When the workmen who appear at the beginning of the scene decide to leave the “Read Your Bible!” sign in its place, one workman declares, “The Devil don’t run this town. Leave it up,” echoing Hornbeck’s ironic greeting of Drummond at the end of the first scene. The playwrights juxtapose Drummond’s compassion and understanding for Cates and Rachel at the end of Act I with the workmen’s knee-jerk vilification of Drummond as the devil.
As Reverend Brown approaches the platform to deliver his sermon, the stage directions emphasize Hillsboro’s enthusiastic reception of its spiritual leader: “The prayer meeting is motion picture, radio, and tent-show to these people. To them, the Reverend Brown is a combination Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks.” In this rural community, religion is not only a guide for moral conduct but also a primary source of entertainment. The playwrights’ comparison of Reverend Brown to Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks—popular film stars during the era of the Scopes trial—emphasizes this point. Likewise, the style in which Reverend Brown delivers his sermons resembles theater more than teaching. At the end of the scene, we are left with the sense that fundamentalist Christianity monopolizes the townspeople’s worldview. We feel that the residents of Hillsboro may only profess their faith in this brand of Christianity because small-town life has exposed them to little else. More exposure to science, literature, or philosophy might cause them to waver in their beliefs or to investigate and define them more critically. Indeed, the townspeople’s shifting allegiances near the end of the play confirm these possibilities.
The extreme nature of Brown’s sermon—which damns Cates and all those who support him, including his own daughter—leads Brady to voice a different opinion, one that contradicts Hillsboro’s brand of fundamentalism. With Brown having whipped the crowd into a zealous frenzy, Brady becomes uncomfortable and outright objects to Brown’s treatment of his daughter. Brady reminds Brown of a quote from the Bible, “He that troubleth his own house . . . shall inherit the wind.” Brady implies that Brown, by bringing condemnation on his own daughter, will leave himself with nothing but his own hot air. In this departure, Brady distinguishes himself from Brown and his docile Hillsboro followers by advocating the Christian practice of forgiveness. When Brown curses his own daughter, practically with glee, Brady reminds him that his mission is to save human souls—not to hasten their damnation. Unlike Brown’s fire-and-brimstone sermonizing, which draws heavily from parts of the Old Testament, Brady emphasizes the more forgiving New Testament doctrines of Jesus. Although Brady does display his share of weaknesses, notably his vanity and ceremonious self-importance, his reaction to Brown’s sermon implies that he possesses a compassionate streak that Brown lacks.