The movie “God’s Not Dead 2” recently came out on DVD and BluRay. Christians everywhere looked forward to heading to Redbox and picking up a copy to watch on a wild Friday night.
The movie features Melissa Joan Hart (ironically, of “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” fame) as a public school teacher who faces losing her job when she answers a student’s question about Jesus in a classroom. In the hopes of keeping her job, Melissa takes her case to court, opposed by the ACLU. Unsurprisingly for a Christian film, everything ends up perfect in the end. (SPOILERS) Melissa wins her case, and the court declares that “God’s Not Dead.” Cue the song that never ends and clips from a Newsboys concert! Roll credits! The end!
The Enemies In God’s Not Dead 2
Unfortunately, “God’s Not Dead 2” has some issues with its storytelling. No, I won’t criticize the production quality or the acting (which are actually decent as far as Christian films go). Instead, I will focus on this movie’s obsession with making atheists the bad guys.
Like most films, the cast is made up of good guys and bad guys, which, in the Christian film industry, often translates to Christians and non-Christians. “God’s Not Dead 2” actually breaks the mold a bit by having Melissa’s character represented by a non-Christian attorney, but the antagonist is a caricature of an atheist whose main goal in life is to dismantle Christendom.
This isn’t anything new. In the original God’s Not Dead, the antagonist is a radically atheist professor who practically forces his students to agree with his nihilistic beliefs by writing “God is dead.” Other antagonists in the original God’s Not Dead included an atheist lawyer who breaks up with his girlfriend because she gets cancer (Seriously, that happened.) and a vegan, humanist reporter (the girlfriend who gets cancer) who likes to ambush the Duck Dynasty stars.
Movies like these often assume that atheists have no form of morality, portraying atheist characters as nothing more than cartoon stereotypes. They feature them as if their denial of God is the only thing about them that matters. All the while, the film’s marketing teams encourage Christian moviegoers to invite their non-Christian friends to see their movies, claiming these films are actually a great tool for evangelism.
The Real Enemy
Now that I’ve said all that, let me take a sharp turn to briefly talk about another film.
In the final installment of “The Hunger Games” franchise, “Mockingjay Part 2”, Katniss, the heroine of the series, is called upon to unite the districts to fight against the Capital, the ruling city which treats the citizens of its country as slaves. In one scene, Katniss gives an impromptu speech to those watching a televised battle:
“We all have one enemy, and that’s President Snow. He corrupts everyone, and everything. He turns the best of us against each other. Stop killing for him. Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol. Turn your weapons to Snow.”
We all have one enemy, and that’s Satan. He corrupts everyone and everything. He turns the best of us against each other. Stop condemning people for him. Stop judging people for him. That’s what he wants. He loves to see the people of God acting as if atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, etc. are the ultimate enemy when we know that the real enemy works undetected as we point fingers at other human beings.
Believe it or not, atheists (and Muslims, and homosexuals, etc.) are people too. They have hopes, dreams, families, friends, jobs, problems, issues, and a complicated worldview. These people deserve to be treated like adults, and have their worldview challenged in a respectful way. They are men and women who God created to have dignity. They’re people he loves. They’re people whom he wants to rescue.
How To Make Peace
Paul wrote to Timothy:
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
The men and women we so terribly misrepresent in our movies are people under the power of hell, as we all were once. I’m not going to say there aren’t atheists out there who hate Christians and religion. There most certainly are. And I’m not going to say it’s the intention of Christian film companies to portray all non-Christians in a negative light. It obviously is not.
However, if I think of any film or television show that portrays its only Christian characters in a very negative light, I can sometimes take it personally. “Is this how these people really see Christians?” I think. “That’s ridiculous, untrue, and kind of hurtful.” Likewise, I’m sure that non-Christians who see these films, few as there are, would feel the same way about the non-Christian characters in our films.
Christian movies have a lot of issues, as many young Christians, like me, will tell you. One step we can take to making better Christian films is to present non-Christians in a more accurate and balanced light. Maybe that starts with truly being the salt and light of the earth and building relationships with them. Let’s not be condescending. Let’s listen, love them, and learn from them. In the process, we may actually start to make better Christian films.