“Inherit the Wind” in Retrospect

I enjoyed immensely Inherit the Wind, a 1960 “message” film directed by Stanley Kramer, which I saw in the year of its release. The film starred two sterling actors of Hollywood’s true Golden Age: Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

I enjoyed the film not only for the acting and literate script, but also because it portrayed Tracy’s character — Clarence Darrow in the guise of “Henry Drummond” — as the hero of the piece who demolishes his opponent at the bar — William Jennings Bryan in the guise of “Matthew Harrison Brady”.

“Drummond” defends “Bertram Cates” (John T. Scopes), who is on trial in 1925 for violating a Tennessee law that forbids the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools. “Brady” is one of the prosecutors, and the only one who figures prominently in the film.

According to the script of Inherit the Wind, Drummond/Darrow exposes Brady/Bryan as an ignorant religious zealot after putting him on the stand as a witness for the prosecution. Thus my enjoyment of the film, which I saw when I was a “sophisticated” junior in college and a recent “convert” from Catholicism to agnosticism (or perhaps atheism).

Time passes, and the world seems much different to me now. I utterly reject the hatefulness of anti-religious zealotry, which has morphed into the suppression of speech, denial of property rights, and denial of freedom of association. Thus my enjoyment of a piece by Mark Pulliam. Writing at Law & Liberty in “Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind?“, Pulliam exposes Inherit the Wind as a piece of grossly inaccurate anti-religious propaganda. He ends with this:

In Inherit the Wind, Bryan/Brady is unfairly presented as a ridiculous fool—a pathetic figure. Bryan’s words show that he was thoughtful, decent, and—for his time—wise, albeit uninformed. And he won the case, beating the man regarded as one of the most formidable courtroom advocates of all time. Bryan was not so much an opponent of evolution as he was of Social Darwinism, and the Nietzschean philosophy he felt it represented.

Unfortunately, Bryan’s legacy as a man of faith has been besmirched by Hollywood’s willingness to distort history in the aid of promoting its agenda. The left’s disdain for religion and religious belief has only gained momentum since 1925. From simply mocking piety, the elite intelligentsia has progressed to banning prayer in public schools, forbidding aid to religious schools, removing religious symbols from public property, deeming Judeo-Christian morality to be “irrational,” and persecuting Christian bakers (and other vendors) for honoring their religious consciences.  In 2016, enough American voters—many who are arguably the heirs to the long-ridiculed citizens of Dayton—rose up and pushed back.

The Scopes trial, so badly mischaracterized in Inherit the Wind, better illustrates another Biblical verse, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”