Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The "God's Not Dead" Martyrdom Complex
On Sesame Street, I *loved* Big Bird and Oscar. On Thomas, I thought Gordon the Big Engine was just the coolest. And on Mr. Rogers, the Trolley was my favorite part about the entire show (except for feeding the fish, because even at a young age, I liked anything that involved food).
The Trolley, of course, was the mediator between the real world of the Neighborhood and the imaginary world of Make-Believe, as it would chug along the tracks from Mr. Rogers' house to the castle of King Friday the Thirteenth. And if the Trolley were still choo-chooing today into the land of Make-Believe, I really hope that the folks behind the God's Not Dead and God's Not Dead 2 movies bought some advertising space on it, because the *only* way either of those movies are remotely credible is if you live in the land of Make-Believe as well.
Let's begin with this: compared to other religious minority groups, Christians are not a persecuted class in the United States of America. As Christianity Today--obviously not a house organ of anti-Christian sentiment the way that, say, a Richard Dawkins fangroup would be--put it, if there is a persecuted religious class in the US right now, it's Muslims.
Ed Cyzewski's analysis in his CT piece is sound, but that doesn't even include non-Muslims who are violently attacked for resembling (in their attackers' deranged minds) Muslims.
It isn't just Muslims, or people who look like Muslims, either: when the racist, Trump-endorsing meathead musician Ted Nugent posted to his Facebook page to warn his followers of pro-gun control politicians, each of the politicians he named were Jewish and had an Israeli Star of David superimposed onto their photographs. When those stars were used not just for the Israeli flag but to, you know, differentiate Jews from Aryans in Hitler's Germany, it wasn't hard to read between Nugent's anti-Semitic lines.
And that's even before we get to the Christians and Muslims alike killed in the horrific terrorist attacks over the past week in Belgium, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
That's what real religious persecution looks like, y'all. Not being told you have to accommodate same-sex couples who are asking you to bake them a cake or being told you have to allow a trans person to use the restroom of the gender they identify with.
Which brings me to the ridiculous miasma of silliness that is the God's Not Dead film franchise. The original, released two years ago, is bad enough: it documents a virulently atheist college professor who bullies his class into signing a statement declaring that God is dead in order to pass his class, one student objects, they debate, and the atheist professor (who, in what I guess passes for poetic justice in Christian cinema, eventually gets run over by a car and killed...but not before becoming born-again while in the throes of death).
Let's start with the obvious: I was taught by atheist professors in college, and non of them required me, as an openly devout Christian, to sign diddley in order to pass their classes. In fact if any of them did do that, it would be grounds for immediate disciplinary action--even tenure (in theory) does not protect against being disciplined for obvious discrimination.
The atheist professor is a caricature, an apparition, second cousin to Harvey the Rabbit as Tim Robbins would say in The Shawshank Redemption. The makers of God's Not Dead conjured him up out of thin air.
There are surely hateful, discriminatory atheists out there (Sam Harris, Bill Maher, the aforementioned Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, etc). But the chances of your precious helicoptered kid being taught by one of them in so obtuse a manner is virtually nil. Even Kurt Wise, the patron saint of young earth creationist pseudo-scientists, was, per Hanna Rosin's research in her excellent book God's Harvard, treated eminently fairly by his atheist doctoral adviser Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard, and Wise got his degree with no untoward resistance.
This fictitious professor, then, is simply that: fictitious. Made-up. A bogeyman that is as easily sighted as Sasquatch.
That is what our Christian persecution complex has come to, y'all. We have to make up stories about made-up people in made-up situations in order to feed our outsized feelings of martyrdom.
And because the original, despite being generally considered a cinematic disaster, grossed $64 million against a $2 million budget, it was always inevitable that a sequel was going to be made.
Because, as we have learned, playing on American Christianity's persecution complex is quite a lucrative racket (which is kind of ironic--because if we were really persecuted, we either wouldn't have the discretionary income to spend on seeing such a film, or we'd be banned from seeing it altogether).
So here we are. Said sequel, creatively named God's Not Dead 2 (although I'm making that snarky crack as a pastor of a congregation named "First Christian Church," so I'm hardly one to talk about creative branding), arrives in theaters tomorrow.
If its trailers are any indication, the storyline is is more or less the same, except instead of a faithful student challenging an atheist professor, it is a faithful teacher challenging an atheist school system after she gets sued for answering a question about the teachings of Jesus.
Which just goes to show how utterly inane this whole fake universe being created truly is. We're supposed to believe that an atheist professor who demands that his students declare that God is dead or get an F for the course has *not* been sued, ever, yet a teacher gets the smackdown treatment for answering an innocuous question about the historical teachings of Jesus?
There is real persecution of Christians in this world, y'all. Only that persecution doesn't take place here in the United States so much as it takes place in countries like North Korea, China, and Sudan.
Heck, 72 people just died as a result of a terrorist attack on Christians in Pakistan. Can we please not equate their deaths with our made-up penchant for victimhood for at least the first week after that bombing?
Because even more than being tasteless (which it is), or untoward (which it also is), it's insulting. It insults Christians who have fought real battles for religious freedom, not bigots who fight stupid battles for the right to discriminate against gay people. It insults people of non-Christian faiths who have fought those same real battles for *their* religious freedom, often in the face of massive Christian opposition.
And it insults atheists who are hardly militant and simply remain unconvinced that the universe was created by a divine maker.
That's what gets me about these films. They are so clearly not outreach tools. How could they be? If I was taken to see a movie that made a caricature of me to serve as an antagonist to some pious doofus of a Richard Dawkins devotee, I'd be pissed. If I took any of my atheist friends to see either of the God's Not Dead films, I'm not sure how I'd be able to look at myself in the mirror afterwards.
The God's Not Dead franchise isn't about lovingly bringing people into the faith. It's about making the people who are already in the faith feel more smug and self-righteous about a battle that they are losing and frankly should be losing.
That's not something worth admiring. That's not something worth two hours of your free time, or you spending your hard-earned money to go see.
So please, I humbly ask you, if you are thinking about going to see God's Not Dead 2...don't. And instead, take that time to read about the history of religious persecution in America, or about the religious persecutions Christians outside of America are facing.
Think about donating the cost of your movie ticket to a Christian nonprofit that does great work. To practice what I preach, I just made a donation to my seminary alma mater worth two movie tickets as a thank-you to them for their scholarship support of Disciples of Christ students. But it can be anything. Give to World Vision, Living Water International, Ten Thousand Villages...so many amazing Christian organizations who need and deserve your money way more.
And please consider adding to your prayers the people who are facing systemic and systematic oppression far greater than we will likely ever face. Because their oppression is real. Ours is manufactured--in news stories, in the hollow words of talking heads, and, apparently, on the silver screen.
Quite simply, God has no appetite for falsehoods. And neither should we.
Thanks for reading.
March 30, 2016
Image courtesy of Youtube