I used to half-jokingly tell my students, “When everything feels upended in your life, there are three people whose goodness you can count on: Captain America, Shirley Temple, and Atticus Finch.”
But now it seems one of those three has been knocked down into the dirt with the rest of us.
With all the sturm and drang surrounding the release of Go Set a Watchman today, it’s easy to forget this book is basically an “outtake reel”—a first draft of one of the most beloved novels of all time. Like millions of other readers, I have long cherished Harper Lee’s book because of its lovely prose, its crisp characterizations, and above all for Atticus Finch. He was the character who inspired millions to be better than themselves, to love justice and seek kindness. And I am unable and unwilling to give him up.
Albert Burneko has best expressed what I’ve been feeling on the subject. He writes:
If the idea that Atticus is a secret racist strikes you as jarringly inconsistent with the character you encountered in To Kill a Mockingbird, do not feel as though you must read this new book to figure out what’s right. The Atticus you have known belongs to you; you created him. Some of your raw materials—just some of them—came from Harper Lee’s words, some of them came from your own life and experiences, and some of them (probably, let’s be real) came from Gregory Peck’s performance in the wonderful 1962 film adaptation. You combined them in your head and made an Atticus, and you know what he’s like.
That’s dang right, sir.
I’m with the French literary critic Roland Barthes on this one. In his 1967 essay “Death of the Author” he posited that literary works are “eternally written” with each re-reading because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and the impressions it makes on those who interact with it. Hence, what the author meant doesn’t matter—only what the reader draws from it does.
Atticus Finch left a deep and indelible mark on my life, and it doesn’t matter what Harper Lee intended. It doesn’t matter what the cash-grabbing lawyers and publishers do. Atticus can and will always be what I believe him to be. And in my mind he is just, loving, wise, and ever full of grace, all qualities that are still sorely lacking in this tired old world of ours.
I’ve also been brought low by the undercover video that was released today by the Center for Medical Progress. It features Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, blithely discussing the sale of fetal tissue harvested during abortions while she enjoys a delicious salad and glass of red wine.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but at one point during the video she states, “A lot of people want liver,” for medical research, “and for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.” She continues, “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
In my mind, this apathetic dismissal of human life is no different than the white jury deciding to hang Tom Robinson in order to preserve the racist status quo. In both cases, life is being squandered and wasted, chewed up and spit out by a cruel world that is no respecter of persons be they black or white, born or unborn. Atticus Finch couldn’t change hearts and minds when it came to race, and I doubt that video will change public opinion regarding abortion. The world is still dark, and there is no evidence that the light will dawn any time soon.
But thankfully my hope is not in Atticus Finch. And it is not in the Center for Medical Progress. It is in Jesus Christ and him alone.
Like David, I can say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Ps. 62:1-2). Like the hymnodist Edward Mote, I can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
So no, I will not read Go Set a Watchman. Instead, I will re-read my dogeared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and treasure the version of Atticus Finch I have come to know and love, the one I have admired since I first read the book—when I was barely older than Scout myself. But I will not worship him.
Thankfully, my joy is not contingent upon the stature of a fictional character. Its source is the Savior—one far greater, more just and loving and full of amazing grace than I could ever imagine.
As is the case with most things on the Internet, I’m a few days behind the curve on the newest social media craze, Kony 2012. The group’s latest video, which has gone viral since it hit the web a week or so ago, has been hashed over by the mainstream press both in America and Europe as well as by bloggers, folks at tumblr, and other website such as Jezebel.com. All of these sources bring up interesting points and shed light on the real story of Joseph Kony, his army, and what is going on both in Uganda and surrounding countries.
Many of the sources I linked to above have issues with Invisible Children, the not-for-profit group behind the effort to remove Mr. Kony from power and dismantle his empire of dirt. Some discredit them because only a portion of their donations actually go to aid people in Africa while the lion’s share goes to salaries, overhead costs, travel, and “awareness efforts.” Others more politically savvy than I claim that the problem in Uganda goes much deeper than Kony, that the government officials he’s fighting against are just slightly better than he and are guilty of many of the same atrocities. Still more people have taken issue with the self-serving, “smug indi-ness” of the video itself.
I’m not going to pick through the scorched earth of any of these arguments looking for something that hasn’t already been said. Seriously, within seven days, everyone including my technologically illiterate neighbor, Arthur, has harnessed the great leveling power of social media to contribute his or her two cents on this matter.
By all means, if you have thirty minutes to spare and have a fairly keen eye for rhetoric, feel free to watch the video. However, if you’re susceptible to pathos-laden appeals, perhaps you better abstain. All I’m saying is make sure to watch it critically and make up your own mind.
I found a transcript of the video, and I want to pull quotes from it in order to discuss another, seemingly unrelated issue. The driving force of the documentary is the appeal to save children from a dictator seeking to use them as cannon fodder. They show us video footage of children sleeping in piles in safe places away from their villages so they could avoid being forced into the L.R.A. They feature images of children supposedly mutilated by those kidnapped child soldiers and audio of Jacob, the director’s friend, crying into his hands over the thought of his murdered brother and the of living life this way any longer.
There were two quotes from the director, who does the voice-over for the film, that started nagging me and wouldn’t let go:
The video opens with a film shot to capture the birth of his son, Gavin. Concerning this amazing moment, he says:
Every single person in the world started this way. He didn’t choose where or when he was born. But because he’s here, he matters.
