One of the big ironies of this election is that a man who literally has a golden tower to his own name, a man who basically embodies everything that Christians call Mammon, has a remarkable amount of evangelical support. The reality, of course, as everyone from Jon Stewart to Shaun King has pointed out, is that Trump is selling white Christian supremacy and hegemony. The fact that he has none of the values that they pretend to admire or the actual Biblical values of charity, chastity, honor, forgiveness, redemption and compassion indicates that even by their own barbaric standards they are modern Pharisees: hypocrites whose high-minded rhetoric is being used to mask much more pedestrian and even evil motives.
To understand how we’ve come here, it’s vital to understand the massive echo chamber that Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals have constructed. There is an entire industry that has been created to stoke their fear of persecution (which then prevents them from ever recognizing how privileged they in reality are) and at the same time give them the belief that they deserve to have their dominance. It’s not just in megachurches or through tele-evangelists, like the deceitful Pat Robertson who makes money off of slave labor in diamond mines thanks to coordination with a dictator: it’s also done through an intentional campaign of public culture, an entire parallel Christian culture of movies and music. So much of these films emphasize the importance of doctrinal obedience, the lack of critical reasoning, and Christian theocracy, rather than how to reach out to the poor or help the suffering. Aron Ra’s fantastic 2012 speech describing how the fundamentalists in places like Texas become honest about their grotesque behavior precisely mirrors how this election got the white supremacists to come writhing out of the woodwork. Similarly, this is how the intelligent design debate became prominent even when there was no scientific debate of any substance whatsoever: there was a deliberate, direct plan to de-secularize scientific education.
Let’s analyze a few examples to see how the victimhood narrative that the Christian evangelicals construct allows them to express their wounded entitlement, even as their own case for their oppression is laughably weak even by their own standards. Specially, we’ll be focusing on God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2 and Persecuted. The Bible Reloaded does a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style riff on these movies and on Jack Chick’s famous hatemongering tracts (noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as essentially hate speech): I highly recommend following the links and enjoying their humorous and good-spirited takedown.
With God’s Not Dead and its sequel, the hypocrisies begin even before we even talk about the movies. The producers, Pure Flix, were sued for $100 million. And the fundamental stories of the two films are at odds in directly contradictory ways. In the first film, an atheist Professor pushes his beliefs onto students and is the film’s antagonist; in the second film, a Christian high school teacher pushes her beliefs onto students and is the film’s protagonist. The total lack of self-awareness is staggering when combined with the victimization complex both films let the audience nurse. They don’t seem to realize that a Professor at a college being straightforwardly ideological would be far less destructive than in a high school setting with a captive audience and a legal requirement to attend.
It gets worse. The titles of both films don’t even understand why people say “God is dead´. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche could easily have said that God never existed if he meant that. Another philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, advanced a similar idea. Nietzsche’s original statement, in his flowery and metaphorical way, read, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” Nietzsche was expressing an existentialist argument about morality. His point wasn’t that God didn’t exist, but that God’s existence is immaterial to morality. There are Christian existentialists who have made the same point. Basically, it goes back to David Hume’s point that you can’t get “ought” from “is”. Even an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient being with a perfect perspective of reality and a perfect compassion and patience is no more necessarily right about what is good or bad, what is important and unimportant, than a human being. Just like you can like a movie that every professional reviewer despises and the reality that you liked it doesn’t change one iota no matter their arguments, so too is the knowledge or intelligence of a supreme being irrelevant to their moral statement.
Christians dislike this argument. They want to claim that God gives an objective basis for morality. Not only is this argument compelling, but it’s actually irrelevant. Even if there is objective meaning to the universe, human beings still have to go through the process of perceiving it. Any honest person would have to admit that real human beings have to go through the process of saying “God is dead, long live God” if they’re going to be deeply spiritual. But these movies aren’t deep and they’re not honest.
The first God’s Not Dead is practically below comment: it has some of the most laughable arguments for the existence of God (which, again, would still be immaterial to discussing “God is dead” even if those arguments were compelling because ontology is separate from ethics). They trot out everything from the idea that God not existing would justify any immoral behavior (which, even if true, wouldn’t mean God actually exists: what’s convenient isn’t what’s true) to claiming that the atheist has the burden of proof (the null hypothesis, that something doesn’t exist or that two things are not statistically different, needs no defense).
It’s the second film that really drives home the utter dishonesty of these people. The core conflict happens in a class about non-violent resistance. The main character, named Grace (yes, that’s how subtle these films are and how little respect they have for their audience), is asked if non-violent resistance is like Jesus’ commandment to love your enemy, and she quotes scripture.
Now, of course, that’s a reasonable question in a class about non-violent resistance. Dr. King certainly believed in “love thy enemy”. But the problem is that answering the question this way is actively misleading. It’s not just the questionable, but arguably benign, insertion of faith into a secular history class: it’s also a massive missed opportunity to be honest about the history of non-violence. The correct answer would be, “Yes, Matthew 5:44 does indeed say to love your enemies and pray for those who use you and persecute you. But non-violent resistance actually began with the transcendentalist Thoreau, who then inspired the Hindu Gandhi. Dr. King was primarily following in those traditions. Moreover, the idea of non-violent resistance isn’t just turning the other cheek as a moral commandment: it’s a tactic to accomplish social change when the other side has the power of force”. Grace’s comment without explanation would lead students to erroneously believe that Christianity was the primary inspiration for non-violent resistance, rather than coming from a secular philosophical tradition that had many religious and spiritual strands of influence.
The film misrepresents Constitutional law, common law, the position of the ACLU, and flat-out lies about a Houston case involving an anti-discrimination ordinance and subpoenas to preachers in order to verify that they hadn’t illegally mixed politics into their sermons (which violates the rules for tax-exempt status). It’s not a surprise that fundamentalists routinely support the idea that their churches should be allowed to remain tax-exempt even when they are directly partisan.
Despite all this, Persecuted with Dexter’s James Remar is possibly even worse.
The core conflict of Persecuted is a law that would effectively mandate religious institutions give equal time to competing religious groups.
Even if one is charitable enough to ignore that absolutely no one is actually proposing such a law and it would be so obviously non-Constitutional that no preacher would bother to comply and no officer would bother to enforce it, such a bill would, on its face, equally affect every religion. Christianity would not specifically harmed by it any more than anyone else.
It is a staggering task to put into words how much of a failure this is. Persecuted is not even theoretically attempting to describe a real-world event. It’s their fictional scenario that they themselves chose to create, and even in their own completely fictive narrative, they still didn’t present a scenario where Christians were actually specifically targeted. They are so unfamiliar with actual repression that even their wildest fantasies of being repressed are neither realistic nor logical depictions of subjugation and intolerance. It’s precisely what led Justin Chang of Variety to say, “At a time when the world offers us no shortage of examples of what actual religious persecution looks like, for a film to indulge in this particular brand of self-righteous fearmongering isn’t just clueless or reckless; it’s an act of contemptible irresponsibility”.
This entire industry produces outrage, fear and a sense that even a slight relaxation of Christians’ cultural and social dominance would lead to their immediate destruction. It’s no wonder that the Republican Party’s low-scale simmer of theocratic and white racial appeasement was eventually going to fail to sate the base.
No matter what happens in November, the process of obliterating the contamination of a superficially Christian ideology that is in fact about naked domination will be a long and challenging endeavor. Still, our neighbors deserve better than a religion that teaches them that decency, compassion, and even a sense of moral purity and self-denial is less important than obedience and violence.
This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine.