The Public Interest

The Religious Future of Liberalism

Thomas J. Main

Summer 1982

I first saw the movie version of Inherit the Wind when I was about twelve and, as far as I was concerned, it was a much more important religious experience than my confirmation, which I also had about then. Like many young Catholics, I took a special glee in irreverent humor, and certainly few people ever delivered agnostic wisecracks with greater charm than Gene Kelly as the E.K. Hornbeck/ H.L. Mencken character. It was quite a brainstorm to cast Kelly as Mencken; the physical agility he brought to even a strictly dramatic part managed to suggest the wonderful verbal gymnastics I encountered when I read a little bit of Mencken a few years later.  For a long time, the image of a Kellyesque Mencken archly sniping at what he called William Jennings Bryan’s “baroque theology” and “alpaca pantaloons” was to me the incarnation of liberal progress in combat with reactionary dogmatism.

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