Today marks the 60th the anniversary of the release of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.I have read the book, and seen the film many times. Sadly, it is all too relevant in our time. Race hatred and a belief in the absolutes of aberrant forms of Christianity which bless White Racism are rampant in the United States and Europe, many of these groups are overtly Fascist and Authoritarian. Sadly, with the looming 2020 General Election, many of President Trump’s base is Cult of Christians who have forgotten what the Gospel is in their slavish devotion to Trump.
That alone is to make the novel and the film worth reading and watching, especially if you haven’t read the book or seen the film.
Sadly, such people would “kill the Mockingbird” to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. The Mockingbirds are those that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment, especially gays and the LGBT community, but others as well.
This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians.
In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Last week I wrote five articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.
The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Matt Staver commented a few years back that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have ever heard, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of people in non-slave states.
Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, I have been whipped up by those preachers. I fully understand them, and because I do I am in a unique position to critique their words and actions, especially as the supposedly moral majority snuggle up with one of the most amoral men ever to become President, solely to protect and crease their political power. They have surrendered their claim to being a party of morality, and embraced evil for the sake of their power. Without empathy, they judge and condemn others not like them. They are incapable of understanding anything that conflicts with their visions of White Power, racial superiority, and an interpretation of Christianity which needs state support in order to survive.
As Atticus Finch told his children:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
They cannot, thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.
As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:
“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. Their reach and power has only increased with their support of President Trump.
In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Conservative Christians.
Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:
“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”
Last night I watched the 1972 musical film Cabaret. The film, based on the 1966 broadway musical could be a metaphor for the transformation of the United States under Trump.
The film and musical are set in 1931-32 Germany, the end of the Weimar Republic, the end of democracy, and the coming of the race based dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Joel Gray, plays the very dark character of the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, reprising the role he played in the original stage musical. Liza Minnelli plays the role of Sally Bowles, an American expat selling her soul as a cabaret singer in order to become a famous actress. She becomes a lover of Michael York who plays Brian Roberts, a PhD candidate from Cambridge working in Germany as part of his degree studies, as well as Helmut Griem who plays the wealthy conservative baron Maximilian von Heune. Eventually the relationship of the three dissolves under the clouds of homosexuality, bisexuality, dishonesty, lies, abortion, and Sally’s hedonistic lifestyle in which she sacrifices everything about herself to become a movie star.
Finally, Sally drives Brian away, and he returns to England, while she ends up alone chasing her dreams at the Kit Kat Club, even as the Weimar Republic dies and the Nazis come to power.
I guess the most frightening part of the movie as how the film shows how ordinary people went from opposing the Nazis to supporting them. The opening of the film shows a Nazi being thrown out of the club by a bouncer, who is then set upon and beaten to death by other Nazi SA thugs.
Gray, who plays the Master of Ceremonies, is a very dark character who bends with the political winds goes from mocking the Nazis to a willing stooge, Griem, who plays the conservative Baron, hopes that the Nazis and Communists will fight it out, and that the conservatives can then control the Nazis. In a subplot, Fritz Wepper, who plays Fritz Wendel, a Jew who has moved to Berlin and been passing himself off as a Protestant, falls in love with Natalia Landauer, played by Marisa Berensen, a wealthy Jewish heiress, who does not know that he is a Jew. It is only when she tells him that their love cannot survive because she is Jewish and he isn’t, that he realizes the extent of the lie he has been living. He ends up admitting that he is Jewish and they get married just before the Nazis seize power. Since this is a fictional work, we can only presume that the Landauer money, extorted from them by the Nazis helped get them out of Germany, but with the specter of the Holocaust looming one cannot say for sure.
In one part of the film, Max takes Sally and Brian on a road trip. They end up stopping in a rural Biergarten where a young man begins what initial seems like a very innocent song, called Tomorrow Belongs to Me” which is taken up by almost everyone in the audience. While it was a song written by the Jewish writers of the play and film, John Kanzler and Fred Erb, and was never an actual Nazi song it has become a Neo-Nazi anthem.
The sun on the meadow is summery warm.
The stag in the forest runs free.
But gather together to greet the storm.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
The branch of the linden is leafy and
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea.
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
Now Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
The morning will come
When the world is mine
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Meanwhile in Berlin the Kit Cat Club is adjusting to the rise of the Nazis. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song entitled If You Could See Her Through My Eyes in which he dances a waltz with what turns out to be a gorilla. The words and the song are haunting, as the audience, now more accepting of Nazi anti-Semitism laughs and cheers.
