God is Dead, and the Newsboys Have Killed Him

Some time ago, I was a budding Christian evangelical apologist. Still in high school, I thought it was my Christian duty to argue against all the atheists who were threatening the faithful. I took to the Internet and started having conversations with people about subjects relevant to my then-evangelical beliefs: evolution vs. Creation, geology vs. the Flood, pro-life vs. pro-choice, etc.

NewsboysGodsNotDead

For all intents and purposes, I could have easily been Josh Wheaton, main character of God’s Not Dead. But something happened when I started talking to others about my beliefs: I actually listened, and that has made all the difference.

One by one, as I discussed theological matters with people online and among my friends, the mainstays of evangelicalism began to crumble in my mind. Some beliefs lasted longer than others, but as I conversed with other people, heard their reasoning, listened to their stories, and critiqued or incorporated their ideas, I realized that maybe things weren’t quite as I was told. Maybe there was something more beyond the boundaries of what I was told I should believe.

Some of my beliefs would go untested for several years into my tumultuous college experience. I originally majored in computer science, and so my classes really didn’t challenge my faith. Having changed my mind on evolution at this point, I thought I was already free from the intellectual chains of evangelicalism, but I was so very wrong. It took the heartbreak of a shattered engagement and my mistreatment at the hands of a church to “awaken me from my dogmatic slumber,” so to speak. My ex-fiancee and my church at that time rejected me primarily because I desired truth over conformity. It hurt like hell to have my desire for truth rob me of everything I valued, but it was a wake up call to decide what I truly valued, and I discovered that I valued truth above all. I therefore dedicated myself to its pursuit.

At that point, I realized everything I had believed was fundamentally broken. The logical consequences of the evangelical beliefs I still held, where everything hinged on converting the unbeliever, were exactly what happened to me: evangelicals cast out all persons dangerous to the integrity of the tribe and who might lead people away from conversion to the so-called “right” beliefs. Dissent is allowed only so long as you are an evangelism project, but once you begin to tell others about your views and to persuade them to your side, you start to erode the authority of “God”, and that can’t happen.

Leaving that behind, I ventured off to study religion to figure out my place in the world. After a long series of events, I realized theology at my institution offered more of the same, so I studied philosophy, instead. That has been the springboard for me into so many new ways of thinking that I hardly recognize the person I was even just four years ago.

So when I see a movie like God’s Not Dead, and I see the fear it has of atheists, liberals, Muslims, and the like, I can’t help but think something is wrong. I know what it is like to dedicate one’s life to seeking the truth, and this isn’t it; it is the opposite. This movie actually hides from the truth! Why doesn’t the movie actually engage with the atheists, liberals, and people of other religions which it depicts? Instead, it chooses to attack straw men and forge a counterfeit victory at the end in order to pretend it has done something of substance. This movie is terrified of real discussion, or else the movie would put such discussion on display.

So what is there to fear? Why can’t a movie about a philosophy professor quote even more than one philosopher? The only philosopher it does quote — Nietzsche, from whom the movie gets its title — is taken entirely out of context:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Yes, Nietzsche was an atheist, but his point here is much more subtle than simply to say that there is no God. The madman tells his audience that although many in Nietzsche’s time did not necessarily ascribe to belief in God, no one had even begun to parse the implications of the “death of God” for humanity and ethics. The madman is calling for humanity to seek out a new direction before it finds itself entirely lost, drifting aimlessly for lack of purpose.

But even if there is a God, the God of God’s Not Dead is dead in the way in which the madman intends, and the stench of this God’s death lays heavy like a fog over the evangelical culture which spawned this movie. The movie’s title only places a layer of irony atop the corpse of this dead God. That is, God is no longer necessary for the evangelicals who buy into the message of this movie. The word “God” remains as an element of language, but God as any sort of meaningful concept is almost entirely gone. The word “God” here means simply “my tribe” and all the euphoric feelings of belonging to a group.

Josh Wheaton only needs for there to be more people like him, and this need has blinded him from the reality of the people whom he wishes to convert. What horrendous self-absorption! What egoism! Are we to believe that the only thing everyone needs is to accept evangelical beliefs and to stick to a narrowly-define way of life? “God” is alive in this culture only as a word and nothing more. Thus, Josh’s adversaries are bad caricatures of reality, because his adversaries need problems that Josh can fix with evangelicalism, regardless of whether or not any such people exist outside the silver screen.

I understand the mindset. I was there. I remember telling my friend once that it was nice but ultimately pointless for her to go into the medical field if she didn’t help save the souls of her patients. I remember the warnings about Christian liberals — “cafeteria Christians” who picked and chose their beliefs, seemingly by their own preferences as far as I knew. I remember the apologetic coaching sessions about evolution and atheism and everything that was supposedly so bad about the world outside the Christian bubble. I even remember singing a song in children’s choir about how terrible evolution was supposed to be. For a long time, I bought into the whole thing. I thought everyone had a Jesus-shaped hole in their hearts and really just needed to convert.

