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Enjoying God Blog

5

I make it my goal to read Harper Lee’s phenomenal novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, once every year. I’ve been fairly successful at doing so for quite some time now. It is, in my humble opinion, the most powerful narrative in the history of American literature.

The other day, as I was making my way through Chapter 11, I came across something that hit me squarely between the eyes. If you know anything of the story, young Scout, about 7 years old at this time, has been harassed mercilessly at school because her father, Atticus Finch (a local attorney), has agreed to be defense counsel for Tom Robinson. The latter, a black man, had been charged with raping a poverty-stricken white lady. Those who read the novel know that Tom is innocent. But they also know, as does Atticus Finch, that he could never receive a fair trial or be exonerated.

Once again, Scout has gotten in trouble at school for engaging in fist fights with those who persist in calling Atticus, “a N lover.” You may recall that some today are trying to ban Lee’s novel from schools or at least make changes in the language lest people be offended by her frequent use of the “N” word. Needless to say, the culture in the deep south during the 1930’s was known for its derogatory use of this word. Any attempt to alter the language in the book would seriously undermine its effectiveness in combating racism.

In any case, Atticus tries to explain to his young daughter why he is defending Robinson:

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus,” replied Scout, “you must be wrong. . . .”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong. . . .”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that,” says Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” (p. 120).

The point of this brief article is to bring to everyone’s attention that concluding statement by Atticus Finch: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” I think it best just to stop with that and give the reader the time to meditate on the profound significance of what Atticus said. He was a man of stalwart Christian character. It simply didn’t matter to him that virtually everyone else in town had cast their vote against Tom Robinson. Atticus’ conscience wouldn’t permit him to cave into their prejudice and misguided judgement. So, memorize that statement and let it guide you in the days ahead:

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

5 Comments

Sam, thank you for posting this, it encouraged me thinking deeply on this topic.
A Biblical word study of "conscience" is interesting and necessary, as not everyone understands what it means intuitively. It is no small thing that can be pushed aside, such as our preferences may be. A word study yields this approximate definition: the conscious is the innate human ability to know the righteous course of action, and is the awareness of one's moral standing before God and man.
Living with a pure conscious is a requirement for Christian leaders, and a central theme of Paul's ministry (Act 23:1, Acts 24:16, 1 Tim 3:9, 2 Tim 1:3, etc.) and should be a theme of our life with Christ, "For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you" (2 Cor 1:12 ESV). Sin defiles the conscious ("searing" could be understood as a repeated ignoring of instincts of the conscious), conversely a conscious-defiling institution is full of sin (Titus 1:15, 1 Tim 4:2). Finally, as believers we can appeal to each other's consciences (2 Cor 4:2).

Thanks for this reminder from a classic novel!
Our favorite book and what a wonderful reminder….. thank you Sam
This is the way I have been feeling since February and still unsure of it all. This gives lots to think about.
I have not read that book since 10th grade English. It takes alot of character and courage to take that stand. Thanks for the reminder to read this again.

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