Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor is such a powerful writer that after reading Everything That Rises Must Converge, I was a little scared to read any more of her books. I'm glad I got up the nerve. Wise Blood is the kind of book that you'll wake up thinking about at night.

Hazel Motes' grandfather was a graceless fundamentalist preacher and during Haze's childhood, although he felt his sins deeply, Jesus was nothing but something to make him feel guilty.

[His mother] hit him across the legs with the stick but he was like part of the tree. "Jesus died to redeem you," she said.

"I never ast him," he muttered.

Haze felt himself haunted by Jesus, a Jesus he hated and feared with all his heart. If only he could avoid him... "there was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin."

When he left home for the army, he took his Bible and his mother's eyeglasses. One night, in a flash, he realized he actually didn't believe in such a thing as a soul. Without a soul there could be no sin and no need for any Jesus to redeem sin. He became an atheist. Still, although Jesus was present in a positive way exactly once in the book, in Haze's mind he seemed to lurk everywhere, even in the curses others used.

Haze became a preacher of atheism, attempting to convert people to a Church Without Christ. This led to some very ironical scenes, such as when his church split when it had only two members. The split-off Holy Church of Christ Without Christ wanted to take a more seeker friendly approach. There was also a competing "false prophet" who as it turned out, was a false false prophet. The false false prophet really did believe in Jesus and was just preaching unbelief for the money.

Haze was just as fundamentalist in his atheism as his grandfather had been in his Christianity. "Blasphemy is the way to the truth and there's no other way whether you understand it or not!" Strangely though, as much as he claimed to not believe in a soul or sin, his own sense of personal guilt grew. He lived a graceless and isolated life, a monk of nihilism, attempting to pay for sins which he didn't believe really existed. If hell exists, this story describes what it must be like.

I highly recommend this book. You won't soon forget it.