Reading Time: 9 minutes I used to have one of these. Still do, just don't use it much anymore. (Credit: Charles Kenny, CC license.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Just as Darcy did long ago, this movie creates these shadow-puppets of those it wants to control but can’t, then abuses them and slaps them around for 113 minutes, doling out punishments appropriate to what its creators think are these people’s crimes.

See, in the real world, there’s no cosmic justice at all. Non-Christians must look downright annoyingly happy and fulfilled to Christians. Gay people are getting married and they’re generally perfectly happy, just like straight people who get married tend to be. Christians deconvert and no horrible disasters immediately befall them as if on cue, like the proverbial bolt from the blue. Atheists never cooperate with the accusation that they “just hate God.” Women have unapproved sex and aren’t being punished for it–and they’re choosing not to get married at all in a lot of cases, or to skip having kids, and they still turn out content and not even a little regretful.

It’s almost as if there’s no god up there paying attention to any of it. And that runs totally contrary to Christian mythology, that states that gay people are secretly (despite their fabulous moniker) miserable, that childfree women are desolate, that women who have unapproved sex are always devastated, disobedient Christians always get punished, and atheists are always non-believers because they’re angry at “god” or haven’t yet heard some all-important apologetics contortion–and in fact every human alive believes in Jesus, but some don’t want to admit it.

So in the filmmakers’ fevered fantasies, they can make this movie and have total control of its universe, and in that universe, finally they can see non-Christians get what’s coming to them and finally see a world that looks like Christianity says it should look like.

That revelation isn’t the shocking realization I came to last night. I’d already noted that this movie is nothing but an escapist fantasy, a compensation for an indifferent reality, a year ago when the trailer came out. Trust me, I knew going into this piece of shit that it was going to be evangelicals’ vision of what the world would look like if their religion’s claims were true.

What’s new is the sheer extent to which this movie punishes every single person in it who doesn’t hew to the party line–and that includes Christians and non-Christians alike. That I had not expected to quite this extent. Nor had I quite expected this level of projection upon non-believers.

Most especially, I hadn’t counted on how this movie explicitly leaps from the fantasy of movie-land into reality-land.

Neil Carter wrote about Christians’ habit of projecting onto non-believers their own shortcomings, and this movie is one of the best illustrations of that concept that we could ever find.

There is literally not a single person in this live-action reenactment of the Chick Tract “Big Daddy?” except maybe the truest of the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who isn’t completely in keeping with evangelical Christians’ stereotypes about them, and not a single one of those stereotypes escapes damage and harm–with it implied throughout by the movie that much of this damage and harm is supernaturally-caused to either punish or “woo” (egad, I hate that word; it’s a common one in fundagelical parlance, but it always sounds so abusive and creepy–and they never understand why that word, used to describe a form of courtship defined in this context by predation and deliberate harm, backfires so much with non-believers).

As for the few TRUE CHRISTIANS™ represented in this movie, they all come out looking dishonest or totally lacking in human empathy and cognition, if not nonsensically so.

I understand this movie is supposed to be a proselytization tool; one of the Duck Dynasty fauxbillies is in it, and I’d heard numerous ads and interviews about it back when it came out about how its creators hoped it’d “save souls,” with Christians encouraged to drag non-believing friends into the cinemas, as well as told to annoy their friends with fundie text messages about “God” that I suppose the target audience will take as magically effective (more on this later).

So I’m left with the impression that the people involved in making and promoting this movie really think that they’re creating some kind of persuasive case for atheists in particular to consider. But when I watched this movie, one thought kept running through my head: Why would anybody want to join a religion that thinks of outsiders in such a hateful way and abuses them this much?

The answer that this movie wants to give to that question is, “Because its claims are true!” and the whole movie is devoted, ostensibly, to demonstrating that point–in between punishing non-believers and making believers look inhumanly evil. But those demonstrations aren’t in the least persuasive to anybody sitting outside the pews. The talking points used are tired and debunked six thousand ways from Sunday, which means that Christianity gets considered in the same manner as every other religion: not based upon the veracity of its claims, because they’re not true, but by what kind of people result from following its precepts.

Christians themselves don’t understand that this movie is a symptom of their disease–the disease being that their religion is based upon, at best, metaphorical and culture-contextual “truths” rather than absolutely true facts, but that most of its adherents can’t accept that simple fact and simply must have a sourcebook that is objectively true in at least some respects. The more of those respects they want true, the worse the disease manifests. Because they can’t have any of those respects be really true, though, we get movies like this instead of any genuine attempts to persuade. But is this movie really meant to persuade? As I’ve mentioned on this blog many times, let’s ignore the stated and implied goals and look only at what this movie actually does.

The movie is presented 100% as a factual movie, as a movie that represents what its target audience Christians really want and really value. The moviegoers are told to translate its demands into real-world actions. It is not just a fantasy like The Last Starfighter, whose premise certainly has its shaky aspects but which doesn’t actually pretend that video game proficiency translates to a new career as a space-faring dogfighter. People who love The Princess Bride may seem a little obsessive about reciting lines from it (ahem), but they don’t seriously try to live life as if the six-fingered man is out there menacing anybody. But God’s Not Dead sends Christians off to do real-life things, implying that they will greatly please their real-world Savior by annoying people they actually really know with their smug, unfounded, baseless fantasy assertions. I’ve already got a post planned about this super-cheap form of devotion, believe you me.

By stepping from the silver screen into reality, this movie marks a watershed moment in Christian propaganda efforts. That’s why I’m saying this movie isn’t just some Christian compensation fantasy; its treatment of people is also implied to be how things should work in reality and how its target audience genuinely thinks their god’s universe should look. This movie is actually evangelicals’ way of punishing and smacking non-Christians around in a universe where they can actually win for a change–where non-Christians can’t fight back, and where the rules always work exactly like the creators always want.

Sound familiar?

If that’s the kind of universe they think their god operates, then little wonder their religion is failing as hard as it is.

This week, we’re going to look at what those rules are and take a look at what this movie’s target Christians would love for the universe to look like, by way of examining what this movie tells us about Christians, Muslims, atheists, science, philosophy and education in general, women, relationships, and other such stuff. We’ll examine how closely this movie hews to a standard-issue fundagelical worldview, why it’s baffling that it’d do so, and how well it agrees with other movies that push the same worldview. I’m definitely looking forward to next week, and I hope to see you there.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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