(Please consider all of my posts about this movie to be spoilerrific.)
Last week I got hammered and watched God’s Not Dead so you don’t have to. One thing I learned watching it was the rather surprising fact that the various reviews and trailers I’d watched and read of it actually were completely representative of the movie. At the time of its release last year, I was nervous about writing posts like this one in case I accidentally committed this movie’s favorite sin–straw-manning an opposing view. Now I know I would have been on completely safe ground.
This movie represents not only evangelical Christians‘ wishful thinking about the world and people around themselves, but also their viewpoint on a variety of subjects. It is like the distillation and summation of all their preconceptions and distortions, and so I think it’d be instructional for us to peek into evangelicals’ heads by looking at what this movie says regarding various subjects. Some of those subjects have been done quite at length–like how the movie treats atheists themselves, so I’ll let my peers’ and friends’ posts speak there. I want to focus on topics I haven’t seen discussed much, starting with relationships.
Here are the main romantic relationships depicted in God’s Not Dead. I have no idea what some of these characters’ names are and more importantly I don’t care; they are caricatures anyway so we could name them after articles of clothing and it wouldn’t matter. I’m also presenting these relationships in order of desirability to Christian eyes.
Notice that the movie’s creators basically chose four relationships that highlight all the permutations of faith and non-belief, and especially displays their dim view of “unequally yoked” couples.
1. Dean Cain and the reporter lady: EVIL ATHEIST + EVIL ATHEIST.
These two are both atheists, so obviously this relationship is completely doomed, shallow, and dysfunctional. Dean plays a complete dick, while his reporter girlfriend, Cravat, is his obedient, low-self-esteem-suffering lapdog. Dean views relationships in cold, rational, transactional terms; he won’t even give street directions to Cravat unless she tells him exactly what’s in it for him. We don’t see these two interacting much, but it’s clear that she likes how important he is, and he likes how hot she is.
When he takes her to a fine restaurant to share the news that he’s gotten some kind of promotion at work for being a really proficient dick, she ruins everything by telling him she has cancer and will die. He immediately dumps her. When Cravat protests that she thought he loved her, he laughs in her face. From their conversation it’s clear that as long as everything was going the way Dean wanted it to go, he was willing to let Cravat believe whatever she wanted. But now that she actually needs him for support, he just hasn’t got the maturity to handle that request.
Lesson: Atheists have no idea what love is, and would never sacrifice for each other. They only care about what they’ll get out of other people. When someone really needs his or her partner, then it’s “game over, dude.” Evil, evil atheists. Ickie.
2. Mina and Dr. Radisson: UNEQUALLY YOKED TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + EVIL ATHEIST.
Mina is Dean’s sister and the only female character important enough for her name to be said often enough that even I remembered it, though I thought it was “Nina” all the way till I was about to post the review and noticed that IMDB’s cast list had it differently; I have the hearing of a goddamned cocker spaniel, so I’m going to take this opportunity to rail against the growing trend toward poor enunciation in movies. Mina is also Dr. Radisson’s fuckpuppet and his former student. This last bit is very important. Given how Dr. Radisson acts in his classroom–believing wholeheartedly that he is the classroom’s “god” and giving first-day lectures about atheism and famous atheists, and he makes a big deal of how he has this routine of demanding that students write “God Is Dead” on papers for part of their grades–there is no way whatsoever that Mina could have missed that he is not a Christian. Mina herself must have handed him a paper with “God Is Dead” on it–or her defiance would have been noted in her first expository dialogue. So she chose to date a man who is downright hostile to her faith, didn’t fight his hostility against it, and their difference of opinion doesn’t seem to have been an issue… until now.
This relationship is what Christians call “unequally yoked.” And Mina was totally fine with that for a long time. She’s been screwing Dr. Radisson for years. But now suddenly she’s got a big problem with her boyfriend being an atheist.
