An atheist reviews “Do You Believe?”

doyoubelieve.com
doyoubelieve.com

Creators of the Christian films “Christmas with a Capital C” and “God’s Not Dead” [see my review of GND here] have released a new film titled “Do You Believe?” – a movie following the lives of twelve main characters  who are challenged to act on Christian beliefs.

The movie, though, is largely void of challenging philosophical discussion about whether belief in God is justified or what a moral life should look like, but rather contains appeals to emotion, a high amount of preaching, significant plot holes, and unbelievable characters. Rather than focusing on providing a summary of the movie and critiquing the story (which has been performed well elsewhere), I will investigate several themes within the movie.

Movie trailer:

Serious medical neglect and criminal behavior

Characters engage in severe acts of neglect throughout the movie. Following a major car accident involving multiple vehicles, not one character bothers to call 9-1-1. A pregnant woman fails to seek prenatal care and individuals temporarily caring for her fail to take her to a hospital (only taking her to an ultrasound clinic which seemingly provided no medical care)…but the film producers made sure to take a dig at Planned Parenthood which ironically provides prenatal care.

A criminal fleeing arrest enters into a church when it is obvious that he is running from police. A character advises him to attend the present sermon, but fails to call police. When the criminal enters the pews, cops briefly enter the church, but the pastor does not stop the service, the man attending to the criminal says nothing, and police oddly just leave the church without asking questions.

On what seems to be the next day, the criminal amazingly retrieves a large gym bag filled with a sizable amount of cash he had stolen as was running with while fleeing arrest (how police or someone else did not take the money is unknown to me) and gives it to the church’s pastor in a moment of redemption. The pastor does not ask where the money is from or how the money was obtained, but simply leaves it on the floor of his office. No police are notified.

Christians are seemingly portrayed as being above secular systems of law and ethical duties to seek medical attention. Criminals, though, ought to be brought to justice rather than being harbored within a church. Pastors shouldn’t take large sums of money in gym bags and should instead notify police about suspected stolen goods. Prayer is not an acceptable substitute for medical care.

Watch a scene involving the criminal being harbored within a church:

Professionals acting unprofessional – imposing their values upon their clients

At one point in the movie, an EMT tends to an immobilized and dying man who appears to have been injured on the job (at least someone finally called for medical attention although it wasn’t one of the main characters…). The Christian EMT preaches to the dying man and hands him a cross while the dying man’s wife is held back by someone who tells her not to enter the scene. The man dies and soon after the woman files a complaint about the unprofessional proselytizing.

A character then takes a dig at the woman — noting she is a member of the American Humanist Association whose motto is Good Without God — and the Christian EMT defends his actions stating that what he did was right because his duties as a Christian are more important than his role as a medical professional. He says he will not apologize for ‘sharing Jesus with a dying man.’

In another scene, the Christian man is oddly approached by a prosecuting attorney — seemingly a non-religious woman — who says she will ‘hang’ him and ‘take him for everything he owns.’ Perhaps the movie creators are casting the Christian man as someone doing the right thing, yet being persecuted for his beliefs by the legal system and a worker’s union who fails to defend the man. However, medical professionals are bound by codes of ethics to not impose their religious values upon clients…so this persecution narrative is absurd.

See the scene with the attorney below:

Non-believers are heartless individuals

Dr. Farell, a non-religious medical doctor who states that he doesn’t believe in miracles, is portrayed as a mean person in virtually every scene of the movie – ridiculing people for praying at a restaurant, walking away from a hospitalized suicidal woman and not referring her to a psychologist, complaining that he doesn’t get enough credit for saving people’s lives, deriding a homeless man for not seeking shelter by calling his decision to sleep outside a “camping adventure,” and walking away from a mourning woman following the death of the homeless man. Non-religious gang members ridicule belief in God, hold people at gunpoint, and kill others.

The previously mentioned attorney heaps scorn upon the man being sued. It seems to be the case that every non-religious person portrayed in “Do You Believe” [and the previous movie “God’s Not Dead”] is a nasty individual. However, most non-religious people are good without god and Christians do not have a monopoly on morality.

Hilariously, actor Sean Astin who plays Dr. Farell (see video below) says that his atheist character is “authentic” and not “depicted as someone worthy of scorn”

God’s mysterious plan might not be understood, but it’s for the better

A theme throughout the movie is that there are no coincidences – ‘things happen for a reason’ under God’s plan. However, God’s supposed plan in this movie is filled with devastation including death while giving childbirth, cancer, a massive car accident, death in the workplace, PTSD, suicide attempts, and deadly food allergies. Christians, especially those in the movie, try to reconcile the suffering the world — both natural and that caused by human action — with a larger unknown purpose that God has for humanity, but these attempts dramatically fail.

An all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing being can achieve its intentions through a plan which doesn’t include such egregious suffering. God could, rather than uniting twelve individuals in a massive car accident which ultimately is responsible for a pregnant woman not arriving at a hospital, unite people in different circumstances. That ‘for all we know’ what appears to be bad is actually for the better [in the long-run] is a poor response to significant challenges directed at the nature of the Christian god.

You can’t explain it, therefore God – the appeal to ignorance

Toward the end of the movie, a man who appeared to have died in a hospital suddenly feels healthy despite serious medical conditions previously displayed in the movie and a low chance of survival. A nurse automatically assumes that God performed a miracle and asks the non-religious doctor for an explanation of what happened. The doctor explains that he doesn’t yet have an explanation and the nurse decides to ‘want to give everything to Jesus’ – suddenly becoming fervently religious.

Lack of an explanation is no good reason to assume that a miracle or a supernatural force is a good explanation. Throughout history, humans offered supernatural explanations for disease, natural disaster, mental illness, and so much more, but as knowledge about the universe increased, sufficient naturalistic explanations emerged and ‘the God of the Gaps’ became smaller and smaller. Just because we don’t currently have an explanation for a certain phenomena does not mean that there may never be a naturalistic explanation.

Religion preys on people in their weakest moments and conversions are not of an intellectual nature

Several characters in the movie become religious not because good arguments for religious belief are presented, but rather because people are in extremely difficult times (dying, incarcerated, running from police amidst a life of crime, homeless, etc.) facing proselyting from characters in the movie. It is difficult to determine whether such sudden, emotionally-laden circumstances produce genuine, thoughtful belief and whether converting individuals who become religious under different circumstances…especially when individuals are adamantly non-religious and suddenly convert despite their previous objections. Perhaps the movie creators are presenting a trope of redemption and suggesting that peoples’ lives are better because of religious belief. However, absent a more genuine conversion while not under duress, this type of belief is really lackluster.

Watch a ‘deathbed conversion’ from the movie:

“Do You Believe” will likely not only disappoint atheists, but will also disappoint thoughtful Christians who object to the caricatures of both religious and non-religious individuals within the movie. The preaching and lack of intellectual rigor leaves me quite unsatisfied – hoping for more serious discussion about religious belief and challenging themes. The box office, at least in regards to this film and other movies from the producers of this movie, is sadly not the place for it.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.