CGB Review of Arrival (2016)

Why are they here?
Well, I won’t give away the answer, but I am here to tell you that one of the best films of 2016 has arrived!

This is my review of Arrival!

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Freaky alien ships have arrived–no pun intended–on Earth with each pod landing in twelve different countries, including the US of A.  Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who has been selected by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to lead a team of investigators and “interview” the alien species.  Given that language is her passion, Louise is determined to understand their speech patterns in order to get them to understand human language and context.  Diplomacy becomes a tricky road as China and other global superpowers threaten to take action against these beings they do not understand.  Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who by all calculations (again, no pun intended), has his sights set on the fair-minded linguist, must race against the clock to prevent World War III with the aliens.

Guys and gals, I saw this film yesterday and I am still thinking about it.  I have told my classmates, co-workers and my family to go see this intelligent, mind-bending film and I am here to convince you to go see it, as well!

The Hits
The story is expertly crafted from beginning to end.  It is neither overly-complicated nor insultingly dumbed-down; it provides plenty of symbolism and clues, but it also allows you to do the thinking for yourself.  I love how this film is not about lasers or explosions, but keeps its attention set on the very realistic scenarios of international negotiations and relations between worldly (and in this case, otherworldly) powers.  Granted, this movie certainly isn’t going to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about international politics, but in terms of getting an idea of how it works, this movie serves as a good analogy.  The musical score is the best I’ve heard since the Imitation Game soundtrack and the very first shot of the alien pod ship is rightfully deserving of all the praise as a great achievement in cinematography that it has received.
Amy Adams has come a long way from her start as Princess Giselle from Enchanted.  Adams is mesmerizing as Louise.  Her vulnerable performance brings to life a logical and independent-minded woman who is seeking to understand without guile.  Characters who are essentially pure of heart can be hard to write, but Adams provides Louise with a grounded humanity to balance out the character’s cut-above nature.
Much like Miracles from Heaven, the characters in this film actually act like human beings.  Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber and the other military members are in a difficult situation and their reactions are made understandable to the audience.  This isn’t the “progressive-linguist-fighting-against-big-bad-rigid-establishment” kind of story; all the players involved are presented in a humanistic manner, doing what they know to do in a muddy waters of negotiations with global leaders and inter terrestrials.
Going back to the masterful storytelling, Arrival is a sci-fi psychodrama, being both plot-driven and character-driven.  The sci-fi elements are interwoven with the engaging character study of Louise and her own immersion into the aliens’ language.
One more thing: I’ve only seeing three of Denis Villeneuve films (Prisoners, Sicario and now Arrival) and I am so happy to say that this one is the easiest to watch!  I say that because Prisoners left me reeling for a week and Sicario did not help me get to sleep after I saw it.

The Misses
I’m honestly at a loss in terms of any glaring misses, but I guess if you are looking for lightsaber duels and galactic explosions, just wait until Rogue One comes out or watch the first Independence Day (NOT the crummy sequel that came out and bombed in the middle of this year).  Between this, Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve is an artsy-thinkpiece kind of filmmaker.  Look elsewhere for mindless entertainment, my lovely friends.

Very rarely has a film actually had me thinking about time, language, space and how our world works.  Arrival made me really ponder time and language, and how they are linked. Time is a pattern of day and night, while language is a pattern of communication, the structure of words.  As I drove home, I began to think about how God set these things to work in order so that all things can move smoothly forward.  All things must occur in a patterned order to prevent catastrophe.  Dare I say, in the strangest way, Arrival has increased my appreciation for God as the author of life, the linguist, the mathematician, the painter, the architect, the Creator of all things that are and are to come. While the movie itself doesn’t outright mention God, it would not be far-fetched to say that His hand was present within the pages of the screenplay.
When a movie can challenge you to stop and think about the world around you, that is the mark of a great film.
That was my experience with Arrival; it may not end up being yours, but see this wonderfully-acted, well-written film for yourself.  You just might get something out of it.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

CGB Review of Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

“Everyone has a conscience and must follow it.”
–Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

This is my review of Hacksaw Ridge!

