Alright so full disclosure. I have not seen this movie. I would see it. But I am really, really busy with numerous other things that are, it bemoans me to say it, just a little bit more important to me than seeing this movie. Like learning how to make origami kites:
So you can understand why I haven’t seen this movie yet, much as I’m dying too.
That being said, while I haven’t seen it, I have been listening to internet radio (as background to origami crafting) and have heard the following advertisement for this movie play about, oh-I dunno, five billion times:
From hearing the preview a trillion times, I can conclude there are several things this movie does well. For one, it appears that, for the first time in a while, us Evangelicals have managed to produce a movie that doesn’t sound like it was written and edited in my uncle’s basement. Plus, we also picked a background song that was played on the radio sometime within the last twenty years. We’re on a roll.
That being said, while I was listening to this advertisement between my Spotify playlists (that is, before deleting all my Hillsong albums in an effort to wipe out the computer’s notion that I would ever want to hear it again) I realized there are several things that instantly jump out as being atrociously wrong with the movie.
For starters, the premise is absolutely ridiculous.
I spent my first two years of a college at a well-known public university. When I was there, Playboy ranked it as being one of the top five party schools in the country. I had numerous professors who were atheists and adamantly opposed Christianity; many jokes were told at the expense of Christians both in the dorms and classrooms.
That being said the idea of a professor flunking a student solely because he/she refused to deny God’s existence is simply poppycock. My gut reaction, therefore, is that this seems like a Christian straw-man movie. Plugged-In Magazine, an unlikely ally on this point, stated concerning the film that:
“Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy, or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.”
But don’t worry.
Plugged In still gave it 4 out of 5 plugs.
All that being said… even if something like this did happen (which again, probably didn’t/wouldn’t. Sorry, am I beating a dead horse?) the “Christian response” featured in the movie is a poor representation of our faith. Somehow American Christianity has adopted the stance that at the smallest hint of persecution the best plan is to raise all hell. So much for “turn the other cheek”, that command definitely went out with the bathwater.
Why is this? Do we think that attempting to publicly humiliate one of our professors for his theological position is really the way to make him step back and think: “Gee, whiz. I was wrong all along. Thank God (who I now know DOES exist) this 18 year-old kid showed me what’s up!”?
But beyond all this, what I heard about a billion times from the preview that bothers me most is a single line which comes around the 1:30 mark of the preview:
“To me, he (God) is not dead.”
So here’s the thing: we need, like really, really, really need, to stop using purely subjective reasoning to prove an objective truth. Evangelicals have developed a brilliant tactic of basing all their conclusive evidence for God on personal experience. We read the Bible through our own lens, we interpret its meaning through our own viewpoints, we place our own selves as the overriding authority on all spiritual matters, and we offer our own reasoning and experience as the primary evidence for God’s existence and then, when the culture doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid of relativism that we’ve concocted, we’re all like:
This is seen by the way we treat personal testimonies as an Evangelical tactic. I’ve been in several Evangelical training sessions (which, by the way, are much less constructive that origami classes) in which I’m told to share my personal testimony with the first unfortunate soul who happens to be eating lunch alone in the cafeteria.
Here’s the problem with that. If I see someone painting a picture, and they’re almost done with it, the least helpful thing in the world would be to walk up next to them and tell them about how I just finished painting my picture and “here’s how I did it”. The artist is likely to get annoyed, frustrated, and say something with the philosophical undertone of “Well, what worked for you didn’t necessarily work for me”.
Put another way: the attempt to transform someone else’s story with the gospel is imminently hindered by my replacement of the gospel story with my own story. When our starting point is our experience, rather than snippets of a story that exists outside of me, I have little to offer anyone other than the chance for them to listen to someone who loves to hear the sound of their own voice.
Thus, many of our attempts at Evangelical conversations go along these lines:
Me: “So you see from my story that…to me, God’s not dead. He’s alive and has revealed himself to me in numerous ways. Yay.”
Atheist: “Well…to me, he hasn’t. So God’s dead.”
Me (befuddled): “But…to me, he has.”
Atheist: “Not to me.”
Me: “But… I experience him all the time.”
Atheist: “Good for you. I don’t. No way.”
Me: “Um. Yahweh.”
Athiest: “No, thank you.”
Me: “Heavens, you’re so narrow-minded….let me pray for you.”
This is how we kill God.
When the basis for a defense and/or promotion of our faith is built solely upon subjective experiences, we are killing God. For if the only thing that exists to verify God’s existence is our subjective comprehension, our experience and our views, then atheism wins. For someday we will die, our words will fade, and the proposals we concoct will vanish from view. If the only basis for the existence of God is built of these things then, congratulations, we’ve killed him.
“Whoaaaaaaaa, now. That’s completely illogical and furthermore:
Okay. Perhaps I should verify: what I’m saying is that if this is how we approach the notion of God then we’ve not killed God but we’ve killed the true and objective reality of His existence in our hearts. We’ve played by the rules of relativism and landed right in the midst of the critique that if humans were birds God would have wings. We’ve not based our belief on any reality outside of our own existence but have set ourselves up as judge. Then we’re infuriated when everyone doesn’t agree with us.
And thus, we kill the notion of a true God in our hearts, a transcendent God, a real, alive and active God who plays a role in the entire universe of which we are a small part.
We are not the center of the universe and the practical implications of this theology ought to be reflected in every sphere of our lives. An argument for God cannot rest solely on our experience and subjective notions, these ought to be (at the most) footnotes in the meta-narrative. But all too often they are the entirety of the story we tell.
Thus, we must enable ourselves to look at life, look at the cosmos, look at the world, all through the lens of something authoritative outside ourselves (hint: Scripture is a good option). We must yearn for perspectives other than our own, yearn see God outside of our own clouded and narrow-minded realities.
Jesus, you may recall, was crucified to people who were angry with him because God had showed up but He didn’t fit the bill for who they thought God should be.
Likewise, the danger for us is that we will place our belief not in God but in our notion of God. Then we will embark on our righteous attempt to shove said notion down everyone’s throat. In doing so, we won’t just fail to convert the masses but we will, for all intents and purposes, kill God in our own heart.
I’m not saying this is a horrible movie.
I haven’t seen it so such a critique would be unfair. But the basis of the movie is horrible. It is a brand of film that can easily be labeled as propaganda in the most obvious way and the argument it’s making appears, from first glance, to be built on a mutated form of Christianity that is nothing short of relativism.
I can’t throw too many stones, because we’re all guilty of the same thing. But I can call for a reformation of the way we approach God in our films, in our words, in our sermons, in our churches and in our hearts.
And I can definitely find a better way to spend my time.
Like origamis. I think I’ll make some origamis.