‘God’s Not Dead 2’ Isn’t Theological, It’s Entirely Political

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But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44

The preceding Bible quote sets off a firestorm of controversy in the paranoid fantasy of God’s Not Dead 2. I wonder if the irony of employing such a quote was lost on the filmmakers, as God’s Not Dead 2 doesn’t love its enemies, it actively hates them. That’s because despite all its handwringing about Jesus, God’s Not Dead 2 isn’t about anything theological, it’s purely political. At each and every turn, the film creates ridiculous strawmen and espouses right-wing talking points with all the ease of a talk radio host.

In the twisted world of God’s Not Dead 2, when high school teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) casually mentions the aforementioned Bible passage in relation to a student’s question about the non-violence employed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., she’s terminated from her job after refusing to officially apologize for her faith. Of course, nothing of the sort would happen in anything resembling reality. Like the fundamental misunderstanding of Nietzsche which served as the foundation for God’s Not Dead, a fundamental misunderstanding of rules surrounding prayer in school provides the foundation for the sequel. To screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon and director Howard Cronk, the fact that a public school can’t compel students to engage in prayer it is there for an outright ban on religion in the public square.

This sequel also picks up a number of the previous film’s numerous subplots. Amy (Trisha LaFache), the journalist from the previous film who was punished for her lack of faith with a cancer diagnosis, has just learned that the power of prayer has caused her cancer to go into remission, causing her a brief crisis of faith. Also from the prior film is Martin (Paul Kwo), the Chinese exchange student who shunned the atheism of his Communist upbringing only to embrace Christ. Martin has a number of questions about his newfound faith, and inundates Reverends Dave (David A.R. White) and Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango) with queries. At least these two pastors get a chance to something other than try to start a car.

The main villain of God’s Not Dead 2 is the American Civil Liberties Union, personified by the slithery lawyer Pete Kane (Ray Wise). At one point he even proclaims that by suing this poor teacher for uttering Jesus’ name in school that they will be able “to prove once and for all that God is dead.” At least Ray Wise hams it up enough with his cartoonish villainy to be the sole redeeming quality of this disingenuous polemic.

You see, the ACLU is suing Grace at the behest of the atheist parents of her student Brooke (Hayley Orrantia). For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, suing a teacher over a religious issue will help Brooke get into an Ivy League school. Having lost her brother in an accident six months prior, Brooke has discovered Christ through her brother’s bookmarked Bible. While the teenager mourns her dead brother, her secular parents have already moved on. It’s such a callous characterization about how those without faith would deal with grieving. Then again, God’s Not Dead 2 doesn’t accept the humanity of anyone that doesn’t share the viewpoint of right-wing Evangelicals.

There to rescue Grace from the atheist scourges of the ACLU after the school principal (played by Robin Givens) and teachers union representative shun her for her Christian faith is dashing hot shot lawyer Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe). He may not believe in Christ, but he doesn’t like to lose. Halfway through the trial, Tom has the brilliant realization that he should argue that mentioning Jesus in a history class is acceptable because Christ was a historical figure. However, the defense refuses to even accept that Jesus existed – a position that no atheist believes.

In order to prove that Jesus Christ existed as a man, Tom calls to the stand two experts, each real life figures with books of their own about Christ that they’re to peddle. Between the experts on the stand and the needless appearance of the Christian band the Newsboys, it’s quite apparent that God’s Not Dead 2 isn’t just content in selling manufactured outrage over nonexistent persecution – there are books and the soundtrack, too! Oddly enough, God’s Not Dead 2 has all the makings of an ever-expanding franchise like a Marvel movie. Sure, there are merchandising tie-ins, but this movie also features a post-credits stinger where Rev. Dave is arrested for not handing over transcriptions of his sermons which were subpoenaed by the prosecutor’s office. Why does the prosecutor want these transcribed sermons? Never explained. What law would these be in violation of? Also not explained. Yet these are used as evidence of a real life persecution, one so intense that a character even suggests that Christians may be facing firing squads in the near future. I truly wonder if the producers of this film understand just how dangerous the demagoguery they employ really is.

Continually proving that God’s Not Dead 2 is much more interested in politics than a genuine discussion of religion in America are the cameos from right-wing figures. There’s the late Senator Fred Thompson, who was an actor and one-time candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, and Governor Mike Huckabee, also former GOP presidential candidate and a repellent force in American politics. Not too long ago, Huckabee stood hand-in-hand with Kim Davis, the woman who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples and was briefly jailed for disobey a court order telling her she had no right to deny the rights of others. God’s Not Dead 2 is a movie that looks to people like Davis and says, “You’re being persecuted.” It’s all one big lie.

Even without its noxious politics, God’s Not Dead 2 would be a bad movie. It’s completely undisciplined in terms of simple storytelling, with an abundance of subplots and inconsistencies. Actually, the crazy politics the film frequently espouses is the only thing that makes this boring dreck any more interesting than your typical Lifetime movie. Midway through the movie, Melissa Joan Hart reveals that she wasn’t raised a Christian, discovering Christ on her own during one of those dark nights of the soul. However, that doesn’t explain her elderly father (played by Pat Boone), who seemingly has a more righteous love for Christ than his holier-than-thou daughter. These little inconsistencies arise amid the endless stream of boring court room scenes and nonsensical subplots.

Look, I’m an atheist who was raised Catholic. But I’m not an angry New Atheist – I was in my younger days, but have learned to find Richard Dawkins just as ridiculous as Pat Robertson. Faith or lack thereof is personal thing. My lack of faith is none of your business and your faith is none of mine. What I find so detestable about the God’s Not Dead films are their refusal to accept even the most basic humanity of anyone that questions Christianity. The sequel may not violently kill off Ray Wise like the previous did with Kevin Sorbo’s atheist professor, but it’s just as cartoonish its portrayal as what it perceives as its faithless enemies. Personally, I feel these movies do such a disservice to earnest people’s faith. God’s Not Dead 2 operates under the view that faith is a fact, and those who don’t believe are just wrong. Maybe the people at Pure Flix, who have a whole slate of faith-based films coming up, view Jesus the same way Zack Snyder views Superman – an angry, violent savior capable of salvation and destruction. You’re either with him or against him. Who was that guy that talked about loving your enemies? What a wimp.

God's Not Dead 2
  • Overall Score

The Verdict

A nonsensical mosaic of right-wing talking points and a pandering persecution complex, God’s Not Dead rejects cinematic form, all sense of reality, and theology in favor of political demagoguery.

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