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Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of my new favorite American hero, Desmond Doss, a medic during World War II who, influenced by his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, refused to use and even touch a gun, instead choosing to save as many wounded soldiers as he could.  He would later go on to become the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Hits
Andrew Garfield–wow, man–I have grossly underestimated you.  With a thoughtful performance, Garfield portrays Desmond Doss as, essentially, a real-life Captain America; brave but vulnerable, noble and flawed, and grounded in his convictions.  I’d also like to add that this is a balanced portrayal of a Christian character.  Often times, a mistake that is typically made in Pure Flix films (both the God’s Not Dead flicks and, to an extent, Do You Believe?) is a Christian character is all good simply because they wear the Christian label.  Hacksaw Ridge allows Desmond to be a three-dimensional human being who is a pacifist and a devout Christian.  I really appreciate that this movie doesn’t have him convert anybody because let’s be honest: That’s just not how life works, especially in our cynical, secular society.  Desmond doesn’t convert anyone to his way of thinking, but he does rightfully earn the respect and admiration of his peers simply for staying true to who he is.
Also, kudos to Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington, both of whom actually deliver pretty darn good performances, especially Vaughn, who I’ve only seen in crummy comedies.  Hugo Weaving does a great job too, but then again, of course he would.  I have yet to see a subpar performance from him.
This movie handles subtlety masterfully.  Elements of Desmond’s past are revealed through quick but well-placed flashbacks that are intercut with present day.  There is one particular flashback that explains his no-guns philosophy, but it’s not shoved down your throat; it only shows up three times and it makes everything come full circle once Desmond himself explains it to another character.
In an election year where many people had to wrestle with their conscience at the voting booth, Desmond Doss is living proof that you can obey your conscience and remain loyal to it through thick and thin.  Is it incredibly difficult to do so?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  No.  Desmond Doss is a witness to standing your ground and not being shaken when the storm comes.

The Misses
Okay, there’s one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: There’s a scene in the climax where Desmond actually KICKS a grenade away from a fellow soldier.  Yeah…that’s stretching it a bit thin, don’t you think?  Look, I already know he’s a hero; you don’t need to have him roundhouse-kick a grenade to further prove that.
Admittedly, parts of the story are cliché.  There is a “rogue little guy versus big bad establishment” undertone of the film, but that’s to be expected given the nature of the story.  They try to make a villain out of Luke Bracey’s character Smitty Riker, but from his very first scene you already know what his character arch is going to be; he doesn’t like Desmond, then he really doesn’t like Desmond.  Desmond saves Smitty, Smitty is (emotionally) disarmed and the two become friends.  That’s not a spoiler, by the way; it’s just really predictable.

Guys and gals, I really hope that Hacksaw Ridge gets nominated for something, anything, because this is a powerful movie.  This is one of the few movies where I found myself admiring the main character.  What we have is the portrait of a hero who focused his energy on saving lives, even if it meant getting Hell from his superiors for his stance.  With a respectful performance from Andrew Garfield, excellent direction from Mel Gibson and an emphasis on standing your ground even if it means standing alone, Hacksaw Ridge shows us what a hero looks like.

Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.

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Rest in Peace and thank you for your service, Desmond Doss (1919-2006)

Bind: An Election Editorial

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It’s funny what a strange dream can lead to.

Last night I had a dream that I was standing in a pitch black room.  The only light came from two glowing red lines, one in front of me and the other behind me.  Faint white smoke plumed from the red line in front of me, indicating its heat.  Out of the darkness, someone approached me from behind and began to chuckle in my ear.
I woke up trembling to my alarm.

The minute I logged on to Facebook, I was hit with posts about Trump and Hilary; the Clinton campaign emails about Catholics being backwards, Trump’s disgusting words about women and so on.
Not a day goes by without the election being on my mind.  November 8th once felt like a far-off event, but now it’s drawing nearer, getting closer each day like a hungry spider slowly crawling to its cocooned prey.
While I waited in the drive thru on my lunch break, I found myself pondering the dream.  As I replayed it in my head, a strange thought crept in: “You have no choice, my dear.  You must choose.”

