God's Not Dead

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Sstavix » Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:42 am

So fighting fire with fire; totally what Jesus would do. :P

And while that is mostly snark, on a serious note: Why does this seem like a good idea? Jesus said "Turn the other cheek", and this certainly isn't doing that... Plus, if Hollywood is as bad as you say (Though I am less sure of that), then why should we stoop to their level? It makes people who do have malicious intents (However common they may or may not be) feel justified because they got a rise out of you.
A very valid point, and one I thought of as well when I was thinking of what to type. However, it got lost when my train of thought derailed.

Hey, that's actually pretty good for me. A lot of the times it has trouble leaving the station. ;)


And before any of you go on a Dan Brown rant, let me head you off with a rant of my own: Anyone who thinks The Da Vinci code has basis in reality is ignorant. The Priory of Sion was a confirmed hoax, and the evidence the book and movie cite are largely circumstantial. Ian McKellen, who played Leigh Teabing in the movie, said of the book:
If I'm allowed to rant, I'll actually be on your side. Next to Stephen King and Clive Cussler, Dan Brown is one of those authors who tends to prove my theory that, in today's society, you don't need to have any actual talent in order to succeed....

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Deepfreeze32 » Fri Sep 26, 2014 11:18 am

I'll agree that Dan Brown's books aren't really good books. I'm not sure if you're saying that Stephen King doesn't have talent, though (If you are, then we'll have to disagree there). :P

I consider them a guilty pleasure. Kinda like Popcap games. Fun, flash-in-the-pan enjoyment that I can pick up later and still enjoy in a not-so-serious way. Say what you will about Dan Brown, but his stories (However poorly researched or written they may be) can, if you're in the right mood, give you a nice cheap thrill. The reason I'm suspecting you don't think King has talent is because I definitely lump Cussler in with Brown there. XD

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Sstavix » Fri Sep 26, 2014 2:18 pm

I'll agree that Dan Brown's books aren't really good books. I'm not sure if you're saying that Stephen King doesn't have talent, though (If you are, then we'll have to disagree there). :P
We can agree to disagree, then. ;) I think that Stephen King is a hack, who uses excessive amounts of gore or sex - often both - to dress up a mediocre, often painfully predictable, plot. I will admit that he does seem to have some talent - I've seen it in his non-horror works, such as Stand By Me or Shawshank Redemption. But those kinds of stories aren't his bread and butter.

Perhaps thing have changed over the years. The few novels I've read of King's have been his earlier ones, like Cujo, Carrie and Pet Sematary. And most of my reactions to his stuff has been more of disgust, rather than fear. Maybe he has gotten better. But now that I'm more aware of politics and his own feelings towards my own political and ideological leanings - or, more precisely, his vehement opposition to those - I'm less inclined to give him the time to peruse his works.

No, if I want to read something scary, I'll read a Michael Crichton novel. At least those tend to have a possibility of being grounded in reality, which makes it all the more frightening.

But we're getting quite a bit sidetracked, aren't we? To try and rerail things, if it came down to deciding between a movie based on a Stephen King novel or "God's Not Dead," I would be more inclined to send my money to the latter. I would feel better about my money supporting their causes, rather than what King stands for.

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ChickenSoup » Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:26 pm

So, you read 3 of his many books?
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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Sstavix » Tue Sep 30, 2014 2:40 pm

So, you read 3 of his many books?
A few more than that. I've also read a good portion of his shorts that he wrote under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman" (e.g. "Rage," "Roadwork," "The Running Man"), the first Dark Tower novel, Cycle of the Werewolf... basically, enough to recognize his schtick and come to the conclusion that he's overrated. As I mentioned, I haven't read most of his newer stuff (say, '90s and on). I haven't had any interest in reading it.

And no, I've never read The Stand, either....

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Deepfreeze32 » Tue Sep 30, 2014 3:07 pm

I realize this thread is careening out of control. I'll try and add something related to it

You've never read The Shining? Well, first off, it's probably my favorite book of his. It's not overly disgusting, and it's genuinely creepy. If gore isn't for you, this might be more of your forte. If you have, then I'd also like to hear your thoughts on it.

