Category Archives: Movies

God’s Not Dead 2: A Movie That Scores on Its Own Net

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God’s Not Dead 2 is the second installment in the popular Christian films series.  The first film, God’s Not Dead, hit theaters in 2014.  The plot of that movie featured a Christian college student who accepted a challenge from his atheist professor to convince the class of God’s existence.  The third film, God’s Not Dead 3, is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2018.

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) depicts the persecution of a Christian public school teacher who was sued because of her mention of Jesus in the classroom.  Grace, a dedicated history teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial High School, taught a lesson on how Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both used non-violent methods to effect major social change in their countries.  A student asked whether Jesus’ statement to “Love your enemies” was similar.  The teacher agreed and mentioned how Martin Luther King, Jr. was heavily influenced by Scripture.  She was disciplined by the school board, and sued by the ACLU for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  This storyline resonates with Christians in America where bakers, florists, photographers, and the like, are losing their businesses because their convictions clash with the popular secular humanist ethics of the day.

The movie has a few side plots to go along with the main story.  A female reporter/blogger, Amy Ryan, a former antagonist to Christianity, discovers her cancer is in remission.  (See God’s Not Dead for more on this storyline.)  Now, she is struggling with godsnotdead2athoughts that her new-found faith was merely an emotional response to her cancer.  She begins a journey to explore this faith now without the interference of that crisis.  This subplot of a miraculous cure for cancer after conversion and prayer has the tendency to perpetuate the thinking that prayer will always be answered the way we want, and that all you have to do to be healed is to believe hard enough.  As any Christian who has been tested will tell you, that is not the case.  (Here is an example of what I mean from my own life experience.)  The subplot, however, is not too over-the-top with Christian emotionalism that leaves sound doctrine in the shadows.  The movie awkwardly gets free-lance reporter, played by Trisha LaFache, involved in the lawsuit when her niece, played by Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, asks for her help.  Her role was supposedly to get the word out that a Christian school teacher was being persecuted for her faith.  This part of the movie has no real flow, or believability.

Pastor Dave Hill, played by David A.R. White, seems to be going through a slump.  He stubs his toe at breakfast, has iced coffee spilled down the front of his shirt, and he inadvertently dumps his coffee when trying to unlock the church office door.  The slump continued with the mail: bills, bills, bills, junk mail, and, to top it off, a jury summons.  In his rut, he seems to be questioning God’s purpose for his life.  As the lawsuit moves on, that purpose is to be Juror No. 12.  He is a pastor with a cynical outlook on life, as portrayed by his reading the newspaper instead of paying attention to his online jury orientation.  He figures, as 1 of 300 jurors summoned, he has a better chance at getting godsnotdead-davidarwhitestruck by lightning than being assigned to the jury, so why should he waste his time.  (Incidentally, according to National Geographic News, the odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. are around 1 in 700,000.  So, Pastor Dave would be incorrect that his 1 out of 300 odds to be paneled on the jury is a longer shot than being struck by lightning.)  Instead of lightning, he is struck with acute appendicitis while in the courtroom.  He again wonders what the purpose for his jury service was.  He saw the opportunity to make a difference for God by being on the jury, but now he is in a hospital, recovering from surgery.  His friend encourages him to have faith, God’s plan is at work.

God often orchestrates events that do not make sense to us.  We can see only partly.  We do not have all the necessary information to understand events or motives.  But “[W]e know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.  Do we really trust God?  That is what faith really is about: trust.  Not believing hard enough that something is true.  Faith is about trusting what God said, even when our circumstances tell us otherwise.  (See my post A Celebration of Life.)  Our approach to our faith in God is often with the same cynical nature as Pastor Dave.  (I am looking me straight in the mirror.)  We come to expect disappointments from God because he seems to so often answer our prayers with “No” or “I have something else for you.”  But, this cynicism really stems from both ingratitude and mistrust.  We are ungrateful for what God does give us and we do not really believe God’s plan for us is for our good.  God does not always orchestrate our healing from cancer, or our winning court cases against secular humanists that seem to permeate all levels of government.  But, trust God we must.

The central struggle in this movie is certainly plausible.  An anonymous tip to an anti-Christian organization brings a team of angry atheist lawyers against a school teacher or school policy.  Organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU all are antagonistic toward God, and therefore to his family.  We have seen them persecute Christian bakers in Colorado and Oregon, a florist in Washington, photographers in New Mexico.  The list doesn’t stop there.  Military personnel, monuments, high-school coaches, college students, government mandated abortion coverage.  I could go on.  So, the plot in God’s Not Dead 2 is not only believable, it is already a reality.

