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The ideological function of the God-concept in Faulkner's Light in August.

I.
 God and the word of God have been used to
 perpetuate the wicked idea of human inferiority.
 J. Saunders Redding, On Being Negro in America (147)


There has been a remarkable shift in the culturally marginalized person's treatment of God and religion from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the twentieth century. (1) Writers as varied as Samson Occom, Olaudah Equiano, William Apess, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass consistently fault Christians for mistreating non-whites. And yet, as believers, these writers invariably invoke a discourse of hypocrisy in order to spare the Faith. Their argument runs like this: True Christianity would never sanction abuse. But Christians consistently abuse Native Americans and people of African descent. Therefore, these Christians are not true Believers. Such an argument leaves intact the purity of true religion by criticizing only the erring practitioners of the Faith. (2)

Because writers like Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud conceive of knowledge not as an ontologically pre-given, mind-independent reality, but as psychosemiotic construction, a psychological projection that assumes a provisional form in and through a semiotic sign, they do not recognize the existence of a pure spiritual ideal like true religion or true Christianity. For these writers, religion is nothing more than an all-too-human-constructed institution that reflects the limitations and biases of the human. Moreover, as a cultural form, there is something intrinsic to the God-mentality that makes religious folks and institutions extremely destructive and dangerous. To put this in the words of Feuerbach: "In faith there lies a pernicious principle" (376) (3) Nietzsche develops this idea further, claiming that "all religions are at the deepest level systems of cruelties" (61). (4) Freud incorporates the ideas of both Feuerbach and Nietzsche into his work by arguing that "cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to" the chosen faith "are natural to every religion" (Group 39). (5)

Beginning in the early- and mid-twentieth century, African American writers started to reject the distinction between perversions of Christianity and "Christianity proper," and not surprisingly, many prominent writers, like Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and J. Saunders Redding, renounced Christianity and even the God-concept. For instance, Hurston notes in Dust Tracks on a Road that the God-concept "is a creature of" our "own minds" (207), and since humans are governed "by the selfish hand" (244), the gods and religions that they create will be equally twisted and selfish. As evidence to support this claim, she encourages her reader to turn to the Bible, which uses a Chosen People philosophy to sanction slaughters and even genocide (244-45). In Black Boy, after Wright experiences the wrath of his family's church for resisting the community's faith, he draws a bitter conclusion about religion: "Wherever I found religion in my life I found strife, the attempt of one individual or group to rule another in the name of God. The naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn" (136). The most important critic of the God-concept for the purposes of this essay is Redding, who claims in his work On Being Negro in America that the principal function of "God and the word of God" has been "to perpetuate the wicked idea of human inferiority" (147). Unlike eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics, who fault practitioners of the Faith, these writers trace the horrors of religion back to the psychology of belief. The idea of a true faith or religion independent of the one wielded by the erring practitioners is, for these writers, simply incoherent.

A casual glance at the way the God-concept makes possible and even probable such violations of culturally designated inferiors explains why so many prominent writers and thinkers ultimately rejected the theological mentality. For instance, in 1900, Charles Carroll published his shocking book, The Negro a Beast, (6) a 380-page biblical exegesis that attempts to justify 1) that people of African descent do not have a soul and are therefore beasts, 2) that white people violate God's "Plan of Creation" (93) by supporting a religious and/or political philosophy of "social equality" (145, 212, 219) and 3) that Christians can only fulfill God's will by asserting "dominion" (145, 218) over "lower animals" (20). Carroll's whole theology hinges on the view that humans have a "direct line of kinship with God." But this line of kinship does not extend to all beings. To give his reader a visual representation of the nature of kinship with the Divine, Carroll opens the book with an illustration of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden [Fig. 1]. Strategically placed at the center are the figures of Adam and Eve, whose whiteness (which is significantly faded in the enclosed illustration) extends into Heaven as a symbol unifying the world's original parents with the Creator. Or, read from the other direction, the Creator, shrouded in heavenly whiteness, beams down His spiritual essence to the original pair, thus uniting Himself in a bond of kinship with His creation. To the right looms a less perceptible but ominous face, which, given the racist intent of the text, is supposed to be that of a black male or an ape. Carroll's essential point is embodied in the ambiguity.

Both in terms of location and shading within the illustration, the person of African descent is prohibited from entering into a bond of kinship with God.