Anyway, funny that I brought that up, because I remembered something tangentially related to the topic at hand.


When Stephen King was writing The Shining, he intended Jack Torrance, the main character, to be sympathetic. King was struggling with alcoholism and how it was affecting his family. The Shining was born out of that struggle with drinking, and Jack Torrance, in essence, was King.

When Stanley Kubrick directed The Shining, he painted Jack Torrance as the villain. Nothing sympathetic about him. Stephen King, understandably, was upset that a character who represented him at a dark stage of his life had become such an evil person.


How is that related? Well, artistic license is always going to annoy someone. In some cases, yes it can be more egregious against a group of people. But in some cases, it's just as bad against a single person.

Sort of related: The author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, apparently cried when she saw the movie. Not because she liked it. Because she thought it was a horrible adaptation of her books.


Artistic license can be a sticky situation. In the case of God's Not Dead; as much as I detest the portrayal of atheists, it definitely serves to further the movie's message. A message that I disagree with, but a message nonetheless. And if it was intended to provoke anger as sort of a "Look how Christians are portrayed" message, then that would make for an interesting discussion. But given the interviews I've read, I don't know if that's the case. Ehh, whatever. Art is what you make of it, I say.


So that's my contribution to the topic at hand. Sorry for scraping it only just.

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ArchAngel » Tue Sep 30, 2014 4:21 pm

I applaud how smoothly you brought this train back on tracks.
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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ChickenSoup » Tue Sep 30, 2014 10:29 pm

Seriously. That was some pretty stellar analysis and comparison, sir
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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Sstavix » Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:04 am

Indeed, nicely done!

So do you think there are things the writers of God's Not Dead could have done to get their message across yet not depict atheists in such a stereotypical light?

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ccgr » Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:16 am

They didn't need to have the rich and jerkish son/bad boyfriend guy ;)

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Deepfreeze32 » Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:49 am

Thanks! I try. :P


Addressing your question, Sstavix:

Perhaps there could have been, for lack of a better term, a less universal portrayal in the film. For instance, there are many kinds of Christianity. I've also met many different kinds of atheists. Some broach on the level of arrogance seen in the film, yes. Some are among the nicest people I've ever met.

It's a bit like the issue of portraying racial groups and stereotypes. It's a fine line between using the stereotypes to make a point, and using them in an offensive manner. For instance, let's look at the portrayal of racial stereotypes in comedies (Heck, let's just use Mel Brooks as a comparison here) vs in films such as The Birth of a Nation or other films from that era.

In the case of Mel Brooks, racism is often a comedic device. It's offensive, yes. But it can be used as a tool, if you will, to get something out of the movie. I found a blog post about Blazing Saddles that goes into some examples.

The short version is this: Blazing Saddles arrived during the height of Postmodernism. How do we know? See Spoiler tags below. But I'll continue: Because the film portrays itself as postmodern, we know there is some deeper meaning behind the overt silliness of it all. The blogger suspects that Brooks was trying to show that society is so anarchic that the parody and the real thing are indistinguishable.
Spoiler:
During the movie, the townspeople build a fake town to trick some attackers. Later we see what we think is it, but it's the real town. The camera pulls away, and it's a soundstage.

The same kind of meta-humor that would show up in other films like Spaceballs.
This is in contrast, by the way, to the method used in more serious movies such as those of Stanley Kubrick. In Kubrick's movies, the symbolism and hidden messages are all over the place, but they aren't drawn into the spotlight like with Blazing Saddles.


But let's talk about The Birth of a Nation for a minute. As it almost 100 years old, times were different. The message of the film was for a different audience. I'll directly quote from the wikipedia entry because I'm tired. XD
University of Houston historian Steven Mintz summarizes its message as follows: Reconstruction was a disaster, blacks could never be integrated into white society as equals, and the violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan were justified to reestablish honest government. The film suggested that the Ku Klux Klan restored order to the post-war South, which was depicted as endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and carpetbagging Republican politicians from the North. This reflects the so-called Dunning School of historiography.
At the time, black characters were portrayed by white actors wearing blackface. Blackface is honestly pretty offensive. It was used to comedic effect in Tropic Thunder without coming across as mean-spirited, but the original blackface arose (I'm heavily distilling it here) because no one wanted to hire black actors, no executives thought people would watch movies with black people in them, and white actors didn't want to work with black actors. My inner historian is crying at reducing it to such simple and overly-generalized terms, but I don't think a full-on analysis or discussion would benefit the topic at hand.


