He strode to the prosecution table and lifted a worn brown Bible. He opened it to a page he seemed to know by heart and began to read aloud. (3.17)
Like all lawyers in the book, Carter Ames knows the value of quoting from Bible to win a case. Here he makes sure to drive the point home to the jurors that what he's saying is in the Bible, so it must be right. His assumption that his jurors care about what the Bible teaches shows how important religion is in this town.
As a boy I'd walked past those churches a thousand times. I'd heard the clapping and the fervent amens. Now that had all gotten blended in with a fast-march tempo and the syncopated melody of the old work songs. Mix it all together, speed it up, and somehow, from that corner of the South, down around where Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas meet up, the music came out ragtime. (7.10)
As Ben thinks about what religion meant as a kid, he comes up with this mental picture of church. It's full of happy songs and loud choruses. Religion means something a lot different to him now, but it's interesting to see how exactly this has changed.
"These are papers I've been collecting on the situation: reports of the most horrible occurrences, some police records. Things it's hard for a Christian man to credit. Especially since the perpetrators of these crimes are men who claim to be Christians." (13.12)
President Roosevelt is shocked that Christian men could hang people for no reason. Perhaps that's because the Bible teaches not to kill people. Yet his outrage also shows the hypocrisy in society: even though some men claim to follow the Bible, they are as racist and violent as they come.
We kept far enough back so as not to be seen. I had not been a very religious boy up till then, but I found myself praying for George Pearson to get away. Please, God, I thought, make George run fast. (16.5)
When Ben sees George beaten in the streets as a kid, he prays. Notice how he says he wasn't very religious, but he still thinks about praying because he doesn't have any other options. We're not sure Ben has changed very much when it comes to religion, but we do know he believes some sort of god is out there listening to him.
"Ain't no Jesus," she said. "There ain't no Jesus for me." She wept so terribly I could not hold myself back. I knelt by her in the clearing. (43.11)
One of the many heartbreaking moments in the book is when a woman (Annie) weeps over a body and seemingly has no hope left. Her comment that Jesus isn't there for her strikes Ben as sad because religion is important in this town. But you know what else is important in this town? Hurting Black people all the freaking time. So we get why a Black person might have a crisis of faith.
Part 3, Chapter 44
I have prayed much about this matter, and have spoken to my father about the situation. I should have known. Meg had consulted the one god in her life, the almighty Colonel Wilfred A. Haverbrook, U.S. Army, Ret. (44.14)
The Dear John letter from Meg reveals how Ben's wife thinks of her family and religion. It seems like she cares more about what her dad says than anyone else. Ben doesn't get why he's such a god to her—or why she would take his word over the Bible's, for that matter. It bugs him, to say the least.
"We had slavery when I was a boy. There was nothing wrong with slavery. The local pulpit told us God approved of it. If there were passages in the Bible that disapproved of slavery, they were not read aloud by the pastors." (56.13)
Mark Twain points out that religion and racism aren't mutually exclusive. It might be disturbing to think about, but many pastors didn't say anything against slavery when it was going on. His point? Sometimes religion doesn't have all the answers we need in life.
"The white man killed Hiram!" he hollered again. "But my friends, we are not like the white man! We cannot allow ourselves to be like that. The Bible tells us what to do. Jesus tells us what to do. It's plain to see. We have to do as Jesus did, we have to turn the other cheek." (63.10)
At Hiram's funeral, the pastor reminds the congregation how they should behave. Even though they read the same Bible as the white members of the community, they act much differently—the people from the Quarter seem to actually follow the ideas in the Bible, whereas many of the white folks in Eudora ignore biblical ideals whenever it suits them.
The men stood around in their white sheets with their hoods off, conducting the most ordinary small-town meeting. They discussed the collection of dues, a donation they'd recently made to a widowed young mother, nominations for a committee to represent the local chapter at the county meeting in McComb. (77.19)
How much the Ku Klux Klan resembles a church is a shock to Ben. They seem to genuinely care about their members and their families, and they even take up a collection for the widows, just like some churches do. It's troubling to Ben that an organization that promotes violence and hate (read: the KKK) could be so similar to one that supposedly preaches peace (church).
To my child's eyes the old Pike County Courthouse looked exactly like a church. The second-floor gallery where the colored people got to sit was like the choir loft. The benches below were the pews. And my father stood at the high altar in the front of the room, delivering thunderous sermons and running the whole thing like a very strict minister who happened to wield a hammer instead of a Bible. (97.3)
It's interesting that Ben pictured the courthouse like a church when he was young. So does that make his dad god-like? And if so, whose interpretation of the Bible does he fit into most neatly?