Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • On Noah's choice in the film NOAH

    • Posted on Apr 02, 2014 by Scott Cawelti


    SPOILER ALERT!  Do not read on if you believe that knowing the ending will erode your enjoyment of the film.  Go see Noah and come back. 

    Noah believes that he has been clearly commanded by God to destroy all mankind.   Because humanity has become so utterly evil, nothing will save humans from God’s scorn and wrath.  

    Noah’s plan (derived, he believes, from God’s will) is to leave no heirs—to just let his family die natural deaths from old age.  But his plan gets spoiled when the girl they had rescued from a marauding clan miraculously gets pregnant with twins—daughters, as it were.

    Noah knows that this means mankind will continue, since two daughters are capable of producing any number of future humans, especially since Noah’s son fathered them, and can father more.  Yet Noah continues to believe that God does not want mankind to survive.  And that would include Noah and his family. 

     To carry out God’s commandment, he—Noah—must murder his granddaughters.    He has no choice, he insists over and over.   This doesn’t sit well with his family, all of whom think he has become a madman, and tell him so.   
    Noah, however, will not be stopped, and with his knife raised, ready to slaughter his beautiful newborns, he pauses.   Then instead of stabbing them dead, he gently and sweetly kisses each one. 


    Thus Noah blatantly gives up on God’s commandment.   At first, this is horrible for him.  By disobeying God’s order he feels as though he utterly betrayed the Creator, and the poor man lapses into severe depression, hobbled by guilt, and soon turns to the fermented grape for comfort.   He’s a guilty mess. 

     To his family, however, Noah finally came to his senses and became the loyal father and husband they loved.

     More than that, they eventually convince him, supported by supposed signs from heaven (the sun’s rays peak through at just the right time, white doves return to the ark) that his refusal to kill his grandchildren was also an order from God, only from inside Noah in the form of his conscience.  God evidently changed His mind.  
    Mankind will continue after all, and Noah feels fine about that in the end.  

    Thus the film ends happily, with Noah’s family carrying on, post-flood, in the belief that mankind does have a few redeeming features—granddaughters and such.   

     SO:  where is God? Is he out there, issuing orders that seem cruel and heartless?  Or in there, letting each human listen to whatever their consciences tell them?   

    Here’s the rub.  God’s initial demand on Noah was directly contradicted by Noah’s choice to spare his granddaughters.  Directly.  You can’t have it both ways—if you’re listening to the God “out there” commanding you to do something you find distasteful, then change your mind because your conscience tells you it’s fine to disobey the first command, you have a problem.   You’re left to decide for yourself which set of commands to follow.

    This is exactly the same as not worrying about God at all.   Do what you think is right, and forget about trying to please anyone but your own conscience.  That’s what Noah does, and though he eventually believes God approves, this seems suspiciously like a rationalization, a self-serving decision to please his family and himself.  Who’s to say, really, whether he pleased God or not?  

    Thus the film Noah raises this question: Do we need God to help us do the right thing?  And down deep, offers this answer:  not really.  


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  • Rare "Man Bites Dog" Moment

    • Posted on Mar 07, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    My Feb. 16 Column, “We Deserve Better than Fox News” caused a bit of a stir. No surprise there; people who stay with Fox News feel attacked, it seems, every time someone points out the flaws in their sources, their selection of stories, or their on-air personalities.  

    But there was one rather amazing turnaround in a reader, and that only happens once in a solar eclipse.  When it does, like the man bites dog story, it deserves attention.

    So here is the angry first email, received a few days after the column appeared.  I won’t mention any names to save embarrassment. 

    Here it is, and I’ve broken it into paragraphs for ease of reading: 

     Hey Calwelti,  it has been a week since you wrote that fabulous piece about Fox News in the Courier and I am sure your inbox has been buzzing. I hope to add to it.

     You seemed frustrated that, while Obama has 99% of the media in his back pocket, he doesn't have Fox news. He waxes on about it whenever he is given the chance and it appears as though you picked it up on it for your column.

