God’s Not Dead; There’s Something Happening Here
There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear…The opening words to the Buffalo Springfield (the band that would introduce to us the likes of Stephen Stills and Neil Young) classic song written in 1966, but released in 1967 certainly resonated to those who heard it whatever their political leanings. There was a sense even before the famous or infamous 1967 events, like the Newport Folk Festival and San Francisco’s Summer of Love that something in society was changing. The same could be said today in light of a flurry of religious themed movies that have come out in the first three months of 2014.
One could argue that the first signs of the secular sea change we have been under were first seen after the mid-term elections of 2006. By November of 2008 there was no doubt the western world was changing. However, for every action there is a reaction. It may have taken the world of faith a bit longer to react but it has. Already in 2013, the Bible mini-series caught the attention of those in Hollywood who notice TV and cultural move watching habits. The Bible mini-series, the brainchild Mark Burnett and Roma Downey literally spun off into the Son of God film which is currently one of the year’s early top grossing films.
However, it seems that what is bubbling under the current is what catches everyone by surprise, and so it is with the year’s first big surprise, God’s Not Dead. The film’s entire production budget was between 1-2 million dollars, the mere advertising budget of most medium size films. The screenwriters are faithful Catholics Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, whom I met some four years ago while giving one of my talks at Family Theater in Hollywood (founded by Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton CSC also known as The Rosary Priest.) I was impressed by Cary and Chuck, their frequent Mass attendance during the week, their fervent study and practice of the faith (as evidenced by the St. Thomas Aquinas type logic used in some of their arguments in God’s Not Dead,) and their embrace of the sacramental life, especially the Sacrament of Penance.
Both men weren’t living some fantasy of wanting to hobnob with Hollywood’s hipsters. They had been down that road successfully working and mingling with the likes of Sylvester Stallone among others. Cary and Chuck felt called to write faith based scripts. In an interview with me featured in the National Review both men spoke of the hypocrisy that the faithful have to endure in the public square.
Hartline: I think a faithful Christian, or anyone of faith, feels a lot has changed in the last five or six years. People of faith are often mocked or belittled in popular culture, and the faithful are accused of all sorts of bigotry and ignorance. We are told to get with the times, as if our consciences could really leave the truth behind. It seems the movie is addressing that underlying feeling in the faith community.
Solomon and Konzelman: Yes, that’s definitely the nerve that’s been touched. Secular humanists insist that Christians in general — and Catholics in particular — are supposed to leave their belief system at home when it comes to matters in the public sphere. So according to the rules they propose, their belief system is allowable . . . and ours isn’t. Which is a deliberate attempt to subvert the whole democratic process. As someone else pointed out: Democracy is supposed to be about more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
I then posed the question as to why some are willing to defend their faith as did the college student in God’s Not Dead, but sadly most do not.
Hartline: College student Josh Wheaton appears to be the nondescript everyman. While everyone else accedes to the professor’s atheistic rants, Josh decides to take up the challenge, even though he’s far from being a theologian. Is there a message there for most of us?
Solomon and Konzelman: It’s a question of being willing to try . . . and fail, if necessary. Mother Teresa got it right: God does not require us to be successful, only faithful. Secular humanism has really been racking up the score in the culture wars lately, largely because of the unwillingness of many Christians to counter their efforts. Unfortunately, doing nothing is doing something: It’s enabling the other side. Every time we roll over and don’t confront the challenge, our forfeit shows up as a win in the other team’s column and encourages them to push further.
Perhaps it will be because of small budget movies like this one that Hollywood will get the message. Now we will have to endure some Hollywood big time productions that will attempt to usurp the message, we better get use to that (can certainly read about Chuck and Cary’s feelings about that in the interview I conducted for the National Review.) However, the only way we are going to change the culture is if we try, brick by brick as Father Zuhlsdorf would say.
I could write a whole new post about the burgeoning Contemporary Catholic music scene with the likes of Americans Audrey Assad and Sarah Hart and Canadians Matt Maher and Dave Wang. However, that will have to await another time. However, it is certainly nice to see some Catholics amidst a field that was almost entirely Evangelical.
History is full of those on the Secular Left starting small; Mao’s infamous Reign of Terror, which emulated the original French Revolution Reign of Terror, began with a single step as he so often reminded us.
The Secular Left has been trying to usurp Pope Francis, but all one has to do is ask the ruling Argentine Kirchner family how well that turned out for them. Their original congratulatory message to him after his election to be the 266th Successor to St. Peter was the most terse of any nation’s leader, including those from the remaining Communist nations. They came to realize that they could not strong arm the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Today’s secular left may think they can twist the words of Pope Francis to suit their needs. However, as the White House found out, after the infamous two vastly different versions of events following the meeting between President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, you will eventually lose that battle.
Sooner or later Pope Francis quotes about abortion such as “It is not progressive to take a human life,” will make their way into quotable, or even quotes attacking the modern I am ok, you’re ok spirituality will surface, “Religion without the miraculous or mystical is merely philosophy.”
The true words and gestures of Pope Francis (like his being the first pontiff to ever be photographed going to Confession) will eventually displace the narrative that the mainstream media and the secular pop culture want us to follow and believe. However, as Chuck and Cary mentioned in the interview it will be up to us to carry the cross and defend the faith. We can do that in many ways, and one of those ways to is to attend true faith based movies.
It will be because of movies like those being produced by small independent film companies that will help make the difference. After all there’s reason over 500,000 came to Woodstock in August of 1969. Even though groups like the Archies were topping the charts with songs like Sugar, Sugar, groups like Crosby, Stills Nash and Young, along with guitar virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix were barely making the charts. However, their influence were becoming wide and deep in the field of music and popular culture something bubble gum groups like the Archies could never do.
Now old liberal and secular Hollywood won’t go down without a fight as evidenced by this review of God’s Not Dead found online in Variety in which the reviewer uses the words “Nazi propaganda films” to describe the portrayal of Professor Radisson in God’s Not Dead, as if militantly atheistic professors didn’t exist. Interestingly enough Father Peyton predicted the rise and the futuristic fall of liberal Hollywood at a time when the Hayes Code was vigorously enforced and Father Peyton was universally admired in Tinsel town.
Slowly but surely with movies like God’s Not Dead, others will follow, and the old secular guard will not like it and force us to endure some trials and tribulations. To quote from another Hollywood movie, the 1961 Dino DeLaurentiis classic, Barabbas we may have to, as St Peter put it before his upside down crucifixion, suffer a little. However, hope and help is on the way.
We are only the beginning. We won’t see the time when the earth is full of the kingdom. And yet, even now, even here, the hour at the end of life, the kingdom is within us. There’s nothing more to fear. Upon us, the years will be but many years, many martyrdoms. The ground of men is very stubborn to mature. But men will look back to us in our day, and will wonder, and remember our hope. It is the end of the day. We shall trust ourselves to a little pain…St Peter quote from the 1961 film Barabbas.