As offensive as this illustration is, it accurately depicts one of the most troubling features of the scripture's epistemology of belief. When discussing the necessary conditions for spiritual knowledge, the Apostle Paul says:
 We speak of these, not in words of human wisdom but in words taught
 by the Spirit, thus interpreting spiritual things in spiritual
 terms. The natural man does not accept what is taught by the Spirit
 of God. For him, that is absurdity. He cannot come to know such
 teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way. The
 spiritual man, on the other hand, can appraise everything, though
 he himself can be appraised by no one. (I Cor. 2:13-15)


The spiritual man is obviously in a privileged position--his epistemological chosenness leads to ontological chosenness. This system works on two separate levels. First, on the basis of a person's epistemological capacity, we can make some inferences about a person's ontological state of being. If a person can see spiritual things, we can assume that this person is (ontologically) an earthly and spiritual being, but if a person cannot see spiritual things, we can assume that this person is (ontologically) only a natural being. Second, once the chosen people normativize their epistemology, they can begin the process of ontologizing the world. In very concrete terms, God communicates with believers but not infidels, and, not surprisingly, believers are told that they are special beings (Chosen People), God's treasured possession, whereas infidels are not. (7)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Infidels may want to question or challenge this claim, but since they lack a spiritual faculty of perception, they are not equipped to assess or judge the life of the spiritual man. Logically, if the believer is both epistemologically and ontologically chosen, the infidel must be epistemologically and ontologically non-chosen. This means that the infidel is a being that lacks a spiritual principle. As Paul says in first Corinthians, "The first man was of earth, formed from dust, the second is from heaven. Earthly men are like the man of earth, heavenly men are like the man of heaven" (15:48). Put simply, infidels will look but not see, listen but not hear. Until they take the leap of faith and accept the community's system of truth, unbelievers will not possess the epistemological faculty that enables believers to see what unbelievers cannot. Moreover, since believers can see from both a material and spiritual perspective, they can assess and judge the life of the infidel, whereas the believer's life is simply out of the infidel's epistemological reach.

The God-concept has been consistently used to establish this closed epistemological/ ontological recursive loop and thereby marginalize and dehumanize culturally designated inferiors, which explains why Redding says that God is an idea that perpetuates a politics of human inferiority. But it is Hurston who provides one of the most astute and intricate analyses of this theological model. Let me quote a lengthy passage from her autobiography, for it brilliantly outlines the theological model that has been used so effectively to dehumanize culturally designated inferiors:
 The Old Testament is devoted to what was right and just from the
 viewpoint of the Ancient Hebrews. All of their enemies were
 twenty-two carat evil. They, the Hebrews, were never aggressors.
 The Lord wanted His children to have a country full of big grapes
 and tall corn. Incidentally, while they were getting it, they might
 as well get rid of some trashy tribes that He never did think much
 of, anyway. With all of its figs and things, Canaan was their
 destiny. God sent somebody especially to tell them about it. If the
 conquest looked like bloody rape to the Canaanites, that was
 because their evil ways would not let them see a point which was
 right under their nose. So you had to drive it in under the ribs.
 King David, who invented the "protection" racket in those days
 before he was saved by being made king, was a great hero. He was a
 man after God's own heart, and was quite servicable in helping God
 get rid of no-count rascals who were cluttering up the place.
 (244-45)


Notice how Hurston underscores "what was right and just" from a particular perspective. The Ancient Hebrews, who are God's Chosen People, control the epistemological/ ontological recursive loop. Given their capacity to know God's will, that which is "right and just," we can infer that they are ontologically superior--they must be endowed with a superior epistemological capacity that allows them to see what others cannot. Not surprisingly, God specifically tells the Ancient Hebrews that he favors them--he wants them "to have a country full of big grapes and tall corn." So the Ancient Hebrews are ontologically superior because of their capacity to know God's spiritual Truth and because God tells them that they are his Chosen People.

The Ancient Hebrews' enemies, by contrast, are ontologically inferior ("no-count rascals," who are "twenty-two carat evil") for two reasons. First, because they do not have the capacity to know God's will ("their evil ways would not let them see a point which was right under their nose"), we can infer that they are ontologically inferior. Not surprisingly, God specifically tells the ancient Hebrews that their enemies are "some trashy tribes that He never did think much of, anyway." Of course, the Ancient Hebrews' behavior may seem "like bloody rape to the Canaanites," but this interpretation is immediately dismissed, since it is the Ancient Hebrews who control the intellectual means of production. By controlling the epistemological/ontological recursive loop, the Ancient Hebrews can justify committing atrocities against the Canaanites with emotional, psychological, and legal impunity.

