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Lot 18: Darrow, Clarence. Two typed letters signed, 5 pages and 4 pages (11 x 8 ½ in.; 279 x 216 mm.)Platinum House
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
18. Darrow, Clarence. Two typed letters signed, 5 pages and 4 pages (11 x 8 ½ in.; 279 x 216 mm.), “Chicago,” 9 and 28 June 1928 to The Reverend. C. Russell Prewitt, First Methodist Church, Northampton, Massachusetts; on his personalized stationery; with envelopes.
A sharp rebuttal of the Reverend Prewitt’s defense of Christianity in a pair of letters.
Responding to the progressive minister. Darrow opens his first letter by stating his interpretation of Christianity.
Darrow writes in part: I believe I know what Christianity means today. It means the old story of the creation of man, the temptation and fall on account of the terrible sin of eating from the tree of knowledge; it means the serpent speaking in Hebrew to Eve; it means that unborn generations of women were condemned to bring forth children In pain and anguish, all on account of this terrible sin; It means the flood and the whale and all the rest of it; it means that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that on account of his terrible sacrifice those who do not know better can accept the myths and keep out of hell and get into heaven, although it does not seem to provide that woman shall not still suffer In childbirth but to indicate that the Lord overlooked a point . . . nobody knows anything about Jesus, whether he ever lived or what he said. There are not over ten lines that by any process of reasoning or evidence could be attributed to Jesus . . .no man who ever lived has had a copyright upon what may be said to be the chief, moral doctrines of the world. These most likely imply imagination which carries with It kindness, with the determination not to judge, and perhaps some other things whose origin would probably go back almost to primitive man.
He continues in a more personal vein:. . . it is impossible for me to see how you can accept and practice what is called Christianity, without accepting it all . . .It does seem to me that you people who are claiming to be Christians and religious ought to make some statement that is definite and specific as to what you mean by religion and what you mean by Christianity. Perhaps this has been done but if so it has escaped my notice . . . I know that even the liberal ministers are today not raising their voices against the fundamentalists who literally believe in the cardinal tenets of Christianity as contained in the Westminister Catechism and the Apostles Creed which are about the most immoral, impossible and degrading beliefs that have ever been given to man.
Darrow concludes his first letter with a piquant commentary about lawyers and preachers: I think the preachers are as honest as the lawyers, which is not saying much for them. I think that there is more injustice in the administration of law than you can find most anywhere else In the world; In fact, man does not know the meaning of the word justice, too many things are involved and It would be utterly absurd for you to judge me or for me to judge you. It requires a knowledge of many things, that even the subject knows nothing about.
In his second letter to Prewitt, Darrow uses the first two pages of his letter to quote and then rebut many of the statements in Prewitt’s letter. His overall response is that he is “afraid it does not pay us to discuss the questions that have grown out of our correspondence.” In particular, Darrow is disturbed by Prewitt’s definitions of religion and Christianity: If this is a correct definition of the word religion then all the dictionaries ought to be called in and burned . . .Your definitions of religion and Christianity and all the rest are so changeable and unique that one does not know where he stands, and expresses the uncertainty of discussing with one who makes the dictionary over anew.
The lawyer then attacks the preacher: Aren’t you abscessed [sic] of the word Jesus? Who was he, anyhow, and why do you have to spend so much time thinking about him and talking about him? He was certainly one of the lesser people of the earth so far as we are able to find out anything about what he said or thought, which is almost nothing. He is credited with saying some good things but also saying ‘he that believieth not shall be damned’, or words to that effect. However, this was after he had been resurected [sic] and he might not have been quite responsible.
Darrow closes his letter criticizing Prewitt for “wasting his mind on ill-conceived questions and faulty definitions: There is no reason why one cannot use simple and ordinary expressions when he wants to convey real ideas. I must say that I wish you would approach this question as you would any other because you certainly have too good a mind and equipment, in my opinion, to go to waste on metaphysics.”
A fascinating pair of letters revealing Darrow’s utter disrespect for fundamentalists, an element that may have had something to do with his brilliant defense of Scopes, or more correctly, his brilliant defense against fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan.