The conversations we shared during the presentation this week made me reflect deeply on how I experienced the different elements of religion in Go Tell It On the Mountain. I feel like the discourse around an angry/wrathful God, the commentary on love and prophethood, as well as the analysis of the deep and structural flaws of the human part of the Church continue to be relevant time and time again.
In these conversations, I am reminded of the Vatican’s (somewhat) recent statement of refusing to bless same-sex unions, stating that God “does not and cannot bless sin,” even though many Catholics (including many religious leaders) have acknowledged the holiness of love between committed same-sex couples, and recognize this love as divinely inspired and supported, which therefore meets the standard to be blessed. Instead of focusing on radical love, the human element of the Church is overly punitive and rigidly exclusionary, which in turn further isolates individuals since the Church is supposed to be a reflection of God and His divine will. All the characters in Go Tell It On the Mountain are afraid of God’s wrath, of the day of judgement, and are quick to condemn others as a way to project the fear and shame they feel for not being God’s perfect servant. Every step they take and every action they carry out is weighed down by the all-knowing, all-judging eyes of God, and there is almost no room left for love since everyone is too focused on, for a lack of better word, not messing up. Every character is also weighed down by the judgement of others, who are always quick to find fault in other people’s actions, so it’s not just a theology of an “Angry God,” but also one of an “Angry Church.”
I believe that this is Baldwin’s main argument against institutionalised religion — there is so little room for love, since everyone is so focused on “getting it right” rather than nurturing one another and practicing empathy. The profound sense of isolation that so many of the characters in this novel feel (John, Roy, Florence, etc.) is a result of the disconnect between the love they are taught and the hate they experience. Institutions are primarily interested in maintaining power and social influence (something we can see during Gabriel’s observations of the high priests), and that is best enforced through fear and judgement. Love requires accountability and mutual respect, and is a completely opposing force of power that would force change at a level so radical that the Church as we know it (and the Church that Baldwin knew) would become unrecognisable.