In the classic Peanuts Halloween special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, deeply neurotic character Linus says, "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." We can't really speak to the conflict over whether or not Linus's Great Pumpkin (a Halloween version of Santa Claus) exists, but the reason why people avoid talking about religion and politics is pretty clear: people tend to have strong religious and political views, and they like to fight about both.
But in Cry, the Beloved Country, the big political struggle is clearly about race. Many of the characters in the novel are concerned about South Africa's development as a modern nation when it is still being divided by these deeply racist, unjust divisions between the small, wealthy white elite and the large, oppressed black majority. Since racial politics are so divisive in the book, it makes some sense that Paton totally avoids the topic of religious divisions.
In fact, religion is a generally positive force in Cry, the Beloved Country. It brings together white and black priests, and it inspires liberal white men like Arthur Jarvis to consider the morality of South Africa's unjust, prejudicial laws. Where religion might be an extremely divisive topic in today's global political climate, for Alan Paton, Christianity is one of the strongest forces to bring South Africa's diverse communities together.
Questions About Religion
- There are some characters in this novel who openly resist the Christian church to which Kumalo belongs. What does the perspective of John Kumalo add to the novel's discussion of Christianity? How does the book seem to argue against his criticisms of church hierarchy?
- The main religion in Cry, the Beloved Country is Christianity. Are there any references in the book to other faiths? If so, where? If not, why might Paton not discuss other South African religious traditions?
- How does Cry, the Beloved Country represent differences between Christian churches and their specific beliefs? What aspects of Christianity does the book emphasize most positively?
Chew on This
Rather than focusing specifically on spirituality, Alan Paton emphasizes the responsibility of Christian churches to participate in social reform movements in the secular world.
John Kumalo's criticism of the Christian church that it has not brought about real social change in South Africa presents a real challenge to the book's emphasis on Christian faith, which Stephen Kumalo never truly answers.