I silently murmured to myself, “And what if I don’t choose?”
At that moment, I had a mental image of the red lines turning into ropes and a trapdoor that had been under my feet the whole time opening.
I snapped out of it when I heard, “Welcome to Jack-n-the-Box!  May I take your order?” With a shaky voice, I ordered my food.

Just like the frightening dream, our country is locked airtight in the devil’s bind; we currently have two disordered candidates with their personal character being questionable at best and repulsive at worst.  The way I see it, this political bind was years in the making and our nation fell headfirst into this trap long ago.

I’m probably going to sound like a Republican old man living in a red state when I say this, but truth is still truth no matter who is telling it.  Out of my way, Donald, this Independent female blogger from bluest of blue California is about to tell it like it is.
We have kicked God out of America; out of our schools, out of our media, even out of our homes.  We have rejected the values our Lord holds dear.  Our nation allows unborn babies to be slaughtered for any reason, continues to redefine marriage and mocks morality.  You know something is wrong with a country where a rapist can serve only six months in the county jail for violating an unconscious woman.

Mother Teresa once said, “Find your own Calcutta.”  No need for me to look far, Mama T, because I’m living in it.  We may not have people literally dying on the side of the road, but we are a nation of homeless people, splintered families and abandoned veterans.  America may be rich in resources, but we are poor in principles.  We are a prosperous but hopeless land, thinking we can make it on our own and without the God who bestowed upon us our freedoms in the first place.

Of course the devil would take advantage of this.  He has done so little by little, convincing us to remove God from the public square in small doses.  What started as snowball removals, such as attempting to take God off the dollar bill and then successfully removing Him out of our schools, has avalanched to where we have became a nation under God in name only.  People are more divided than ever before.  We no longer see each other as children of God, but rather as enemies if we disagree with one another.
How else do you think two people whose personal values are not rooted in Christ have been able to run for the highest office in the land?

So here we are, trapped in a ditch of our own making, being forced to choose between two candidates nobody wants to elect.  We have come to a crossroads regarding what we want our nation to be and we have no idea where to go from here.  Can our divided culture be healed?  Can the damage that has been done be reversed?  Can this damning bind be undone?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I really wish I could tell you that all will be well, but everything depends on individual Americans, and based on the way things are now, I don’t think a revolution of compassion is on the horizon any time soon.

What I do know is that society will change once we change our hearts.  We as a nation must open our hearts in order to change them.  Jesus is a savior, but He is also a gentleman and will never force Himself on any person or any country.  If we are not willing to turn to Him, then He will let us hit rock bottom if that is what it takes to open our eyes.

I say this a lot on the Catholic Girl Bloggin’ FB page and I’ll say it here: The best thing you can do is just strive to be a better person in your every day life.  Instead of getting into a shouting match with a friend over a political issue, stop and try to remember how much you value their friendship and then try to find common ground with them.  Hold open doors, call a family member and tell them you love them, smile at a passing stranger, help someone carry their things, find volunteer work or a charity event to participate in.  The list of ways you can exercise kindness is endless.

I know, this seems like a cop out, but it actually isn’t when you really think about it. Kindness means going outward instead of turning inward, which is something many Americans have done.  Once you look beyond yourself and see the struggles of others, you begin to wonder what you can do to serve them.  It was selfishness and pride that got our country in this mess, so maybe humility and mercy can be the stepping stones towards a new tomorrow.  You won’t fix this country in a day, but you can change the outlook of one person’s day and maybe, just maybe, that person will go on to help another and a gradual chain reaction will begin.

