Wednesday, April 07, 2010
As For Film: Inherit the Wind
I received a lousy education when it came to science. I can't remember anything my teachers taught me in high school, and then I went to the Moody Bible Institute for college (where science isn't much of a priority). So I am constantly talking to my wife about evolution, biology and animals. She's the manager of Education Programs at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and so we often discuss scientific matters. It's usually quite one-sided. I ask a question, and she offers answers.
"What's the difference between evolutionary adaptation and environmental adaptation?"
"If earth first formed as mostly molten rock, where did all of the watery ocean come from?"
"Are all evolutions due to genetic mutations, or are some of them intentional by a given species?"
Who knows why I didn't get the answers for these questions in high school, but I have a feeling it might have had something to do with Christianity. My entire family believed in Creationism, and taught me to believe in it as well. There's a good chance that my high school teachers taught me all of this science stuff, but my instructed presuppositions insisted I not believe whatever imposing "fact" they presented. Now, I hold nothing against my family. They believe what they believe, and I can catch up intellectually in due time. But others are not so lucky. Some remain in the snares of ignorance for as long as they live. Generations beget generations that continue to believe their fathers' nonsense.
Christianity has quite a knack for perpetuating ignorance. The whole fight between evolution and creationism is one of the most embarrassing debates of all time. It's cosmic food fight with apples and oranges. One side argues for "all spiritual" while the other argues "all physical." And there is no compromise (intelligent design doesn't count, of course. It's a philosophical idea, not a science or faith).
But most depressing is the length of time this stupid fight has gone on for. In 1960, Stanley Kramer made a movie about this stupid fight: Inherit the Wind. 50 years ago, can you believe it? But actually, the movie was parabolic of McCarthyism, by way of an actual trial that took place in 1925 (85 years ago!). The Scopes "Monkey" Trial convicted a Tennessee school teacher of breaking a local law: not teaching Bible-centric science in the classroom. With this trial came all sorts of press and national attention, for the media viewed it as a "science vs. religion" showdown in the American justice system.
The film highlights all of the insanities of the fundamentalist creationist wack-jobs, with ugly housewives picketing against "scientism" in the streets like the great-grandmothers of the tea party movement, and pompous preachers calling hellfire down upon those who believe in evolution. Mobs march and shout "he's a sinner!" or "we'll ride him out on a rail!" in reference to those who are not Christians, of course.
The mob sings a song that goes, "Give me that old time religion, it's good enough for me... It was good for old Jonah, and it's good enough for me." If you know the story of Jonah, maybe you can sense the irony of this lyric. Jonah was so afraid of change, that he tried to hitch a ride to another part of the country. When God came and told him to tell the people of Nineveh to repent, Jonah said to himself, "I don't want them to change. I want them to remain as they are." Even when progress is imminent, the "old time religion of Jonah" tries like hell to keep things stagnant.
The residents of this town of southern morons don't need to hear anything different from what they've always thought. They're happy as they are, so happy that they'll scream and yell and picket to defend their habitual way of life. They do and say the same thing over and over and over, until they don't even know why anymore. All they know is that this is what they've lived by, so why wouldn't they?
I would like all of my family members to see this movie, because it is one that forces the viewer to think. Those on one side or another will be riled up either by lines about a literal 7-day creation week, or the necessity of giving up faith for the sake of progress. Ideas are pitted against beliefs, personified through a prosecutor and defendant, played theatrically by Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. The film insists viewers ask themselves, "What is right?", "What is truth?" and "What's the difference?"
"It is one of the peculiar imbecilities of our time, when we place a grid of morality upon human behavior--so that the action of every man must be measured against an arbitrary latitude of right and a longitude of wrong, in exact minutes, degrees and seconds" Henry Drummond tells a bewildered jury. He spoke of problems of right vs. wrong in a trial about teaching evolution in school. If a law deems evolution wrong, but objective science deems evolution truth, who wins? Right, or truth? Truth, or right? The result is a fight no one can win. Both are losers. Pain and strife are the only outcome in such a battle. Those who fight for truth are frustrated to tears by the mass of public ignorance, while the believers are personally devastated by the direct attacks on their faith.
"Religion is supposed to comfort people, not frighten them to death!" yells Bertram Cates, the man accused of the crime.
What a thing to shout. The Christians are so scared of opening their minds that it may kill them. For them, Hell is the result of not adhering to every aspect of the Bible. But Inherit the Wind argues against this. The film was fueled by the insanity of McCarthyism, something that came somewhere in between the creationism vs evolution argument, but through the same notion: the intimidative powers of authority (be they spiritual or political) prevent free thinking of individuals. Even worse, it makes "free thinking" out to be sinful, to the point that partakers do not even want to be free. For these Christians want their power in numbers. They don't want to decide things for themselves. They want to be a wolf pack.
"GODLINESS NOT GORILLAS!"
"ATHEISTS, GO BACK TO YOUR APES!"
"I LOVE THE LORD!"
The same ridiculous signs are still being scribbled today. Visit any tea party demonstration and it's clear to see how a generation can beget a generation. People don't want change. They want to be right. I was "right" through my high school science education, but (due to close-mindedness) I never took away any truth. It's not until after my youth has passed that my mind has been so gloriously corrupted. But let's try to pay attention to the next generation, because "corrupting the youth" is all too often an indication of progress. Or perhaps it's more suitable to say, evolution.