|Author: Paul G. Humber, AB, MS, BD
Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized version of the Scopes Trial of 1925, disclaimers to the contrary. Liberals who squirm under the pressure of biblical morality seem to find solace in this bashing of Bible-believers.
The sad thing is that the play grossly misrepresents the historical personage, William Jennings Bryan. The fact that “Brady” is Bryan finds support in a personal letter written to me by Kirk Douglas. (Kirk Douglas played the part of Brady in the AT&T production of Inherit the Wind aired on national television more than once years ago.)
Douglas wrote: “To add to your argument, I might also include the fact that William Jennings Bryan said that he would be willing to pay the fine imposed on the young man.” The fictionalized version, however, portrays a vindictive person: “Brady. (Thundering.) Your Honor, the prosecution takes exception! Where the issues are so titanic, the coon must mete out more drastic punishment…to make an example of this transgressor! To show the world.”
Douglas continued. “I might also say that Bryan did read ‘Darwin’s Theory of Evolution’ (sic). The opposite point of view was expressed in our movie for dramatic purposes.”
This last sentence of Douglas is sad. Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould, in an article entitled “William Jennings Bryan’s Last Campaign” (Natural History, November, 1987), credited Bryan for fighting against a legitimate concern and quoted Bryan: “I learned that it was Darwinism that was at the basis of that damnable doctrine that might makes right that had spread over Germany” (p. 22). Gould would not himself want to blame Darwin, but he was affirming Bryan’s concern.
A lot of white supremacy jargon and implied action were floating around in the 20’s, and Bryan was fighting it. Eugenicist Henry Fairfield Osborn, for example (featured by The New York Times in opposing Bryan, July 12, 1925) wrote in a book dedicated to John T. Scopes, “The ethical principle inherent in evolution is that only the best has a right to survive.” Hitler himself could just as well have said these words.
In The New York Times article referred to, entitled “Osborn States the Case for Evolution,” Osborn cites the Piltdown race as evidence for evolution, but we now know that The Piltdown Man was a hoax.
Here is the text of the letter I had sent to Kirk Douglas (to which he responded):
Several months ago, you had an article published (I believe it was in Parade Magazine) entitled, “Let’s Leave Make-Believe at the Movies.” In it you spoke of a quiet inner awareness that says there must be a higher power responsible for the perfection of the universe we live in and that we’re doing so much to destroy.
Most of us also sense that there is such a thing as fairness. You and I both know that your role as Matthew Brady was meant to parallel closely William Jennings Bryan. In this case, it’s hard to view Inherit the Wind as pure make-believe. Was it really fair to Bryan to characterize him as viewing sex as sin, even original sin? I believe there is no reference to sex whatever in the actual trial, and the Christian church, represented in some measure by Bryan, believes original sin to be disobedience, not God-created sex between husband and wife. This latter is actually a gift from God. I’m concerned that both Bryan and the Christianity he represented (have) been unfairly tarnished by the Inherit the Wind production. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to blast you, but I would like, perhaps even as a friend, to encourage you to see things from a different perspective.
Another example might be helpful. The where-did-Cain-get-his-wife issue seems also to be a red herring. Consider Genesis 5:4 where it is clear that our first parents had “sons and daughters.” This is made explicit, and it is obvious that Cain married a sister. This would have had to be true even in an evolutionary setting, assuming that the evolving of humans was not a common occurrence. The business about 9 a.m. on October 23, 4004, (BC) is also misleading. Bryan made it explicit during the trial that he did not know how old the earth was.
Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, in an article entitled, “William Jennings Bryan’s Last Campaign” (Natural History, November, 1987), affirms that “Bryan … had correctly identified a problem!” (cf. p. 26). Bryan was aware that evolution was being used to justify German supremacy and various social evils. I’m attaching an article I wrote showing the poisoning effect it had on Stalin. The same God that has touched our “inner awareness” (as you put it) also holds us responsible for the way we represent or misrepresent our fellow human beings. He does not want us to bear false witness against our neighbor even if he has passed on to the next life.
If you agree with some of these concerns, perhaps you would be willing to respond. For example, is it not very important to remind the public and even to stress that looking at Inherit the Wind can be misleading about the facts of the actual trial? If you agree with me in this, would you be willing to let me quote you in an article I might write?
Our Creator is very loving and forgiving. He forgives me because of what His Son did two thousand years ago on a cross. I don’t know if you have experienced the same love and forgiveness, but I know it’s available to all who come to Him in humility and faith. Many great men, including William Jennings Bryan, have done this to their eternal joy. I hope you get to meet him in heaven.
Hoping to hear from you. . . .
Sincerely, Paul G. Humber
Kirk Douglas did respond, apparently agreeing in some measure with my concerns. He even added arguments I had not mentioned and did not discourage me from quoting him. Since his performance was public and he freely submitted a letter, even after I had indicated a desire to quote him, I am taking the liberty of sharing the contents of the document sent to me. It is possible that even he valued an opportunity to set the record straight. My personal view is that the producers carry greater responsibility for foisting untruths on others in the guise of quasi-history, besmirching Christianity in the process.
I’m not quite sure how Mr. Douglas was able to judge the former presidential aspirant as gluttonous. The impression that I get from pictures is that Bryan was not fat. He was healthy looking and not thin; he may have been somewhat overweight. I hope this was not the basis for judging him gluttonous, however.
As stated above, perhaps the saddest part of Mr. Douglas’s letter is the phrase, “The opposite point of view was expressed in our movie for dramatic purposes.” Shame on AT&T for foisting misrepresentations on the public! Is this not a deliberate example of running down Bible-believing Christians? True, as Mr. Douglas stressed, the production was of a fictional character. However, Kirk Douglas himself, perhaps inadvertently, admitted (in his third paragraph about the historical Bryan), that he was portraying him. The antecedent was and is Bryan not Brady!
Presumably, millions across the nation witnessed this dramatization. Untruths, however, need to be exposed for what they are! Some producers apparently care more for money and attention than truth, but we must protest falsehood. Americans who see deception as a freedom, apparently do not know what real freedom is.
Proverbs 11:29a reads, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” What may be in view here is one in some position of authority who withholds proper nourishment and pleasures from those under his care (family or servants). That person shall “inherit the wind.” He will be pushed further and further back, away from any position of authority or influence. Those in charge of television and television productions are in positions of influence. They have responsibilities to be fair and honest in their dealings with people.
Far better it would be for media persons if they would emphasize what is honest and true. They should attend to another portion of Scripture: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).