     You reference a couple of books that one other person besides yourself has read. We aren't exactly talking best seller material here are we? I will have to take your word for what was in them because I am not going to waste the money.

     You mentioned having watched Fox from time to time. Do you cheer when they make an effort to give the liberal side of things? Allen Combs, Bob Beckel? Numerous other libs that struggle, in vain, to make their feeble points. Embarrassing to see them get skewered time and time again for them, like you, their voices carry no reason what so ever. No logic, no rationale, no nothing except a bitter tone of hating conservatives and everything that they stand for.

    You really should watch Fox on a regular basis. You will learn some useful things. You will learn that our President has lied to us about Bengahzi, targeting conservative groups using the IRS, Solindra and green energy and on and on, and  fill in the blank. The man is a pathological liar.

     Is there something in your DNA that makes you ignore all the things that this President has done against the American people? It is extremely hard to understand how people like you, or other libs, can support this guy given all he has done and what he is doing to our country. Worst president ever? This guy, your guy, will come down as EPIC worst ever.


    One thing I have got to credit you for is that you have some big stones. To come out and call thousands of Courier readers ignorant takes big ones. Especially given the fact that we taxpayers pay for your lavish retirement as a former professor.

     And, while you were working, it is such a comfort to know that part of the check I wrote for my daughter going to UNI ended up in your pocket. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. To get called ignorant makes me feel so good for the money I am spending.

     I see that you are a part time writer. Hope the rest of your stuff is better than the crap you put in the Courier.

     I gave up on “real” replies a long time ago, since they end up in pissing matches—kind of a duel of sources and logic nitpicking.   I do resist personal attacks, so the attack on my profession was a low blow, as was his calling my writing “crap.”  Everyone writes a little crap, I’m well aware, me no more than most.  

    So I replied only. ‘Hope you feel better.” 

    hen three or four days later, and I kid you not, this arrived: 


    Hey Cawelti, I sent you an email the other day regarding your column on Fox News. Have been thinking about it and wanted to apologize for flying off the handle at you. I had a bad day, this weather stinks (everyone is on edge I swear), yada, yada. I should have let it roll off my back. I did not and I apologize for my words.

    I did not read your reply, which I saw early Monday morning as I was leaving for the gym. I did not really care what you said in reply as I felt bad for what I had said shortly after sending it. Anything you would had said back to me would not have made a difference. Ever throw one out there and wish you had not?

    I hope we can agree to disagree on the policies that are affecting our country. We are getting pulled apart from both sides. It is sad, and alarming, to see. We need to work together. I will continue to watch Fox news and try not to throw things at the TV when Obama is on. Ha. I may even expand my horizons and watch some NBC News. Ouch. You? Watch a little more Fox to see what the conservatives are thinking and expand your horizons. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial page if you get a chance. They do a good of job getting under what is going on behind both sides of this political junk.

    Regarding your writing, you had a piece in the Courier, sometime around the holidays, that was really, really good. Something about things that matter. Almost sent you a note telling you how good it was. Would like to do so now. We need more of that.

    Knock me over with a  feather, eh?  A complement, no less, too. 

    I wrote a real reply: 

    Well, thanks, _____.  Appreciate your apology, and all I replied was "Hope you feel better."  And I still hope that--your apology helped with that, I'm sure. And I completely agree with your second letter's substance--we are being pulled apart.  And we can surely agree to disagree.  At heart, we probably disagree about the role and size of government--and that's an honest argument that has been going on since 1776.  Honorable people differ on that, and probably always will.   

    So thanks again, and I might use your letter on my web site (the apology) without attribution to illustrate how much we probably do agree and need to work together to solve problems. 

    Here's hoping for an end to this horrible winter.   I'm grumpy too.  


    I’ve received no further reply, and don’t expect to, but at least we’re parting without the anger and personal attacks. 

    For me, this apology stands as a ray of hope—that people can overcome the divisive tone that pervades Fox (not the others, except occasionally MSNBC, granted) and rise above it.

    We do disagree, but only on a few principles, and we can discuss those rationally with no personal attacks—and maybe all learn something.  



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