Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The "Christian" Movie Industry, God's not Dead, and What's Bothering Me about It

So I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus (schoolwork, you understand) so I haven’t been able to post as frequently as I would like to. However, something has provoked me to appear from my hermitage.

That thing is the movie industry. Specifically, the “Christian” movie industry (Christian and industry in the same sentence seem to be a bit oxymoronic to me, but that’s okay, we won’t go there today).

As anyone who has a Facebook or goes to church or pays attention to the news has probably heard of the movie God’s Not Dead (currently rotten at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes ) about a young Christian who heads off to a secular college only to be brutally singled out and persecuted by his philosophy professor who forces him to write a paper and debate him in front of the class about the existence of God.

There are a few things about this movie and the reaction of the Christian community that I want to talk about today.

Stereotyping non-Christians and Christian Securitization
The movie God’s not Dead is based on a false, overused stereotype of how nonbelievers (particularly those in academia) treat Christians. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was a movie version of a chain e-mail/anecdotal Facebook meme about the visceral college professor who points out a singular student who believes in Christianity and tries to tear them to shreds. There are a few reasons this depiction is wrong and annoying:

     1.      It’s just not true for most people. Sure, can you find a professor who is radically opposed to Christianity who isn’t above this kind of behavior somewhere? Of course! I can also find you Christians who say the Crusades, colonization of indigenous people, subjugation of women, etc. were good things. Dealing in pure anecdotes doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, I think these representations are incredibly counter-productive because they just reinforce the stereotype that most Evangelical Christians live in their own fantasy world. I was a part of a very liberal and diverse community in college (the collegiate debate community) where there were all kinds of worldviews, religions, etc. represented. People didn’t mind that I was a Christian for the most part. I actually had many conversations with people who were genuinely curious about my faith and what it means to be a Christian. Now, I know, arguing from experience doesn’t really justify me but if a student was called out in the manner that Christians pretend happen on a regular basis, don’t you think FOX News would be all over that? I would like to ask the makers of the God's not Dead movie if they have actually ever met an atheist. 
     To effectively minister to a culture that is not your own, one should be as respectful as possible. I think that principle is true and the way the Christian community portrays atheists would be like making fun of a Muslim before trying to lead them to Christ. It makes no sense.
      2.      It feeds the Martyrdom Complex. Obviously, being a martyr is, for a Christian, a very high calling. To be able to completely give your life for God is an honor. However, in modern day America, Christians believe they are constantly under attack. The amount of griping that happens when Phil Robertson makes some pretty sketchy comments and gets punished for it or when the government decides not to officially endorse a religion would make you think that we live in a country where people regularly get shot merely for being a Christian. This does happen in the world but certainly not in the United States. In fact, I would argue that Christians may be one of the most privileged demographics in the western part of the world. Movies like God’s not Dead portray the young Christian boy who heads off to college only to be challenged by a hateful professor as a martyr. Then, the entire Christian community that sees that film believes they also are martyrs being regularly attacked just for believing in Jesus. Now, again, I’m not saying this never happens. I’m saying this just doesn’t happen on a mass scale. How to you think a Coptic Christian in Egypt who doesn’t have equal rights as their Muslim counterparts and who is worried about whether or not they will be alive tomorrow feels about the American Christian securitization complex? Just because we can’t go out and buy whatever automatic weapon we want or we are challenged by atheists in philosophy debates does not mean we, in America, are a persecuted people. To say so is a way to merely re-entrench the privilege of being an American Christian in the first place.

The Christian Niche Market
My final issue with God’s not Dead is the niche market that is the Christian community. No matter how you feel about some of his later writings, Rob Bell made an astute observation in Velvet Elvis when he said that, “’Christian’ makes a poor adjective.”

The Christian community gets used by companies who are seeking to make a profit. What do they get in return? Generally, sub-par music, movies, etc. It’s a very strange historical development too. If you read a book on Art History, there was very religious art but you wouldn’t find the artists calling themselves “Christian artists.” This kind of sectioning off of art makes it more difficult to get the message of Christianity out into the world.

The point is this: we can be Christians who are in the arts but there is no such thing as “Christian art.” 

What do you think? Did you enjoy God's not Dead? Do you think I'm right? Do you think I'm wrong? Comments are always welcome.