Any time you are a positive force in your family, at your job, within your neighborhood or wherever you are, you are doing the will of God.  It is written in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the dark torrential sea of political discord, you have the opportunity to be the calm island where weary travelers seek refuge.  America is in a big mess, but you have the power to have an impact in your own humble way.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”
–Saint Francis of Assisi

“Modern prophets say that our economics have failed us.  No!  It is not our economics which have failed; it is man who has failed-man who has forgotten God.  Hence no manner of economic or political readjustment can possibly save our civilization; we can be saved only by a renovation of the inner man, only by a purging of our hearts and souls; for only by seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Justice will all these other things be added unto us.”
–Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Our Lady Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

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Frightening Hour, Glorious Day

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Brock Turner has been released.

I’m sure you already know who he is, but just for the sake of emphasis, Brock Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who raped an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster.  Today he has been allowed back out into the world for “good behavior.”

We live in a broken world.  The fact that we live in a society where if a woman reports that she has been raped she faces the possibility of having her personal history questioned, her motivations suspected and her attacker not held fully accountable, is just one of the many injustices that illustrate the broken nature of our times.

As sickening as it is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when evil wins every now and then. The devil knows how to ensure that his dirty work is done without anyone batting an eye until it is too late to put a stop to it.  It doesn’t help that our culture gets outraged over social injustices for a few weeks only to forget about it as everyone returns to their daily routine.  Evil has its hour when good people raise their voices and do nothing.

Just behind my laptop is a framed picture of Mother Teresa.  I glanced up at it as I was typing this, but after a while I closed my laptop and just stared at it for a few minutes.  My eyes focused on her tender gaze and folded hands, her humble posture and deep compassion pooled in her eyes.
That is when it hit me.

Mother Teresa will be canonized this Sunday.

When Brock Turner saw a woman passed out behind a dumpster, he took advantage of her.
When Mother Teresa saw a dying person on the side of the road, she took them to shelter.
Brock Turner spent twenty minutes violating the dignity of another human being.
Mother Teresa spent every minute upholding the dignity of the poor and forgotten.
Brock Turner used another for his own gratification.
Mother Teresa served others for the glory of God.

Mother Teresa’s courageous humilty is the antithesis of Brock Turner’s cowardly selfishness.  The devil may jump for joy at the release of a rapist, but he burns with rage at Heaven’s rejoicing for the canonization of a heroic woman.

In the end, justice will prevail, but in a very different way.

Brock Turner has been disgraced in the eyes of the public, while Heaven and Earth honor Mother Teresa’s self-sacrificial life.

Brock Turner is free from prison bars, but wherever he goes, people will look at him and know.  In the same way that Cain was cursed to walk on earth as a fugitive and vagabond, Brock Turner will wear his crime like a scarlet letter.
Mother Teresa suffered the spiritual darkness of feeling abandoned by God, but she now walks among the angels and the saints in the Heavenly court.   Surrendering herself to God’s plan, dedicating herself to the service of the poor and destitute, all she did was give, and in the end she received the Crown of Life.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us and for the conversion of Brock Turner.

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“Christ says: I know you through and through – I know everything about you.  The very hairs of your head I have numbered.  Nothing in your life is unimportant to me, I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings.  I know every one of your problems. I know your need and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity my Father gave you by creating you in his own image.”
―Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Societal Cycle of Alertness and Slumber

