Come on, you didn’t think I was going to leave it at that, did you? God and books are two of the most important things in my life. There is so much more to say.
Let’s think about how we look at other people, and how that makes them look at us. Fair warning: this is going to be a common theme in any post tagged “church stuff.” I’m not here for this crap about how we’re better than everyone else because we know God. We all suck, guys. That’s kind of the point.
Sometimes, sometimes in a story by, for, and about Christians, there will be a character who is both non-Christian and non-Awful. It’s pretty rare.
A lot of the time, the non-Christian is a bad guy of ridiculous proportions. Think Sauron. Think Voldemort. Except they’re just chilling in the middle of some perfectly ordinary contemporary realism. To fully illustrate this point, we’re going to expand our definition of Christian fiction to include other forms of media, not just literature. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the movie God’s Not Dead. (Fair Warning #2: I have Strong Feelings about this movie, and it will come up again.)
I watched it with my family, because it’s the kind of thing that people like my family watch, without any high expectations, because it’s the kind of thing that people like me hate. But guys, it surpassed all of my expectations, because it wasn’t just mediocre acting, writing, and production like I expected. Among other things, it featured the Atheist Bad Guy.
ABG is a big problem. It’s the problem that this whole post is about. In the movie, it’s an evil professor who demands that all of his students renounce God. Now, this is a story that’s been circulating in my community for years and years, long before it was a crappy movie, so maybe it’s based on true events or something. I don’t know. I don’t care enough to research it. What I do know is that the movie’s interpretation of the story is ridiculous. We’ve got our evil professor, our Voldemort, our ABG, who spends a movie totally neglecting to actually teach his students anything in favor of getting into a pissing contest with a teenage boy. Dude. It’s a freshman course. Probably Gen. Ed. The dude is not going to be nearly this invested in things, and he’s going to be smart enough to know his students aren’t, either.
In my experience, professors don’t expect you to rearrange your personal life and belief systems in order to be allowed in class (hello, it costs something like $70/class session, you are certainly not getting my entire worldview in addition to that cold hard cash). They also don’t cast aside their lesson plans in favor of fighting with students. They don’t mock their students for coming to conclusions they disagree with.
Side note: if your professors do this, they suck and should probably be fired.
The ABG occurs in a lot of Christian fiction. It’s a random dude whose life goal is, for some reason, to strip you of your beliefs, moral code, place of worship, whatever. The ABG is cartoonishly evil, performed with complete sincerity.
If you’re producing and consuming media in which the only non-Christian characters are absurdly villainous and out to get you solely because you love God, what does that tell real-life non-Christians about how you see them?
Let’s jump to the end of book. The Atheist Bad Guy—any non-Christian character, really—faces one of two outcomes. Death or conversion. Now let’s talk about what that says about how you see non-Christians.
Ideally, your ABG sees the error of his ways and is introduced, by your patient kindness in the face of persecution, to the Truth. Guys, this isn't ancient Rome, okay? If you’re going to set your stories in the contemporary US, try to maintain an element of realism—the vast majority of people are not out to get you. We could stand to be a little more prosecuted; it might be a sign that we were standing up for what actually mattered, instead of getting caught up in dumb political crap.
Anyway, back to the ABG, who probably isn't persecuting you in real life. He sees the light. He finds God. Whatever. You’re not stupid. You know the drill.
The other option is that he dies renouncing God.
(There’s a third option where he accepts the Lord on his deathbed, but I am not about to get dragged into a rant about the sickening laziness of that writing.)
Understand that what you’re saying, when you buy into this narrative, is that people who don’t convert on your timetable don’t deserve to be alive. Understand that what you’re saying when you buy into this narrative is that every human who does not find God is utterly worthless.
No. God loves all of us. And if you’re actively driving people away from Him by perpetuating the idea that he doesn’t, whether you do that by crashing funerals or waving hateful signs or writing books about the ABG, you are disgusting. Sorry; I’ve been sitting on a lot of righteous anger for a long time, here, and I’m done pulling punches. You sicken me.
Let’s try a more realistic, and incidentally more accessible, alternative. Someone isn't a Christian. Hey, maybe someone hates you and thinks you’re stupid because you are. Maybe the professor makes that challenge, and gives you some class time to build a defense. You present your argument, and he says no, not good enough, you didn’t consider this aspect. But maybe he also says, hey, that’s cool, I didn’t consider that aspect. No one stops believing what they believe, but your professor ends the story more open-minded than he started it. You’ve earned his respect by fighting for what you believe in, and he’s earned yours by listening to your arguments instead of attacking you.
The bad guy isn't bad. A lot of bad guys are, I know. But you’re not writing about Hitler, you’re writing about some random atheist, and you’re writing him like Hitler. He isn't bad, he just doesn’t agree with you. He doesn’t see things the way you do. Maybe he will someday. Maybe he won’t. But either way, you can make him an interesting, dynamic, three-dimensional character who adds something to your story other than unrealistic levels of tension.