Saturday, January 4, 2014

Where Have You Gone, Spencer Tracy?

One of my earliest movie memories is being befuddled watching the 1960 screen adaptation of Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized telling of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial". The movie probably aired on television in 1964 when I was 12. While I missed the parable about McCarthyism, which the country had recently survived, I was familiar with Darwin's theory of evolution. I could not believe that someone could be criminally prosecuted in 20th century America for teaching science in a public school classroom. My young mind cheered when the character based on William Jennings Bryant became flustered by Clarence Darrow's cross-examination, caught up by contradictions in "God's Word".

By 12, I was an avid reader. I had been attending Hebrew School five days a week and Junior Congregation at our synagogue on Saturday for several years. I understood the concept of faith and the power of Biblical (Five Books of Moses) lessons. I viewed the lessons as stories, designed to guide me in my conduct in society. That remains true today. The idea that someone's religious beliefs could be imposed on society in general to mandate conduct, worse, thinking, was abhorrent. Live and let live. It never occurred to me that I should rail against my non-Jewish friends because they consumed pork or went to work on Yom Kippur. Their faith led them to behave in a different manner than mine did, albeit just as Godly from their point of view.

Forty years later, I am appalled that we take science and secular education so lightly in the U.S. that we are still having debates about whether our children should be taught evolution. While the modern approach by the proponents of Creationism is to artificially temper the impact of imposing religious beliefs by insisting that two theories of mankind's development be taught side by side, letting the students "choose", my abhorrence is not lessened. No one really believes that young students in an environment offering both religious and scientific theories to explain the development of our species freely and effectively weigh the merits of each. The insistence on injecting Creationism or "Divine Intervention" into a public school curriculum necessitates debunking the scientific theories that explain the process in less convenient terms.

If we focus on debunking science to mold minds to accept matters of religious faith, we sow generations of unthinking conformists. We reap the erosion of technological excellence and take a back seat to economies and cultures for whom education encourages acting on curiosity and distinguishes matters of faith.

We are already seeing the impact of co-mingling teaching matters of religious faith with the results of scientific study. According to the Pew Research Center, only 60% of Americans believe in evolution; 33% do not. Members of Congress serving on the House Science Committee unabashedly proclaim that "evolution, embryology and the Big Bank Theory" are Satan's work.  Incredibly, the handful of individuals in control of the committee in Congress responsible for approving legislation related to science, don't believe in science. More incredibly, there's not enough outrage from the public or courage by the Speaker of the House to effect the reassignment of the individuals to less conflicted positions.

We have all been bombarded with allegations of efforts to impose Shari'ah law on Western Civilizations. They typically arrive in our emails or Facebook news feeds as urgent warnings to wake up to the rising birth rate among Muslims and the deference being shown to Islamic practices in American jurisdictions. Without getting into the accuracy of the warnings, I find it incredibly ironic that the religious right in the United States, terrified at the prospect of having someone else's religious beliefs imposed to control their secular activities, fails to recognize that governing in accordance with Biblical passages is just as threatening to our Constitutional system of government.

We are free to practice our respective religions. We are not entitled, in public forums like public schools, to impose our religion and the faith on which it is based on everyone else. Parochial schools offer a solution for parents determined to emphasize the Almighty's interaction in the world around us. Let us insist that religious indoctrination be limited to schools affiliated with churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams and the like. Let us also encourage a vigorous examination and questioning of scientific principles without threatening God's wrath on those who do so.


oldman.denver said...

Great movie...I still watch it when it shows up on late night tv...and the subject matter still pisses me off. Thanks for reminding me.


Anonymous said...

"Amen" to that! and Thanks! I had never seen this film but watched it [sort of] while folding laundry. I will have my 10-year old son read the book with me next, I think. ALSO May I quote you about the irony of the religious right? [hypocrisy as well?] Thanks. Well said. CWP

Sam Stern said...

"CWP", be my guest.

Molly Stern said...

This makes me think that evolution should be taught not only in science class, but in religion and philosophy class (if available in high schools still?) because it's symbolic to the resistance of the religious right as well... No space for personal evolution when you must have "blind faith" to be a good Christian.

Should the child be named Darwin to support this cause? "Darwin, what an interesting name. Who are you named after?"
"Well, let me tell you a little story."

Elf said...

Well said, but I'm sure that the target audience won't read it or agree.

Charles Leck said...

A powerful and meaning blog, Mr. Stern. Thank you so much. This is part of the reason why Governor Dayton has also suggested we ought to think about repealing some of our blue laws. I really appreciated your comments.