Just saw this movie. I suppose there have been a lot of Christian movies out there but this is my first one and I must say I’m impressed. It’s not Oscar material but they managed to pull it off, however imperfectly, and that is more than we can say about our ISKCON efforts at cinematography. AFAIK, we have never produced a full length feature movie so we are out of competition.
I read the storyline on IMDB and it provided a nice introduction but after watching this movie I feel it can be summarized differently. Should I do it? I don’t know, the reality might make the show lose its effect and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody, much less for atheists.
The premise is promising – a freshman university student is challenged by a professor to prove that God exists. Will he accept the challenge? How he will handle it? What arguments would he use? Will he win? What if I was put in the same situation?
All these questions provide a lot of food for thought.
The movie is overly simplistic and predictable but it still illustrates our real life. Deciding to debate a clearly antagonistic professor who is prepared to ruin your grades regardless of whether you win or not is not easy. On one hand it feels like the right thing to do, brave and glorious, on the other hand there is a price to be paid and one must have enough faith to make the necessary sacrifices.
In the movie the protagonists loses his girlfriend, for example. Why? For a completely unnatural reason – she can’t accept that her boyfriend would risk getting a low grade in this class and not making it into a law school. I suppose some of those Christian girls can be over possessive but that is definitely an overkill.
How did our boy handle the challenge? He didn’t know what he was getting himself into, being a freshman and all. He went to see a local priest but instead of getting full scriptural support and unbeatable arguments he got a reference to two Bible verses which basically say that if you don’t fight for God you will lose Him. However, the manual on how to fight was not provided.
The boy hit the library and beefed up on some science quotes but was easily put off by the professor citing Steven Hawking. The debate was over three sessions, each only twenty minutes long, so that was the end of the day one.
Argument for God – universe couldn’t have come out of nothing, we’ve never see anything come out of nothing, and the scientific description of the Big Bang is just a different angle on how Genesis described the creation. Argument for science – Hawking’s quota that the universe does not need a creator.
Debates happen once a week and so the time between them is used to draw caricatures of non-Christians. They just couldn’t help it. The faithful in this movie are all nice, honest to God, corn fed blond men full of themselves while atheists are all dicks, beginning with the professor.
The movie incorporates all the clichés about atheists, how they are all soulless, calculating monsters completely stripped of any morals. Yet they all get a chance at salvation. Some take it, some don’t.
There’s a switched on woman. for example, she lives her life on the internet and her articles are read by tens of thousands of people. She goes to a doctor but can’t take her hands off her phone, typing up messages as the doctor informs her she has cancer. So, atheist struck by deadly disease who eventually turns to God – check.
Her boyfriend is a businessmen talking about stock market sell offs, mergers and acquisitions, and the disadvantage of upholding moral values in business. When he learns his girlfriend has cancer he simply breaks up with her because she has no use for his career anymore. She said she was dying and cried and he said he didn’t care. Where do they find these people? He is an atheist, of course, but still.
Professor has a girlfriend, too, and she is Christian, and his former student. So, a licentious atheist having an affair with his student because she is pretty and treating her as a dumb Barbie – check. He arranges a party for fellow philosophers at home, she serves food, and he chides her for forgetting a bottle of wine in the car and spoiling it, and treats her as stupid in front of his friends. Eventually she breaks up with him and turns her life fully to Jesus. Check.
There’s also a Muslim girl there. Her father drops her off at school but she doesn’t study there, she works in the cafeteria. Father wants her to cover her face but she removes the veil as soon as she is out of his sight. She overhears our protagonist talking about his challenge to prove God’s existence and it energizes her, too. Turns out she has turned to Christianity over a year ago. Her father learns about it, beats her up and throws her out of his house. Muslims, huh? Check.