Despite the plausibility of the plot, the storyline really has some glaring problems from a legal perspective.  Although the case is styled as a civil lawsuit, Thawley v. Wesley, it comes off as if Grace is a criminal defendant.  First, she is the only defendant.  The school gods_not_dead2courtroom1district is not on trial.  While this is not unusual for a state employee to be personally liable for violations of the Constitution, a lawsuit almost always includes the “deep pockets” as a defendant because that is how lawyers make their money.  In the movie, however, the school board attorney stated that the ACLU was not interested in suing the school, only the teacher.  This point is later contradicted by the ACLU attorney, but a second lawsuit against the school board may go nowhere because the plaintiff’s failed to join the necessary party for the first lawsuit.  A second reason the case comes across as a criminal trial stems from Grace’s first meeting with her union appointed attorney who was hired from the public defender’s office.  She insists to him that she is not a criminal.  Her attorney said “Don’t be so sure about that.”  Third, when Grace is called to the stand she questions the judge whether she is required to testify, as if a civil defendant has the same Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a criminal defendant.  Fourthly, after the examination of Grace as a witness, the judge asks her attorney if he would like to change her plea.  He answers “No, your Honor. I say she is innocent of all wrongdoing” which sounds a lot like discussion about a criminal defendant.  Several aspects about this script make the nature of the case unclear.

Without getting into an esoteric discussion about the dynamics of the way voir dire (jury selection) was conducted (eg. attorneys do not object to jurors in front of the jury), or the fact that the godsnotdeadvoirdirelawyer for the defendant went straight into closing argument while his client was still on the stand, this trial scene was hard to watch as an attorney.  It makes for good theatre, but the movie script was very sloppy surrounding the trial.

More problematic for this movie than the sloppy script was the huge violations of the rules of professional conduct by Grace’s attorney.  Let’s start with their first meeting.  Grace meets with her new attorney in the non-confidential, public place of a coffee shop.  According to Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6 (c) (the setting of the movie is in Arkansas) states “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  By meeting in a public place where anyone could overhear their discussion, the lawyer might be violating this rule.  Also, he may lose the claim for Attorney-Client Privilege for the discussion in the coffee shop because the communication was not kept in confidence.

The most egregious violations, however, occurred when Grace’s lawyer put her on the stand.  First, in putting her on the stand against her will he violated Rule 1.2(a) where a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued.  Rule 1.4(a)(2) requires the attorney reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.  By surprising his client with his antagonistic tactic, he failed to consult with her on the objectives of the representation.

Second, in his questioning of his client on the stand he asks her to apologize and to admitgodsnotdead2perjury she made a mistake.  She told the court that she couldn’t do it because she did not believe she did anything wrong.  Her attorney then said “As your attorney, I’m advising you to do it anyway.”  By advising his client to lie under oath, he violated Rule 1.2(d) “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent….”  Perjury is a crime.  Advising his client to testify to the court something that she believes to be a lie is counseling her to commit a crime.

Third, he revealed confidential communications of his client to the court without consulting her in violation of Rule 1.6(a) “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted….”  Grace had told her attorney that God had spoken to her when she encountered a church sign that read “Who do you say that I am?”  In his witness examination of her, he revealed the existence and nature of that conversation to the court.  Thus, revealing information relating to the representation of his client without consulting her.

godsnotdeadlawyerGrace’s attorney is more of a clown than an attorney.  He comes across as incompetent when it comes to the rules of conduct he must uphold (which would violate Rule 1.1).  His behavior would certainly warrant disciplinary action from his state bar.

The most disappointing part of the movie was, however, the whole trial strategy employed by Grace and her attorney to transform the case from being about religious expression in the classroom to merely a discussion on what is or is not historical fact.  Grace tells her attorney “Listen, this isn’t about faith.  This is about history…Their whole attack is about me preaching in class, but I didn’t do that…We can separate the history based elements of Jesus’ life from the faith based element.”  No longer was that case godsnotdeadvoirdire2about her being persecuted for expressing her faith in school.  It became a trial on whether Jesus Christ existed.  Who is even arguing that Jesus never existed?  I suppose for a movie called God’s Not Dead, the existence of God the Son would be central to the plot.  However, the movie portrays her as a martyr who was persecuted for her faith, when in the end her defense was simply “Nuh-uh, I didn’t express my faith in the classroom.  I simply talked about an historical figure.  See, Jesus is an historical figure just like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.”  The implication is that expressions of faith still do not belong in the classroom.  The movie pretends to champion religious liberty.  But in the end it just reinforced the “separation of Church and State” myth by making the case about history instead of faith.