So let's reduce what I'm saying to a simpler point: Blazing Saddles is racist to make a point about society, and that's what critics got out of it. The Birth of a Nation is often seen as racist not because it was intended to be an offensively racist movie, but because it directly inspired the second generation of the Ku Klux Klan and because it's historical inaccuracy is portraying racism in a positive light.

I don't really know what D.W. Griffith was trying to say with The Birth of a Nation, and I haven't found much strong evidence that says. Maybe he was trying to be a parody like Mel Brooks. Maybe he was trying to inspire racism (Although given his reactions to criticism that this movie was racist, I think not) . Maybe he was just trying to make an epic movie. I really don't know.

But I can say that the immediate aftermath probably means that his message, whatever it was, was lost on the moviegoers. Griffith would later make the film Intolerance (Whose Babylon set marked the L.A. landscape for years), which was a response to the bans and censorship of this film. The film, a remarkable technical achievement for the time, is infamous because of the events surrounding it.


So that's the difference between different types of racism. What does this have to do with the topic? Well, let's go back to the portrayal of Atheists in the film. In some ways, it parallels the topic of racism: It's a prejudice, or negative view on a group of people. This analogy is obviously not perfect, so bear with me here.

The real question is what is the film trying to say? Well, I definitely got the impression that the film is trying to say "God exists!" The problem with such a statement, as is the problem with any film trying to prove a point rather than raise a question, is that it requires an argument to go along with it.

Just so we're on the same field, here are some things about arguments so we can get definitions on the same page. There are three main types of arguments: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. Logos is basically logical reasoning: X implies Y, and Y implies Z, therefore X implies Z. Pathos is basically an appeal to emotions and emotional responses: Often campaign ads use this. Ethos is more or less an appeal to a sense of right and wrong, or to ethics. Often arguments will use more than one of each type. More often than not, though, a strong argument is based on Logos with support from Pathos and Ethos as persuasive elements. Essentially, "This is why the position is correct (Logos), and here is why you should take action about it and/or care (Pathos and Ethos".

There's also a kind of faulty or insufficient argument called a Fallacy. There are multiple types of Fallacy: Fallacies of presumption fail to prove the conclusion by assuming the conclusion in the proof. Fallacies of weak inference fail to prove the conclusion due to insufficient evidence. Fallacies of distraction fail to prove the conclusion due to irrelevant evidence, like emotion (For instance, using Pathos when Logos should be used). Fallacies of ambiguity fail to prove the conclusion due to vagueness in words, phrases, or grammar.

The problem with God's Not Dead is that in it's attempt to argue the position that God exists, it uses logical fallacies. Now, this isn't necessarily uncommon, and doesn't have to make the movie bad. However, the fallacies pertaining to the topic at hand are the Straw Man: Discrediting the argument by misrepresenting the argument, and Ad Hominem: Attacking the person instead of the argument. In this case, both times it attacks the villains, the Athiests, instead of the arguments. Now let's not get confused: I'm not talking about Josh's arguments with the atheists. I mean that by portraying atheists as arrogant, rude pricks who only disbelieve because of personal demons is an argumentum ad hominem. But this is also a Straw Man: By building up atheists in the ways described, it represents and unfair portrayal of the other side of the debate. The argument practically hinges on the fact that atheists don't believe in God because they had personal issues in the past: The straw man, if you will. The movie ends with the "Success" of knocking down the straw man.


I know, it sounds like I'm rambling. But this is, ultimately why God's Not Dead fails as a movie: It presents itself as an argument, and then argues poorly.