To be sure, the Canaanites, who feel that the Ancient Hebrews' treatment of them is nothing less than "bloody rape," would be within their right to ask: how do we know that the Ancient Hebrews are actually in communication with God? It is possible, after all, that they have fabricated not just their relationship with God but the God-concept altogether in order to justify their colonizing politics. Hurston certainly realizes that the Ancient Hebrews' portrayal of God is a "creature of their own minds," since she explicitly states that it is biased. But more importantly, by using American colloquialisms and referencing distinctive American products in her contemporary version of the scriptures, Hurston suggests that the same theological model is in operation in the United States. For instance, here is how she refers to the Bible's promised land: "The Lord wanted His children to have a country full of big grapes and tall corn." The egregious error of mentioning corn in a passage that is supposedly paraphrasing the Old Testament is too flagrant to ignore. A distinctively North and South American product, corn is never mentioned in the Bible. As a careful reader of the Bible, Hurston certainly would not have made such a careless mistake. 9 So what is the purpose of including this reference in her updated version of the Bible? One logical and compelling possibility would be that Hurston is drawing our attention to the way the Chosen People mentality continued to determine the socio-cultural relations in America in her day. Just as the Ancient Hebrews were favored by God, who were given choice land, so are white Americans, and just as the Canaanites were "no-count rascals," who did not qualify as people in the strict sense of the word, so too are African Americans.

What makes this Chosen People model functional is the God-concept. Let me illustrate how this works in The Negro a Beast. According to Carroll, there are three modes of creation: "matter, mind and spiritual life" (22). The earth is composed of matter; animals possess "physical and mental structures" (20), while humans consist of matter, mind, and the "spiritual, immortal life" (22), which is "a part of the substance of God" (23). Lacking a "spiritual" part, non-or sub-humans "must be subject to accident, disease, decay, and final dissolution" (22). Since the African "simply stands at the head of the ape family, as the lion stands at the head of the cat family" (87), it follows that the black person is not in possession of the "spiritual, immortal life" and therefore contains within him or herself no "part of the substance of God." In short, Carroll's black person is the Apostle Paul's natural man, a being that lacks a spiritual principle and thus cannot assess the life of the believer.

Significantly, it was not only people of African ancestry who were subjected into being as culturally designated inferiors through the God-concept. For instance, as a homosexual, E. M. Forster examines in his posthumously published novel Maurice, which was written between 1913 and 1914, how the God-concept was used to justify the animalization of all Oscar Wilde types. The novel opens with Mr. Ducie, a senior schoolmaster, giving the title character an impromptu tutorial on the topic of the proper relationship between the sexes. To illustrate the only acceptable form of sexual union and communion, Ducie draws a diagram of a man and woman in the sand. After completing the lesson, "the poor old pedagogue" concludes with hardly containable enthusiasm: "It all hangs together--all--and God's in his heaven, All's right with the world. Male and female! Ah wonderful!" (15). By itself, this passage merely confirms what we all already know, that many early-twentieth century schoolteachers had ridiculously simple and overly rigid notions of sexuality. But if we consider Ducie's remarks in relation to the philosophy of the clergyman of the novel, Mr. Borenius, then Ducie's comments would be much more pernicious than they might at first seem. For Borenius, human "conduct is dependent on faith," and consequently, "if a man is a 'bit of a swine' the cause is to be found in some misapprehension of God" (236). When he says "a bit of a swine," what Borenius really means is sexual "perversion," for as he claims, "when the nations went a whoring they invariably ended by denying God" (237). The structure of mind at work here is the same one in Carroll's frontispiece. There are certain people (whites/heterosexuals) who have the epistemological capacity to apprehend a God-mandated moral law. By contrast, there are some (blacks/sexual "deviants") who lack this spiritual epistemological capacity and thus, as immoralists, stand outside the direct line of kinship between God and the human. Given the absence of this spiritual faculty, sexual 'deviants' are not entirely human; they are 'a bit of a swine,' an animal reference that certainly recalls Carroll's picture of the marginalized African/ape.