For a Christian movie, it was rather disappointing.  If this movie sought to inspire the own goal giffaithful to endure such persecutions, this movie was a dud, a swing-and-a-miss.  In fact, the true metaphor for this movie is to compare it to scoring on your own goal.  Instead of slaying a giant (the prohibition of religious expression in the classroom), the movie settled for knocking down a straw man (that Jesus Christ did not exist as an historical figure).  In doing so, this movie perpetuates the myth of separation of Church and state.  (And there goes the ball into our own net.)

I hope God’s Not Dead 3 is better.

 

 

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Finding Newness in Being Old Fashioned

old-fashioned1 Finding Newness in Being Old Fashioned
By Christopher S. Brownwell

Rare is the opportunity to see so stark a difference in worldviews as this year’s Valentine’s Day movie choices.  In our world plagued by a postmodern, moral relativism where truth is merely subjective to the bearer’s opinion, morality is defined in shades of grey and contradictions.  We are required to believe the absolute truth that there are no absolutes.  We are forced to know the truth that truth is not knowable.  Truth that stands the test of time is disregarded, mocked, even persecuted.  Just ask florists, photographers, and bakers who esteem the old fashioned truth of marriage between one man and one woman.

This postmodern worldview is antagonistic toward all metanarratives.  Postmodernism is suspicious about any truth claim that argues for a transcendent, all-encompassing understanding of reality.  Truth to a postmodernist is not something outside of him to be discovered.  Truth is something to be made as the situation warrants.

Postmodern philosophers like Richard Rorty do not believe that truth can be knowable or explainable.  “Truth cannot be out there – cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot exist or be out there.  The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.  Only descriptions of the world can be true or false.”

Why should Rorty try to explain the truth to us that truth explanations are pointless?  By using words to convey a truth claim, Rorty contradicted his own explanation.

The point of postmodernism is not really to deny the truth.  It is to deny shared meaning.  Rorty affirmed this when he said “To say that we should drop the idea of truth as out there waiting to calvin-and-hobbes-on-postmodernismbe discovered is not to say that we have discovered that, out there, there is no truth.  It is to say that our purposes would be served best by ceasing to see truth as a deep matter, as a topic of philosophical interest, or true as a term which repays analysis.”

What exactly are “our purposes?”  Truth is not a deep matter to Rorty.  Rorty’s “truth” is a utilitarian tool to serve him best.  Truth doesn’t guide his behavior; “truth” justifies it.  The power to define truth, then, is the power to excuse deviance, or more accurately, the power to erase deviance.

“The question is not whether human knowledge in fact has foundations, but whether it makes sense to suggest that it does – whether the idea of epistemic…authority having a ground in nature is a coherent one.”  Rorty asserts his own truth claim that truth claims do not have a transcendent anchor beyond cultural development.  His postmodern philosophy is not really new or progressive.  The postmodernist philosophy sounds suspiciously like an ancient lie.  In tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 3:1, the serpent challenged God’s truth claim.  “Did God really say?”  In other words, “God did not define good and evil. You can define morality for yourself.”

Challenging the ultimate source for truth is exactly where postmodernism wants to go.  If ultimate reality is defined by each individual, morality is as well.  This leads to the rare opportunity I mentioned above of such a clear contrast between postmodernism and Christianity.

Valentine’s Day 2015 saw the opening in theaters of one of the most anticipated movies in a decade.  The filthy Fifty Shades of Grey opening weekend is on pace to outsell The Passion of the 50ShadesOfGreyTieChrist for a February opening weekend.  This sadomasochistic bondage flick about a man who abuses women for his own sexual gratification is quintessentially postmodern.  Postmodernism has defined sexual torture as romantic and fulfilling.  It harkens back to a time when brutality in sexuality was celebrated.  Fifty Shades, however, defines its own reality.  It pretends that women want to be brutalized – that a sexual deviant really cares about the women he tortures.  That is fantasy.  That is a lie.  Any redeeming qualities in the film cannot free it from its postmodern dungeon.  No wonder we have an epidemic of sexual assaults in our culture that embraces Fifty Shades.

