As a philosophy graduate, the acclaimed movie God’s Not Dead has thoroughly vexed this writer. For those unfamiliar with the movie, God’s Not Dead is a tale of David versus Goliath in the towers of academia. The movie portrays a Christian freshman who stands up against a smug, atheist philosophy professor. The professor claims that “God is Dead” on the first day of class and instructs his students to write this statement on a piece of paper. One freshman refuses to write the statement. As a corollary, he must defend the antithesis “God is not dead.” In the end, the student wins the argument. In addition, it is revealed that the professor never disbelieved in God, he really just hated him. In essence, the movie is a recapitulated version of the fictional tale about a young Albert Einstein who illustrated to a smug, atheist professor that evil does not disprove the existence of God.
God’s Not Dead should be regarded as an intellectual embarrassment by Christians everywhere. To begin with, the movie is based upon a lie. Not once in this writer’s undergraduate career as a philosophy major did a professor ever proclaim “God is dead” and then expect students to appeal to his or her worldview. Philosophy is not about blindly appealing to the beliefs of an authority. Philosophy is concerned with rigorously analyzing an argument in an effort to determine whether certain propositions are valid or invalid, sound or unsound (Philosophy majors reading this should recognize the distinction between a valid argument versus a sound argument). Critically evaluating truth claims is not unique to Christianity but encompasses all domains in philosophy, including philosophy of mind, ethics and yes, philosophy of religion.
The problem with many Christians is that they attach their identity to their beliefs. If someone challenges their beliefs, within the Christian mindset, they are being attacked as a person. In secular universities—and more specifically philosophy departments—Christianity is treated as a truth claim among many that is upheld to the same standards of defense as any other truth claim. This is the market place of ideas. Taking offense to the slightest criticism made against faith reveals more about the person’s character than it does about Christianity.
Another vexing feature about the movie is that the atheist professor is smug and diabolical; whereas the Christian freshman is humble and amiable. These two aren’t just characters in a movie but a symbolic representation for how many Christians actually view the world. In reality, we all know that some Christians are good, other Christians are bad; just as many atheists are good and some atheists are bad. To make matters worse, the movie reveals that the atheist professor believed in God all along, he just hated him for personal reasons. This is the height of intellectual dishonesty. Apparently, it is impossible for many Christians to accept that some people can genuinely doubt the existence of God for reasons that aren’t grounded in an abusive childhood.
Most importantly, the movie reinforces the stereotype that philosophy is an atheistic discipline that is eager to destroy the Christian faith. Philosophy is an encompassing discipline that contains many branches. Might one’s faith be challenged in a philosophy course? Perhaps. By the same token, it could just as easily be strengthened. Philosophy is a fascinating subject. Yet the philosophy portrayed in God’s Not Dead is awful.
By Nathan Cranford