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It was as if he couldn't get religion and that galloping cavalry and his dead grandfather shot from the galloping horse untangled from each other, even in the pulpit. And that he could not untangle them in his private life, at home either, perhaps. (3.7)
Hightower is haunted by his family history.
Then Sunday he would be again in the pulpit, with his wild hands and his wild rapt eager voice in which like phantoms God and salvation and the galloping horses and his dead grandfather thundered, while below him the elders sat, and the congregation, puzzled and outraged. (3.12)
Hightower's preaching style is wild and erratic while also seeming quite personal to the churchgoers. This oratory style seems to alienate the parishioners, drawing attention to the different philosophies of preaching.
But his teeth were tight together and his face looked like the face of Satan in the old prints. (3.15)
Hightower is compared to Satan, at the very moment when he refuses to accept any part in what happened to his wife. Coincidence? We think not.
She ought not to started praying over me. She would have been all right if she hadn't started praying over me. It was not her fault that she got too old to be any good any more. But she ought to have had better sense than to pray over me. (5.9)
Miss Burden's attempt to "reform" Christmas may be the main reason why he killed her. Maybe it's because she reminded him of old Mr. McEachern and all of those catechisms.
He had neither ever worked nor feared God. He knew less about God than about work. He had seen work going on in the person of men with rakes and shovels about the playground six days each week, but God had only occurred on Sunday. And then – save for the concomitant ordeal of cleanliness – it was music that pleased the ear and words that did not trouble the ear at all – on the whole, pleasant, even if a little tiresome. (6.48)
This is kind of a realistic depiction of the way many kids think about going to church – it's neither good nor bad, mostly it's just kind of boring.
He was lying so, on his back, his hands crossed on his breasts like a tomb effigy, when he heard again feet on the cramped stairs. (7.20)
This scene eerily predicts Joe Christmas's death.
"Remember this. Your grandfather and brother are lying there, murdered not by one white man but by the curse which God put on the whole race before your grandfather or your brother or me or you were even though to. A race doomed and cursed to be forever a part of the white race's doom and curse for its sins." (11.20)
There's this religious idea running through the book that white people are cursed with black people, and forced to deal with them in order to clean themselves from sin. This idea is used by several characters in the novel to justify racism, including Doc Hines and Mr. Burden.
What was terrible was that she did not want to be saved. [...] She seemed to see her whole past life, the starved years, like a gray tunnel, at the far and irrevocable end of which, as unfading as a reproach, her naked breast of three short years ago ached as though in agony, virgin and crucified; "Not yet, dear God. Not yet, dear God." (12.11)
Miss Burden struggles with religion here, seeming to know that if she accepts the idea of damnation, she won't be able to enjoy life (or sex) nearly as much!
As he passed the bed he would look down at the floor beside it and it would seem to him that he could distinguish the prints of knees and he would jerk his eyes away as if it were death that they had looked at. (12.39)
Christmas has a flashback of McEachern here.
It seems to him that he has seen it all the while: that that which is destroying the Church is not the outward groping of those within it nor the inward groping of those without, but the professionals who control it and who have removed the bells from the steeples. He seems to see them, endless, without order, empty, symbolical, bleak, skypointed not with ecstasy or passion but in adjuration, threat, and doom. (20.20)
Hightower suggests that it is not religion that's the problem – it's the gatekeepers of religion.
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