Radisson seems like a decent boyfriend at first, if a little controlling. We know from this scene that they’re doing the deed; it’s hard to imagine a young-ish, decently-attractive guy like Radisson dating students without an expectation of sex, and he’s on intimate enough terms with Mina that he lets himself into her house without knocking and “freshens up” in her bathroom before parties they throw together. They have a long expository conversation to tell the audience how they met–under an ethical cloud, being that, again, she was his student at the time–and how they handle being a mixed-faith couple. His main concern is that Mina seems to have changed. He wants her to change back to her previous carefree self, because people should never change, especially not hot younger girlfriends. Like Dean Cain, he’s not capable of allowing his girlfriends to be real, three-dimensional people with needs and independent desires. She exists to make him happy, and thus she must always be exactly the same person she was in his class years ago. The movie wants you to forget that Christians frequently make this exact same demand of ex-Christian partners, as I’ve noted in the past; you’re supposed to think that only atheists do this.
That’s when she drops the UYC Bomb: Talking of herself in the third person, she says: “She has got a mom who’s failing fast, she’s sensing time is passing by, and she’s starting to wonder if, uh, if she’s unequally yoked.”
The “time is passing by” might be a reference to the fact that Radisson hasn’t popped the question yet, something she’s already indicated bothers her a lot (in an earlier scene with her senile mother), but it might also be her expression of disappointment that Radisson hasn’t reconverted to Christianity during their time together. But Mina’s UYC Bomb is also untrue. If she is an evangelical who is so fervent that she’ll challenge a room full of slightly-buzzed philosophy professors on issues of faith, she already knows damned well that she is unequally yoked. That shouldn’t be a question she wonders about. She’s dating a man she knows for 100% sure is not a Christian, and evangelical culture doesn’t stutter on that point. So at best she is being disingenuous; at worst she is lying. And Radisson is right to call her out for it, as much as it pains me to say anything supporting a character who acts, otherwise, so ridiculously unsympathetic.
What’s funny is that in response to her concern, Radisson reminds her about their compromise. Namely, they just don’t talk about religion. But as he puts it, “the not-talking is starting to get louder and louder, and soon it will be deafening, and I don’t know if I can put up with that.” Chances are this is the only really honest observation about mixed-faith relationships involving evangelical Christians that this movie actually contains. That part is quite true. Often mixed-faith partners try to ignore their difference, but if one partner is really really buggy about his or her beliefs then it seems like their difference starts to take on a sinister life of its own, coiling and lurking in corners of the room waiting to strike. As long as Mina keeps her beliefs to herself, he’s content to pretend there’s no difference at all. But evangelicalism is a pernicious beast; it is not content to coil and lurk. Evangelical Christians need everybody to believe like they do. So like many Christians in the Unequally Yoked Club, Mina manufactures some drama because Radisson continues to resist her missionary dating.
When Radisson seeks some kind of consensus with her, saying “we need to be clear about this,” it comes off as him being completely honest with her. He really wants to be a mustache-twirler, but it’s really hard to find fault with someone setting boundaries. And like a lot of dishonest evangelicals I’ve known and run into, Mina pretends to be fine. My Christian then-husband Biff did this exact same act with children, so maybe that is why this scene irks me as much as it does. That little moue Mina makes with her mouth as she agrees to drop the subject? I’ve seen that on Biff as he pretended to “leave the desire for children on the altar.” Radisson’s apostasy still bothers her, and he has to know it does, but he treats her like an adult–this time–and takes her at her word.
But the movie can’t have Radisson being sympathetic anywhere, so they rescue his evilosity a few minutes later. Here is what kind of a dick boyfriend Radisson is: before the manufactured drama above, he asks her if she got the wine he wanted; she says she did, but admits she accidentally left the bottle in the car. He forgives her and says she has a lot going on, so he totally understands; it’s quite sweet. Then, at dinner, which is–again–hosted at his girlfriend’s house and personally and completely prepared by her for his benefit, with his college-professor buddies around them, he insults the wine and by extension Mina as if he has no idea why it tastes bad, and his buddies all join in the humiliation of their hostess, driving her to tears. Because atheists are evil bastards and Christians never do that.
