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August 20th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

To Kill a Mockingbird as book of Christian parables

“In the name of God, do your duty!”

If you’ve ever watched Gregory Peck deliver those closing lines to a jury in the 1962 film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” you’ll appreciate the powerful story behind his rousing challenge.

But will you appreciate the Christian parables spread throughout "To Kill a Mockingbird?" One high school English teacher is betting you will.

For millions of American school children, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was the first book that taught them hard truths about faith and integrity. The novel centers on Atticus Finch, a white lawyer in a segregated Southern town who decides to defend an African-American man unjustly accused of rape.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. The milestone has been marked with television specials and book festivals. But Matt Litton, a high school English teacher, decided to mark the anniversary with “The Mockingbird Parables,” a book that looks at the spiritual lessons in the classic book.

Litton says “To Kill a Mockingbird” is filled with spiritual instruction. Today, it's easy to label the film as an example of liberal good will. After all, Peck was a liberal activist who took the Finch role after reading the book in one setting.

But Finch’s decision to defend the black man was based on his faith, as he tells his bewildered daughter, Scout, in the book:

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

Litton notes in his book's introduction that Lee’s novel was named the best novel of the twentieth century by American librarians.  “It is our nation’s most widely read novel in grades nine through twelve,” he writes.

It’s also a novel that almost didn’t happen, Litton writes.

Lee became so frustrated with writing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that she simply tossed the entire manuscript out of her New York City apartment window where it could have been lost forever… But as the story is told, an encouraging phone call from an editor just moments later sent her to the sidewalk to recover the abandoned work.

Some think faith is confined to sacred books. But sometimes a story or a film can stir someone’s faith as well. “To Kill a Mockingbird” has that kind of power for some people.

What film or book stirred your faith?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Black issues • Books • Church • Culture & Science • Race • Uncategorized

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Beth

    Ah, I see. So instead of a forum of rational thought and debate about God, it becomes a forum for those assuming there is no God and bashing those who believe (for many reasons, and most of them "rational") that there is a God in the first place. Religion is not the "end of the world"–religious nut jobs might be, but then there are also atheist and agnostic nut jobs to contend with, as well.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  2. David Johnson

    I have had my comments deleted when talking to a fundie several times. Fundies don't like to have their arguments challenged.

    Also consider, that if god had wanted you to post what you posted, your post would have stood for all eternity. This may be a sign. Jesus is mad at you. Just sayin...

    August 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  3. DE

    The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe- CS Lewis
    Blue Like Jazz- Don Miller
    Vintage Jesus- Mark Driscoll

    August 20, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  4. JohnQuest

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I read this about two months ago I think it will stay with me the rest of my life.

    August 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  5. verify

    "A God Against the Gods" (and "Return to Thebes") by Allen Drury. Perhaps I was just ready at the time that I read it to see how arbitrarily one god was chosen from the many to be supreme, and how heads rolled (literally) for those who chose the 'wrong' one.

    August 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  6. Jamie

    -Standing for Something by Gordon B. Hinkley
    -Lion , Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

    August 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  7. Reality

    Who is Jesus by Professors JD Crossan (and Richard Watts) and the sequels, The Historical Jesus, the Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant and The Excavation of Jesus, co-authored by Professor JL Reed. Said books finally put Jesus in historical perspective i.e a simple preacher man whose life and words were "mythicized" and embellished by Paul et al to make him into a deity to compete with the the Caesar's of Rome and whose body and/or molecules still lay a-mouldering in the Palestine dirt and dust.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  8. Reality

    Who is Jesus by Professors JD Crossan (and Richard Watts) and the sequels, The Historical Jesus, the Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant and The Excavation of Jesus, co-authored by Professor JL Reed. Said books finally put Jesus in historical perspective i.e a simple preacher man whose life and words were "mythicized" and embellished by Paul et al to make him into a deity to compete the the Caesar's of Rome and whose body and/or molecules still lay a-mouldering in the Palestine dirt and dust.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  9. A Protest To CNN

    As a long-time blogger, I protest, in the strongest possible terms, the misguided erasure of vast numbers of posts in this belief blog.
    A person or persons unknown have gone through the past week and have deleted vast swaths of posts.
    If you are a blogger who has contributed in the past week, I invite you to go and see if what you wrote is still there.
    Whether it was the moderators, or somebody "flagging" every post they didn't like, the fact remains that this is outrageous behavior.
    Freedom of the press and speech don't really matter I guess. Expect this protest to disappear as well (if it even gets past the moderator filters)
    Bad functionality or deliberate act?
    I repeat: IF ANYONE HAS POSTED IN THE PAST WEEK – GO AND LOOK> YOUR POST MAY ALREADY BE GONE.
    How can anybody justify such immature behavior?
    So much for cnn. I had hoped for better from a member of the Fourth Estate.
    Where are the cowards who did this?

    August 20, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
      -Lewis
      "We say the name of God, but that is only habit."
      Nikita Khrushchev

      August 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  10. Luke

    The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris.

    August 20, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Required Reading in my home.

      August 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • David Johnson

      If evolution interests you, Dawkins latest "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is awesome. I started it on a work night and ended up going to work with 3 hours of sleep.

      August 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Luke

      Already done with the entire Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens libraries; and then some.

      August 22, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  11. JohnQuest

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” it a great story (I just finished reading it for the umptenth time since high school. It attempts to show both sides of Christian faith, the accusers were Christian, the mob that wanted to hang him was Christian, the whole town knew the truth and they were all Christian, this story doesn't bode well for Christians. To single out one Christian out of a town of Christians shows the exception to the rule not the rule. I am a 40 year old black man living from the south (living in the north now but looking forward to going home again), I have never been a Christian my parents were nonbelievers, this is one of the books my Dad had me read, he said it demonstrates Christian ideals, if that is true and I think it is, I think being a Christian is a sad thing to be.

    August 20, 2010 at 9:19 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Before saying that being a Christian is a sad thing...read...The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I hope, John, that the Quest isn't over for you.......

      August 20, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Luke

      You make a powerful statement in a way. To add on, what I think you are saying is that the values are a lovely thing. It's the actions that make you sad. And to that extent, the values you speak of originate in the teachings of Jainism and the Buddha, meaning that Christianity and its many sects including Catholicism do not have a patent on being good. Being good came along centuries before the rise of the Abrahamic religions. Is this what you are trying to say?

      August 20, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • JohnQuest

      Luke I think sometimes that the world would be better off without religion. However, if religious people just followed their belief as outlined in their religious text maybe their would be less hatred on this planet. CatholicMom, the Catholic Church still believes in demonic possessions, witchcraft, and a whole host of things that defy rational thought, (I am not saying that Catholics are not rational), just some of their doctrines are pretty far out there.

      August 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @JohnQuest

      You said, "I have never been a Christian my parents were nonbelievers, this is one of the books my Dad had me read, he said it demonstrates Christian ideals, if that is true and I think it is, I think being a Christian is a sad thing to be."

      A Christian is indeed a bad thing to be. But, so is Muslim or Hindu or any other worshipers of a god.

      August 21, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • JohnQuest

      David Johnson, at least Hindu does try to take over the world or kill you if you don't think like them. Seems to me that Hindu is a lot more peaceful that the Abraham base religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

      August 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.