At Camels With Hammers, Dan Fincke offers what I think is a powerful critique of the movie God Is Not Dead, pointing out that, in the way that it approaches faith, it winds up working against its own interests and makes the Christians look worse than the atheists that it's intending to characature and mock:
The image of Christians being people who descend on the weak, the sick, the dying, to spiritually manipulate them on their deathbeds is extremely offensive to many non-Christians. The Christians who routinely spread lies about deathbed conversions because they don’t care about the consciences of non-believers. They care about whatever propaganda tool they can get. They care about claiming souls. They care about dominating you however you can. All the pretenses about concern for your free will aside, they want to capture your soul. The idea that someone in their dying moments needs to be harangued by people to change their religion is sick. It’s this sort of comprehensive Christian mindset that makes them so invasive, which makes them prowl hospitals trying to convert vulnerable people. It’s this exploitation of weakness–this exploitation of anything they can figure out to wring a conversion out of someone that is so fanatical and disgusting. I get it, they really think eternal souls are at stake. That’s why spreading the false beliefs of Christianity is harmful. Because people can act ghoulishly, manipulatively, and disrespectfully from a sincere concern for others’ souls.
And of course, he's right -- to portray Christians acting in this way is goulish, and it ought to be offensive to non-Christians. But of course, I think it ought to be offensive to Christians to be portrayed as acting in this way as well. I have worked in chaplaincy, and I've known other Christians who do it and have done it. I know many pastors and ministers, and to a person, I know that their primary motivation in dealing with people on their death bed is not to make them utter some magical incantation, but to comfort them in the moment of their death. For some, that may indeed involve praying, but not for all. And the job of the pastor ought to be to convey the presence and love of God to those with whom they come into contact, not to get them to repeat a formula out of the fear of eternal damnation. All of which is to say, I agree with Dan's critique as far as it goes.
But I also note in reading Dan's blog something that has grown familiar to me, namely that what both Dan and the producers of God Is Not Dead seem to think constitutes faith is something that is frankly unrecognizable to me. That is simply not what I think of when I think of faith. What I seem to be witnessing is an internal conversation among evangelicals (in Dan's case, a former evangelical) about the problems of a particular species of evangelical Christianity. But it doesn't look in the slightest to me like what Christian faith is or ought to be. Here's how Dan describes his experience of Christian faith from before his "deconversion":
What I was ultimately yearning for was some way to not just believe in Jesus and in all the beliefs involved in being a Christian only in some abstract way but as truly and fully as I believed more practical things. I was already living by my faith in a whole number of ways–it dictated my ethics, my (lack of) sex life, my choice of school, my course of study, my social circles, my commitment to prayer, to Christian fellowship, to spending my summers evangelizing as a camp counselor, etc., etc. Everything you could do to live Christianly and seek Jesus I was game for.
But no matter how much I truly believed and lived by faith, inevitably I could grasp that much of what we believed that was not graspable from the sensible world was still abstract and elusive. Sure, I could have intense spiritual experiences worshipping and feel God’s presence that way. Or when I would intimate experience community with my brothers and sisters in Christ, the oxytocin would be flowing through my brain and I would feel the love of Christ coursing through me, and us collectively. And I would look around and find signs of God’s hand in my life everywhere and feel spontaneous gratitude to God for all his blessings.
For Dan, a lot of this is rooted in a very rationalist conception of what constitutes faith, namely a correspondance of belief to evidence. Dan subscribes to the perspective that the only justified beliefs are those for which we have sufficient evidence (of the rationalist kind), and argues that religious faith lacks sufficient evidence to justify belief. And, on his own terms, he's no doubt right. But these are not the only terms according to which faith can be understood. There are actually a great many rational beliefs for which one may not have the kind of evidence that would constitute sufficient proof to warrant belief on Dan's description (e.g., that Piccasso's Guernica is his greatest work of art, that my friends really like me and aren't just pretending, or that other human beings are actual people rather than simply robots or automatons).
The ultimate problem is that Dan and his evangelical opponants agree about what faith is, but disagree about whether or not religion warrants it. I, on the other hand, disagree with both of them, while at the same time insisting that there are many rational ideas, including religious ones, that are justified while not being provable. Ultimately, I'm more inclined toward a definition akin to Paul Tillich's in Dynamics of Faith, in which he understands faith, not in terms of belief and evidence, but in terms of concern. Faith is Ultimate Concern, and the object of faith is that with which we are ultimately concern. Another way of saying it is that faith is ultimately about trust rather than evidence. We may choose to trust even in the absence of what might constitute sufficient evidence, in the recognition that our trust is always in some sense provisional and may be disappointed (as in Basil Mitchell's parable of the stranger).
Dan, and many other atheist philosophers, work from the presumption that religous belief is irrational becuase it depends on that kind of trust, but I would argue that this is because they've got an impoverished sense of what falls within the realm of the rationally defensible (as I noted, and as I think Alvin Plantinga did a good job of demonstrating, we have no better evidence of the existence of other minds than we do of the existence of God, yet it is not irrational to believe in other minds).
As I think Mikael Stenmark argues in his book Rationality in Science, Religion, and Everyday Life, there are different modes of rationality that we employ in different contexts. The mistake that evientialist philosophers like Dan and others make is assuming that the only genuinely rational standards are those employed by science. In applying those standards to the rest of life, they severely and mistakenly limit the realm of rationally justifiable statements.