So Sstavix, assuming you haven't fallen asleep yet, what could they have done to make the portrayal less insensitive? A couple things come to mind, but they don't involve just the rewrite of the atheist character.

The first would require serious rewrites to the plot and characters. To engage in a polemic debate on this subject (The existence of God) is a very hard task. To succeed at what this movie was shooting for, it would have needed stronger arguments, and fewer fallacies. Portray atheists as people too. Somehow, I don't think this is possible for a film where the debaters are as emotionally invested in the topic. It also doesn't fulfill the "Atheists are all evil and Christians are awesome!" narrative that inspired my parents to go see it. (-_-)

The second would be to rewrite the atheist in a less derogatory light, and leave some ambiguity to the existence of God as well as reduce the heavy-handedness of the debate aspect. Maybe this is my Kubrick fanboyism, but I don't like a movie telling me what I need to take away from it. As I had said in an earlier post, art is what you make of it. This film is like looking at a piece of art, and having the wonder and joy of determining what it means to you ruined by having the painter lecture you on what it means. The strength of 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it doesn't give you answers. You must derive your own meaning from the movie. God's Not Dead doesn't give you that option.

The final option would be a little easier: Include atheist characters who aren't caricatures. Radisson isn't necessarily a bad character. He's got personal issues that make him as angry as he is. But the movie, by making all atheist characters the same way, is saying that ALL atheists are atheists because they had issues in the past. That's an unfair representation. Maybe something like this: Radisson does his little "Write God is Dead" thing. Josh has another professor who's an atheist, but not a jerk. When talking with this person, Josh realizes that Radisson isn't an atheist because he's thought through the issues, but because he's mad at God.


Anyway, sorry for the massive post.

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ArchAngel » Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:39 am

I'm loving your analyses on history and cinema! Keep it coming!

I haven't even heard of Birth of a Nation, and looking it up, on top of being massively racist, but revolutionary in film-making techniques and "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Ebert puts it as: "The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil."
Wow, score one for complexity.

A nuanced film with multi-dimensional, sympathetic theists and atheists clashing with their world views and they all try, in their own way, to get a grasp of a chaotic world after some crisis or what not, sounds pretty great. No answers handed out, and maybe even start from stereotyped views and bring in complexity and depth as the characters continue to interact. I'd watch that.
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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby Sstavix » Wed Oct 01, 2014 2:50 pm

...
So Sstavix, assuming you haven't fallen asleep yet, ....
No worries about that. I'm an English major for a reason. ;) That and combined with the few film classes I took at college gives me a strong interest in picking apart plots and characters (especially plot holes. I love finding plot holes!). I liek to think that, by finding holes in other peoples' works, it can give me some insight into my own writings so I can avoid similar pitfalls.
A nuanced film with multi-dimensional, sympathetic theists and atheists clashing with their world views and they all try, in their own way, to get a grasp of a chaotic world after some crisis or what not, sounds pretty great. No answers handed out, and maybe even start from stereotyped views and bring in complexity and depth as the characters continue to interact. I'd watch that.
I'm not a filmmaker, but I wouldn't mind taking that approach with a novel. I'll have to try and focus on that in November....

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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby ArchAngel » Wed Oct 01, 2014 4:44 pm

Oh shoot... NaNoWriMo...

I need to slap myself into this one.
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Re: God's Not Dead

Postby EchoDelta » Wed Oct 29, 2014 10:05 am

Finally watched the movie last night thanks to Red Box. I really enjoyed most of it. The debate itself was well directed along with the information. Most of the information I've heard before back when I was into Christian Apologetics. The movie reminded me I need to return to this.

The last debate with Josh putting Professor Raddison on the spot reminded me so much of the ending to A Few Good Men.

Now it got a little cheesy after the debate with most of the students standing up a declaring, "God's Not Dead!" That reminded me of the Dead Poet's Society when Ethan Hawke and the other students standing on their desks.

The other stories interweaved into the plot, were imo, to take up time because the main story concerned those 3 debates.

Overall it was great. I'll likely buy the movie. Btw, I never heard of Willie Robertson. I thought his character was fictional.


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