Continuing the theme of imaginative fiction (see below), there’s a new movie out that turns “Inherit the Wind” on its head and comes up with a teacher being sued by the evil ACLU for having the temerity to think that Jesus was a real person.
In a pivotal scene from the famous 1960 film “Inherit the Wind,” a biblical scholar, prosecuting a defendant on trial for teaching evolution in a town whose laws forbid it, is called to the stand as an expert witness. Slowly but surely, he begins to unravel on the stand. The defense attorney, Henry Drummond (rendered vividly by Spencer Tracy), pulls apart his literal reading of the Bible. If Joshua had really made the Sun stand still, wouldn’t the Earth have been destroyed? Where did Cain’s wife come from if “in the beginning” there were only Cain, Abel, Adam and Eve? How can we be sure the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. if the Sun, the metric by which we measure time, was not created until the fourth day?
“God’s Not Dead 2,” the sequel to the commercially successful movie of the same name, is an inversion of this theme. In the film, Grace, a history teacher played by Melissa Joan Hart, is asked whether the nonviolent philosophy preached by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. has parallels to that preached by Jesus in the Bible. In response, she quotes scripture, and endorses the analogy. A scoffing student ridicules her by sneering, I kid you not, that Jesus could not have been great because he died. Grace responds that Jesus, like King, died out of dedication to causes larger than himself, and that this does not detract from the greatness of either man. Teachers, administrators, and the ACLU alike are outraged by this lesson, and Grace winds up in court, where her lawyer finds himself proving, as one of the satanic ACLU attorneys puts it, “the existence of Jesus Christ.”
It’s impossible to stress how deeply unrealistic the film’s premise is, and important to stress that this case was not “based on a true story,” itself a loose specification. Nor was it a dramatized version of real events as “Inherit the Wind,” based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, was. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who saw the film with a vaguely critical eye, but should be surprising to anyone who took its message to heart. The movie suggests the persecution of Christians in our society is readily apparent in the real world, and not just as artistic license. (“Join the movement,” the closing credits implore). Then why on earth would its writers and producers have to invent such a case out of thin air, rather than portraying one of the multitudes of victimless crimes for which Christians throughout the country are presumably being prosecuted? Perhaps because employees demanding contraceptive coverage or gay couples service might be more sympathetic than fiendish ACLU lawyers?
If this is an attempt to shame the play and the film of “Inherit the Wind,” it misses the point entirely. Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee went to great pains to avoid taking sides in the debate over evolution — the end of the play shows Drummond weighing the bible and Darwin’s book equally — and comes out instead clearly on the side of allowing people to think for themselves.
This notion that Christians are somehow being persecuted for their beliefs and that they are at risk of losing their lives or property because of it is just bizarre. They have this idea that if they are criticized for being bullies or actually denying other people their lawful rights, somehow they’re the victim and they’re the martyrs. So they feel the only way to allow Christianity to prevail is to pass laws that legalize hatred, paranoia, and bigotry. And, for good measure, make movies.
If they want to really know what it’s like to be persecuted and at risk for their religious beliefs, try being a Muslim in America. Or even, in some places, Jewish. Then get back to us.