Later, while Mina is talking to the pastor dude from the movie’s school–because she hasn’t got her own pastor and still relies on her college chaplain for spiritual advice–she gushes with him about how wonderful her boyfriend is. This scene tells us what Mina sees in Radisson: after she complains that he is verbally abusive toward her when religion comes up, the pastor guesses that she likes him because he’s bright–no, make that brilliant, handsome. He gives her attention that makes her feel special and gives her a sense of completeness (surely the most creative Christian euphemism I’ve ever seen for “bangs you like a screen door during a hurricane”). The pastor dude says she suffers from Cinderella Complex, which he mistakenly says means she needs others to give her a sense of value and worth rather than generating one internally. Then he tells her only Jesus can give her a sense of value and worth (wait what?!?). I bring up this scene because while Mina praises Radisson to the skies, we don’t actually see the two of them interacting in ways that actually fit her description. Going by her description in this scene, he’s perfect–except that he “verbally abuses” her whenever religion comes up. He’s verbally abusive all right, as well as controlling, contemptuous of her, and dismissive, but during their actual argument about religion, he wasn’t verbally abusive. He was upset and annoyed that she was bringing up religion because they’d made an explicit agreement not to discuss religion. He doesn’t deal well with those emotions, but he doesn’t call her names or tell he she can’t be Christian or anything. When she drops the subject, he does too. So this movie is wrong again here.
Side note: I’m watching that part of the movie again now and noticing that when Mina accuses Radisson of being all “blood and thunder” during the first day of class, he tells her with a self-deprecating laugh that he was just putting on an act for her benefit. He might be lying, sure, but he certainly seems full of blood and thunder in this movie’s first day of classes. Is he grooming his next girlfriend in Josh’s class?
Lesson: Don’t date him, girl. Christian women who date non-Christians will waste years and years of their life, never get married to their boyfriends, and end up humiliated at their own dinner parties. Christian men are never, ever verbally abusive to their girlfriends, ever. Or dismissive. Or callous. Or manipulative. Or controlling. And Mina certainly isn’t culpable for anything she does with regard to timing or dishonesty.
Josh and his lukewarm girlfriend: UNEQUALLY YOKED II: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + LUKEWARM CHRISTIAN
Josh’s girlfriend doesn’t have much time in this movie. Her function is to artificially inflate the stakes in Josh’s debate with Dr. Radisson and to be one of the Christians in his life who oppose him because they aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™, to highlight Josh’s persecution.
Of the girlfriend, Blouse, we know only the following: she is blond and says she’s intelligent, she thinks it’s totally reasonable to map out her future with Josh, she doesn’t know how to apologize, and she wants to marry a guy who is a fervent Christian yet who takes a pragmatic approach to challenges to his faith. She wears a purity ring too; make of that what you like because I sure did.
Blouse is the worst girlfriend ever. Judgmental, overreactive, and adept at making mountains out of molehills, she goes about her day by turns draping herself over Josh, chastely hugging and cheek-kissing him, and whining at him about how he’s going to ruin his entire academic career by losing 30% of the grade in one single intro course–when she’s not issuing totally unreasonable ultimatums. You see, she sees nothing whatsoever wrong with Josh completing Radisson’s “God Is Dead” assignment even though she’s a lifelong Christian. In fact, her parents are annoyed with Josh’s recalcitrance on this point as well. Everybody is against him, even her. Far from being offended, most evangelicals would feel smugly satisfied by Blouse’s behavior; they are totally convinced that most other Christians aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like they are.
It’s worth noting that when Blouse dumps Josh, burning a six-year-long relationship to the ground (as well as likely the first and only one both of them have ever had), he’s not very upset at all–a fact she notices and mentions, so the problem isn’t that he’s a terrible actor (though that’s true of every actor in this flaming shitball except Kevin Sorbo, who is clearly having a fantastic time chewing scenery); it’s that there’s not much loss and heartbreak to convey here. We don’t see much of her at all after the breakup; having helped orchestrate the total dilemma Josh faces, her work here is done, so she drifts away. We don’t see him losing much sleep over it.
