Spirituality and scholarship, seemingly two irreconcilable sides when discussing the origins of humankind, have come surprisingly close over the last century and merged to produce a fascinating combination of ideas inside people’s minds. Christianity, as one of the major religions in the world and the USA, thus plays a considerable role in this debate between religion and science. The often used by preachers appeal to tradition and morality when opposing facts has additionally fascinated numerous filmmakers throughout the ages, coincidentally generating social attention to this argument between belief and rationality.
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However, the directed by Stanley Kramer film Inherit the Wind retains its relevance even in today’s world, where religion and science both continue to struggle for the public’s favorable opinion. While Kramer directed Inherit the Wind in 1960, following the panic of the McCarthy era, the ideas it presents to the modern audience may be considered consoling, as they advocate for the autonomy of thought. Therefore, the film permits forming a moderately informed opinion on the creationism versus evolution debate.
Thoughts on Inherit the Wind
Inherit the Wind may be considered a satirical depiction of the science versus relation debate, personified by characters on each side of the argument. The movie follows a trial of a science teacher, Bertram Cates, who is brought to court for teaching Darwinism and evolutionism, rather than religious creationism (Inherit the Wind). While the film’s intent may be showing the hypocrisy and close-mindedness of those, who practice religion, the closing scene concludes the story in a balanced manner.
The teacher’s defense, Henry Drummond, quotes a bible verse and leaves the courtroom with two books, The Bible and On the Origin of Species, demonstrating the reconcilable nature of religion and science (Inherit the Wind). I think that this closing scene supports the central theme of the movie, which is that people have to decide and appraise facts, beliefs, and opinions for themselves. Therefore, the film presents freedom of choice and thought as essential aspects of being human, regardless of whether God or evolution gave them existence.
The backwardness of the displayed town community stems from their obliviousness and reluctance to think critically, and is equally prevalent in some of the atheists of the film. E. K. Hornbeck, a journalist, shows glee when talking about the death of a biblical scholar and preacher, Matthew Brady, displaying his uncompassionate nature that is similar to that of the uneducated crowd (Inherit the Wind). The last words of the movie are an appeal to “defend my right to be lonely,” which is once again demonstrative of the movie’s idea that all people have a right to form their worldview (Inherit the Wind).
Thus, the film calls for a degree of respect for those, who are different, courtesy to their beliefs, and kindness between opposites. I find the idea of mutual appreciation between opponents an essential aspect of personal integrity even in the modern-day. Therefore, either prohibiting Mr. Cates from teaching or Mr. Brady from religious instruction would be equally repressive acts, symbolizing a degradation of society.
Creationism versus Evolution
The dichotomy of science and religion is prevalent throughout the film, mimicking the way that today people are often faced with the choice between their beliefs and recent factual findings. As a relevant example, Mr. Cates tells his fiancee that she would have to decide between her father and him; the two people who represent faith and science, as she “cannot live in both [houses]” (Inherit the Wind). Additionally, the trial of Mr. Cates is a wholesome representation of the division between the two systems of beliefs, with each side vying for the public’s approval. However, creationism, the idea that God created humans, and Darwinian evolutionism, which the scientific community presents as a fact, maybe at an impasse.
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Even though the film seemingly urges making a definite choice between the two sets of ideas, it refutes their irreconcilability through the main character of Mr. Drummond, who demonstrates equity, a vital personality aspect. Thus, each person, per his critical thinking, must advance in his principles, allowing others the same courtesy.
Effect on Religious Beliefs
Some may consider Inherit the Wind an attack on their religious worldview as a film that paints religious people as illogical fanatics. However, the film directs its ire not at religion, but rather at people who use religion as a defense against reality or to mask their malicious beliefs. The most destructive of these convictions is blind belief without basis or evaluation, adhering only to The Bible as the ultimate authority, something that Mr. Drummond discredits when questioning Mr. Brady regarding the book’s inconsistencies (Inherit the Wind).
Thus, stagnation of character, something that develops from blind belief, is made into an offense against human individuality, with the movie-going as far as showing the exemplary death of Mr. Brady (Inherit the Wind). Therefore, a general idea may be perceived that neither religion, nor The Bible nor even science breed closemindedness and malice, but rather people’s already existing unfavorable aspects of character find necessary defense mechanisms.
As a Catholic, I do not feel threatened having watched the movie but instead moved by the idea of empathy towards others, which the film propagates. Rather than control the situation, which is what the community in Inherit the Wind attempted to do, as a religion and as people we should allow individuals to form their opinions themselves.
Faith in God must not derive from willful or induced ignorance, as that could be considered wholly unethical, and should instead draw from an individual’s conviction, principle, and a self-paved path to belief. Mr. Drummond says that “[The Bible] is a good book, but it is not the only book,” implying that knowledge and faith must come from a variety of sources (Inherit the Wind). This idea is neither aggressive nor derogatory, as it only indicates that a respectable person, Christian or Atheist, must be educated and well informed.
Treating enemies with grace is an essential aspect of a person’s good character, equally as crucial in the 1960s as it is in today’s world. In this aspect, Inherit the Wind is a movie with a theme that has aged well, presenting people today with a deeply relevant message regarding personal integrity. By studying the world around them, people may achieve that, which the movie called the peak of humanity’s advancement. However, this kind of exploration is not only rational but also inherently spiritual and attained by human cooperation rather than mindless arguing and subjugation of differing opinions. Therefore, through openly ridiculing the negative traits of both its Christian and atheist characters Inherit the Wind attempts to educate the audience on the benefits of literacy, whether scientific or theological.
Inherit the Wind. Directed by Stanley Kramer, performances by Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Donna Anderson, and Harry Morgan, United Artists, 1960.