Intelligence v. Superstition (1999)
by John Patrick Michael Murphy
A century ago the Democratic Party was controlled by religious fundamentalists - now the Republican Party is saddled with them. Three times (1896, 1900, 1908) the Democrats nominated the darling of populism and fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, for President of the United States. Each time the voters chose Republicans over the pious and fanatical Bryan. He was defeated twice by William McKinley, a devout Methodist, who happily left the Discipline of the Methodist Church outside the grounds of the White House. He, and First Lady Ida, had their own ministers tearing their gowns because they continued the tradition of wine at state dinners. Duty above belief is implicit in the Presidential Oath of our secular Constitution. Bryan's next opponent was Howard Taft, a Unitarian who rejected the divinity of Jesus, and all of his alleged miracles, and frowned at most of the Old Testament as well. Bryan condemned him in the campaign by repeatedly claiming "the American people will never elect a man President who disbelieved in the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ." Taft exploded Bryan's gift of prophecy by soundly beating him.
Bryan later was appointed Secretary of State, by Woodrow Wilson, and may have gone down in history as a reasonably sane person had he not involved himself, as lead prosecutor, in the Scopes evolution trial, in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. Clarence Darrow, an open atheist, defended Scopes, and called Bryan as the last witness for the defense. Bryan had held himself out as an expert on the Bible, and this allowed Darrow to place his opponent in the witness stand. Darrow first made Bryan an object of ridicule, and then, when Bryan was forced to admit, according to "creationism," that human beings are not mammals, he became an object of pity. The New York Times called the incident the most unbelievable court scene in Anglo Saxon history. It began as follows:
Darrow: "You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you Mr. Bryan?"
"Intelligence v. Superstition" is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
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