A few days ago, our friend Roger and I were chatting, and he happened to mention an old movie that I saw way back in the day, Inherit the Wind (1960). I could remember very little of it, so I went to Wikipedia to be reminded of the story … oh yeah … it was based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, formally The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, in 1925 in small-town Tennessee. I decided to watch the movie again, having forgotten most of it in the 50 years or so since I first saw it. I’m glad I did, and I highly recommend it.
This movie has some of the best acting of all time. Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Dick York (of Bewitched fame), and Harry Morgan (of Dragnet and M*A*S*H fame) outdid themselves in this one. But it wasn’t only the acting. It was the film itself, the message, that cost me a couple of nights’ sleep. It was seeing, or rather being reminded, of the cruelty of the human race, of man’s closed minds when it comes to views that do not match his own.
It is Spencer Tracy’s final words in the movie that provoke thought. Speaking of his antagonist, Matthew Harrison Brady (Frederic March), as he speaks to newspaperman E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) he begins …
“A giant once lived in that body, but Matt Brady got lost because he looked for God too high up and too far away.”
And with those few words, I was reminded of the evangelical movement here in the U.S. today. Is it possible that a person can believe in God or Allah or Buddha without adhering to a religion? What, after all, does religion do? It provides rites and rituals that manipulate people, that dictate what they must believe and how they must act. And it expands … it attempts to mold all people into its set of values. If a religion proclaims that homosexuality is wrong, then LGBTQ people must be either converted or exorcised from society. If a religion teaches that white people have a higher value than all others, then Blacks, Hispanics, Middle Easterners … well, more than half of the world’s population must be set apart, given lesser roles in society. If a religion teaches that women are lesser creatures than men, then women must be subjected to being ruled, told what to do and how to act, by men.
Religion, from what I’ve seen, promotes exclusion and hatred … hatred toward those who are considered to be somehow ‘different’, whether by the colour of their skin, their gender, or simply the fact that they don’t buy into the story of the world being created in just six days.
A personal story … when I was married, I lived in a small town in Virginia and my best friend was the wife of my husband’s cousin. As our friendship progressed and we learned more about each other, she invited me to join their church. As a non-believer and anti-religionist, I politely declined … no criticism, just a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Well, when she told her husband Danny, my husband’s cousin, he told her that she must ‘convert’ me, or if she couldn’t do that, she must stop being friends with me. That, my friends, is how religion works … it segregates humans into cults or clans where only those with the exact same features and beliefs can be a part of their world. There is no room for new ideas, new thoughts … you either fit in or you’re out.
Inherit the Wind takes place in a small town where the majority of the people are of the same church; they think alike, and new ideas are not welcomed. The teacher in this case (York) was caught teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and it was this that landed him in the courtroom, fighting for the right to teach credible science, fighting for his right to be a teacher. That’s all … he only wanted to open kids’ minds to other ways of thinking, to new ideas. Rather like some of today’s teachers who only want to teach acceptance of Black people, Middle-Easterners, and LGBTQ people, but some in this nation are so scared of losing that white supremacy concept they found in church that they refuse to allow young people’s minds to be opened. They feel threatened by new ideas, or even the teaching of history.
I think it is possible to believe in a god … whether you call it God, Buddha, Allah, Jain, or any other … without being religious. There is much wrong in the world today … our environment is in decline, people are starving all around the globe, democracy is in decline, and people need/want to be able to believe that there is purpose in life, that somewhere, somehow, there is order in the chaos. I get that. But religion is only adding to the problems when it seeks to exclude certain people or ideas, when it seeks to close minds rather than open them, when it seeks to hide the truth from future generations.