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It’s funny how a simple conversation on Facebook can lead to an article with an admittedly strange title.
One of my friends in the Pro-Life movement is Albany Rose.  You may know her, but in case you don’t, Albany is one of the leading faces of the growing pro-life atheist crowd in the movement.  You can check out her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyRosePostAbortiveProLifeSpeaker/
It was on the day of the horrific shooting in Orlando that Albany and I were having a conversation on Facebook about the plethora of problems in the world.  At one point, Albany made a point about how people are all up in arms about a crisis, but take no action for social change and instead go back to their daily routines within a week.
What she said (or typed in this case) really got me thinking.  As I lay in bed that night, I began to ask myself, “Why is it that people’s focus on a major tragedy only lasts for a few days?”
It is as if our society has settled into a strange, almost dreamlike cycle.
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We go about our typical routines, bloated schedules and scattered priorities, only taking a brief glance at the current events unfolding around us as we float down the rushing river of daily demands.  We may be physically awake, but we exist in a state of mental sleepwalking, our lives moving forward in a quiet, comfortable march to somewhere.
It is only when disaster strikes that we are jolted awake.
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Only then are we catapulted into action.  In one immediate burst, we launch into solidarity mode where everyone bands together to express shock and concern.  Vigils are set, signs are made and hashtags fill cyberspace.  For a time, we are all united.
Nothing bad lasts forever, but neither does something good.
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Unity turns to tension as private opinions about the tragedy and its victims are made known.  Prayers dissolve to bickering and heated arguments drown out heartfelt speeches.  Comforting words are sucked into the bleak vortex of shouting matches.

Then once the dust has settled, we return to slumber.dreams

I truly wonder what it would take.  What would the next disaster have to be to break the cycle?  What would need to happen in order to shake up the culture to its core and force heroic men and women to rise above complacency and bring about lasting change?

What would force us to stay awake for just a while longer?
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Presidential Candidates Won’t Save You

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a megalomaniacal rant about how I can’t stomach any of the candidates.  This post would be longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace if I did that.
As I watch the debates (yes, both the GOP and the Dem debates), read articles online and listen in on conversations about the candidates among my family and friends, there is a theme that strikes me.  Mr. Trump continuously promises to “Make America great again,” while Mr. Sanders swears to hold big corporations responsible.  Miss Clinton vows to uphold the rights of women and other minority groups, while Mr. Cruz pledges to protect religious liberty.
What do these four people have in common?  They promise to be a savior in some capacity.

Even in our secular society, the concept of a savior still appeals and rings true for many people.  While the savior complex has always been prevalent in past presidential elections, the idea of electing a man (or woman) who can “save our country” from the path we are currently on is especially strong during this presidential season.  If you talk to a supporter of Mr. Trump, Miss Clinton, Mr. Cruz or Mr. Sanders, there is definitely a sense that they truly believe in their candidate’s ability to save our land.

During this past Lenten season, I found myself really pondering Jesus’ sacrificial offering and its meaning.  By His death and resurrection, He redeemed humanity and paved a way for us to obtain Heaven.  Our Risen King stripped the prince of darkness of his hold over mankind and gave us a lifeboat.
The idea that a single presidential candidate can bring about salvation of any kind does in fact benefit someone; a particular entity whose goal it is to keep our attention off of the True Savior.
I truly believe that Satan uses political rhetoric to his advantage, to take people’s eyes off the state of their own souls and keep them distracted with the state of the political climate.

I am in no way telling you to not vote.  I am not trying to discourage you from participating in the political process.  What I am saying is that a politician can only impose legislation, not salvation.  A president can improve the economy, but not shield us from Hellfire.  Presidents come and go, but Jesus is the One who stands between us and the deception of the evil one.

Stand by a candidate if you wish, but keep your eyes to Jesus always.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) with My Friend Mickey Kelly

God is most certainly not dead…but His patience with these movies, I’m not too sure about.

This is the second CGB collaboration review of God’s Not Dead 2!

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Grace Wesley is a kind and optimistic high school teacher who finds herself in hot water after answering a student’s question about Jesus.  With a nonbelieving defense attorney as her ally, Grace’s case ends up being one that could remove God from the public square once and for all.
Right after my Batman v. Superman collaboration review with Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo, my good friend Mickey Kelly asked me if I wanted to do another collab with him.  We picked this movie as the subject for our collab.
Now I actually liked the first God’s Not Dead.  Is it flawed?  Absolutely.  However, given that it was a compelling rivalry story about a Christian student and his atheist professor, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it.  Mickey’s points are in blue while mine are in pink.
So let’s see how the sequel holds up!