Lesson: Not a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, obviously. Josh has as little business being in a relationship with Blouse as Mina has with Radisson and for the same reasons. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities because lukewarm Christians are ickie. Good TRUE CHRISTIAN™ lads like Josh need good TRUE CHRISTIAN™ lasses because proper Christian girls never, ever, ever try to control their menfolk, make unreasonable demands and ultimatums, argue over stupid shit, or totally overreact.
Korie and the Duck Dynasty Werewolf: PRACTICALLY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ + TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
There is only one relationship here treated completely sympathetically, and that’s the one between the glamorous Korie and her unkempt fauxbilly husband, Willie Robertson from TV’s Duck Dynasty. Strangely, Korie’s name I knew, but not that of her husband until I looked it up.
When the reporter lady leaps out at the couple to ask them questions, she seems singularly offended by Korie’s mere existence and snarks at her, snidely saying that she would have expected Korie to be left behind at home, barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Korie steadfastly supports her husband, which outrages the reporter even more, but Korie looks at Cravat with condescending smug sympathy–she knows the reporter lady will never understand. Cravat’s hostility is so far past Korie’s comprehension that she might as well be an alien species; the implication is that Cravat is jealous and bitter of this Christian lady’s happiness.
I don’t know what this couple’s real-life marriage looks like, but their movie marriage looks exactly like what evangelicals imagine marriage between two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ should look like. She’s thin and pretty, while his appearance is, uh, unimportant. She seems to have no opinions of her own that differ from his in any way. They never argue, though he does whine a couple of times in their short time onscreen about how short he feels next to her in her high-heeled shoes. Their robust sex life is hinted at when Willie offers to rush off and impregnate Korie again so she can be properly pregnant next time she’s in their kitchen and barefoot (Korie hurriedly declines, though from the tone of her voice it almost sounds like she’s not entirely sure Willie will listen). At the end of the reporter’s softball questions, Willie sweeps his beautiful wife into the church. The family that prays together, stays together. Right?
Lesson: If you find a man or woman like Willie or Korie, put a ring on it. Gosh, just too bad she’s a bit old for Josh, huh? Non-Christian spouses are never this supportive, playful, or committed to each other!
So there we have it. Four relationships, four different permutations of belief and non-belief, all fed through a filter of Christian evangelical delusions about how relationships do–and should–work. If a space alien watched this movie knowing nothing about relationships, that alien would come away with a few unmistakable impressions:
* Atheists can’t possibly make relationships work with each other because they are shallow ickie people.
* Christians can’t possibly make relationships work with non-believers, especially atheists, because atheists are mean and ickie.
* Even Christians can’t even make relationships work with other Christians if one is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and one is lukewarm. Lukewarm Christians are almost as bad as atheists. Almost.
* TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have the nicest relationships of all, because Jesus-reasons.
It’d almost be convincing, too, if I didn’t know that Christians act like the atheists depicted herein all the time, if I didn’t know many atheist couples who are loving, happy, and devoted to each other, and if I didn’t know that divorce rates are just as bad for evangelical spouses as they are for anybody else.
Once again I am left with the conviction that if Christians had any integrity, they would denounce and despise this shallow, puerile piece of shit movie. It sees relationships in the exact same distorted way that it sees atheists, and treats people in those relationships the same contemptuous, dismissive way.
If you’re in the Unequally Yoked Club, please don’t listen to this bullshit.
The conventional wisdom peddled by evangelical leaders is wrong. I talk to people in these pairings every single day–and for most of them, they’re muddling along fine. This movie is as wrong about relationships as it is about atheists, and that is saying something because there is not a single thing it says about atheists that is true.
Hopefully the next GND post won’t be quite this long. We’ll be looking at how it treats Christians next–see you then!