But I listened. All the atheists out there, the Christian progressives, the liberals, the LGBT community, and so forth — I listened to them, and it turned out that life outside my little bubble was not at all like what I was told. The narrative inside the bubble was a cleverly-constructed lie hidden even from the liars. The death of God was invisible even to those who by their very actions had murdered God when they exchanged infinite passion for tribalism and conformity.

If there is a God, and I believe there is, He is not the corpse on display in the movie. The death of God in evangelicalism is immanent, yet it is as distant to them as the stars. The evangelicals who champion the message of this movie need to do a harsh reexamination of their values and ask themselves whether assimilation into Christianity really is the highest good. Maybe then will their blinders lift which keep them from seeing the truth which is right in front of them: the truth in the words of the atheists, liberals, Muslims, and all the rest of the people whom they inadvertently demonize and devalue through their hyper-focus on evangelism. Perhaps then will they realize that, despite our differences, we are all of us — atheists as much as Christians — engaged in the process of figuring out how to share a life here on this planet, and our common humanity unites us much more than our beliefs divide us.

We do not need the dead god which this movie offers. If we need a god at all, then it is a god who embraces all people as they are and leads us to pursue what is true and good in the world, not a god whose demands hide us from one another and set us apart.

Thus, contrary to the Newsboys’ message to spread the word that “God’s not dead,” spread this message: “God is dead. God remains dead. And the Newsboys (along with so many others) have killed him.”

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About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
This entry was posted in Christian Culture Issues, Metaphysics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to God is Dead, and the Newsboys Have Killed Him

  1. Gede Prama says:

    Thank you, great inspiring blog, i’m so looking forward to start reading and discovering what you write on here.. 🙂

  2. Morgan Guyton says:

    I really appreciated this one. I like it when you show your heart in your writing. Sometimes I get lost in the philosophy when it gets too esoteric but this was both accessible and strongly argued. Thanks.

    • Funny story, Morgan: this was version 2 of the post. The original probably would have suffered from the same problems you mention. The post has received so much positive feedback that I can tell I really need to try to turn more of my philosophical ideas into something of a narrative.

  3. Lana says:

    Great post. I find that most atheists and most Christians do not know the context of the Nietzsche quote.

  4. Chris Crawford says:

    Nice article. To be honest, I have some mixed feelings about the movie (based on what I’ve read, I haven’t seen it). While it seems to pander to fear of non-Christians, at the same time it subtly validates the idea of an old earth/theistic evolutionist viewpoint as a credible Christian belief.
    Much of the fear of atheism among Christians is in the arena of science, and much of that has to do with evolutionary ideas. The film may promote some kinds of fear, but my hope is it will slightly undermine the basis behind the fear. Or maybe I’m just naive.

    • I don’t know. Evangelicals of this sort are always moving the goalpost, so to speak. Perhaps I am unnecessarily cynical, but I am not quite as optimistic *except* in that I think that, as the evangelical narrative departs further and further from the truth, it will be harder for them to maintain their control.

  5. humanistfox says:

    Today, I purchased a ticket for Captain America and walked straight into God’s Not Dead. (My conscience wouldn’t allow me to put my money into the hands of the producers of this film.)

    Now that I’ve seen the movie, I just want to say that I really appreciate reviews like this. Even though I spent twenty years of my life as a Christian, and it was precisely my study of Christian philosophy and history that led me out of faith, when I criticize movies like this, I’m immediately dismissed out of hand because of my non-belief. As I was told most recently, we atheists “cannot see the light of the gospel” per 2 Corinthians 4:4. As a result, I’m forced to defer to Christian blogs like this one.

    When you say “our common humanity unites us much more than our beliefs divide us,” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t care whether or not you believe in a god–it’s what you do with that belief that matters. Unfortunately, it’s precisely movies like God’s Not Dead that facilitate the division that prevents progress.

    • I share your pain in having people weaponize the Bible against you. I have had the verses about philosophy and “man’s wisdom” thrown in my face more than once. After a while, it still hurts, but you do learn to ignore such comments and just keep plugging away.