After returning to Berlin Sally and Brian are exposed to the pro-Nazi words and beliefs of their fellow boarding house residents. Brian argues against them but they have fully bought in to the propaganda put out by the Nazis.
I know what you’re thinking You wonder why I chose her Out of all the ladies in the world That’s just a first impression What good’s a first impression If you knew her like I do, It would change your point of view-
If you could see her If you could see her thru my eyes,
Maybe they’d all understand…
Why don’t they leave us alone?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you,
Is there a crime to fall in love?
Can one ever choose where our heats lead us?
All we as is ‘Ein bißchen Verständnis’, a little understanding!
Oh, I understand your objection,
I grant my problem’s not small;
But if you could see her thru my eyes,
She wouldn’t look Jewish at all!
After the break up with Brian, Sally return to the club and performs the song Cabaret. She has abandoned everything for the sake of her career. The song is a complete abandonment to the moment, and encourages the audience to ignore the reality of what is going on.
What good is sitting, alone in your room?
come hear the music play!
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow your horn
Right this way your table´s waiting.
What good´s permitting some prophet of doom?
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret , old chum!
So come to the cabaret!
I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared for sordid rooms in Chelsea
She wasn’t what you call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.
The day she died the neighbors
came to snick her
Well, that is what comes from
Too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I´d ever seen
I think of Elsie till this very day
I remember how she´d turned to me and say,
What good is sitting all alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
And as for me
And as for me
I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I go………
I’m going like Elsie.
Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
It´s only a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!
But the words and visuals of then ending of the film are the most chilling. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song where the video shows the transformation of the audience. First the imagery shows no Nazis, then one, the a room full of Brownshirts as the MC signs:
Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.
It reminds me of today, where in our entertainment culture we are encourage to ignore the reality that surrounds us. We are descending from a Republican form of representative democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship, and sadly most people would rather be bystanders waiting to see which way the wind will blow. Our media, entertainment, and yes even our insatiable need to fill our lives with the material wealth of the world, even if it means surrendering freedom.
Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich, and member of the White Rose resistance movement wrote:
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
I would rather be like Sophie than Sally, the Master of Ceremonies, or Max.
If you have never seen the film I encourage you to watch it, as we are in the midst of such a situation in our own country. History May not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
It is All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Judy and Minnie are out at a friends house while I sit with the porch light and other front lights out watching American Horror Story while Izzy and Pierre bark at anyone who dares ring the doorbell, so far four or five. But I cannot help but share some of my favorite horror movies.
“Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest… on a Monday night.”Count Dracula (George Hamilton) on being banished from his castle by Romanian Communists in Love at First Bite
Yes it is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve and time for me to share my favorite Halloween horror films with you. Horror movies can be scary, but they can also be funny and even kind of klitschy. I think that is why they have such an enduring fascination to so many people, including me. I love horror, suspense, science fiction and the paranormal. They tend to be less scary than driving to work on the local interstate highways in the Hampton Roads area or going to a Mall or Wal-Mart.
Horror films have always fascinated me, especially the ones that are not simply built around a bunch of slashing and mindless killing and brutality.
Some of the films I like are more dramatic and suspenseful while others are more on the funny side of the horror genre. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are hundreds of not thousands of horror films out there and many are variations on a theme and many are so bad I will not watch them. That being said there are some that I cannot miss.
I love the whole vampire and Dracula genre. The Bela Lugosi Dracula was interesting but the klitchshy Hammer Dracula films with Christopher Lee were always my favorites. It was always fun for me to watch how some idiot managed to find a way to spill some blood on Dracula’s ashes and re-animate the Prince of Darkness. Of course the fact that Lee’s Dracula was always going after some really good looking girl made the series predicable and enjoyable.
The female versions of the Dracula films produced by Hammer Productions were even more enjoyable for a teen age boy. Ingrid Pitt played a great Carmilla Karnstein, a seductive female vampire who preyed on great looking women in The Vampire Lovers. In the vampire genre Quentin Tarintino’s Dusk ‘Til Dawn was pretty good and Wesley Snipes Blade series was enjoyable too.
