Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Gospel according to Harper Lee - II

A Meek and Lowly Father

Scout says of her father,

“Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty...Our father didn't do anything.... Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.”

But when the Sheriff hands his rifle to Atticus to take out a rabid dog in the street with a difficult long shot, Scout is excited to finally have something to brag about.

“When we went home I told Jem we'd really have something to talk about at school on Monday. Jem turned on me.
“Don't say anything about it Scout,” he said.
“What? I certainly will. Ain't everybody's daddy the deadest shot in Maycomb County.”
Jem said, “I reckon if he wanted us to know it, he'da told us.”
“Maybe it just slipped his mind,” I said.
“Naw, Scout, it's something you wouldn't understand. Atticus is real old, but I wouldn't care if he couldn't do anything - I wouldn't care if he couldn't do a blessed thing.”
Jem picked up a rock and threw it jubilantly at the carhouse. Running after it, he called back: “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!” (Chapter 10)

In this story, Scout discovers in her “feeble” father a heroic sharpshooter. Jem's discovery is deeper. He begins to understand the depth of his father's character, a discovery that fills him with love, and, instead of a desire to revel in his father's skill with a gun, a desire to imitate his gentlemanly humility. One might say that Scout is still seeing the father with the eyes of the Old Testament, while Jem has begun to see the father with the eyes of the New.

Truly admirable, loving, but also unattainable, Atticus provides a perfect model for what Girard calls “external mediation.” Atticus inspires imitation without ever engendering rivalry (unlike the internally mediated dynamic between the siblings Jem and Scout, where rivalrous fights frequently break out). We live in a world where such fathers are increasingly deposed, exposed as just as imperfect as the rest of us - no longer “arousing the admiration of anyone.”  Now we have only one father left who we can worship the way Jem worships Atticus: the Heavenly Father.

With the Christian deconstruction of the scapegoat mechanism, we can no longer come together by being altogether against the single other. Nor do we have earthly fathers left who can keep our mimetic rivalries from getting out of had with the big scary "Because I said so," of patriarchy's sacred wrath. Now our options are reduced to the rivalrous anarchy of each against each, or coming together altogether for the Other One.

The Christian God can seem old and feeble. Out of fashion, and revealed in weakness. What kind of God is that? It is indeed a strange claim that Christians make: that of all the powers competing for our worship, the single one that is worthy is the Lamb that was slain. God the Victim, the Vulnerable One, the Suffering Servant. Strange, and yet, the more I think about this, the more I feel like Jem. I want to throw something, my joy in this humility is so fierce.

No comments:

Post a Comment