  6. schroera says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. As a Christian, I understand your frustration with the stereotypes and strawmen portrayed in the movie. That being said, both Christians and atheists tend to do that in their polemics (if you have a chance, watch Bill Maher’s “Religulous”). I also agree that many oversimplify Nietzsche’s statement. His point was that secularized Europe had lost its need for the crutch of God. Now what were they going to do? They were wandering aimlessly because they had abandoned God with nothing to fill he void. But make no qualms about it, Nietzsche was still an atheist and a nihilist (kind of).
    What I found interesting in your article is that, though you mention your frustrations with Christians, you never refer to the Bible or what it says. Because they are sinners, we shouldn’t judge Christianity by Christians, but rather by Christ. The Bible says what it says. You can take it or leave it. I can’t force anyone to believe it. But I found it odd that in a discussion about Christianity and atheism you quoted Nietzsche in depth and never referred to anything the Bible says about this topic.
    That being said, thank you for a thought provoking article. I also wrote an article based on the movie in my blog. If you have a chance, check it out. I’d be curious to know what you think. Thanks!
    http://364daysofthanksgiving.com/god-dead/

    • I didn’t quote the Bible because the ways this movie fails are in its treatment of things other than the Bible — Nietzsche, philosophy, religion, and other cultures/lifestyles. The Bible isn’t a handbook for living, nor is it a lens for seeing the world.

      That said, I do reference things about Christianity which I have explored in more detail elsewhere. I’m a big proponent of religious inclusivism, and I rewrote the parable of the good Samaritan to reflect its original message translated into today’s issues.

  7. Rachelle says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you. I am a christian, and I believe in God. I have fought multiple times with my atheist friends. God’s Not Dead! And i refuse to say he is. I don’t believe anyone killed him. And one quick question. If god is dead, how did the Newsboys and people like me kill him in the first place?

    • I am a Christian, and I think God is alive, too. Did you read the portion explaining what Nietzsche meant when he said that “God is dead”? It’s not about God actually dying; it’s about God no longer being necessary to a society. My point is that God is not necessary for the culture of the Newsboys. Sorry if this is rude, but did you read the article and not just the title?

      • Rachelle says:

        Yes i did read the article, but I’m in school, so i had to kinda rush read it. I guess I must have missed that part. and I believe God IS necessary to the society. People should know about him, but I’m not going to force it down others throats. I just think, if we make a point about it, people will acknowledge he lives and may even give their lives to God.

  8. John Cochran says:

    You can not find God through intellect. From what I read of your article you never had a true born again experience with God.You must understand that mans spirit is dead because of sin .The whole purpose of Jesus coming to Earth as a man was so that he could be the sacrifice for the sin of the whole world.The good news is that there is no need to try to be good enough to gain a place in Heaven, which is impossible to do .All you have to do is have faith in the completed work of the cross and make Jesus the Lord of your life and you will have the peace that passes understanding.The good news is that no one will spend eternity in hell for sin.The only way you will end up there is for rejecting the forgiveness that in Jesus, If you want more information go to Amazon and get my books Regener8 and Exhiler8


    Exhiler8 (Transform8ion)


    Regener8 (Transform8ion)

    • I like how Jesus is a marketing tool for your books. I have no interest in the false Christianity I left behind.

      • shon says:

        Although foolish his intentions did not seem poor. I can see that the one rating on one of his books is yours. This strikes me as a rather malicous action to take to someone who seemed to mean well to you. Am I to understand that this is the Christianity you’ve taken up in favor of the false Christianity you left behind?

      • I only give partial credit for motivations. It’s incredibly insulting and arrogant to have someone tell you you’ve never had a “real” experience with Jesus. It’s even more arrogant when they are so blind to their insult that they think they are being generous.

      • Furthermore, I stand behind the review. The contents of the book he wrote are pop-Christianity tripe, and I would recommend people steer as fast clear of it as possible.

      • shon says:

        So you did read the book then before writing the review? If you have I owe you an apology, as I got the wrong the impression from your review on the site.

      • I read a portion of the book to verify that it was what I thought it was. I did not just dismiss the book without reading it at all.

      • shon says:

        I retract my statements and apologize for them.

      • Hey, no problem. I didn’t make it clear.

      • shon says:

        On another note though I think you should have given him the explanation you gave me about his post. the one you gave him does not explain why you find his post offensive.

      • Good point. I was thinking about writing something on the subject. I do owe him at least that.

        For anyone reading this other than shon, I had a discussion about this comment on my Facebook page.

  9. I love the Robert Frost allusion. Yes indeed – listening makes all the difference.

    • Rachelle says:

      I think its the right thing to listen, but the other person has to listen too. I will listen to their argument about how there is no God, but that way I can think of what to say. If your gonna talk to them, you have to be sure they are listening. Otherwise, you are wasting your breath.

      • I would suggest that listening only to think of how to respond is not really listening, and is usually perceived that way by your conversation partner. I am not suggesting that I expect to be convinced that there is no God, but I think it is important to look for what I can learn in any conversation. It is more genuine and more productive that way.

  10. Rachelle says:

    So, Chris, I have a question. On Shon’s comment, you said you left behind the “False Christianity.” What is your definition of “False Christianity?” Mine is people who claim to be Christians, and go to church, but don’t pray at home, don’t act like Christians, but instead go to church so God can see them there. They aren’t Christians. People are going to die and say that they know Jesus, but Jesus is going to look back and say, “I don’t know you.” “False Christians” are Christians who know they sin, and after they sin, ask for forgiveness, then do the same sin over and over and don’t repent. There is no such thing as “False Christianity,” but there are Fake Christians.

