In what manner does Harper Lee present religion and hypocrisy To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee mocks religious fanaticism and the hypocrisy of some who would present themselves as stalwart Christians.

  • Fanaticism in the Calvinistic "foot-washing Baptists"

Early in the narrative, Scout talks with Miss Maudie about the past history of Boo Radley. Although she is severely chastised by the "foot-washing Baptists," Miss Maudie is very charitable in her account of the "sad house" in which Arthur Radley resides. She explains to Scout that Boo's father "was a foot-washing Baptist...[one of those who] believe anything that's pleasure is a sin," so after Boo got into some trouble with the young Sarum bunch during a rowdy escapade, Mr. Radley kept Boo sequestered in their house from then on, preventing him from having any pleasure with others. As an afterthought, Miss Maudie interjects,

"Did you know some of 'em [the "foot-washers"] came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me [that] me and my flowers were going to hell?"

Amazed, Scout asks, "Your flowers, too?" as she insists that Miss Maudie is the best lady that she knows. Miss Maudie thanks her, adding that in contrast to Scout's opinion, the "foot-washers" believe that women by nature are Eves--"a sin by definition." [This point suggests the similarity of these Primitive Baptists' to Calvinists]

Thus, it seems that the "foot-washing" Baptists are unable to enjoy life and the beauty in the world created by God.

  • Religious hypocrisy

In Chapter 12, because Atticus is out of town, Calpurnia takes the children to her church so that they will not pull any pranks such as they did the time they went alone to their church [Churches were segregated in the South in the 1930s]. While they are at the First Purchase African M.D. Church, a large woman who seems seven feet high to little Scout asks Calpurnia why she has brought white children to their church.

"It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?"
Calpurnia said, "It's the same God, ain't it?"

Calpurnia reminds Lulu that all people are children of God, so it should not matter what color they are.

In Chapter 24 there is another instance of hypocrisy as Mrs. Merriweather, "a faithful Methodist under duress" and the "most devout lady in Maycomb," lauds the "saintly J. Grimes Everett" who has gone to Africa on missionary work. Mrs. Merriweather has pledged her support for him "one hundred per cent"; however, in a subsequent conversation she displays her bias against the blacks in Maycomb as she alludes to "sulky darkies" and complains how some people got them stirred up after the Robinson trial. As she also alludes to the trial and current events in Maycomb, another woman at the Missionary Tea remarks, 

"We can educate 'em till we're blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of 'em, but there's no lady safe in her bed these nights."

Mrs. Merriweather nods in agreement. She says that some "misguided people" in town have caused the problem.

"They thought they were doing the right thing a while back, but all they did was stir 'em up."  

She then complains about her maid who is now "sulky" and dissatisfied." But, in a short while, the hypocritical Mrs. Merriweather returns to praising Mr. J. Grimes Everett as "a martyred saint."

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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