Monday, September 8, 2014

God's Not Dead. But He May Be a Tad Unwell

God's not dead. This is true. I believe it with all I have. But I won't be tweeting it or texting it. In case anyone was waiting.

It's big news that the DVD version of God's Not Dead is out, and Christians are lining up to buy it. I admit right now—I've not seen it. Nor do I plan to. So maybe you think I am unqualified to offer up an opinion, and maybe you're right.

But some reading and thinking I did over the weekend made me consider that, maybe, I should. Not necessarily a critique of the movie, nor a judgment on anyone for purchasing it. If you liked it, we're brothers and sisters. Let's not infight. But a discussion of the message, and how it impacts more than we realize, might be in order.

That reading led me to two places this weekend—an atheist's blog (not my normal reading fare, but perhaps it should be), and the book Almost Christian. Both address the thing that had been bothering me about this movie, and the blogger put it in a way that should certainly make Christians pay attention.

Here is the important part of his critique:

In the end the central injustice of this movie is its failure to fairly represent a class of people whom Christians purport to love. But it’s not loving people well to misrepresent them this badly. This movie caricatures, dehumanizes, and depersonalizes people like me, portraying us in the worst possible light.

This is not love. You cannot love people while ignoring everything they tell you about themselves. You are not loving people when you refuse to listen to their stories. You are not loving them well when you decide before hearing them that you already know all that you need to know about them. This movie represents a grievous failure to love people like me.

Ouch. Double ouch. Infinity ouch. He's right.

It is simply impossible to accuse an entire group of people of having no moral compass and then claim you are taking the moral high ground by virtue of being a Christian. 

It's impossible to characterize and degrade a person I do not even know simply because he belongs to a particular belief system and call it a Christian perspective. When it is done to us, we balk, and rightfully so. When it is done to a racial group, we call it evil, and rightfully so. But if we do it, and call it “defending God”? Well OK then. Carry on.

Yes, I know that there are professors on our campuses who are hostile to Christian faith. The university I attended began as Unitarian and got more liberal from there. So, I get it. Yes, I know that there are those who will argue and criticize and outright mock Christians for their beliefs. They will use any public forum they can to do so. I have atheist friends who refer to Christians as fools (and far worse things I won't repeat) on Facebook. We are friends, and it hurts.  

But that does not make it acceptable to return fire in like manner.

Jesus said others would know we were his by our love. But somehow, we've decided, it's OK not to love atheists because, hey, they called us names first. We're only giving back what we've gotten for decades. Which sounds suspiciously like “Do unto others as they do to you,” a version of the golden rule that deletes a few vastly important words.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus didn't make any exceptions. He didn't say, “Unless they were mean first.” “Unless they don't believe in me anyway.” “Unless by being unloving you can make a big impact for Jesus in theaters. Then, well, it might be OK.”

He said love your enemies. Pray for them. Look for ways to do good to them. Give them the shirt off your back if need be. Why, why do we ignore those words, given with no condition, when we think we have some sort of holy culture war?

It just seems sometimes that while we are desperately trying to prove Christianity is true, we're missing the one hallmark Jesus said would prove it. 

Jesus will have none of a graceless following.  [tweet this].

In Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean puts it beautifully:

"Mission is not just a matter of geography—where Jesus was sent into the world. It is also a matter if identification—as Jesus was sent, as a person, and specifically as a person whose love for humanity was of such divine proportions that he chose to share human suffering in order to overcome it with God's death-shattering power. 'As the Father has sent me, so send I you,' Jesus tells his disciples. In other words, Jesus not only sends the church where he was sent; he sends us in the same way that he was sent, as human translations of divine love, people whose words and actions do not grasp for God as much as they reveal a God who grasps for us.

The church's identity is not defined primarily by its edges but by its center: focused on Christ, the sole source of our identity, no intruder poses a threat. No alien hops a fence, because there is no fence. Boundaries are determined by proximity to the Holy Spirit's centripetal pull, not by arbitrary human borders. The more churches lose our ability to barricade ourselves off from one another, the more God's grace flows from us into the world.”
This neighbor built a fence.

So what would it look like if, while we ably and thoughtfully “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” we remembered the second half of that verse: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience . . .” (1 Peter 3.150-16).

This one tore one down. Guess which neighbor we
actually talk to?
What would it look like if rather than do anything to defend God, who needs no one to prove him or defend him, we would do anything to love like God?

As the Father sent me, so I send you. How do you want to be sent? As one of the commenters on the atheist's blog added: 
"Christians, we can do better than this."

2 comments:

Karmen M. said...

Y ou are making accusations about a movie you haven't seen based on other people's opinions of that movie. It is like my friend who is a single mom would not go see moms night out based on what others had said about it. I had already seen the movie and did not see any of the attacking of single moms that people were claiming. If anything I thought it to be very supportive of all moms. No one character in a movie can define a whole group of people and I don't think this movie was trying to do that. After reading your ending statements I think even more you should see the movie before making accusations against it. This post seems a lot like writing a book report based off of someone else's opinion of it rather than reading the book first. After saying that I wasn't a huge fan of the movie, I think a lot of the characters were fairly one dimensional and they tried to fit too much story in too short of a time but I did not see any atheist bashing going on or lack of love being shown.

Jill Richardson said...

Thank you, Karmen. I really appreciate the input. This is why I tried hard to stick to not necessarily critiquing the movie as much as the mindset. I really, really don't want to sound like I think poorly of people who like it and recommend it. There are other reasons they have for liking the message, and that's perfectly OK. I just am distressed by the defensiveness i'm seeing in so many places that goes on the attack whenever persecution is perceived rather than, as he puts it, loving well. It's not how Jesus taught us to react.

I don't think it was so much atheist bashing people are complaining about as stereotyping. In the same way that Christians are often stereotyped on TV and in movies.

You're right--it would be so wrong to offer a flat out criticism of something I have not seen. I hoped it was more of a criticism of the idea than the movie. I guess I need to work more on that differentiation. Being controversial is not my comfort zone. I appreciate someone willing to force me into more clarity.