Film Freak: God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness

godsnotdead3.pngGod’s Not Dead is the final movie in the PureFlix trilogy of movies. In addition to this trilogy, they released a movie based on Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ”, and a remake of the “Left Behind” movie starring Nicholas Cage. What I found interesting is that “The Case For Christ” was actually able to tell a story while presenting information from the book, presenting it as an arc. It gave me more hope that this company does know how to tell a story without relying on the persecution complex these movies have.

This movie has a different writer and director from the previous movies. I think the change in director and writer resulted in a better movie. The persecution complex is still there, but less pronounced. There’s only one plot! (But now, this makes the subplots of the other two movies even more irrelevant.)

Our focus is on Pastor Dave, who in my opinion was the only good thing about these movies. He is a flawed character and tries to live his life as an example. He’s the only character who doesn’t quote chapter and verse. The closest thing he says to a theological message is his motto “God is good all the time.” He lives his life the best he can. THIS is the character to build a movie around, not some stupid persecution complex that couldn’t happen in the real world. No more leaving out facts to fit an agenda here, like in the previous movies. We also see Josh Wheton, the protagonist of the first movie, but only for a few scenes.

Here, the plot is more focused on reconciliation. Dave is trying to stop his church from being moved off the evil atheist college. But once he hires his brother as a lawyer, the persecution complex stops! The movie then moves into its new plot: Dave and his brother Adam healing the rift caused by their dysfunctional family. Dave is an atheist, but the movie does not make him the bad guy! He actually does help his brother.

Another thing I can applaud is that there is no easy solution. Adam works out his problems, but he does not easily convert back to Christianity. The movie actually understands that faith is not that easy. It realizes that sometimes we can’t find the answers, and sometimes we think God doesn’t care. There are no easy solutions in this movie.

It’s far from a perfect movie. As I said, it still harps on its persecution complex for about the first 30 minutes of its run time. But once that’s out of the way, there’s no more preachiness. I have nothing against Christian movies. But I feel we shouldn’t act like we’re being persecuted in a country that has freedom of religion in its Bill of Rights. We shouldn’t be given a covert message to vote for a certain candidate and leave out key information that doesn’t fit an agenda. That’s not how you evangelize. You evangelize by sending God’s actual message, not one muddled with politics.

I’m not done with Pureflix yet. They’ve made a movie out of Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned. When I see that movie, I’ll talk about it here.

 

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Film Freak: God’s Not Dead 2

notdead2A few years back, I reviewed the Pure Flix movie God’s Not Dead. I was not too happy with it, and at the time I was unaware that there was going to be a sequel, much less two. I believe that all three of these movies are terrible tools for evangelization. Now that Pure Flix has actually made a “franchise” out of this trilogy, I have decided I should go back and review the other two movies.

Although this movie is billed as  a sequel, it really has very little to do with the first movie. This time our main protagonist is not Josh Wheaton, but a high school teacher named Grace Westley. Josh is only mentioned in passing. Like the previous movie, this one has several different arcs, although much fewer and more tightly connected. The ones that don’t carry over now seem even more unnecessary than they were in the previous movie. If they weren’t going to carry over, why even have them in the first place?

Our story begins when Grace is talking with her class about Martin Luther King Jr. (coincidentally, it’s also the namesake of the school) When Brooke, a student she’s been consoling since the death of her brother, asks her about King’s own beliefs as a Christian, Grace affirms this. While this is going on, we see several students taking out their cell phones and texting to others, implying disbelief that a teacher would dare to bring up Jesus.

Brooke’s parents are outraged and even decide to get the ACLU to help them. This is one of my biggest problems with the movie. Despite what the right-wing propaganda people who made this movie want you to think, the ACLU is not some evil organization manned by atheists to persecute Christians. While they have brought cases against Christians (such as the infamous cases where bakers are sued because they refuse to bake cakes for same-sex marriages), the ACLU has actually helped Christians in many cases to defend their beliefs.  The whole name is AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union. I used to believe they were the enemy myself, but ever since I left the “right-wing” Christian mentality, I have reexamined my beliefs and learned that they are in fact an organization that helps ALL Americans, not just those who attack Christians. If you want proof of cases where they have assisted Christians, here’s a link! Yet every time we see their lawyer, he just can’t stop making evil glares and smiles. It’s a wonder we don’t see the lawyer rip a puppy’s head off the way they want us to know THIS IS THE BAD GUY!

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One Faith, Many Paths: Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

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This month as part of my interview series, I have chosen Patheos contributor Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, who lives in Rockview, Maryland. His blog at Patheos is called “Through Catholic Lenses” and he just joined my Autistic Christians group on Facebook.

1. What was your childhood like? Are you a lifelong Catholic or a convert?

My family was very loving. Today, other than myself in religious life, my other siblings have chosen to live on the same street as mom and dad, next door or few houses down. I was a bit quirky and nerdy in that after school, I would prefer to come home and read a book about dinosaurs than go play sports a lot of the time. I was sometimes teased and usually excluded from the “cool” friend-groups at school, but I didn’t really care much as I have always worked more on internal than external motivation. I am a cradle Catholic, although I did have a lot of doubts and questions around middle and high school.

2. Were you diagnosed as a child or adult? What was your reaction?

I was diagnosed in my 30’s, as a Catholic priest. During the drive home, I was somewhat devastated. I wondered if my whole life was a farce or if I would have been better off staying in computer engineering, which was my major before entering religious life. However, as I read up on autism, all of a sudden so many things I never understood became clear. Imagine being in your 30’s and thinking everyone consciously analyzed social situations only to read that non-autistic people do this subconsciously.  I count it now as a blessing because being diagnosed allowed me to resolve a lot of things and set myself up for ministries I’d excel at rather than trying to repeatedly in ministries not so suited to someone on the spectrum.

3. What made you decide to become a priest?

To me it was not so much deciding but feeling called. I had thought vaguely about it as a possibility from when I came back from doubting the faith in high school, but didn’t think too much of it. Aptitude tests, interests, and a job to support a family all focused around computer engineering, so I felt fine there. Then listening to John Paul II in February 2001, something clicked  when he said “Be not afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.” From that moment, something clicked in my mind and I knew God was calling me.

4. What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

I exist, therefore a power able to make me exist must exist; nothing can make something exist from nothing but God; I am not nothing, therefore, God exists. I have experienced the love of God personally. Beyond that, many works explain it. I find that The Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreeft and Taceli has a good rundown of many arguments, although The Christian Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas Etienne Gilson has a few key arguments far more in-depth.

5. What is your favorite biblical passage and why?

When Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus at the empty tomb. To me this is the model of how we often encounter Jesus when we don’t expect him.

6. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus and why?

Mary, for obvious reasons. However, I also like a rather minor character, Ananius. You may not even remember who he is, but he’s the one who goes and helps Paul once he gets to Damascus after his conversion experience. He baptizes him, makes the scales fall from his eyes, and instructs him in Christianity. I always imagine the courage he must have had to go to Saul, who must have been such a persecutor of Christians. Also, he is an otherwise unknown Christian responsible for bringing up possibly the most famous Christian of all time.

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