Friends of Padre Steve’s World
As I was ruminating last week I watched the classic film Inherit the Wind, a film that I think should be required viewing for anyone seeking to impose their religious views on others through force of the law.
In the movie there is a climatic exchange between Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow (Henry Drummond) and Frederick March who played the fictionalized version of William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady), the opponents at the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.
Drummond: How do you know that God didn’t spake to Charles Darwin
Brady: I know, because God tells me to oppose the evil teachings of that man.
Drummond: Oh, God speaks to you
Drummond: He tells you what is right and wrong,
Drummond: And you act accordingly?
Drummond: So you, Matthew Harrison Brady, through oratory or legislature or whatever, you pass on god’s orders to the rest of the world! Well, meet the prophet from Nebraska! Is that the way of things? is that the way of things, God tells Brady what is good, to be against Brady is to be against God.?
Brady: No! Each man is a free agent!
Drummond: Then what is Bertram Cates doing in a Hillsboro jail, supposing Mr. Cates had the influence and the lung power to railroad through the state legislature a law saying that only Darwin could be taught in the schools
Brady: Ridiculous! Ridiculous! There is only one great truth in the world. The gospel…
Drummond: The gospel according to Brady. God speaks to Brady, and Brady tells the world!
Brady, Brady, Brady almighty!
Brady: The lord… the lord is my strength!
Drummond: Suppose that a lesser human being… suppose a Cates or a Darwin had the audacity to think that God might whisper to him, that an un-Brady thought might still be holy? Must a man go to prison because he differs with the self-appointed prophet? Extend the testaments. Let us have a book of Brady. We shall hex the Pentateuch and slip you in neatly between Numbers and Deuteronomy!”
The film reminds us of how easily faith can take on an evil character, and how even well-meaning people who honestly believe that they are doing God’s will often presume, and sometimes can act as if they were the voice of God.
So when I hear Ted Cruz, or any of the hundreds of men and women running for office at every level of government proclaiming that they are speaking for God I get worried. I really do, especially when other well-meaning people, followers of the politicians, pundits, and preachers that claim to be speaking for God, take action to punish their enemies, believing that those enemies are also the enemies of God.
Such is a recipe for tyranny, a tyranny that the founders of the United States sought to avoid.