|"Ugh, do I have to review this film?|
I just got back from watching "God's Not Dead 2", and there's quite a bit to talk about. Just as in first film, the movie's events take place in a strange parallel universe where Christians are practically a persecuted minority living in a United States that is seriously hostile to Christianity. Yet unlike the first film, the temper against atheists is slightly softened. Slightly being the key word, however. This isn't the unintentionally awesome non-Christians found in the Nic Cage remake of Left Behind. But I think it would be beneficial this time around to calmly explore this parallel, alternate universe that GND2 occupies. So buckle up and prepare to have some aspirin handy, because you'll be eye-rolling and facepalming so hard your head will hurt.
Atheists are people robbed of genuine emotion
|The most soul-crushing motto I've ever heard.|
Without God in your life, you have nothing to look forward to. Atheism leads to hopelessness and despair.[via atheism.about.com]
That's the thing about atheism. It doesn't take away the pain, but it takes away the hope. -Pat Boone's character in GND2
In the first half-hour of the film, we're introduced to high school student Brooke, who is the one whose innocent classroom question gets the ball rolling on the film's main plot. But before that happens, we get some backstory on her: Her brother recently died, and even though she's still grieving, her freethinker parents have already "gotten over it" and they refuse to listen to her thoughts at all. She confides this to her teacher(played by Melissa Joan Hart), who then tells Pat Boone, and he responds with the above quote(which I found particularly offensive).
What this is, is a propagation of the evangelical narrative that without Christ, you're not "whole" in some way or another. This is a running theme with many of Pure Flix's films. With Brooke's parents, they're practically Vulcans. The first film had Kevin Sorbo's strawman atheist professor having nothing but hatred and trauma without a Christian belief.
But this narrative, as with the rest of the narratives spun in this film, is debunked when compared to reality. Every human being is more or less capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion regardless of religious belief: joy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger, love, hate, confusion, hope, despair, transcendance and so on.
American Christians are a hair-width away from persecution
Another narrative in the GND2 alternate universe of Evangelica(h/t Neil Carter) is that atheists practically rule the government and Christians are always on the brink of persecution.
This is the main thrust of the film, and it's one practically built into the core of Christianity to the point of lusting after persecution as a means of faith validation. Melissa Joan Hart's teacher is suspended without pay and is at risk of losing everything if she loses her case. There's a side plot where pastors are legally forced to turn in copies of their sermons to the government, mentioning a real-life similar incident but neglecting to point out that it got shot down in a blink of an eye, followed by a post-credits scene of Pastor Dave getting arrested for refusing to turn in his sermons. Even the Newsboys eke in a song that dwells on this lust for persecution in the name of their faith.
Reality, however, paints a very different picture. Christians are still a vast majority in the United States, with a Republican dominated Congress that openly panders to and privileges Christianity. In the deep south, there are teachers who openly proselytize Christianity and aren't even told "You might want to ease off the faith stuff".
But say you're something other than a Christian... especially an atheist, and you're likely to experience some form of shunning, discrimination or judgmentalism at some point. And on that note, our next narrative is...
Freethinkers want to indoctrinate their children
Let's get back to Brooke and her Vulcan freethinker parents. Later on, after her brother's room is emptied out by Salvation Army volunteers, she discovers her brother was a Christian in secret(like the Muslim girl from the first film who converts to Christianity in secret). When she reveals this information in the courtroom, she elaborates on why the secrecy: He feared his family would shun him, and from their behavior in the film, it would seem that fear was warranted.
This is another reversal of reality. By and large, freethinking parents don't want their children to be indoctrinated at all. The goal of freethought parenting isn't raising atheists, but raising children in how to think critically, not what to think. The distinction is critical.
Atheists are violent, while Christians are all about nonviolence
In the first film, a Muslim father beats and shuns his daughter Mina for converting to Christianity. The atheist professor openly threatens the main protagonist's academic future. In this film, the father of the Chinese student from the film slaps and shuns his son for converting to Christianity and persuing a pastoral job. The atheist protesters are absolutely seething at the silent, handholding Christian protesters outside the courthouse.
The subtext of these scenes are clear: On Planet Evangelica, Christians don't do violence to others. They do.
Reality check: The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Thirty Years War, the Troubles in Ireland, Christian violence against LGBT individuals and Muslims, the war on women's reproductive rights, abusing children accused of witchcraft in Africa(inspired by American evangelical missionaries), systemic child rape by clergy, etc. I've yet to see the headline "the Atheist Army scored a major victory by blowing up the Agnostic Camp while the Freethinker Brigade took heavy shelling from the Secularist Coalition".
The ACLU is virulently anti-Christian
From the school attorney who first mentions the ACLU("They've been dreaming for a case like this!") to ominous music playing when Ray Wise says "separation of church and state" and "We're going to prove once and for all that God is dead!", the film does its damnedest to portray the ACLU as an anti-Christian organization.
This narrative, is of course, utter BS. The reason for this narrative is simple: Conservative Christians hate the fact that the ACLU isn't a Christian-exclusive legal entity like ACLJ, Alliance Defending Freedom(who provided much of the source material for GND2) or Liberty Counsel. The ACLU is rather a religiously neutral(read: secular) legal entity dedicated to defending the civil liberties of ALL Americans.
The legal system moves in mysterious ways
Ok, this isn't exactly a narrative, but rather just pointing out that GND2's portrayal of the legal system is a giant joke to anybody who knows how slow, deliberate and focused the legal system is.
Instead, with blinding speed it goes from an administrative inquiry to practically a criminal case even though it's crystal clear Hart's character did nothing wrong, to veering off the rails into (surprise, surprise) attempting to prove the existence of Jesus. And Judge Winston Zeddmore is perfectly fine with that. That's Planet Evangelica for you.
Back on Planet Earth...
When I went to go see the first "God's Not Dead", the theatre I walked into was packed like it was the first midnight screening of "The Avengers". This time, however, the theatre had less than 15 people and they were mostly laughing at the film's lame jokes rather than whooping and fawning over the triumphalism of Planet Evangelica's persecuted protagonists. I didn't come out of the theatre angry or shocked at Pure Flix's demonization of non-Christians like with the last film. In fact, I felt disappointed. It seems Pure Flix is losing it's appeal. And judging from the latest box office earnings, it's clear the target audience sees it too:
God's Not Dead 2 debuted in fourth place with an estimated $8.10 million. The faith-based sequel from Pure Flix performed below expectations and opened 12 percent below the $9.22 million debut of 2014's God's Not Dead. God's Not Dead 2 opening below its predecessor was especially underwhelming given that God's Not Dead 2 opened in 2,419 locations this weekend, while God's Not Dead opened in just 780 locations.