An analysis Not an april fools joke: By S.A.Kehr
I have become aware that a sequel to the awful movie “God’s not dead” is being released today. I want to briefly talk about this as it touches on some things I consider deeply important. As most of you who know me personally know I am an atheist but that’s not what I want to talk about. Many of you will also realise that april fools day is a terrible day to release any movie, also not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is firstly the portrayal of philosophy in popular culture.
We as a society have lost touch with the value that philosophy brings to our lives. We engage it every day through value theory about what we should or should not do, want, make and be. we engage it through our appreciation of beauty be it in art, literature, music, or even the world around us. We engage it in the attempt to understand ourselves and each other and live meaningful lives whatever you may believe that looks like. You might ask “So if we are already fully integrating philosophy into our lives what’s the problem?” Answer: We’re doing it badly! the goal of philosophy at large is not to change your beliefs but to help you have the clearest picture of them you can. For each of us we must at some point decide how our lives are to be lived and it is only by having the best tools at our disposal when evaluating those choices that we can have the most effective solutions. If we fail to take seriously our understanding of these matters then how can we hope to make better decisions in the future or even know what it is we truly want. This misunderstanding is embedded in the title of this movie and for that reason I would like to share the unpacking of it with you.
The titular phrase “God’s not dead” is a paraphrasing rebuttal of one of my favorite philosophers, Nietzsche, who famously said “god is dead” but what is meant by this is not well understood. Nietzsche was indeed an atheist and from this we can know that he did not mean “There was something like a person that was called god and it has ceased to live”. Nietzsche also was well aware that plenty of people were still devout believers and so we can surmise that he did not mean “no one believes in god anymore”. Instead what he is saying is that for an ever growing population of middle to upper class europeans specifically those involved in the burgeoning sciences and their rejection of supernaturalism, at this time in history the notion of god was essentially meaningless and that even if some still payed lip service to the idea of a supreme being it was less a force in their daily lives as it was a black box to hold the mysteries we didn’t yet have better answers for. The god Nietzsche is referring too is the all too real presence to which humans chalked up events they could not understand like why the sun rises or the winters were cold and as we begin to understand more fully the interconnectedness of the natural world and the processes that lie beneath it we no longer needed that mysterious supernatural force to make sense of the chaos. Nietzsche is commenting on the state of mankind’s understanding not declaring a purge of the religious. While it would be disingenuous for me to say Nietzsche didn’t care whether or not you believe it’s also incorrect to think that this declaration is his argument against it. Nietzsche cared most that we each be honest about what we wanted to see in this world and work toward that goal unfettered by the manipulations and machinations of those who would mislead us for their own gain. This was his main charge against religion, A charge he leveled as well at the emerging science of his day! Nietzsche wasn’t a propagandist for atheism but instead a radical believer in self determination. For him the worst outcome would be to let someone else tell you what to think or believe and to that end pronouncing the death of god was pronouncing the birth of ourselves as masters of our fate.
To bring us back around let’s consider the fundamental problem that brought us here in the first place. The role of philosophy is to help us understand the world we live in and are a part of. Those who study philosophy are well equipped to tackle the questions that provide us with a path to a fulfilling life because they have learned to parse information and understand its meaning. It is not an attempt to change your opinions or beliefs unless they are built on shaky foundations. Philosophy does not care WHAT you believe but that you believe it for the right reasons. Philosophy cares that you aren’t mislead or convinced by bad arguments and it contains no inherent bias against any given position. As such treating Philosophy as your enemy is telling of the practices you are engaged in because what philosophy IS the enemy of is Propaganda. While I have not seen this only now released sequel It’s forbearer is just that and tips its hand from the very start by misleading the viewer about the content its title is a supposed rebuttal to.
As I said at the start I am an atheist and as such wasn’t likely to be a fan of this movie but I am always open to the possibility of being wrong. I would love to be confronted by an argument that challenged my views on the existence of the divine or supernatural. What I will not suffer quietly is the abuse of the practice I have dedicated my life to or the subversion of its principals to hide the odious hand of propaganda. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is above all things honest. Sometimes that honesty is painful, at others it is a relief, but to pervert it for the sake of “winning” is to weave the rope that will hang us all. We live in a time where our divisions are made painfully clear and the vitreal between us has consumed much of our potential. Let us not squander what remains but instead learn to face painful truth with the optimism and hope of a better life to come from the hardship we now endure.
I won’t presume to tell you you should or shouldn’t see this movie but if you decide you will at least view it with the critical eye philosophy has instilled in us and share that with those who haven’t had the chance to develop it themselves, not as an enemy but as a friend, because it is up to each of us to be the ambassadors of reason. If we can not follow that old adage to “disagree without being disagreeable” then what hope is there to pass on this valant practice to those who need it most. I would leave you with one more slightly vague Nietzsche quote to ponder in that spirit of generous debate:
“What I know by the term Philosopher is a powerful explosive in the presence of which all things are in danger”