It’s an age-old debate – Does God Exist? Scholars, clergy and laypeople have argued the question for centuries, and most of those debates end with the same demand from both sides: Prove it.
“God’s Not Dead” is a new movie that addresses that debate in a David-and-Goliath type of scenario. John Wheaton (Shane Harper), a freshman philosophy student, is given a first-day assignment by his philosophy professor Jeffery Radisson (Kevin Sorbo of “Soul Surfer” and television’s “Hercules”): sign a sheet of paper saying that God is dead in order to avoid a pointless and time-consuming class unit on theology. As Prof. Radisson points out, doing so will enable the class to skip to what “every sophomore is already aware of – there is no God.”
The problem is, Wheaton is a Christian, and as such he refuses to write the words. As the lone holdout among the students, Wheaton draws the professor’s ire, so he’s told he must successfully defend the antithesis — and change the mind of his classmates — or forfeit 30 percent of his grade.
The movie starts out with good intentions in trying to depict the struggle that arises when Christians and atheists go head-to-head about their beliefs. Unfortunately, the “God’s on trial” scenario is a little too far-fetched. No professor, at least not one who wants to keep his job, would ever require a class to write “God is dead” and hand it in or else receive a failing grade.
Consider the professor at Florida Atlantic University who asked his students to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then step on it. What was supposed to be an exercise to foster discussion nearly cost the professor his job. Professor Radisson’s exercise would most certainly result in a similar outcome.
Still, the movie does a good job of showing both sides of the argument, even if somewhat simplistically.
The stereotypical supporting characters will be easily recognizable, even if some seem a little larger-than-life. Mark (Dean Cain, of TV’s “Lois and Clark”), is depicted as a jerk who has stepped on many people during his climb to the top. Mark appears to be the devil incarnate, who treats his girlfriend as nothing more than an accolade he acquired along his way to the top – meaningless and dispensable. Unfortunately, his atheism is portrayed as over the top, and painted with too broad a brush.
Then there’s Amy (Trisha Lafache, “Garden State”), a blogger for “The New Left,” who gleefully attempts to expose Christians for the liars and hucksters they are by ambushing Duck Dynasty’s Willie and Korie Robertson outside of their church and storming the Newsboys’ dressing room prior to their concert. Her lack of faith is challenged when bad news befalls her.
Unfortunately, the movie’s writers, Cary Soloman and Chuck Konzelman, who also collaborated on “Finding Normal” and “The Book of Daniel,” go a little too far in vilifying the atheist blogger. Bumper stickers on her car include, “Vegan,” “American Humanist” and “I (heart) evolution.” It’s as if the writers needed to clothe her in every liberal cliché at once, although it’s unclear how veganism equates to atheism or even anti-Christianity.
The depiction of the lone Muslim family in the movie is sure to draw criticism and rightly so. Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu), who converted to Christianity a year ago and hides the fact from her devout Muslim father, suffers her father’s wrath once he discovers her secret.
The choice of using this family as the lone representative of Islam in general is disingenuous in the least and inflammatory at the most. Christians should be upset that the portrayal made its way into the movie.
As for the technical aspects, the acting has come leaps and bounds from the inexperienced casts of previous Christian movies like “Facing the Giants.” The sound was a little off; at times it was tinny, as if the actors were speaking through bullhorns.
The soundtrack contains songs by Harper, the Superchicks and, of course, the Newsboys, who recorded the titular song for their 2011 album of the same name.
Despite the flaws in character illustrations, “God’s Not Dead” is an enjoyable movie and should be seen by Christians and non-Christians alike who would enjoy carrying the debate further. The message will certainly be applauded as well as jeered, but that’s to be expected of a film dealing with such a controversial issue. Though the film may never solve the question of God’s existence, “God’s Not Dead” will definitely spark conversation among believers and non-believers alike.