Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

What would Atticus do?

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To-Kill-A-Mockingbird-the-fanfic-27079698-351-600Several years ago, the acronym WWJD was very popular. People wore bracelets with those four capital letters, which stood for “What Would Jesus Do.” I don’t see much evidence of that acronym any more. Perhaps it was just a fad – just another marketing ploy to tap into the hearts and desires of millions.

An article in the Guardian newspaper reminded of another man of whom one could easily ask the same question, Atticus Finch, the main adult character in Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. And equally classic is the 1962 movie version starring Gregory Peck – one of those rare occasions where the movie is just as good as the book!

The courtroom scenes are powerful, but even more memorable are the quiet scenes of Atticus being a father and a teacher to his two children. What would Atticus do? The words he speaks to his daughter Scout are words that every parent should teach; and not just teach but practice: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

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Or, how about this piece of dialogue with his son Jem:

Atticus: I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house; and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted – if I could hit ’em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Jem: Why?

Atticus: Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.

In this quiet exchange, Atticus is teaching his son about the gifts that animals and birds, plants and trees, bring to our lives. Respect for birds, animals and plants goes hand in hand with respect for all people. All life is precious. And the lessons that Atticus instilled in his children took hold, as when Scout said this memorable line to another child: “Jem is up in a tree, he said he won’t come down until you agree to play football with the Methodists.”

Respect – the virtue that is most lacking in our world today. Scout learned respect from the hours that she spent in the lap of her father. And she also learned respect from the people that her father respected and defended. At the conclusion of the courtroom scene, as Atticus Finch makes his way to the door of the courthouse, the African-American pastor instructs Scout: “Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” You see, it does take a village to raise a child, after all. It does take a village to teach a child respect; and it also takes a village to teach a child hatred. May the church be the village that teaches respect and acceptance – as Christ has accepted us and welcomed us into life (Romans 15:7).

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Yes, let’s revive WWJD – but not as a fad to sell bracelets. Rather, let’s print that acronym in our hearts. Not What would Jesus say; not What would Jesus preach; not Who would Jesus judge – but What Would Jesus Do. And while we’re at it, let’s also ask, What Would Atticus Do?

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