To cast a person or a group of people outside the direct line of kinship between God and man, it is not necessary to reduce the person or the group to an animal. All that is necessary is to demonstrate that certain people lack a spiritual faculty of perception. Such is the strategy the black preacher, Reverend Pleasant Green, deploys in order to cast women outside the line of kinship in Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928). (10) After her conversion, Helga Crane, the novel's cosmopolitan protagonist, assumes the role of a traditional Southern housewife, which consists of having "a garden, and chickens, and a pig." All of this, along with "a husband," results in her being "'right with God'" (120). But after birthing three children and living for two years as a domestic drudge, Helga begins to question the role her husband preacher has assigned to her. According to Green, however, such questioning is unacceptable and unjustified. Instead, Helga should defer to her husband, for as a minister of the Lord, he is "concerned only with things of the soul, spiritual things" (115). As such, he, unlike Helga, knows God's will, which enables him to say with certainty that Helga's discontent is "an act of God" (125). Indeed, it is his spiritual faculty of perception that allows him to know God's will. As a woman, Helga apparently has no such capacity, which implicitly casts her on the margins of the bond of kinship between God and man. Therefore, if she wants to do God's will, she must submit, in all humility, to the dictates of her Godly husband.

While Forster and Larsen create characters who use the God-concept to justify violence, oppression, and abuse in order to critique the theological structure of mind, T.S. Eliot actually uses the God-concept in order to justify banishing a particular group from the body politic. (11) Following the Apostle Paul, Eliot asserts "the primacy of the supernatural over the natural life" ("Religion" 108). This supernatural/natural distinction necessitates two separate types of knowledge, which Eliot defines in terms of tradition and orthodoxy. For Eliot, tradition is "a way of feeling and acting which characterizes a group throughout generations" (After 31), so it "is of the blood, ... rather than of the brain" (32). By contrast, "orthodoxy is a matter which calls for the exercise of all our conscious intelligence." In other words, where a tradition can exist only in the context of a human community, orthodoxy can exist even if there were no humans. Eliot is unambiguous on this point: "while tradition, being a matter of good habits, is necessarily real only in a social group, orthodoxy exists whether realized in anyone's thought or not" (32). And as a Christian, Eliot specifically calls for a tradition of "Christian orthodoxy" (22). To apprehend Eliot's Christian orthodox Truth, one must be capable of "spiritual perception" (Notes 103), and if a person poses a threat to the orthodox community, then Eliot suggests banishment. As he claims in After Strange Gods, a text that was presented as a series of lectures in 1933, only one year after the publication of Light in August: "reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable" (22). For Eliot, contact with those races and religions that are unorthodox would threaten the purity of "spiritual perception" and thereby make orthodox Truth, which is God-created non-ideological Truth, inaccessible. Therefore, it is imperative that the orthodox community cast non-orthodox individuals on the margins. Failure to do so would threaten the bond of kinship between God and man.

I supply only a few examples here, but I could have easily included Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim, (12) Forster's Howards End or A Passage to India, or Virginia Woolf 's Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, or The Waves, (13) for each one of these works examines the same dynamic: the claim that there exists a spiritual, non-ideological Truth, which only those beings with a spiritual faculty of perception can apprehend. Given their ability to know such non-ideological Truths, the spiritual beings are in a position to cast non-spiritual beings in slave-like roles within the culture, and if the non-spiritual beings resist, violence, marginalization, and/or banishment is not just allowed; it is psychologically and politically necessary. Of course, the non-spiritual beings (blacks, "mixed-bloods," homosexuals, women, Jews, Patusanis, Indians, Africans, Moors, wealthy people, poor people, etc.) will differ on the basis of a culture's specific ideology, but the dynamic is always the same.

Light in August, I argue, is Faulkner's contribution to this cultural conversation about the function of the God-concept to subject certain people into being as ontological inferiors. By analyzing the novel in light of this critique of the God-concept, it is possible to challenge one of the dominant interpretations of the text. The standard approach underscores Faulkner's critique of racist and patriarchal ideologies, and within the context of this interpretation, significant characters (McEachern, Doc Hines, Joanna Burden, and Percy Grimm) look to biblical texts and the Christian tradition to justify their bigoted views. One of the more recent formulations of this interpretation can be found in John Lutz's essay, "Faulkner's Parable of the Cave: Ideology and Social Criticism in Light in August." For Lutz, it is "the racist and patriarchal ideology of Southern society" that sets into motion the tragic events leading to the brutal murders of Joanna Burden and Joe Christmas. (14) Religion certainly plays an important role in this interpretation, but only insofar as it is at the service of the culture's racist and patriarchal ideologies. Contra Lutz, I argue that Faulkner gives primacy to religion in his novel. Indeed, for Faulkner, the God-concept creates, I argue, the necessary ideological conditions for the possibility of violence and abuse, which are manifested in both the public and private spheres. According to my argument, without a firmly-established theological mentality in place, legal, psychological, and/or physical violence against the culture's designated inferiors could not be sanctioned. In short, what Faulkner critiques in Light in August is the God-concept, which is the foundation of the culture's "racist and patriarchal ideology" as well as the legitimizing force of egregious acts of violence.