I think that the horror film that still gives me the creeps is another vampire film, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I saw it the first time while visiting my wife’s cousin who lived in the Netherlands back in 1985. It was on Dutch television in English and subtitled in Dutch. To me it is the ultimate in horror, I have a copy but haven’t watched it in years. It scares the bejesus out of me.
Now I admit these are not the best Dracula movies, but they are entertaining. I liked Interview with a Vampire, Dracula(1979) starring Frank Langella, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldham and Winona Ryder were all actually better films. Other films in the vampire genre that I like included Fright Nightand The Lost Boys.
There were parodies as well, my favorites being Love at First Bitestarring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson, Mel Brooks’ Dracula Dead and Loving it starring Leslie Nielsen and Blackula, a blacksploitation parody starring William Marshall.
Frankenstein was okay but I love Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Peter Boyle.
Then there are the Satanic or Demonic possession and oppression films based on actual events. There is the classic The Exorcist and more recently The Conjuring. Both kept me on the edge of my seat and were scarier at home than they were in the theater. Another film which I like but which might better fit into the Science Fiction or loosely based on real events category is The Mothman Prophecies.
Zombie films have never been that interesting to me but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that I will watch and I did enjoy the parody Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg, and Zombieland starring Woody Harrelson.
In a different class is the cult classic Army of Darkness a sequel to the Evil Dead films. In this Bruce Campbell plays a hardware store employee who gets transported through time to a medieval castle being attacked by a ghoulish army. It really is a classic full of great one liners and action. I think one of my favorite lines is where Campbell’s character “Ash” answers the leader of the dead army when he is asked who he is: “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.
When I was in junior high school, high school and college a lot of different horror films came out which became cult classics which spawned sequel after sequel. There was the original Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I never got into the most of the sequels because none of them were as good as the originals.
Another film that I found positively frightening was Invasion of the Body Snatchersstarring Donald Sutherland. It was a remake of an earlier film but the whole concept of falling asleep and being replaced with a pod person freaked me out.
Like I said at the beginning of the article, there are thousands of horror films out there. I could go on and mention more but to do so would be to repeat variations on similar themes or to stretch the genre to include various murder mysteries with horror or demonic elements such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, or films which are more appropriately classed as Science Fiction such as Alien.
In a totally different category are the Ghostbusters comedies, and Scrooged.Both comedies with classic horror twists. I love those movies. Then there is Mel Brooks classic parody of the original Frankenstein using the original Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Gene Hackman.
So as Halloween winds down and the trick or treaters go home, while you are snuggled in your bed with your love, turn on the television and find something scary to watch. After all, tomorrow is Friday, but not the 13th.
I have always been what some would call a Trekkie. Ever since I was a young child watching Star Trek the Original Series I have been fascinated with space, other universes, galaxies, and other life that must exist beyond earth. As a Christian and theologian I have to admit that the possibilities of a non earthnocentric order fascinate me. Christians, especially pastors, and theologians love to talk about the attributes of God: his omniscience, his power, his omnipresence, ad infinitum, but instead of contemplating the unknown potentials of a universe that we know little about, our puny minds remained focused only on earth and ways in which to destroy it in order to ensure the Apocalypse arrives, I cannot do that.
While obviously as a Christian I have to live fully in this world, and in doing so bear witness of Jesus the Christ, fight for equality and human rights, and do my best to bear witness of the truth, that human beings can be among the most noble as well as debased beings that have ever existed. There are certainly examples in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to support both extremes, and theologians who those who support the total depravity of humanity, or an exalted view of humankind.
But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so succinctly noted:
“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”
The fact is, that we human beings are stuck in that uncomfortable middle, and to admit that is a step on the road to freedom. That is what I find so fascinating about Star Trek the Next Generation, it confronts human nature with the added dimension of the possibility, if we don’t destroy ourselves first, that we will meet others from other solar systems and galaxies.
In the finale of Star Trek the Next Generation, the being known as Q discusses that question with Captain Picard:
Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.
Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.
Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.
Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That*is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.
I really do believe that being open to options that we never considered is both a part of the Christian life, as well as humanity in general.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am am open to answers that lie beyond my realm of sight and thought. There are times that I think that I was born 300 years too late for the Enlightenment and probably at least 300 years too soon for the world of Star Trek, I am caught in that uncomfortable middle that Bonhoeffer spoke of, but in the middle of the middle.
But for now I have 171 more episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation to go, then on to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager.
“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind
Tomorrow is the 84th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.
Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.
It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.
It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial”which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.