CGB Hits
In the first movie, Professor Radisson was the character who interested me the most.  In this movie, I found Brooke Thawley to be the person I wished the story was about.  Though her evolution from grieving sister to committed believer is a tad rushed, I did find her to be the most sympathetic character. 
I did like the idea of an agnostic attorney defending the Christian protagonist.  I saw the potential for an interfaith friendship to bloom between the two characters, or at the very least have them come to respect each other despite not sharing the same belief system.
I am glad that Amy Ryan, the atheist blogger from the first movie is back as a new believer.   I like her arch as a Christian convert who is questioning her faith after she learns that she is in remission.  This subplot on its own could have made for an interesting story.
One of the biggest strengths that the makers of the God’s Not Dead series is that their subplots could make for their own stand-alone films.   I would like to see a film about Martin, the Chinese convert to Christianity or liberal-blogger-turned-believer Amy.  I remember the first film featured Ayisha, a Muslim girl who is a closeted Christian; why can’t we get a movie about her?!

Mickey’s Hits
Grace Wesley was a resilient character who held on to her faith and hope, which is nicely conveyed by Melissa Joan Hart’s genuine performance.
Tom Enler and Grace Wesley developed well in the movie.  While Enler tells Grace that he is a non-believer, Enler sees this case to the end to help Grace win an impossible court case. He goes from an inexperienced lawyer to someone that figured out Kane’s methods and outsmarting a heavy weapon for the ACLU.  I appreciated that at least one nonbelieving character was portrayed in a positive light for the most part.
The writers made an interesting transition from the classroom to the courtroom which is happening in today’s world.  Grace Wesley, with the help of her students, aging grandfather and Enler, perseveres despite some crushing setbacks during the trial.

Mickey’s Misses
Some questions about the end result of Martin and his father are in limbo.  Will they seek each other’s forgiveness or will they never cross paths again?  The film fails to develop the relationship between Martin and his father.  Also, Martin’s dialogue makes him feel less like a character and more like an agenda pawn.
Like in the first film, I felt that the writers did too much to tell a story involving so many
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It seems that the writers neglected to develop Kane’s assistant, who had little to do in the movie but watch Kane get defeated by Enler.
The movie will appeal to some, but not all those looking to watch a good Christian movies due to an off-putting tone with some painful moments in the film such as Grace’s struggle to see the trial through. 

CGB Misses
Many members of my family work for the justice system, so I am what I call a “courthouse baby.”  Hence, this courthouse baby found that Grace’s trial was riddled with unrealistic moments that would never fly in a real-life trial.  How Tom Enler handles his final arguments before the jury deliberates had me shaking my head.
Any time you write a story that tackles a social issue, you do need to write with some emotional restraint.  Otherwise, if you harbor resentment towards those who do not share your views, it will show in the story.  In this movie’s case, it is clear that the filmmakers hold some animosity towards atheists.  The end result is that vilification of atheists is a major issue in this movie.  Whereas the first movie made the atheistic Professor Radisson a three-dimensional person who undergoes an intriguing evolution, this second film has made every single atheist character as unlikable and abrasive as possible.   Brooke’s non-believing parents are heartless towards her grief over her brother.  The ACLU lawyer Pete Kane is the overacting foaming-at-the-mouth atheist.  The people who oppose Grace are unreasonable protestors who ridicule the Christian supporters.
I don’t know if the filmmakers have had bad experiences with atheist men and women, but I would like to take the time to say that I have plenty of atheist friends and they have always been kind to me and understanding of my beliefs. 

Here is the thing with the God’s Not Dead series: There are good messages to be found in  both of the films: Stand with God and not the world, be committed to your convictions and if God brings you to it, He will get you through it.  So while the messages on their own are not wrong, the presentation of these messages is where the wrong begins.  You’re not going to convert people by portraying every single Christian character as a saintly hero and every atheist as a rabid jerk.  Christian persecution is real, but here in America, no one is being stoned in the public square for reading a Bible.
God is not dead and He calls us to present His word in a reasonable and compassionate fashion.

Saint Gabriel Possenti, pray for us.