Fifty Shades of Grey stands in stark contrast to the other film about relationships that opened on the Valentine’s Day weekend: Old Fashioned.  Unlike the regressivism of Fifty Shades of Grey, the film Old Fashioned is about old things passing away and all things becoming new.

old-fashioned2This antithesis to Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t paint a picture of one, flawless, noble character and one lost soul coming together.  It is about two imperfect people letting God forgive them and make old things new.  Amber is a free-spirited woman who moves away from problems as far as her tank full of gas will take her.  She rents an apartment from Clay.  She brings her conventional wisdom baggage about relationships and dating with her.  Yet, her philosophy is that there is enough greatness in the world but not enough goodness.  As her budding romance with Clay hits a brick wall, her fears of abandonment are calmed when she reads “I will never leave you nor forsake you” from the new Bible she just took out of its wrapper.  Strengthened by the timeless Word of God, she abandons her itinerant life and finds her home.

After leaving his hedonistic frat party days, Clay retreated to the monastery of his old fashioned relationship theories.  This monastic lifestyle kept him from the dangers of hedonism, but he also let it keep him from the joys of community.  Unable to form a romantic relationship with anyone in nine years, Clay’s barricade of stubbornness is finally cracked by his great-aunt Zella when she demanded “Stop using the grace of God as a brick wall.”  Clay and Amber find new love within old fashioned boundaries.

Old Fashioned‘s Clay Walsh is not Fifty Shades‘s Christian Grey.  A former frat-boy, he owns an claywalshantique shop where he restores antiques like new.  Haunted by a debaucherous past, he is now small-town, humble, and respects women enough to establish boundaries for his interaction with them.  He respects their emotions as well as their bodies.  Clay reveres sex as delicate and sacred.  His philosophy is to never be alone with a woman who is not his wife.  He requests Amber, his tenant, step outside of her apartment as he fixes her sink.  Most people see his white picket fence surrounding his honor as old fashioned.  Clay sees nobility in controlling himself.  He is reliable.  He is…boring.

The postmodern Christian Grey is a business tycoon from Seattle, self-absorbed, and treats women as objects for his own deviant gratification.  He is not a grown-up.  Sex to him is not about committed love, but merely about a contractual arrangement.  Christian is living the life of Jamie Dornan back on the set of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' for re-shootsa narcissistic, banal, impetuous, undisciplined frat-boy.  He offers women a fantasy, a lie.  His self-assuredness, even his cockiness, is attractive and exciting, at least until the next morning.  He is not a romantic hero.  He is a selfish cad.

This Valentine’s Day offered America a clear choice.  The venerable, timeworn values of Old Fashioned stand in contrast to the postmodern immorality of Fifty Shades of Grey.  America is at a crossroads.  Would you prefer the honor of a man with boundaries who binds himself for the safety of others or would you prefer the ignominy of a man of bondage who binds others for the pleasure of himself?  After watching Old Fashioned you will long for the virtuous struggles of authentic, real life love and despise the pernicious lies of pleasurable, temporary fantasies.

Culture is a collection of individual choices.  I do not know what choice you will make, old fashioned or postmodern.  As for me, I want to be old fashioned.

2014: The Light of Christmas

A year ago American Thinker published my article “The Light of Christmas.”  I posted this article to my blog and it generated a comment from “Judy.”

“You had to demolish one of the greatest movies of all time? Can’t just leave it be for the extreme funny it truly is? Ugh….go take a pill.”

This comment is an example of the problem in our society of favoring feelings and emotions over thinking.  “Can’t you just let us consume our entertainment without pointing out the subtle messages we’re being fed?”

I replied:

“Judy, thanks for commenting. But I think your standards for movies are really low if you think Christmas Vacation is ‘one of the greatest movies of all time.’

“I can’t leave it be for the ‘extremely funny it truly is’ because with the humor it attempts to spread lies. The movie isn’t just a comedy. Whether the director intended to or not, he is pushing philosophy with his movie. I am called as a Christian to be light in the darkness and to expose lies. The lie in Christmas Vacation is particularly pernicious because it is surrounded by humor and emotionalism, making swallowing lies easier.”

Here is an encore of my article.

The Light of Christmas
By Christopher S. Brownwell

One of my favorite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  My favorite line in the movie comes when Eddie surprises Clark after they arrived in time to see Clark finally successful in getting the lights on his house to work.

