2 November 2012 In “Down at the Cross”, Baldwin paints a picture of the prejudice and hypocrisy his society faced. Though at first, it appears that all of Baldwin’s problems stemmed from the white people, the true problem lies within the fabricated parts of religion that make it so corrupt. Though the concept of religion is not wrong, the way people misuse it is. Many people believe what they believe simply because it is convenient and safe. “And since I had been born in a Christian nation, I accepted this Deity as the only one.” (pg. 16) Once someone has grown up believing one thing all their life, it is unlikely that they will ever be willing to accept change. This goes along the allegory in the cave: most people, if they had been brought up believing something their whole life, they will be extremely resistant to change. Many people would rather believe what they already now, even if it is clearly wrong. If a man has been staring at shadows his whole life, when someone explains the concept of the sun to him, the man will not believe the other. If he is then shown the sun, he will want to retreat back into the cave he has been comfortable with. However, convenience should not be the reason why someone is of a certain faith. Another big factor is that people need the protection that religion provides. “…knew that they had to be protected and that we were the only protection there was. They understood that they must act as God’s decoys,” (pg. 18) Girls in particular know that by pretending they are Christians, they receive the protection the church offers. They also are able to protect themselves from making a mistake in the streets that could potentially lower their social status. People also tend to believe that religion brings peace to one’s mind.
“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” (Pg. 91)
Baldwin points out that people need some way to deal with morality, because, the fact is, everyone is going to die. It just seems to bring people comfort that there could potentially be life after death or that there actually is a purpose for life on earth. Baldwin himself admits “Every Negro boy – in my situation during those years, at least – who reaches this point realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a ‘thing,’ a gimmick, to life him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is.” (Pg. 24) He wanted some way to get out from his imminent future in the ghettos and fled to the church, which was his gimmick. Baldwin, just like everyone else, is using religion to help himself. Following this thought, people use religion in a wrong way to justify their actions. According to white Christians, God said that black people are inferior to whites. God’s word is being used for people to rationalize racism, even though He probably never meant for any of His word to be interpreted that way. Religion has become entirely selfish. Elijah is a great example of someone who started with good intentions for his religion, but ended up enjoying the personal gain far too much. He draws in the Negro population, knowing how they feel about oppression by the white people, and keeps them loyal to him, taking advantage of their blind faith. On page 62, Elijah asks a question and without even processing it, the crowd agrees. Elijah’s purpose for that was to get Baldwin to join in so that way, Baldwin could use his communication skills to promote Elijah instead of tearing him down. In the end, the whole religion is a scam. It is pretty evident from the quality of Elijah’s house how rich his religion has made him. Baldwin intentionally torques the question