I’ll start this post with an apology: my extensive and in-depth research for this post has revealed that when I used to watch the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I must have been in my early 20s, and not, as I remembered it, a teenager. Which is, I have to admit, pretty sad considering that it was a programme aimed at teenage girls, not twenty-something men. In my defence, the three lead characters were all played by attractive blonde actresses…no, wait, that actually makes me sound even worse. Oh, well.
Anyway, the point is, I have some affectionate memories of the show, so I was pleased to see an interview with Melissa Joan Hart, who played Sabrina, in the paper today, still in work, ageing well (a lot better than me, at any rate), and promoting a film called God’s Not Dead 2. And that’s the problem, for me. Because God’s Not Dead 2 (“He’s back! And this time it’s personal!”) is one of those films I don’t need to see to know I don’t want to see it. Just reading a summary of the plot is enough to tell me that this is going to be a really silly movie.
That plot centres on a Christian teacher in a US school, specifically in Arkansas, who makes the horrific blunder of quoting the Bible in a history lesson when mentioning the parallels between Jesus’ teachings and those of Martin Luther King. I would have thought this was pretty indisputable, him being a clergyman, but the US being the hotbed of hatred for Christianity that it is, and Arkansas being infamously Godless, this leads to a bunch of atheist bullies from a civil liberties group (God hates human rights, you know) getting her dragged into court.
Incidentally, I can’t find a review that explains why the teacher being sued personally, rather than the school (because if she isn’t, why is this all such a huge personal nightmare?). Even if there’s a sensible explanation for that in the film, I can confidently predict that there won’t be one for why American atheists are suddenly all- powerful persecutors and not a band of ineffectual nerds who like being unbearably smug about their rationality on message boards. Basically, if you live in Wonderland and can actually believe six impossible things before breakfast, this sounds like it might just be the movie for you. It simply doesn’t take place in the real world. They might as well have set it in Gotham City and had Batman rescue Melissa Hart at the climax.
As there are some limits to how sad I am, I’m not going to declare that “Now Sabrina is ruined for ever!” and burn my (non-existent) DVD box-set. To judge by the interview I read, Melissa Hart does appear to have been genuinely motivated by her religious beliefs in taking this role. I’m glad she’s trying to be a witness for Christianity in her work, but films like this are not a good way to achieve this. No one who isn’t already a believer is going to be convinced by something that has to distort reality so badly in order to succeed in its argument.
Generally, I’m suspicious of any cultural phenomenon that ostentatiously attaches “Christian” to something – Christian rock, Christian movies, Christian novels, Christian politics. This is mostly because it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the “Christian” part is essentially a marketing tool to sell something that is otherwise bad to a demographic that’s inclined to be supportive of anything with the label attached. Without the brand, most Christian rock groups would be scorned as mediocre (or, at least, be more scorned as mediocre). If they weren’t “men of God”, Moral Majority-style political figures would be mocked as ageing reactionary bigots (OK, more mocked as ageing reactionary bigots).
“Christian” is something you are, not something you consume. It isn’t a qualifier. And if you actually want to bear witness to your faith, try actually living up to it. It’s unbelievably difficult – in fact, it’s ultimately impossible. But if you get anywhere at all with it, you’ll probably impress the unbelieving a lot more than by making bad films about how wrong they are.