II.
 In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an
 unmitigated arrogance and cruelty--necessarily, since a religion
 ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the
 spiritual duty of liberating the infidels.

 James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (45)


In Light in August, the God-concept plays a significant role in producing certain people as culturally designated inferiors. For instance, Doc Hines, who could be considered the legitimate offspring of Carroll, claims to know God's Will (382) and insists that he is "the instrument of His Will" (380). As a God-appointed minister, Doc Hines feels compelled "to preach" to the black community God's plan, which consists of a doctrine of "humility before all skins lighter than theirs, preaching the superiority of the white race, himself his own exhibit A" (343). Such racist ranting, which appealed to so many poor white Southerners, is certainly calculated to dehumanize African Americans. (15) To counter such a pernicious philosophy and thereby humanize downtrodden blacks in the United States, it would only make sense to reverse Carroll's and Doc Hines's racist theology by dubbing African Americans God's Chosen People. Such is the Northerner's view in the novel of "'the black man who will be forever God's chosen own because He once cursed him'" (253). This is the view of Joanna Burden's father, who bequeaths it to his daughter, and while such a philosophy was intended to reverse the curse that was once placed on the black race and thereby restore the black person's humanity, it had the opposite effect. After outlining her father's philosophy for Christmas, Joanna notes that it was at this time that she "seemed to see" black folk "not as people, but as a thing, a shadow in which I lived, we lived, all white people, all other people" (253). It does not matter whether the God-concept is used to degrade or to elevate the condition of African Americans; it ultimately has the same effect in either case, which is to dehumanize them. Indeed, something intrinsic to the God-concept, Faulkner suggests, makes it dangerous and destructive.

That something is the type of Knowledge that the God-concept authorizes. From Plato and Christ through Augustine and Aquinas to Kant and T.S. Eliot, Knowledge is authentic and true only when it is non-political and non-ideological. (16) Edward Said insightfully exposes the idea on which this view is based. The assumption in the West has been that "'true' knowledge is fundamentally nonpolitical (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not 'true' knowledge)" (10). Let me briefly indicate what is behind this view. Authentic Knowledge is a pre-given, mind-independent Reality, which, like its creator, is subject neither to the vicissitudes of the historical moment nor the vagaries of cultural context. For Knowledge to be Knowledge it must be true for all people in all places at all times. But to access such Knowledge, a person must possess a spiritual faculty of perception, an epistemological organ that, like its object, is bodiless and immutable. Therefore, the counter claim, "that overtly political knowledge is not 'true' knowledge," is a logical extension of the True-Knowledge philosophy. Were the knowing faculty merely developed inside of humans within an historical or cultural context, it would be capable of apprehending only ideological or political "knowledge," which is the culturally contingent knowledge of the institutions of power. Looked at from a slightly different angle, if there is no true, objective, metaphysical Truth that is universally valid, then all "knowledge" would be a mere cultural construction, contingent and ephemeral at best, which would mean that it does not qualify as Knowledge at all.

This True-Knowledge philosophy, which figures prominently in Faulkner's novel, is also central to Carroll's book. The "law of God" (177) is "that the White must be the master of the Negro," otherwise the two races "can never live together in peace" (176-77). To know such a "law," a person must "be endowed with mind almost God-like in its power; mind at once legislative, executive and judicial" (96). It is this God-like mind, which is not subject to "final dissolution" and which can apprehend God's spiritual "Plan of Creation," that defines the human as human. Since blacks are animals, the kind of "mind" they have is subject to "final dissolution" and cannot apprehend any spiritual truth or concept. Therefore, they must always be inferior and subject to whites. Even blacks who have considerable white blood can never rise to the level of a spiritual being because their animal-like subjectivity will make them forever incapable of apprehending "the law of God." As Carroll claims: "If mated continuously with pure whites for millions of generations, you could never breed the ape out, nor breed the spiritual creation in, the offspring of Man and the Negro" (161). This view of the black person and "mixed-bloods" as apes explains why the African/ape figure in the frontispiece is both marginalized and ominous. Given the black person's lack of a God-like mind, he or she can never enter into that direct line of kinship between God and the white man--the black person will be forever marginalized. But more importantly, should white people reach out to the black person, they would forever destroy the direct line of kinship between them and God, which would ultimately undermine the very "Plan of Creation." Therefore, the black person poses a threat to the society's divine order, which white people are called upon to institute by controlling and governing non-spiritual beings.

