When we first meet Benton Sage, his appearance seems to come out of nowhere. How random is it to flip from the story of a kid in an American small town (Cullen Witter) to that of a missionary going off to Africa? After settling into Cullen's story in the first chapter, all of a sudden everything changes:
When Benton Sage found out that he would be going on a mission for his church that year, he was overwhelmed with excitement and panic. His stomach felt a sort of queasy rumble as he stood with his sisters and Reverend Hughes, and watched as the entire church circled around them, clasped hands, and began to pray. (2.1)
But as time goes on, it's clear that Benton is there to set the scene for some kind of religious theme in the book. His obsession with the Book of Enoch and pleasing God provides a backdrop for what happens when Gabriel goes missing—everyone starts clinging to any sort of belief they can in order to bring Gabriel back. That Benton sets this all in motion is especially fitting given his name. Say it aloud slowly: Bent-on Sage. He's bent on (meaning determined to) religion (think: sagacity). And when he dies, well, everybody else follows this path, too.
He also serves as the character who introduces us to Cabot Searcy's back story. Instead of seeing Cabot as the religious fanatic that he is when he kidnaps Gabriel, knowing him through Benton's story reveals why Cabot turned out the way that he did. And importantly, it makes very clear that what happens to Cabot is a fall—and not a rise—to grace. For more on that, though, check out Cabot's analysis elsewhere in this section. We're not ones to pass judgment, but it's certainly interesting to note that the two most religious characters in this book fair pretty darn poorly.