Somehow I escaped reading this essential school text, with its story of racism in 1930s American South. Living in Northern Ireland, I draw parallels with sectarianism, with its similar bigotry and prejudice.
There is one passage that directly deals with religious difference:
Miss Maudie settled her bridgework. “You know old Mr Radley was a foot-washing Baptist –”
“That’s what you are, ain’t it?” (says Scout)
My shell’s not that hard, child. I’m just a Baptist.”
I particularly like the lesson imparted by Scout’s father Atticus, on whether he was right or wrong to take on the doomed case of Tom Robinson:
“Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”
“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that … but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to be able to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscious.”
That made me think of anti-Nazi campaigner Sophie Scholl’s exclaim, “We are your conscious!”
Indeed, after a classroom lesson on democracy, dictatorship and Hitler, Scout asked her older brother:
“[Miss Gates] went on today about how bad it was him treatin’ the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?”
“Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin’ you?”
“Well, coming out of the court-house that night Miss Gates was … talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?”
So, it’s fine to agree what you deem wrong wherever it happens, but harder to address your own moral hypocrisies.
It’s clear why To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading for all, and why it has stood the test of time for over 50 years.