Tag Archives: Religious persecution

God’s Not Dead Movie: First Amendment, Part 2

God's Not Dead movie posterAnd now to the movie.

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:

Paul Kwo

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.

Newsboys 1990s

The Newsboys 1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newsboys 2012

The Newsboys 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robertsons movieSecondly, 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.

UNC Chapel HillAcademia 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.

Zoar UMCSince 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, bShhh lipsut 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)

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*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.

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The First Amendment: So Not PC

ImageWhen I was a teenager in New Jersey, we lived in an ethnically rich area. We were Roman Catholic—Irish, Italian, Polish, and other second-generation immigrant families— and Jewish families with just a few Protestant families mixed in. The Protestants seemed bland compared to the distinctive customs of the Catholics and Jews. I didn’t even know then that there were different kinds of Protestants.

Fasting on seafoodOn Friday nights, we had fish for dinner, because we had somehow convinced ourselves that eating the most expensive item on the menu was the same as fasting. Afterwards, I would go to the Steinbergs’ house, where they would have a Sabbath candle burning while Mrs. Steinberg went out and partied. So maybe we weren’t always perfect, but Roz cleared every dish and utensil out of her kitchen (into the garage) and kept strict kosher during Passover. I always babysat for Jewish families, it seemed, and they were generous and had great candy. My friend, Eithne, opined that the Catholic families had too many kids to be able to afford to go out, so we should thank God for the Jewish families.

In the wider community, Finklestein’s and the other Jewish businesses were always closed on Saturdays, and pretty much all of the others were closed on Sundays. All the grocery stores were closed on Sundays. You could usually find a drug store open for emergencies. No one questioned this; no one was annoyed. It was life. A year or so ago, I saw someone online furiously complaining that Chick-Fil-A was closed on Sundays, ranting that it was inconvenient for them on their biggest shopping day. As if it should be illegal for companies to choose their own hours.

Was there bigotry? Sure, occasionally. As long as we are human, we will want everyone to be just like us, but for the most part, everyone got along really well. No one was shy about asking questions about other people’s beliefs, because no one was embarrassed to hold to a particular faith. People were interesting then. We expected our neighbors to be different, and we would not have respected them as much if they had disavowed their religion.

Shocked old ladySomehow, in the past decade or so, it has become shocking to hear people speak of their own religious beliefs, as if they were taking off their clothes in public. We are all supposed to be secular now. Perhaps if you ascribe to some cool religion, like Wicca or Buddhism, you can get away with it, but Christians are of all people the most despised. The last few years have seen an alarming increase in persecution and oppression, and that’s not just my perception. The Liberty Institute, which litigates religious freedom cases, saw an increase in requests for their services from 600 in 2012 to 1,200 in 2013. Children in public school are forbidden from wearing clothing or jewelry with faith symbols, and from writing about their family’s religious practices or beliefs in assignments. In other words, our children are being taught to be ashamed of their families and their churches. The oppression in universities is much more direct and forceful. Despite my advanced age, it was not very long ago that I was a student in grad school, and my son has also related some incidents in his classes.

God's Not Dead Prof and StudentSo when my sister called Saturday morning to say that she and her husband had been to see the movie God’s Not Dead the night before, I was interested. There is so little marketing, yet they had had to travel to two theaters to get in! They loved it, and she urged me to see it. I have to say that this movie had been on the periphery of my brain, as I had seen snippets of interviews with the stars, so I knew what it was all about. Just in case, I called our local theater, and they confirmed that all of the showings were selling out and advised that I buy tickets online, since they could not guarantee a seat even if we showed up 30 minutes early. So that is how we ended up driving through veritable rivers during a tornado warning to go see a movie at ten o’clock at night. I am super-cheap, and there is no way I was going to waste those two tickets I had bought on Fandango.

Next time: Is God’s Not Dead worth seeing? And how old are the Newsboys, anyway?

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