But God might want to be after seeing what sort of garbage is being peddled in his/her name. God’s Not Dead 2, the most recent offering from Pure Flix Entertainment (which sounds a lot like a seedy adult entertainment production company to me), has been clogging up my newsfeed for the last week. Christian friends and family from across the conservative theological spectrum have been praising it. I urge you all to stop and reflect on the crap these companies keep dumping on you.
This is a Christploitation film. Like blaxploitation and sexploitation films, these cinematic abortions are built to take advantage of a niche market that is not served by the wider establishment. Some of these films may be motivated by genuine faith, but all of them are made to maximize profits. These films target a niche, in this case the overwrought victim-mentality harbored by conservative Christians, and then produce as cheap a product as they can in the name of making a quick buck. They eschew coherent plots or storylines, instead using characters and scenes to set up sloppy sermons masquerading as dialog. The characters are one-dimensional. Christians are attractive, pleasant, humble people who simply want to live life according to their faith. The secular world is filled with angry, bitter people who are obsessed with preventing Christians from practicing their faith. Good guys are simple folk who like Duck Dynasty (the first film gets a Robertson cameo; this one simply uses it to show who a liberal lawyer wouldn’t want on a jury). Bad guys are college professors who think that secular philosophy and history have something to teach us that the Gospel doesn’t. I call it faith erotica.
I won’t bother breaking down the myriad of ways that this is implausible– if the writers and producers couldn’t be bothered to tether this to reality in some way I shouldn’t have to waste my breath explaining it. I will simply note that there is not one school district in this nation that would seek to punish a history teacher for the comments made in this trailer. Indeed, you will find that nearly every state has the name Jesus and Christianity baked into the social studies curriculum (along with Abraham and Muhammad).
But in the evangelical fantasyland of “Persecutoria” there are insidious threats to Christians everywhere. It is “a war!”the film proudly proclaims. On one side are the righteous forces of Christ. These are likely to be unassuming pastors, proud and defiant little school teachers with names like Grace Wesley (the names in this film are so ham-fisted that it borders on parody), along with pure and pious young people. The enemies of God are myriad. Public schools and their controlling administrators. Teachers unions who care only about extorting money from the taxpayers and won’t protect good Christians. The ACLU and their Christian hating lawyers, like Ray Wise’s vicious Pete Kane (wow– I’m shocked they went “subtle” with changing the spelling of Cain here…). Elitist universities, the subject of the first abomination (Kevin Sorbo’s “God’s Not Dead” is about a philosophy professor who is bested in debate by an earnest young believer) are used as motivation to get the parents of the student who asked the question to sue the school, reminding their faithful viewers of the supposed glee academics feel when invoking the words “separation of church and state.” Never forget that book learnin’ and “edumacation” are the tools of the devil! There are liberal pundits calling Christians the real religious extremists in the United States (a disgustingly naked appeal to the Islamaphobia that runs rampant through evangelical communities in this nation). The world is filled with threats to the lord’s people.
Unsurprisingly, the film indulges in mocking the ideas of diversity and tolerance as liberal/secular (they use these terms interchangeably) tools used to suppress Christianity. This almost passes for a nuanced message in a Christplotation film, as by ignoring other types of Christianity that embrace a theology of love and diversity the film subtly suggests that only the conservative evangelical Christian is a real follower of Christ. Diversity and tolerance are used as dog-whistles here, as even these schmucks are not brazen enough to outright say how those topics harm Christians. Given the political climate, the implication is clear: forcing Christians to accept homosexuals and treat them as equals in the eyes of the law is the latest in a long line of illegitimate extensions of civil rights. Why can’t good, godly people be left to discriminate against whoever they chose?
I’m being glib. There is a fine-line to walk with regards to religious freedom and civil rights. Luckily, it is a pretty easy one to demarcate. In a free and democratic society, your right to pursue whatever your conception of the “good life” is should be unencumbered right up to the point that it comes into conflict with someone else’s. Feel free to think that homosexuality is a sin. Obsess over what other people are doing with their genitals in general. Knock yourselves out. But you do not get to take that attitude into wider society. You don’t get to withhold rights from other Americans. If you don’t want to bake cakes for gays, blacks, interracial couples, second marriages, Muslims, shotgun weddings, and the like no one can or will make you. But don’t expect to stay open for long. Because as a store open to the public you are committed to serving all paying customers. It is essential to both democratic freedom and the capitalist economy.
Throughout the film characters (and the dreadful Newsboys) loudly proclaim their willingness to be persecuted for God. But this martyrdom is false, both in the film and in wider evangelical Christian society. It is part of their phony detachment from the physical life. Believers need not worry themselves with the suffering of those on Earth– the afterlife is all that matters. No need to combat income inequality–the poor will get theirs in heaven! Are the mentally ill dying in the streets? That just means they will be with Jesus sooner– how lucky are they?! Is it immoral for us to destroy the environment, harming future generations of humans, flora, and fauna? Who cares? This life is fleeting anyway. Is it just in the eyes of the lord for blacks be held as slaves, restricted from voting and held down in share cropping systems under Jim Crow, or systematically redlined out of wider society and pursued vigorously by the justice system? Unimportant– god challenges us all in various ways. Life on Earth is not meant to be fair. Christians have to live in harmony with gays/pay for women to keep their vaginas healthy/or simply not discriminate as the laws of the land dictate? That is too far. Something must be done.
Neither the producers of this film or the faithful masses who will go watch it want anything to do with suffering for God. They want to live in the conservative theocracy they dream about (and make nice profits from it while they do so). The film is not aimed at winning new converts, it seeks to stiffen the resolve of the true believers. It proudly tells you to reject the mantra of live and let live and instead challenges viewers to stand up and fight back. It is a war, after all. The system– government, higher education, liberals, establishment, and other religious groups (including Christians)– is wrong. You, the Duck Dynasty loving, salt of the Earth, god-fearing Christians are right. It makes ominous warnings about what will happen if the evil forces of secularism keep pushing against the “silent majority.” (Newsflash– you are not the majority. Not by a long shot) It promises to return this nation to its former (Christian) greatness. In many ways, it is Donald Trump in a minister’s robe.
And in case you don’t trust me on this subject, go check out their official movie page for the details. You can purchase their Church kit to get a 4-week crash course in discovering what “your” faith really is and how to “stand strong in difficult times.” They will give you all the middle-school level philosophy, half-truths, and rhetorical devices (they LOVE strawmen) you’ll need to win arguments against the liberal academic boogeyman living in your head. More importantly, their kit includes a whole host of things you can use to advertise their movie for them and convince other evangelicals to go see it. Imagine the honor of paying to advertise this film!!
Evangelical Christians, you are being duped. Stop letting the people who drive your political/religious agenda profit so grossly off of you. Read your bible. Study theology. Go to school and learn more about it. But stop letting hucksters and charlatans sell you crap like this. And more importantly, stop believing this counts as thoughtful theological reflection. It is little more than masturbatory faith-fic.