Because it remains too hot to work in the garden, I’ve been holed up indoors watching movies. Some are so forgettable that they’re just background noise while I work on other projects, however lately I stumbled upon two in a row that addressed how easily people suspend reason for blind faith. First, I should say that my spiritual beliefs are based on personal experience and would probably shock my agnostic and atheist friends but I keep them to myself. Nor do I want to discuss anyone else’s beliefs – unless they want to tell me about a UFO or BigFoot sighting, of course.
Now to the movies I saw. The first was simply called Bernie. I’d seen clips of this movie before but wasn’t interested because of the synopsis: “A Texas town comes to the defense of a mortician’s assistant who shot an heiress in the back and then stuffed her body in a freezer.” Sounds like a slasher movie, right?
Actually, it’s based on an incident that took place in 1998 in Carthage Texas. Because I knew that going in, I assumed that all of the interviews in the movie were interviews with the townspeople of Carthage. Then I recognized a couple of famous actors. Whoops.
The story’s a familiar one: a young man becomes the companion of a wealthy old lady. Eventually he gains access to her finances, then grows tired of her clinginess and shoots her in the back. However, there’s a twist. After the murder, he uses her money to become the town’s most popular philanthropist. They all love Bernie! Even when the body’s found and Bernie confesses, they refuse to believe he could have actually committed murder. Perhaps because no one liked the old woman, or perhaps because they’ve benefitted from her murder. One by one they look into the camera and say things like: “It’s up to God to judge, not me” and “I don’t think even Jesus could change my mind [about Bernie’s innocence].”
The second movie was Inherit the Wind, a fictionalization of the Scopes (Monkey) Trial of 1925. A teacher is arrested and put on trial for teaching evolution to a group of southern high school students, igniting a wave of hatred and threats of violence. The defense attorney, played by Spencer Tracey, attempts to argue to the court and the town that God’s greatest gift to mankind is the ability to wonder and if children are told it is a sin to wonder, civilization will spin in reverse.
Seeing these two movies almost back to back answered a question that has bothered me since the election. How can so many people who claim to be Christians back a man who espouses a doctrine of isolationism, mocks handicapped people and brags he can shoot people on Fifth Avenue and still be worshipped? And not just support him, but with a blinding certainty that is frightening to those of us who want to retain our freedom to wonder.
It’s like a character in Bernie said “I don’t even think Jesus could change my mind. . .” Not even Jesus.“Darwin had it wrong. Man’s still an ape,” Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald to Spencer Kelly in Inherit the Wind.