The Oberlin Review

‘God’s Not Dead 2’ a Slice of Trump-Era Propaganda

Christian Bolles, Arts Editor

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“The most basic human right of all is the right to know Jesus,” says Director Harold Cronk through one of his signature mouthpiece characters in his latest film, God’s Not Dead 2, produced by the Christian company Pure Flix. Ideas like these have been voiced in the U.S. ever since the words “separation between church and state” were first contrived, fermenting in communities whose refusal to accept progressive mindsets often ends in hateful contempt. Some of the greatest problems arise, however, when popular culture gives these groups enough affirmation to bring hateful ideas supported by a twisted conception of faith to mainstream American society.

Donald Trump is the most recent example of entertainment gone horribly wrong, but before the election campaigns began, there was God’s Not Dead. Released in 2014, the first film in the soon-to-be franchise was a box office hit, bringing in more than $60 million domestically — no small feat for a faithbased flick. Including cameos from Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame and the popular Christian rock group The Newsboys, the film was, in my opinion, among the worst crimes ever committed against cinema. It managed to gloriously misrepresent the problems facing today’s college students in service to an abhorrently confused message about the power of faith. That’s not to mention the Islamophobic, sexist and racist nature of the film.

It comes as no surprise that God’s Not Dead 2, the nauseatingly unnecessary follow-up, is no better. In the picture’s attempts to preach to the U.S. as a whole instead of to the choir, God’s Not Dead 2 manages to dull the impact of some of its more strikingly offensive ideas yet can’t mask its severe incompetence, bristling anger and misguided worldview. In a story where God is both the question and the answer, what can really happen? A heck of a lot, as it turns out. Christianity isn’t the problem with God’s Not Dead 2 — everything else is.

A moral core is integral to any movie with a message. This film, however, either builds its characters out of that core or positions them as direct antitheses. One such pure, chiseled excuse for a character is Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart), a Christian high school teacher often criticized for her sound moral judgment by strings of near-disembodied voices of fellow teachers. She’s a lone beacon of hope in a world of cold indifference, kept company only by her aging father (Pat Boone), who serves as a kindly old man and matchmaker in turn. Like everything else in the film, Grace’s father has an intolerant twist; early on, he comforts his daughter by reminding her that atheism “doesn’t take away pain, just hope.” In this alternate reality bordering on science fiction, it comes as no surprise when, after comparing Jesus to Martin Luther King Jr. in an answer to a student’s question in class, Grace is thrown into an escalating conflict between good and evil where those in power want to see God dead. She, of course, is the only thing standing in their way.

The obligatory God-hating villain is Peter Kane (Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame, betraying fans everywhere), who says of Christians, “I hate those people and everything they stand for.” His team of anonymous grey suits is just as evil, asking things like, “How do we make this go away without getting blood on our hands?”

There’s a smattering of side characters, including the student whose question started all of this, Brooke. Her brother recently passed, affirming that death serves as a plot device to convert people, just as it did in the first installment. In addition, nearly every surviving face from the previous movie reappears in some way, some of them as full-fledged supporting characters. There is no effort made to explain their presence, meaning that newcomers are even less invested than those who suffered through God’s Not Dead. There are no people in God’s Not Dead 2, only puppets.

Once the contrived narrative springs into action and our heroes stand against the state in court, it’s nearly impossible for viewers to keep up with the sheer number of problems that arise. Courtroom banter plays like an argument in a high school cafeteria, beginning with the right to free speech in a classroom before making a sharp right turn into the question of whether Jesus actually existed. All the while, Wise smiles sinisterly as if possessed by the devil himself, spouting rhetoric that would sound scary if the writing were up to the task.
Meanwhile, a group of reverends grapples with a federally issued subpoena demanding that they surrender all sermons delivered in the past month to the state. And back at the high school, the now-Christian Brooke organizes a protest against the silencing of her faith putting tape over her mouth in a manipulative, downright revolting move that appropriates a symbol of empowerment and protest for survivors of assault.

To God’s Not Dead 2, the separation of church and state is itself a hate crime. As lawyer Tom puts it sarcastically in court, “So except for Christianity, all other forms of diversity are welcome? … Somebody is always going to be offended.” His over-the-top rhetoric escalates until, in a move for which the writers seem very proud of themselves, he tosses Grace, his own client, onto the witness stand in the face of defeat and grills her into tears in order to garner sympathy from the jury (securing their win, incidentally), set to swelling music and shocked expressions from the judge. To Pure Flix, there is no line between morality and Christianity, a sentiment that excludes virtually everyone else from grace.

The racial politics of the film are just as flawed. Reverend Jude, the token Black character from the first movie, sweeps the church in his spare time and is casually mistaken for a custodian without a shred of irony. In God’s Not Dead, a Muslim father beats his daughter for wanting to be Christian, and he throws her out of the house in one of the worst scenes ever filmed. Not to be outdone, the sequel bequeaths this exact same scenario to the token Asian character, Martin, when his father comes home and finds his son converted. The unnamed Chinese man in a suit hits him and delivers one of the most offensive lines of the movie: “You have disgraced your family. … You are no longer my son.”

Shattered, the son walks into his church and sings while playing the piano with tears in his eyes. When we notice Brooke is in the audience, she whispers, “That was beautiful.” The film’s sheer inability to talk about anything other than its message is staggering. And just when you think the cameos of the first movie couldn’t be topped, Mike Huckabee makes an appearance, affirming the absurdity of the whole endeavor.

Though the film may seem like a trite and cringe-worthy production, this movie didn’t create itself. A system of poisonous intolerance and a refusal to be open-minded, validated by forces of popular culture, created God’s Not Dead 2. The film acts as a direct response to progressivism, addressing the nation by spouting the same words we’ve come to recognize from Trump and his “silent majority.” As the last scene fades to black, text appears across the screen, claiming that silence is the enemy of truth. It’s clear that God’s Not Dead 2 doesn’t seek to explore ideas of faith; it exists solely to foster fear, promote outrage and fight back against a nonexistent enemy. It posits that Christians are treated by everyone else the way that, in reality, Muslims and other systematically oppressed groups are treated by the people who support films like this.

I give God’s Not Dead 2 0/4.

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