“In a child’s power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ‘amens’ and ‘holy holies’ and ‘hosannas.’ An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.”
These powerful words are from Inherit the Wind, an old film adaptation of a play that was loosely based on the controversial trial of high school teacher John Scopes in the US in the 1920s.
The county teacher was tried and convicted for discussing Darwin in class in a conservative Tennessee town. It was a time when the southern US state had the Butler Act that outlawed the teaching in public schools of the theory about how we came to be. Charles Darwin had expounded on this in great detail in his groundbreaking scientific research work On the Origin of Species.
Darwin’s work is available in bookstores. Sadly, bigotry prevents many from even touching it.
“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?” asks Henry Drummond, the defense lawyer portrayed by Spencer Tracy in one of the court drama scenes.
He adds: “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 16th century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”
The 1960 film was shown following the years of McCarthyism, one of the periods when the world saw American democracy going berserk mainly due to deep-seated prejudices, and the demagoguery of political opportunists. It was the era of the Red Scare, which is pretty much like the demagogues-sponsored red-taggings taking place in our country today. The film became a means to discuss parallelisms in the Scopes Trial and McCarthyism.
Inherit the Wind is as relevant as it was 62 years ago, and is a must-watch, especially at this time when democracies around the world are being sabotaged by populist autocrats and their cohorts to savagely suppress civil liberties, basic freedoms, and sound reason. I placed the emphasis because, without sound reason, including the rule of law, democracies are bound to collapse.
Imperfect as it is, democracy is the best system known and tested by man because it allows people to participate and decide their future through their representatives.
It is still the way to go for those who value freedom, and civil liberties, without which man cannot be happy.
Happiness, after all, is the bottom line, and that is something that cannot happen in a society deprived of freedoms and civil liberties.
Yet democracy is overrated because majority rule, which is its strength, can also be its greatest weakness. It allows a Pontius-Pilate-situation, or as one story goes, when an unruly mob throws out sound reasoning to set a criminal free and then sends a preacher who used radical ideas and words as his only weapons to die by way of crucifixion on Golgotha.
The tyranny of the majority is evident in the film which highlights how bigotry and ignorance are allies of wayward and serve as a breeding ground for very dangerous ideas and actions.
The moral lesson of Inherit the Wind is this: unsound and dangerous ideas shouldn’t be left unchecked and unchallenged.
Bigotry and science illiteracy
Speaking of bigotry, no one among those campaigning to become the next president is, perhaps, more bigoted than Senator Manny Pacquiao.
Worried about losing LGBTQ+ votes and the backlash of his bigotry, he recently toned down his aversion and antagonism toward calls to allow the state to recognize the union of people of the same sex.
Now, he is saying that he “respects” and “salutes” members of the LGBTQ+ community because he knows them to be “hardworking.”
But there is a disconnect in this Pacquiao rhetoric and lip service. Following his line of thinking, they need to pass his standards of hard work first before they can earn his respect. It makes me wonder then about what he thinks of the not-so-hardworking people who happen to identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
How LGBTQ+ people work has never been the issue, to begin with. It is how religious bigots in government treat them because of their sexual orientation and partner preference.
What Pacquiao deliberately omitted was how he looked at the LGBTQ+, and how he abhors them for asking the state to recognize their union.
Based on his 2016 remarks, Pacquiao thinks they are worse than animals – or lewd sinners – unions should never be given legal protection by the state.
Their wish is simple: keep the government and people who think like Pacquiao off their bedrooms, and from telling them who and who not to spend the rest of their lives with.
How, pray tell, would a state recognition of such unions hurt Pacquiao, and why are their bedroom affairs his business? The things people do behind closed doors, especially those which don’t inconvenience or harm others, are matters that shouldn’t concern non-participants.
In the same manner, Pacquiao should treat his dogma like the parts of his body that he won’t dare show the public. He is free to love, value, cherish, and take good care of them, but never flaunt or ram them down just about any citizen’s throat.
Turning dogma into public policy or laws is discriminatory in that many citizens don’t share the same religious convictions, or have none at all. Affiliation with a different religious group doesn’t forfeit citizenship, does it?
And how would Pacquiao feel if another politician from a group that sincerely a different set of beliefs suddenly seeks a ban on blood transfusion even if that meant not saving a child’s life because that would be against his religious conviction?
We have learned a few things about how this religious bigot’s brain works. And two things may be said of Pacquiao based on the falsehood that he has peddled, and the horrible things that he said about gay people in 2016.
First, Pacquiao knows little or knows nothing about science. If he did, he would think twice before saying that they were worse than beasts because “animals don’t engage in homosexual acts.” Science has long thrown out that archaic notion into the dust bins of history – the list of animals that do display homosexual behavior is quite long.
This is the problem when you have people believing that they can acquire more scientific knowledge from ’80s-style televangelists than from science teachers.
Second, Pacquiao is outrageously bigoted. The only reason why he opposes calls to give a marginalized sector of the Filipinos some form of conjugal right is because of what he read in a compilation of ancient writings that were later passed off as revelations from some extraterrestrial intelligence. That is no reason at all. Neither is it an acceptable argument against the same-sex civil unions.
What he missed out on was that these were authored by men from Iron Age tribes that once existed in one of the world’s most homophobic and misogynistic regions.
Religious groups, of course, may deny them church wedding ceremonies if that is against their faith. That is understandable. But civil unions in our secular courts and local governments that should be outside the territory of religion?
Election day is still weeks away, and there’s still a chance that Pacquiao could snatch the presidency just like any of the presidential hopefuls. That means there is a science possibility, no matter how slim, that this country would have an illiterate of a religious bigot for a president deciding on very important scientific matters that concern all of us. That prospect is worrisome. Pastilan.
Journalist Herbie Gomez is the coordinator of Rappler’s Mindanao Bureau.