Eddie asked Clark “You surprised?”  Clark responded “Surprised, Eddie?… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

While watching this Christmas movie this year, however, I discovered a pernicious lie about Christmas.  Near the end Clark reflected on seeing a light in the neighborhood. “It’s the Christmas Star, and that’s all that matters tonight. Not bonuses or gifts, or turkeys or trees.  See kids, it means something different to everybody.  Now I know what it means to me.”

Griswold Family Looking at the "Christmas Star"This feel-good, post-modern, existential, pluralistic comment doesn’t enhance the meaning of Christmas.  Rather, it attempts to destroy it.  You see, kids, if Christmas means something different to everyone, Christmas has no meaning at all.

To Griswold, the true meaning of Christmas was to bless his family with a pool.  To Frank Shirley, it was to cancel Christmas bonuses and give out one-year subscriptions to the Jelly of the Month Club.  To Margo and Todd it was to avoid things that are dirty and messy and corny and clichéd.  But these different meanings ultimately clashed.

Post-modernism doesn’t believe in a fixed, absolute truth.  Everyone defines his own “truth.”  Existentialism is about defining your own meaning of life through your own personal experiences.  Pluralism has devolved into a personal philosophy comfortable with believing in contradictory truth claims.

Despite Griswold’s post-modern, pluralistic, existential philosophy, Christmas has a fixed meaning.  The message has been the same for 2000 years.  That message is that Light has come into the world to make a way for us to escape the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.  “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light because their works are evil.”  John 3:19.  “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”  Revelation 2:5.

Light brings knowledge.  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  II Corinthians 4:6.

America has always been a conduit for that Light to shine.  In 1630, the Pilgrims’ pastor, John Winthrop, encouraged his congregation in the New World that the establishment of their colony would be a city on a hill if they obeyed God. “[F]or wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our City on a hillGod in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us; wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of God and all professours for Gods sake….”

The concept of a “City on a Hill,” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, was that all can see the city.  It is exposed.  While exposed, those in the surrounding valley would be guided by its light to a place of safety.  But, what was the source of this light to be passed down from one generation of Americans to another?

Our Founding Fathers knew.

George_WashingtonGeorge Washington in his Farewell Address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

John Adams in his letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776: “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.”

Benjamin Rush in an essay: “The only foundation for…a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

That message handed down from our Founders is that the Christian faith, which carried the belief in the Light, was indispensible for liberty to exist.  Light had come into the world that first Christmas morn in the form of Jesus.  It is the Light of Christmas that shines from our City on a Hill.

Some, however, want to extinguish that Light because they prefer the darkness.  The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is not about the military, religion or freedom, and other angry atheists have stepped up their efforts to darken the Light ofShaw Air Force Base Christmas.  Groups like the MRFF swoop onto a military installation with supposed complaints from anonymous service members to get Nativity scenes removed from Shaw Air Force Base and Guantanamo.  Brave warriors, trained to fight despite fear, then cower at MRFF’s demands and remove the offensive Light without a fight.  This type of cowardice goes on throughout our country where public schools remove “Christ the Savior” from “Silent Night” or a Christmas tree from school grounds.

What turns brave men into moral cowards?  Atheism is not to blame.  The philosophy that has been the most successful in hiding the Light of Christmas is the philosophy of Clark W. Griswold.  The reason why there is a war on Christmas and that atheists are winning is because the vast majority of the rest of the country believes just like Clark Griswold, that Christmas means something different to everyone.

The War on Christmas isn’t so much a War on Christmas as much as it is a war on Christ.  There is a war on a specific meaning of Christmas.

You see, kids, if we can define our own meaning of the Star of Christmas, we don’t have to worry about the consequences of sin.  We get to choose our own morality.  We can define our “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

So, capitulating to the noisy atheists at Christmas is easier and more desirable than to stand for the Light.  By doing so, many have dealt falsely with God, as Winthrop warned against.

People love darkness rather than Light.  We, as a nation, have no moral clarity because too many of us are thinking in the dark.  Our moral cowardice as a nation is showing in areas like our acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” in our fondness for sexual promiscuity, in our idolatry of sports, sex and alcohol, in our divorce rate.

The light is going out in our churches because we have rejected the Light of Christmas.  As the light goes out in our churches because of moral cowardice in their members, our nation’s lampstand will be removed.  No one has the power to extinguish the Light, but there is One who can remove it.

The philosophy of Griswold is wrong. The ultimate meaning of Christmas must mean the same thing to everyone.  That Light is the only source for our liberty.  If we don’t recognize the true meaning of Christmas, the Light will go out of our nation and we will lose our City on a Hill.