    • Rachelle says:

      Also, I don’t fear liberals, Athiest, or anything among that.

      • Rachelle says:

        And also, your comment on how your a Christian, goes against EVERYTHING your article says. You call yourself a Christian, but then you post a blog about how he’s dead. But fighting with you isn’t going to do much good, right? So instead, I shall pray for you. I hope God speaks to you, and shows you the right way. There is someone out there who loves you, and it’s God, and Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for you, to forgive you of all your sins. We can’t repay him, not even close. But we can try. We need to spread the message around that god is not dead. In fact, I hope they allow classes to pray together in school, and we CAN talk about God in school without it being a crime. I think more people need to hear, listen, and know who God is, what he has done for us, because all other religions have gaps. So does Christianity, yes I know it does. It was pointed out in God’s Not Dead, but people who are Athiest have HUGE gaps from one thing to another. Things just don’t add up for other religions. I shall continue to pray.

      • I don’t think you understand my post. I don’t literally think that God is dead. My point was to demonstrate what the phrase “God is dead” means in its original context and to illustrate that what Nietzsche meant could just as well apply to the Newsboys’ concept of God as displayed in the movie.

    • So I usually try to avoid saying things like “false Christianity,” so I count that as something of a misstep on my part. I try to focus on specific behaviors rather than pronouncing some kind of judgment like that.

      What I meant when I said that is that there is a large group of Christians who have been so blinded by their commitments to their beliefs that they are unable to treat others with love. I believe we should condemn that sort of behavior, but I apologize for calling them “false Christians.” I will leave that for God to decide.

      What you mention, though, is another problem, but I would be hesitant to judge them too harshly. One of the main “sins” which I used to see and which would constitute in my mind what you call a “fake Christian” is sexual activity before or outside of marriage. While I don’t condone adultery, I have in fact grown increasingly sex-positive over the years, and I would have a hard time judging someone if they took responsibility for their choices and only took part in acts that involved mutual enthusiastic consent.

      I might not think that certain behaviors are necessarily wise, but far be it from me to add to someone’s suffering by condemning them. It is difficult for me to accuse people of being “Fake Christians” in that way.

      • Rachelle says:

        Everyone sins, and i don’t mean to judge, but my human nature we do. I don’t believe in having sex until your married. And yes, I will leave it up to God and Jesus to judge. That’s why I try not too.

      • Rachelle says:

        I understand your post. Your saying that God is dead because so many people use the word God. That God is not really dead, but God is dead.

      • That’s really not the point of the post. The way people use “God” tends to mean nothing more than “my tribe”. That is a dead God.

      • Rachelle says:

        Yes. I get that. I still don’t agree with that. Newboys says’ “My God’s not dead” Not some tribe.

  11. Pingback: A Brief Logic of Love | The Discerning Christian

  12. Reblogged this on james clayton brown and commented:
    My own thoughts.

  13. Chris Thomas says:

    Really enjoyed this and your responses to the commenters. Remain humble and entreatable, for that is the wisdom of God, so rarely on display in popular evangelical culture.

    My own, perhaps tangentially related, thoughts on the idea of the death of God is that the iron clad, popular theology of most evangelicals does not require a living God. Charles Hodge famously proclaimed that under his watch as head of Princeton Theological Seminary no new ideas had been introduced, or at least accepted!, in however many decades that transpired.
    Modern, evangelical Christianity has codified what they call Christianity to the extent that no one needs a living relationship with a living, personal God, despite lip service to a “personal relationship with Jesus.” In actual fact of the matter, such is quite discouraged in any real or personal/subjective way. To illustrate the point, I recently heard a popular preacher retell a story of Abraham, only to pause and make the point that we no longer need to have such conversations with God, because we have the Bible! Yet, I am quite certain I have heard this same man speak of making decisions that made no sense, but it was God’s will and direction for His life. Not sure which passage of scripture led him to that conclusion!

  14. Kay says:

    Mr. Attaway,
    I do understand your frustration with “fake Christians”, and I agree that it is not our right to judge the intentions of what is in other Christians’ hearts. However, just like secular movies, Christian movies always have a happy ending, and everything turns out 100% perfect. It is probably more obvious in Christian movies, because throughout the movie the plot does not keep the audience guessing what will happen next If only I could have such an awesome scripted life! Also as I’ve aged, I realize I will become jaded by watching the behaviors of other Christians. I try to keep my eyes on God, and study (not just read) scripture; the emphasis is on try.

  15. John says:

    I just came across this article. Your journey parallels my own. I will definitely be reading more of your work. You should do a blog on “God’s Not Dead 2” if you haven’t already.

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