Dec 16, 2008

The Godless Girl

This is Cecil B. deMille’s last silent picture. The girl is Lina Basquette, who once received some fan mail from a German politician in which he said she was his favorite actress. Lina pretty much disappeared. The politician became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and left office in April 1945. He has been presumed dead, though sightings have been reported in various places.

The picture above shows a prospective member of the Godless Society taking an oath in which he renounces the Bible.

The plot centers around the conflict between Judy, the girl shown above, and Bob, a Christian student at the local high school. The film opens with a statement that there are atheist societies trying to propagate their views in the public schools. The film then shows atheist leaflets being shoved into lockers. When the flyers are brought to the attention of the principal he determines to stop it. He storms into a classroom, demands the leaflets, and says the student responsible can be prosecuted for blasphemy.

Okay, this is 1929, but it does raise some problems for us today. While most of us do believe in God, we also don’t believe in using the taxpayer’s dollars to enforce belief. In part because we know that if the shoe is ever on the other foot it can be used against us. So we’re against secular schools doing the job of religious schools. Also I don’t know if blasphemy laws ever operated that way. If somebody has historical knowledge of blasphemy law in the 1920’s feel free to leave a comment.

Bob, the student body president, says the students should deal with the problem. He and most of the student body pay a visit to the atheist society, and a riot ensues. In the melee a girl is killed, and Bob, Judy, and the schnook shown in the picture are charged with manslaughter.

There is over an hour devoted to the miseries of juvie. Bob and Judy attempt to escape, but are captured, and returned. A fire breaks out, and Bob, Judy, the schnook, and Mame, Judy’s friend, prove to be heroes, and get released. Judy returns to God.

What’s interesting is that the film anticipates many of the concerns of present day evangelicals and others who dislike the increasing secularism of our institutions. While Darwinism, or at least a theistic version of evolution, is accepted in many mainstream religions, it remains a subject of controversy in evangelical churches, or in churches where Biblical inerrancy is taught. The film, which comes 4 years after the Scopes trial, deals with the linkage of Darwinism and atheism. The godless girl, Judy, affirms her belief in science, and makes prospective members swear by placing their hand on a monkey, as shown in the picture above. When the poor schnook asks if he has to give up Christmas as well, he attempts to renounce his renunciation. The film doesn’t make the linkages to racism (the Scopes books were hostile to blacks), or to communism that motivated much of the action against Scopes. It focuses on the common belief that it was Biblical literalism against science, which is how it is played in both the book and film version of Inherit the Wind. There were other issues involved, but the popular myth has been dominant for a long time.