John’s Faith (Despite his Best Efforts)

In Go Tell It on the Mountain, I was struck by how deeply faith is ingrained in the way that John thinks about the world despite his expressed desire to reject his faith. One part that really stood out to me was when Baldwin describes John’s thoughts while praying in church. He writes, “For it was time that filled [John’s]’ mind, time that was violent with the mysterious love of God. And his mind could not contain the terrible stretch of time that united twelve men fishing by the shores of Galilee… this weight began to move at the bottom of John’s mind, in a silence like the silence of the void before creation” (76). In this passage, John compares his situation and his emotions to events in scripture so casually and nonchalantly that the reader could very easily miss it if she is not paying attention. However, it is important to remember that this is a fourteen-year-old boy who has expressed a lot of uncertainty about his faith life and has repeatedly intimated that he wants to avoid being like his father. One could feasibly assume that this includes rejecting the faith that his father has so firmly tried to instill in his children’s lives. Therefore, it is interesting, if not altogether surprising, that John easily communicates his thoughts with references to the Bible in the same scene that ends with him thinking, “And why did they come here, night after night after night, calling out to a God who cared nothing for them – if, above this flaking ceiling, there was any God at all? Then he remembered that the fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (77). Clearly, John does not think that he believes in God when he is actively deliberating on the subject, but in his everyday life, he makes connections to scripture in a way that might not even consciously register with him. I think this speaks to just how extensively Gabriel has conditioned John and the other children in his family to be religious, even if this is not necessarily something that they want to pursue themselves.

One thought on “John’s Faith (Despite his Best Efforts)”

  1. I agree that John’s relationship with his faith is uncertain and at times seemingly contradictory. The way that you described it here reminded me of how Baldwin’s relationship to his religion has been viewed. In Field’s “Pentecostalism and All that Jazz,” he describes Baldwin as having a “complicated relationship to Christianity” (438). Maybe the autobiographical nature of the novel is shining through in this aspect, and John’s complicated relationship with his religion is mirroring that of Baldwin’s.

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