The Portrayal of James Baldwin’s Religious Views

Religion is a focus point of Baldwin’s literature. The purpose of this paper is to expose the negative influences within the Pentecostal church on societal norms. My research paper will highlight the longstanding conflicts that have impacted the Black Community such as the ideologies of Christianity, the framework of Christianity, and racial injustice. Within my research, I will incorporate Baldwin’s texts Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time to provide a better understanding of the religious views that are portrayed within the Pentecostal church and the Christian church, and explain whether Baldwin actually went through a conversion.

In James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, the main character at the age of fourteen was converted to Pentecostalism and became a well-known preacher. He discussed his experiences in the Fireside, Pentecostal church in numerous ways which include “Down at the Cross,” which appears in The Fire Next Time. In that particular essay, Baldwin describe his fascination with the church, and his discouragement when he realizes he can fake it. In Baldwin’s essay “Down at the Cross,” which appears in The Fire Next Time, he reproaches the black church of making false promises. There is nowhere that states that Baldwin fully rejected Christianity in its entirety; however, he did describe himself as “born again” in a 1979 essay (“Open Letter” 784). A few writers and artists that helped impact Baldwin’s work, includes Beauford Delaney, Countee Cullen, and Richard Wright. Numerous of the scholarly works on Go Tell It on the Mountain addresses John’s conversion experience towards Pentecostalism. There are numerous scholars like Donald Gibson, James Coleman, and Rolf Lundén that believe that it has a valid conversion into the Black Holiness tradition. Some scholars such as Michael Cobb, Peter Kerry Powers, Charles Scruggs, and Clarence B. Hardy that sees this as a negative because of the sacrifices that John will have to encounter including destroying his homoerotic desire. Several critics such as Barbara K. Olson, Michael Fabre, Warren Nagueyalti, and Sondra O’Neale, which have also argued that John does not experience any conversion, but instead maintain a particular status quo.

James Baldwin is considered a writer who relies mostly on the complications of queerness, blackness, and religious rhetoric to vitalize his political and aesthetic writings. As seen in James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, the main character John Grimes, converts to Christianity through a violent process. According to James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, the narration describes his conversion as a “power that had struck John, in the head or in the heart; and in a moment, wholly filling him with the anguish that he could never have imagined, that he surely could not endure, that even now he could not believe” (Baldwin 193). In James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, everyone always told him that he would be a preacher just like his father when he grew up, but John wanted another life. He wanted the life that does not consist of being religious, or that does not indicate that his queer desires are sinful. However, both Peter Kerry Powers and Angelo Robinson expression at the way Pentecostal/Holiness attitudes towards the homoerotic desire are being portrayed in James Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It on the Mountain.

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