The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Actin Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:
“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”
The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.
Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”
Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.
Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.
The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.
Mencken wrote of the trial:
“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”
It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.
The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.
The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:
“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”
March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:
“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”
The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.
Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:
“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”
But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:
“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”
I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.
So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.
Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.
But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:
Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?
Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.
E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?
I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.
I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”
That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.
Judy and I have been binge watching the BBC comedy series Allo, Allo! It is currently on Netflix and originally aired from 1982-1992. If you like comedy that makes fun of the Nazis like Hogan’s Heroes did, this might be your glass of cognac.
The series is set in a French Cafe Bar In German occupied France. The bar owner played by the late Gordon Kaye is working with the French resistance. The town Commandant played by Richard Marner and assisted by Captain Geering and Lieutenant Gruber, played by Sam Kelly and Guy Siner find themselves beholden to the resistance because of their incompetence and greed.
I am only about halfway into the second season, but if you need something to give you a laugh at the expense of Nazis, this might be a show for you.
I am tired and have an early meaning tomorrow followed by setting up what I need to accomplish for my required retirement physical, after which I will sift through another hundred or so of the emails and other tasks I need to do before dropping off a resume with another local university that does a lot with veterans and hopefully get home in time for Judy to be able to drop me off to watch Bayern Munich play Liverpool in the UEAFA Champions League Round Of 16 game before she heads off to do ceramics with her friends.
Judy and I have been binge watching the classic television series The Twilight Zone. The show, written by Rod Sterling first aired before either of us was born. If you have never watched it, suppose you were born too late, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to take some time to do.
But I should preface this with the words of the great historian, Barbara Tuchman:
Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.
There are a lot of truths buried in the various episodes, truths about reality and fantasy; religion and ethics; science and technology; human nature and yes, government too. The Twilight Zone is a strange place, you never know when you might end up there, in fact in Trump’s America every day feels like an experience in the Twilight Zone, in this case Season Two, episode 29, The Obsolete Man. In the episode the state determines who is obsolete and therefore condemned to death.
In the episode, Burgess Meredith plays a character named Romney Wordsworth, a librarian who has been declared obsolete by the state. Books have been banned as well as belief in a God that is not the no-God of the state. He is brought before the Chancellor, played by Fritz Weaver, and condemned to a death of his choosing.
The opening narration, spoken by Sterling sets the stage for the story:
You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone
I won’t play the spoiler but I will end this brief article with the warning spoken by Sterling at the end of the episode. The episode can be found on Netflix. But, actually, this is unedited ending of that episode.
The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody. When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man…that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for “Mankind” – in The Twilight Zone.
So consider this a warning, especially for the followers of the authoritarians, fascists, and real or would be dictators, including the American President and his cult like supporters; a warning from the Twilight Zone.
There are some songs at Christmas that despite their relative newness as compared to ancient carols seem to strike a chord that resonates deep in the hearts of people. I think that in our day that some speak louder than others.
One of those songs, at least for me, and probably many others is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The music was written by Ralph Blane and the lyrics by Hugh Martin for the musical Meet Me in St Louisand first performed by Judy Garland in that film. In the movie Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister after their father announces plans to move from their home of St Louis to New York for a job. It is a haunting song with a fascinating story.
But the lyrics for the musical were different than the ones originally penned by Martin, and it would not be the last time that the words were changed.
For the musical, Garland, director Vincent Minnelli, and co-star Tom Drake felt that Martin’s original lyrics which began with “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it could be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were too depressing. Martin resisted but finally bowed to pressure and the lyrics were changed to “let your heart be light, Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” in response to their request.
The words sung in the musical by Judy Garland have a haunting but very real feel for people who face uncertainty at Christmas, as such they were very meaningful to the US military personnel who heard them at the front in the Second World War.
As originally produced they reflect a hope for a better future as opposed to a carefree present. As such they are probably much more appropriate to our current time than in the mid-1950s when Frank Sinatra recorded a modified version of the song for his album A Jolly Christmas.
Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and Martin changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
When Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 it too became a hit and the focus on present happiness rather than a hope for a better future fit the times in which it was recorded. Sinatra’s version also notes that “faithful friends gather near to us once more” instead of “will be near to us once more.”
The song was re-written by Martin a number of times including a “Christian” version which included the words “if the Lord allows” instead of “if the fates allow.” Though I am a Christian I think that change was kind of lame, but then if there are a few dollars to be made off religious people who otherwise won’t listen to a song, why not?
