I recently watched the movie “Do You Believe?”, the most recent release from the Christian film company Pure Flix. The movie follows a dozen people whom are struggling with different life challenges: homelessness, terminal illness, PSTD, neglect, depression, loss, etc. A number of the characters are Christians.
“Do You Believe?” is solidly in the inspirational category for this reason: the movie depicts most of the characters going through some heart-wrenching circumstances (it tugs on one’s sympathetic emotions). *Spoiler alert* Then at the end, one of the characters resurrects, warm music plays, and most of the stories have happy endings including the non-believers becoming Christians themselves. The message is clear, simply trust in Jesus, do the right thing, and God will fix everything within about two hours.
One problem I have with this point of view is that I feel it reduces God and Jesus to merely personal life fixers and comforters for the believer. I think God is up to something bigger than merely this. I believe in miracles—even resurrection. But in most cases, the big miracles seem to happen as a witness to a group of non-believers. I don’t understand all this completely. I believe God loves us, his children. But even so, it doesn’t seem like he often miraculously, quickly fixes the challenges in our lives just because we are upset and pray. I don’t know why, but cliche answers seem to be too simple. I don’t like inspirational theology in part because it doesn’t seem to match up with reality in my mind.
A subsequent problem with inspirational theology is that I think it has the very real potential to lead to bad ends. As I stated, it doesn’t seem to match up with reality in my experience. How many people do you think are going to resurrect soon after dying from a terminal illness just because their loved ones are praying? (I fear some people might hope for this after seeing this movie.) And what if they don’t come back to life? What questions will go through the loved ones’ minds? It seems to me that “inspirational theology” almost requires God to come through. If he doesn’t, does it mean a person didn’t have enough faith? Or maybe God isn’t real after all? Or perhaps God is just mad at them for some reason? You may disagree with these possibilities, but they aren’t uncommon beliefs for religious people to hold. This point of view also tends to not allow or be comfortable with Christians going through challenges in life, at least not for more than a brief period of time.
There was another thing I noticed about “Do You Believe”. It’s subtle, but I’ve listened to enough people that I recognized it nonetheless. For the most part, the strong leaders in the movie were all white men. The two main black characters were criminals (even though one is also portrayed as a hero of sorts). And in general, women were weaker in their faith and/or in need of help. There was a homeless single mom helped by two different white men and a pregnant runaway teen also helped primarily by a white man. True, the man’s wife helped too, but only after after initially resisting the initiative taken by her husband. Two other wives in the movie were also following behind their husbands. Come to think of it, the strongest female character in the movie was an anti-Christian lawyer.
All this was fairly subtle… at least to me as a white man. It may well not be so subtle to non-whites and women (at least those who haven’t been in this culture their entire lives). I won’t get into a debate about how stereotypes don’t come from nowhere verses how many people do not fit the stereotypes. But I will say that “Do You Believe?” definitely reinforces these stereotypes. Though again fairly subtle, I’m afraid that it may also support the storyline of white men as the saviors. It certainly portrays the conservative dream of men as strong providers and protectors.
Being a Martyr
Finally, there is one more storyline portrayed in the movie which I have some issue with. It is the idea that American Christians are being persecuted by the world for their faith. One of the male characters in the movie is an EMT. He witnesses to a dying man. When the man’s wife discovers this, she files a law suit.
While what the character in this movie did wasn’t terribly offensive, I bring this up because it represents a common point of view. It seems to me that some conservative Christians think that since God is real, telling someone about God or what they believe the Bible says is always the right thing to do. They may, for instance, make a statement or take a stand in a manner which isn’t respectful. I many cases I don’t believe they are trying to be disrespectful, they are simply blinded by their religious beliefs. However, when a person on the receiving end is upset and offended due to the disrespect—which communicates an absence of love—the Christian believes they are being persecuted for their faith.
I see “Do You Believe?” as reinforcing the storyline of the good Christian being a hero who is attacked by the Godless liberals for their faith. There are certainly people out there who are anti-Christian. However much of this and the other criticisms of Christianity come from people who have correctly recognized careless actions taken by people who claim to be Christians. What I want is to remove the blinders; let’s be honest about our mistakes and not pervert them such that we think we’re being brave heroes when in fact we’re actually being jerks. We can’t let our good desire for what is right and true to overwhelm the command to love. (Nor let us confuse what love is.) Non-Christians shouldn’t have a better grasp of common courtesy and respect than Christians do.
In conclusion, “Do You Believe?” is an inspirational movie which reflects a conservative evangelical paradigm. As such, conservative evangelicals who like inspirational movies will probably enjoy the film. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else though.