Study Guide

A Lesson Before Dying Religion

By Ernest J. Gaines

Religion

Chapter 5

My classroom was the church. (5.3)

This just about sums up the influence that religion has on the plantation. Even Grant, who doesn't believe anymore, is forced to go to church every day and work. As the teacher, he is expected to care of the children's intellectual education as well as their spiritual education.

After listening to one or two of the verses, I tuned out the rest of them. I had heard them all many times. (5.2)

Grant rejects the Bible, but he makes his students memorize the verses anyway. This shows the deep battle he is experiencing when it comes to religion. On the inside he doesn't believe, but externally he knows how important religion is to the community.

Chapter 8
Grant Wiggins

"God?" I said. Because I had never heard him say God before. Because when we had said our Bible verses for him, he seemed to have hated the very words we spoke. (8.37)

Grant seems to be following in Professor Antoine's footsteps, because he hates listening to the Bible verses just as much as his old teacher did. However, the old man seems to have come to a new understanding of God as he gets closer to death.

Chapter 13

Backsliders were usually worse than those who had never been converted. At least that is what people like him tried to make you believe. (13.65)

By "backsliders" Grant means people who were once faithful followers of the religion but who had, at some point in their life, rejected it and slid backwards (right into Hell, according to a lot of devout believers).

When I came back from the university, I told her that I didn't believe anymore and I didn't want her to try forcing it on me. (13.8)

It's really interesting that Tante Lou respects this pact, because she is a force to be reckoned with. She's able to make Grant go to the Pichots', visit Jefferson, talk to Miss Emma. But she doesn't even try to make Grant reconsider his atheism.

He was not educated, hadn't gone to any theological school; he had heard the voice and started preaching. He was a simple, devoted believer. He christened babies, baptized youths, visited those who were ill, counseled those who had trouble, preached, and buried the dead. (13.61)

This description of the Reverend Ambrose shows not only his role in the community, which is pretty important (hatch, match, and dispatch) but also the lack of importance that a formal education has in that role.

If we didn't talk about God, then what else on earth was important enough to talk about to someone who was about to meet God? (13.70)

Well, Grant can think of a few things: ice cream, candy, comic books, hunting, babies... You name it, and he'd probably rather talk about that than God. But the Reverend has no time for such small talk: he wants to get down to business.

Chapter 23

I felt like someone who had just found religion. (23.124)

When Jefferson says thank you for the pecans the schoolchildren sent him, Grant feels so elated that he can only describe it as finding religion. So for him, we can see that humanity is what he believes in.

Chapter 27
Reverend Mose Ambrose

"I lie at wakes and funerals to relieve pain." (27.120)

Whoa! The Reverend admits that he lies to the people he is comforting! And he's trying to get Grant to do the same thing, to help relieve Jefferson's and Miss Emma's pain. Is the book trying to make a comment on religion as a comforting lie in general?

Chapter 28
Jefferson

"That's how I want to go, Mr. Wiggins. Not a mumbling word." (28.77)

Jefferson often compares his own death to Jesus'. They were both executions, and both happened right around Easter time. He decides to take Jesus' silence, his lack of protest, as a model for his own behavior.