December 25, 2005

What Huck Finn Can Teach Us

This week, Fred Clark's Left Behind essay was a highly appropriate post for the Christmas season. He's reached a section where LaHayes and Jenkins expound on what it means to "be saved." What he's found is the authors are once more focused on the wrong thing. And he notes that if one truly seeks salvation, one can do no better than to heed the example of ole Huck Finn.

Which brings us to what is, for my money, the greatest scene of salvation and redemption in literature:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell" -- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. ... And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

This is, of course, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The piece of paper that poor Huck tore up was the letter he had written to turn in his friend, the escaped slave Jim. Huck had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian (and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity -- and what are a few mortal years compared with that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that L&J use in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.

Huck's choice was to put Jim's future above his own soul. And as Fred says, this is what Jesus says over and over again: forget about yourself and think of someone else for a change.

Jesus was always saying this kind of thing: You want to live? Die to yourself. You want to be first? Be last. Want to come out on top? Head for the bottom. Want to win? Surrender....You want to get saved? Get lost.

When I need a refreshing draught of moral clarity, I've found that I can find some compassionate words of wisdom from The Slacktivist. And I'm very glad I don't have to wade through the Left Behind series myself to understand the phenomena.

Posted by Mary at December 25, 2005 11:05 PM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

That is the most virtuous choice in the history of literature.

Posted by: Michael at December 26, 2005 11:47 AM

Phillip Pullman, author of the best-selling atheist children's fantasy series *His Dark Materials*, advocates "the literary School for Morals" as the best way to instruct in ethics and morality.

Gary Denton

Posted by: Easter Lemming at December 27, 2005 10:22 PM

Thanks, Gary for the tip. Very interesting piece on Pullman. Although I'm not convinced that Tolkien is so light.

I borrowed Pullman's trilogy from a friend's kids a few years ago.

I also found Ursula Le Guin's The Earthsea Trilogy a very good read and again - a strong story that can teach people a lot about morality.

Posted by: Mary at December 28, 2005 11:19 AM

I agree entirely! I'm actually doing a report on that very quote from Huck Finn because it meant so much to me and shows how strong true friendship can be, despite skin color, nationality, or background.

Posted by: Anna Haillie at February 15, 2006 07:15 PM