The United States are often presented as ‘one nation’, but that is far from the reality. One of the most exemplary of the Vanderbilt Agrarians, Donald Davidson, even spoke of a cultural ‘cold Civil War’ that began between the North and the South after WWI drew to a close (Southern Writers in the Modern World, U of Georgia Press, Athens, Ga., 1958, p. 34).
The latest instance of this propaganda war against the South is Fox News journalist Greg Jarrett’s new book Trial of the Century, which rehashes the events of the John Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. His central claim is that Tennessee’s law against the teaching of evolution was an evil restriction upon the sacred right of freedom of speech. The rather unmistakable message that emanates from this is that laws upholding Christianity are bad; the untrammeled ‘free exchange of ideas’ is much better.
Southerners should recognize his book for the attack on their Christian culture that it is. Prof. Davidson and the other Agrarians recognized the Scopes trial itself as such. Prof. Davidson describes windbags like Mr. Jarrett as ‘vain-minded modernists, all resolved to define God as science and to give the theory of evolution the status of quasi-religious dogma’ (Southern Writers, p. 40). He adds, ‘ . . . the Dayton episode dramatized, more ominously than any other event easily could, how difficult it was to be a Southerner in the twentieth century . . . . It was horrifying to see the cause of liberal education argued in a Tennessee court by a famous agnostic lawyer from Illinois named Clarence Darrow. It was still more horrifying—and frightening—to realize that the South was being exposed to large scale public detraction and did not know or much care how to answer’ (Ibid.).
Hopefully Southerners will know and care how to answer to this reprise of the Scopes trial that Mr. Jarrett is trying gin up. We can start by learning from how the Southern Agrarians reacted to the Scopes trial. John Crowe Ransom became a defender of traditional religion:
‘John Ransom astonished his campus friends at Vanderbilt by openly challenging the modernist position and defending Fundamentalism in religion. I recall a tense scene on the third floor of Calhoun Hall at Vanderbilt during which Ransom, more excited than I had ever seen him, opposed Dr. Edwin Mims in vigorous argument over the issues raised at Dayton. Out of the bold and somewhat grim conviction of such moments, I should guess, grew the exacting study and thought that went into the composition of Ransom’s great book about science and religion, God Without Thunder: An Unorthodox Defense of Orthodoxy’ (Ibid., p. 41).
Prof. Davidson wrote searing lines of poetry warning about the idolatrous worship of science. These are from ‘Fire on Belmont Street’:
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The rest may be read here
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!