted that the film features a lot of people "grappling" with their faith and has a lot of good moments, even though it does not significantly challenge Christians to become better people.[21]

However, the general elements from the first two films are still prominently featured: a persecution complex, divisiveness and the hostility of secular society.[22] There are speeches where voice-of-the-author characters pontificate: "All of these universities go on and on and on about tolerance and inclusivity..."[21] The cameos from right-wing campaigners and pundits Dana Loesch and Judge Jeanine Pirro likewise stack the deck.[17] The film also differs from its predecessors in that is has abandoned efforts to prove God's existence using facts and logic.[23]

The film's awfulness is tempered a bit by the presence of John Corbett,Wikipedia known for his roles on the American television series Sex and the CityWikipedia and Northern Exposure,Wikipedia and the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.Wikipedia Most reviewers note that despite having the blatant propaganda from the first films toned down, the film still suffers from poor scripting, weak acting and a flimsy premise.

God's Not Dead: We the People (2021)[edit]

God’s Not Dead: We the People is not merely the worst in an already-misbegotten series, but so utterly deplorable that its status as a three-night-only Fathom Event in theaters at least assures that significantly fewer people will see it... Where is the entertainment value in a film like this? God’s Not Dead: We the People is made for those who waste their precious hours of the day on cable news (Fox News) intake.
—Steve Pulaski, Influx Magazine[24]

Released on October 4th 2021[25], the fourth installment involves the McKinnon's, Mike and Rebecca (Antonio Sabato Jr. and Francesca Battistelli respectively) wanting to homeschool their children, while standing up to the government with the help of Reverend Dave, and Representative Preston Burke Daryl Smith (Isaiah Washington).

Plot[edit]

Critical response[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Formerly known as Pure Flix.
  2. Get it?
  3. At least as far as Christian rock can be "bitchin'".
  4. The first two movies had a combined budget of only $7 million.
  5. The university can't just take it as they are not specifically a government entity with that power. They would have already owned it if it was on their campus, so why is this a thing?
  6. Not to mention guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which he somehow gets released from when Dave forgives him (which isn't his call).

References[edit]

  1. God's Not Dead (2014) It's Bad and I'm Sorry. Review by joefred-962-369729 on imdb.com.
  2. God's Not Dead (2014) at imdb.com.
  3. God's Not Dead (2014) at Rotten Tomatoes.
  4. God's Not Dead (2014) synopsis at imdb.com.
  5. God's Not Dead - The Cinema Snob. Stoned Gremlin Productions on YouTube, 28 March 2016.
  6. Exclusive Interview with Pure Flix Entertainment for God's Not Dead Movie. Alliance Defending Freedom, 14 February 2014.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on List of films with a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  8. God's Not Dead Review, Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter
  9. God's Not Dead, Screen It, 2014
  10. God's Not Dead 2, imdb.com.
  11. God's Not Dead 2. Box Office Mojo, 2016.
  12. God's Not Dead 2 (2016) — Rotten Tomatoes
  13. God's Not Dead 2 AV Club
  14. God's Not Dead 2, Variety
  15. ‘God’s Not Dead 2’ Aims Straight for the Christian Base, Jackie K Cooper, Huffington Post
  16. Pure Flix Announces Theatrical Release Date For God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. prnewswire.com, 19 December 2017.
  17. 17.0 17.1 God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, Vadim Rizov, AV Club
  18. God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018). the-numbers.com, 2018.
  19. Movie Review: “God’s Not Dead 3” at patheos.com, 30 March 2018.
  20. Roger Moore, Movie Review: “God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness” tries to be less angry. rogersmovienation.com, 31 March 2018.
  21. 21.0 21.1 God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, Sheila O'Malley, rogerebert.com, Mar 30, 2018
  22. God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness at Rotten Tomatoes.
  23. God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. User reviews at imdb.com.
  24. Steve Pulaski, “God’s Not Dead: We the People” (2021) Review. Influx Magazine, 2021.
  25. God's Not Dead: We the People. IMDB, 2021.