Then there’s the reverend who, surpirsingly, is not struggling with his own faith. Instead he observes God’s hand in motion as he can’t leave the city for a holiday in Disneyland. His car can’t start, he rents one but it can’t start, too. Same thing happens next morning, it’s a mystery. He is actually with his friend, a pastor from the trenches, as he is introduced, preaching the Gospel somewhere in Africa, I suppose. This preacher teaches local reverend some valuable lessons about faith. Check.
Then there’s a Christian rock group playing in town and everybody ends up at the concert. Boys preach the gospel, too, and convert the cancer suffering girl who at first confronts them about their faith but then accepts Jesus into her heart and they all pray for her. Check.
Then there’s an elderly woman suffering from dementia. She can’t remember names and struggles with feeding herself but at the appropriate moment she delivers a completely lucid sermon as if God was personally speaking through her. Check.
Then there’s a Chinese student who is supposed to study hard but takes interest in the debate about God. When he talks about it with his father on the phone, the father tells him to take his teacher’s side and be done with it. The boy’s interest in Christianity rises and eventually he converts. Check.
Then there’s a local cowboy character who made a fortune in duck hunting business. When confronted about cruelty towards animals he dismisses this concern as non-essential, being a nice Christian is more important for him, he said. Actually, it was one of the wisest lines in the whole movie – everything in life is temporary, we all die, comparing to reaching God nothing ever matters. So, salt of the earth Bible thumper/duck killer – check.
All these unbelievable characters somewhat ruin the experience but it’s a small price to pay for seeing a university professor losing a debate to a nice, Christian freshman.
Second round started with refuting Hawkings. Turns out that Hawkins’ statement was a logical fallacy and it was picked up by other scientists, so it was easy to refute. I don’t think I can reproduce the rebuttal from memory and Hawking’s argument itself escapes me, sorry. We were also reminded that there have been many Christian scientists and that Big Bang was described in Genesis for two and a half thousand years before scientists “invented” it.
The third and last debate was about morals – that without religion atheism has no basis for morals. Eventually it became personal and we ended with realization that the teacher has his personal issues with God, that he actually hates Him, and that’s when the student delivers the final blow: “How can you hate something that doesn’t exist?”
In the end, professor decides to go to the Christian rock concert to get is girlfriend back but is struck by a car running the red light. The priest, who never made it to Disneyland, was the first on the scene. Professor was clearly dying but he had just enough time to accept Jesus in his heart before death. This showed the grand design behind pastor’s inability to leave town and well as God’s mercy in not killing the professor instantly so that he gets the opportunity to repent and accept God’s love.
Then, as credits started to roll in, I’ve learned that this movie was sponsored by some Christian association and that it’s based on real life stories of countless students who couldn’t publicly display their faith on university campuses. There’s a long list of such court cases and they all have been won, of course.
So, faith beats everything, right? Right, but not without help of good old propaganda and mind manipulation. Christian rock is one example – luring people in with modern music and then hitting them with the Bible. Actually, this kind of saṇkīrtana is the coolest thing in the whole movie. Let them all sing about God as much as they can, I fully support them in this.
In some ways their lyrics are better than our māyāvāda infested bhakti-fest performances, more honest, more humble. The only thing I can’t stand about them (and Christians in general) is that they always expect the Lord to serve them. There were a couple of examples in this movie but the most telling one was the band praying for the cancer stricken girl – why should it be God’s business to fix our karma, and why should we tell God what to do in our prayers? Why should we assume that we are in the position to offer Him our advice on how to run things?
Another example of mind manipulation was the final class vote on the outcome of the debate. “God’s not dead” position was called first and people were made to stand up when saying it. Pretty soon you’d have to join the crowd or your friends would’ve looked at you funny – it was played on people’s desire to be a part of the group regardless of your personal opinion – the very thing our students decided to fight against in the beginning.
Otherwise, it was a great movie, there were lots of memorable quotes that are supposed to bridge the gap between Christians and our tradition – the process of self-realization is the same for everyone, no matter their denomination.
All in all, I don’t think watching this movie was a waste of time.