I just finished watching the 1960 movie “Inherit the Wind” for the millionth time. Well, maybe more like the fiftieth time, but it certainly feels like the millionth. The film, starring Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Dick York, Harry Morgan, and Donna Anderson, is a parable of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trail. The 1960 film is meant to portray the McCarthyism movement of the late 1950s, where individuals were accused of being un-American during the “Red Scare” of Communism. This was a time where Hollywood celebrities (among others) were black-listed and sometimes jailed as Communist sympathizers. Accusations were freely thrown around, and I daresay that the ripples of this time echo into today’s political culture in various fomentations against what many fundamentalist aspects of society deem as “counter-culture” perspectives.
Indeed, there are moments within the film itself that remind me of permutations of our theological culture as it exists today. When lawyer Henry Drummond and politician Matthew Brady rail against one another’s perspectives of the King James Bible (during the period where Brady is being questioned on the stand as a witness by Drummond), you can watch the immense battle of each one trying to be “right” in the eyes of the jury, judge, and the crowd in the courtroom – you get a good sense of what the issue is between the two sides. A single, overriding desire to be “right.” To “win” at all costs, as Brady uses a private conversation with the accused’s fiancé as a cudgel in the courtroom, irreparably damaging a trust between himself (Brady) and the young lady.
For what little its worth, I’ve watched this battle in many different configurations. Particularly coming from the Evangelical Christian corner. I remember the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, where scores of Pagans, and other non-Pagans were reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which launched investigation after investigation against families – sometimes separating families during these procedures. During that same time frame, other Evangelicals launched their own crusade against popular rock music, claiming Satanic messages were being recorded backwards into the music. Lawsuits against bands such as Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, among others, were launched after children of families committed suicide. The allegation was that the music drove these children to take their lives. Claims of Satanic abuse cropped up from Evangelical Christians, many of whom accepted speaking fees for their tales or wrote books about their harrowing experiences – all of which turned out to be false. In the late 1990s, on into today, right-wing Conservatives (I’m not willing to call these folks Republicans, as their values are far different from the Republicans that I knew in the 1980s) have declared that there is a war on conservative culture, all of which is parroted on the radio and television airwaves by various media “personalities” who spend their time sneering at those whose values are different from their own. That’s the stuff that’s easy to see.
Not so easy to see is the same measures within the rest of modern culture. We’ve had Pagans trying to figure out if you’re “Pagan Enough” to be a Pagan. Other Pagans who sneer and act derisively towards Pagans that are all “light and love” – focusing on the difference between their own Path, which features a self-admitted “darker” side of Paganism. Plus, the constant derision poured on Christians of any stripe. Where the Christians claim their Path’s infallibility comes from a book that they claim as divine inspiration, I’ve heard Pagans claim a similar moral superiority from an “historical” lineage of their belief system that supposedly descends much further into the Past than the Christian faith. As if either perspective has an iron-clad chokehold on the Truth. No divine inspiration? Your Path is a fraud. No historical lineage? Your Path is a delusion.
If you’ve never seen “Inherit the Wind”, I suggest you take the time to watch the movie. Pay attention to the way all the discussions and arguments take place. Keep an eye on how the concept of “truth” is handled. How easy it is for others to just accept the arguments because of their faith and belief without questioning. Pay attention to how easy it is for many of the characters to grasp towards the shroud of “victimhood.” We are no more immune to those processes than we were back in the 1950s at the height of the “Red Scare.” Once you pull the shroud off that concept, its rather easy to look around and see how we’ve managed to come to that same place. Except now the enemies are dressed in politics more so than religious fundamentalist perspectives. We live in a world of “Us” and “Them.” And if you are not “Us” – you’re “Them.” Automagically. Because its easier to live in a world of a bipolar dichotomy than it is to believe the world is more complicated than that.
Yet, our world is more complicated than that. And yet, its also not. Its complicated in the manner that we all approach our connection to the world around us differently. We seek the Divine in our own manner. We accept our Truths in what we experience, and how that occurs. Yet, its not that complicated, as we can boil away all the differences, all the beliefs that we have – all that’s left in the crucible when we’re done are human beings. We’re all the same. We’re all different. All at once. At the same time. Yet, we continue to place everyone into camps of opposing thoughts, and then declare that those who do not agree with us are wrong. Evil. Should be eliminated. Should be denigrated. Humiliated. Treated as inferiors. All because we can’t agree that the Divine and Sacred cannot take a different form than what we experience that as. How arrogant of us all.
We’ve lost our civility as a society. It wasn’t a fast change either. Its taken a few decades to get here. How do we go back to where we respect each other’s right to our own perspectives without being ridiculed, yelled at, or threatened? Or can we? I’d like to hope that we can. Right now, I see now other avenue to take. Not even a skinny, barely traveled hiking trail. All I can really offer is to keep walking along this blacktop road we’re on and look for other directions we can take. Even if its just a chain-link fence to climb over….