Later in the video, after the call to action has been given, he states:
We are not just studying human history, we are shaping it. At the end of my life I want to say that the world we’ve left behind is one that Gavin can be proud of, a place that doesn’t allow Joseph Konys and child soldiers, a place where children, no matter where they live, have a childhood free from fear….The better world we want is coming. It’s just waiting for us to stop at nothing.
First, allow me to say that I hate the fact that men and women like Joseph Kony exist and, for the most part, go unchecked. Do I think any and all possible steps should be taken in order to stop him? Absolutely. However, this video (and the response it’s gotten) has shown me something both interesting and troubling.
He says his son matters “because he’s here” on earth. He obviously loves his child and wants to make this world a better place for him. Likewise, he has spent eight years of his life fighting for the rights of Ugandan children, many of whom he’s never met, to insure they are permitted to live without fear. He seems to believe this so fervently that he’s worked with his friends and fellow activists to put together a worldwide effort at stopping a tyrant. They, too, matter “because they’re here.”
I scoured the Internet looking for information about this director, Jason Radical Russell. (Apparently that’s his real middle name. His son’s middle name is “Danger,” and his daughter’s is “Darling.”) I found relatively little outside of the material on the group’s website and various news articles. Therefore, please know that what I’m saying here is conjecture on my part based on what I have observed. I could very well be wrong, and if I am–glory be to God–I’ll eat my crow from a Knight Rider lunch box using only a spork and post footage of my doing so on YouTube.
The “because he’s here” thing just keeps sticking with me, and I’m willing to bet even money that Mr. Russell, a man who loves his son and desires to care for other children, might also pro-choice.
Apparently, he went to Africa for the first time in 2000 “on a church trip to Kenya,” but that’s all I can find on the subject. However, he has said, “I am going to help end the longest running war in Africa, get Joseph Kony arrested, and redefine international justice. Then I am going to direct a Hollywood musical. Then I am going to study theology and literature in Oxford, England, and then move to New York to start The Academy – which will be a school where the best creative young minds in the world attend.”
He does say he wants to study theology, but it’s mentioned in the same breath as literature and will be done after he creates a Hollywood musical. (Don’t get me wrong here. I adore musicals, and literature is a passion of mine. But neither shape my worldview. Also, if someone is serious about learning Christian theology, he would choose it first and would attend a true theological seminary. You’ll see my reason for not trusting anything coming out of Oxford a little later on.) Suffice it to say that I know many theology students who view it in the same light as philosophy and do not believe in many of the foundational truths of the faith such as the existence of the Trinity, the infallibility of the Bible, and the truth of creation.
I firmly believe Mr. Russell supports individuality, freedom, and the like. Bravo. I do as well. I, however, apply those terms to the unborn as well as children. Why? Because I am a Christian who believes life begins the moment of conception. I believe God intends for each person on this earth to be born and that He has a plan for their lives. As David stated in Psalm 139:13-16:
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me when as yet there was not one of them.
Based on my limited evidence and for the sake of argument, let’s say that Mr. Russell is indeed pro-life and that he believes everyone should be like him and plan on having a passel of kids with their respective spouse. Even if that is the case, I’m willing to bet millions of people who have watched his film and who have contributed money to his cause are not. I guarantee it actually. Far too many people are willing to believe two truths simultaneously.
When a child is unborn, to many, it isn’t a person. It is a fetus, a zygote, or an embryo—a piece of tissue that is no more alive than a stuffed animal. However, when a baby is born screaming and crying for all its worth, the splitting of hairs and war of semantics stops. At that moment, it is a living human being to any sane adult.
I know this is going to sound harsh, but I’m sure that more of the people who have plastered the Internet with this video (most of who are between the ages of 13 and 25) cared more about Lots-O-Huggin Bear being lost then they do the thought of a baby being aborted. After all, once something is “human” to you, it’s hard not to care, and to them, “fetus” just doesn’t drive the truth home.
However, judging by the outrage over the “after-birth abortion” article by Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubiliniin the Journal of Medical Ethics (which is associated with Oxford University by the way…I told you I’d explain myself on that count), people haven’t completley lost their moral center. These researchers argue that a fetus and a newborn share roughly the same status and that parents should have a right to an “after-birth abortion”–the term they prefer to “infanticide.” Read the two links above; I’m not making this stuff up. I simply cannot understand how people are so incensed over something only under certain conditions. To me, a life is a life, and they’re all worth protecting.
In fact, I don’t even know where to start with this; it’s fodder for another blog in and unto itself. What I do know though is that the pro-choice/abortion agenda and the Kony 2012 movement have a common enemy. Millions of people are asking, “How can an evil man like this be allowed? How can he do the horrible things he does?” The answer is simple. When we devalue life in the womb, it becomes easier to do so after a child is born. Both what he does and what we turn a blind eye to are evil, but many won’t be willing to label abortion as such. Instead, it’s “choice” or “freedom” or “a woman’s right”—these things take precedence over life.
By bringing abortion up, please know that I am, in no way, devaluing the campaign to defeat Kony and other despots like him. I’ll rejoice if he is captured and punished for his heinous actions. However, I couldn’t let the moment pass without explaining that the unborn are also “invisible children” with whom we should concern ourselves. After all, once they truly matter, that “better world” the filmmakers desire might be a little easier to attain.