The song is one is one of the most recorded Christmas songs ever written and can be heard being sung by artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Steward, the Carpenters, Kelly Clarkson, John Denver with the Muppets, the Pretenders, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Loggins, and even Twisted Sister.
The song as recorded by Judy Garland is actually my favorite, though I also love the Sinatra version. Somehow “muddling through somehow” seems to be more appropriate in my experience.
So enjoy these versions of a song that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people since it was first recorded. May it be an inspiration in these uncertain times of a hope for a better future. Maybe that makes it a better Advent song than a Christmas song, and maybe that’s why Muddling Through Somehow isn’t such a bad thing after all.
For me it is kind of a sad song, but at the same time it is mixed with hope…and I always try to live in hope.
I am taking a break from history, and Politics to share some classic Christmas and holiday songs performed by various Rock and Roll artists and groups.
I realize that it is not quite Christmas yet, and in fact it is still the season of Advent but I have to admit that I love the holiday season, especially the music. But, I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s, so I have certain preferences in in music and Christmas music comes in many forms and genres.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be doing a number of articles like this which have no purpose but to share a little joy through music. I plan on doing one focusing on the great R & B legends, one with Country artists, and a couple dealing with the stories of White Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, as well as the many different versions of both.
These holiday season I hope that no matter what holiday you celebrate that you do it with a joyful heart, even if it is Festivus, which it is tomorrow, or today when many of you are reading this.
So here are some great songs put out by some great artists and groups over the years, they are in no particular order. Some are traditional Christmas hymns while others are popular Christmas songs without a particularly religious bent, and many are sung by artists who are not practicing Christians, some of whom would be condemned to hell by many conservative Christians. Maybe that speaks to the power of the holiday, and the hope that it brings to so many people.
I hope you enjoy them.
Chuck Berry Run, Run Rudolph
Elton John, Step into Christmas
Elvis Presley, Blue Christmas
Paul McCartney and Wings, Having a Wonderful Christmastime
Freddy Mercury and Queen, Thank God it’s Christmas
The Bangles, Hazy Shade of Winter
The Beach Boys, Little Saint Nick
Band Aid 1984, Do They Know It’s Christmas
Billy Idol, Jingle Bell Rock
The Carpenters, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Wham! Last Christmas
Jose Feliciano, Feliz Navidad
Chicago, O Come All Ye Faithful
Annie Lennox and Al Green, Put a Little Love in Your Heart
Gary Glitter, Another Rock and Roll Christmas
George Harrison, Dong, Dong, Ding Dong
Herman’s Hermit’s O Holy Night
Eagles, Please Come Home for Christmas
Mariah Carey, All I Want for Christmas is You
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Christmas All over Again
Blondie, We Three Kings
Rod Stewart, Let it Snow
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Little Drummer Boy
Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song
Twisted Sister, White Christmas
John Lennon, Happy Christmas (War is Over)
Bruce Springsteen, Baby Please Come Home
Barry Manilow, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tonight it one of those rare occasions when I am getting to watch some television that is not associated with baseball or some old movie that I like.
Tonight my favorite new show, Bates Motelwhich is positively creepy and suspenseful is having its season two finale and the classic 24returns as 24 Live Another Day. In this series Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) comes out of hiding to stop a major terrorist operation as his former ally and now President of the United States James Heller (William Devane) has dispatched the CIA to track Bauer, a wanted fugitive down. Many real issues are already being covered in the show including drone attacks, hacking, terrorism and torture conducted by the “good guys” of the CIA, and a President confronting a diagnosis of some kind of dementia.
It promises to be an excellent run as the 24 hours are compressed into 12 episodes. In it a number of familiar characters besides Bauer and Heller return including Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Bauer’s former flame Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). Chloe is in custody as an Edward Snowden type hacker and Audrey is now married to Heller’s Chief of Staff played by Tate Donovan. Judging from the first hour it portends to be an excelled reprise of the original series with Bauer now on the opposite side of the law but still seeking justice and to protect his country.
As far as Bates Motelwhat might have been a series finale is now a bridge into a new season. No spoilers here as I am only patiently waiting the season finale because I am watching 24.
Since I am pretty tired from my trip to Houston that is all I am going to write about tonight. Expect another Gettysburg article tomorrow unless something trips me up. But tonight I am going to watch some suspenseful and creepy television.
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