If you’re not familiar with the plot line, God’s Not Dead is about a college freshman whose philosophy professor forces everyone to write “God is dead” on a paper and sign it the first day of class. He says that since that’s already settled by all intelligent people, they can then move on to the more interesting parts of the class. Our hero, Josh Wheaton, just can’t bring himself to do it, so he is forced to give a series of lectures to the class over the next few weeks, trying to prove the existence of God. (I think I was more shocked that the rest of the class said, “Oh, OK,” and just scribbled on the papers and handed them in. You have to assume that most of them grew up with enough religion to at least feel jittery about it.) I was worried that the writers would portray Josh as incredibly arrogant with all the right answers, but they didn’t. He was a wreck about it and had to study really hard. I was pleased that he fought science with science, rather than with Bible passages. However, I think that the movie will strengthen believers rather than convince unbelievers, but I could be wrong.
There were all sorts of subplots, of course, concerning relationships, suffering, death, and difficult choices. The professor was really easy to hate, and acted as if his greatest mission in life were to destroy everything these kids had learned from their families. All of the adult and student characters intertwined in many ways, and the story was absorbing and well-written with some humorous moments. One story line concerned a young Muslim woman, and another a boy from China. Great lines at the registration table:
Girl working for the university: “What’s PRC?”
Boy: “People’s Republic of China.”
Girl: “Are you serious?”
Boy: “I am always serious.”
And he is, too. His character is adorable.
As expected, there were some hokey parts, but not as many as I had dreaded. First of all, the Newsboys? I used to love this Aussie/Kiwi band, but few of the original members are still there—perhaps the drummer—and they have a completely different sound. They used to be edgy and fun, but now they are more middle-of-the-road, and the years are taking their toll. As my brother-in-law said, “At this point, I think we can honestly begin to call them The Newsmen.” They are still friendly and kind, though, and play an important part in the movie.
Secondly, why must Christians be represented by Duck Dynasty? Perhaps they made a tidy contribution to the production. In any case, Willie and Korie Robertson, who seem like perfectly nice people, are in a scene in which they talk to a reporter about their faith. I think they’re going into a church, in which case I do not understand why Mrs. Robertson is dressed like a sl—that is, a woman of loose morals. And what’s with this beard and sunglasses thing? Is this a ZZ Top devotion run amuck? This whole phenomenon is baffling to me.
I was fascinated when, at the end of the film, the credits rolled and revealed that this movie was based on over 40 cases that had been filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of students who had been harassed or persecuted for their religion by an institution of higher learning. The name and a short description of each case rolled by in two very long columns. Not surprisingly, one was at UNC Chapel-Hill, and another UNC Wilmington.
Academia is only one arena in the startling rise in the persecution of Christians in the United States. Usually, it is subtle, although my son tells me that he had at least two professors who were virulently anti-Christian. It is generally assumed by the faculty that all well-educated people hold Christians in contempt as either ignorant or hateful. Most of us get through because we want to learn the course material, and it was a very enlightening and broadening experience for me, as I was able to see some very good hearts in action, even though their worldviews were completely different from mine. Then again, I was not asked to sign my faith away.
In the wider world, however, all people of faith have enjoyed freedom in the United States because of our First Amendment rights and our belief that certain rights have been given by our creator, not by the government, and are therefore immutable. This is no longer the case. Christians are supposed to be very quiet about their faith now. Just recently, Governor Scott Walker tweeted Philippians 4:13 [“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”]. He didn’t even tweet the verse, just the reference. Social media went nuts. People opined that government officials should not be able to use religious references, and others went even further to shriek that he was trying to take over the country in God’s name! A bit reactionary, I think. When I heard it, I thought he was probably thinking, “I can stay awake in this next boring meeting through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s about my speed, anyway.
Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we have been hearing about the government making decisions about which churches really believe certain dogma or whether individuals belong to the right churches or groups to hold certain beliefs. All the while, we are reassured that we will be able to retain freedom of worship. Any student of history should jump at that phrase. In 1930s Germany, the government decided which were true churches, registered those churches with the state, forbade anyone from attending any other church, and assured the population that they still had freedom of worship. “Freedom of worship” means that the government will allow you to go into a specified building on your specified day of worship for a specified amount of time to worship whatever it is you worship. For the other six and a half days, though, you’re expected to act like a person with some sense: a secular citizen. That is not freedom of religion or freedom of thought.
I have a Parsi friend who told me about herself and her religion when we were first getting to know each other years ago. She told me that she had moved to the United States from India, but that her Zoroastrian family was originally from Iran, and that they had had to flee to India to escape Muslim persecution. I pictured her as a little girl, desperately making this trip in the middle of the night with her parents and siblings, arriving in a foreign land to start life anew. Oh, no. She was talking about the Islamic invasion of Persia in 651 A.D. I was stunned. This woman’s religion was such an integral part of her identity that her ancient ancestors were as real to her as her family today. It was not just her heritage, either; she is a devout Zoroastrian.*
Secularists do not understand this worldview. They act as if religion is your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ purse, which you put away after church and then use your everyday handbag the rest of the time. People of faith, though, don’t think of religion as something they pick up and put down, but rather as a defining part of themselves, like the DNA in every cell that makes you who you are and from which you act and think. It permeates you and influences your entire life. Oppression and persecution may winnow away the casual church-goers, but believers will be forced to suffer in the land of liberty as they try to exercise their freedom of speech. Fortunately for the rest of humankind, their message is good tidings of great joy for all people.
“God is not a secret to be kept.”—The Newsboys (1996)
*Her story so inspired me that I did a major paper on the Parsi for my graduate Social Sciences Reference class. If you ever want to chat about the Parsi or Zoroastrianism, I can talk your ear off.
Disclaimer: This article is designed to express thoughts from the inside of a group of people I love to those who may not be aware of their suffering. It is not my intention to hurt or offend, merely to raise awareness and perhaps to offer a new perspective.