Saturday, January 17, 2015

On the Movie "God is Not Dead"

I want to go through some of the important bits of this movie, which is hard to do because it is a bit ham-fisted, with the debate scenes wildly overplayed. Also, I just cannot stomach the evangelical subculture that permeates the movie, between Christian Rock groups, Franklin Graham, and Duck Dynasty cameos.

I have a verse for the hapless student, Josh Wheaton. Proverbs 27:12 - The clever see danger and hide; but the simple go on, and suffer for it. The poor guy got warning after warning that the professor was a jerk. Even with all of that he could've dropped the class. I thought God calls Christians to peace, not conflict.

The movie comes straight out of the burgeoning conservative evangelical movement. Besides the evangelical subculture cameos listed above, the Scripture quotations are all from the ESV (English Standard Version). More formal and more conservative than even the 1984 NIV, the ESV represents a new evangelical center composed of rightward drifting classic evangelicals and the majority remains of fundamentalism. (For the record, I quote from the NRSV.)

Speaking of the Bible, I found it unfortunate that, in all of his preparation, Josh Wheaton never picked up or studied the one book that the professor recommended to the rest of the class in preparation for the debate: Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. Instead he is shown reading a bunch of the world religion books. Unfortunately this is a common tendency among Christians to not really examine the other side of whatever the debate is, even if it is among Christians themselves. I ran into this debating King James Onlyists.

So Josh's two main arguments are the argument from design and the argument from morality.

In the argument from design he puts forward intelligent design, admitting the big bang and leaving the question of evolution open, attributing all of these things to God. The problem is, the time scales of the events as given by fossil records and radiometric dating completely shred any concept of these events borne out of an evangelical, inerrantist view of Scripture-or borne out of the most likely views of the early church contra Epicureanism. We're not just talking about contradicting six-day creation. We're talking about the gospel itself and Christ as a Second Adam. We're talking about repetition of the argument from design throughout Scripture in ways that imply a very literal reading of Genesis 1.

As a matter fact, Christian organizations have used Intelligent Design not as a good faith answer to modern scientific evidence, but as a wedge to introduce traditional creationism. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into documenting this. However, even if conservative evangelicals held to ID in good faith, the fact remains that it is highly inconsistent with their own theology.

The argument from morality is also not so straightforward. Anyone who has taken Sociology 101 understands the concept of utilitarianism, in which morals are part of cultural development of a society in the interest of self-preservation. Only in today's highly individualistic society can people uncouple their existence from broader social norms. Morals, purpose, and meaning all find their import in sociological terms and suffer under the influence of individualism. To restore these to an individualistic society requires personal relationships to a transcendent rule giver--God.

The fact that this is A way out doesn't mean it is the answer, as squabbling Christians and dueling denominations will attest. As a matter of fact, a Christian's relationship with God prior to the Reformation and the Enlightenment was a much more corporate affair (think "church") and continued to be quite the corporate affair until American Revivalism came on the scene. Under such a corporate conception of divine relationship, culture and morals can just as easily find its footing in national identity as it can the church.

I give the movie way too much credit by discussing these points in detail. The movie was not anywhere close to being a serious apologetic work. What it was was a rally for the (evangelical) faithful, complete with "faith-affirming" cultural references, and lumping Atheists, Left Wingers, Professors, and Muslims on the bad side.