Doc Hines, Simon McEachern, Gail Hightower, Joanna Burden, and Percy Grimm all internalize an epistemological model that presupposes the existence of God-created, mind-independent Knowledge, and as a consequence, they all explicitly or implicitly perpetuate a socio-political structure that necessitates the construction and subsequent degradation and violation of culturally designated inferiors. In her attempt to compel Christmas into prayerful submission, Joanna sheds most light on the destructive dynamics of this authentic Knowledge apparatus. Having finally accepted God and His Will, Joanna asks Christmas to kneel with her in prayer. Joe refuses. But Joanna persists, demanding and demanding until she eventually points a cap-and-ball revolver at the infidel and then pulls the trigger. Significantly, each time that Joanna orders Christmas to kneel and pray, she tells him that it is not she who asks:

"Will you kneel with me?" she said. "I dont ask it."

"No," he said.

"I dont ask it. It's not I who ask it. Kneel with me."

"No."

They looked at one another. "Joe," she said. "For the last time. I dont ask it. Remember that. Kneel with me." (282, emphasis mine)

It might seem that the major offense in this scene is Joanna's tyrannical imposition on Christmas, which certainly recalls Joe's horrific experiences at the hands of his abusive father, McEachern. But, what lies behind Joe's resistance and ultimate violent reaction is his rejection of and rage against the whole apparatus of non-ideological Knowledge, the very Knowledge that has marginalized him and that, were he to accept it at Joanna's behest, would marginalize him even more than he already is.

Plato provides a specific and more comprehensive understanding of this apparatus of non-ideological Knowledge. In the Ion, when discussing the type of Knowledge that poets and seers possess, Socrates defines it in such a way that would make American fundamentalists giddy with joy. In a moment of inspiration, "the deity" divests the inspired ones of their senses. The deity does this so "that we listeners may know that it is not they who utter these precious revelations while their mind is not within them, but that it is the god himself who speaks, and through them becomes articulate to us" (220). Notice how Socrates, like Joanna, underscores the fact that it is not humans "who utter these precious revelations." Were the humans to participate in the utterance of the "precious revelations," the "knowledge" that they would express would be tainted by the subjective element, thus rendering it historical and/or cultural, in short, ideological. But because "these revelations" are not tainted by a human agenda ("not of man or human workmanship"), we can conclude that they are "divine and from the gods," which is to say that the "precious revelations" would qualify as non-ideological and therefore authentic Knowledge.

But to access such non-ideological Knowledge, one must be in possession of a spiritual faculty of perception, an epistemological organ that is capable of overcoming the limitations of its spatial and historical context as well as of apprehending a more-than-human Truth. Not surprisingly, Faulkner draws his reader's attention to the bodilessness of the spiritual characters throughout the novel, the very bodilessness that is a prerequisite for obtaining non-ideological Knowledge. For instance, when Doc Hines and his wife narrate their story to Hightower, they are described as "two bodiless voices recounting dreamily something performed in a region without dimension by people without blood" (376). When Percy Grimm's band of crusaders chase down Christmas, "their faces seemed to glare with bodiless suspension as though from haloes" (463). As for Joanna, when she is "talking to God as if He were a man in the room with two other men" (280-81), her voice is "still, monotonous, sexless" (281), "the monotonous dogmatic voice which" Christmas believes "will never cease going on and on forever" (230). To have dogmatic Knowledge, the Knowledge that makes "the blind and untroubled faith in the rightness and infallibility of" one's "actions" (459) possible, it is mandatory that a person be "bodiless," unaffected by the subjective or the ideological. Given the logic of this bodiless philosophy, if Joanna believed that she were acting in her own interest when forcing Christmas to pray, she would not have been able to justify to herself her coercive and violent behavior. But because she is convinced that she is acting independent of her subjective interest ("sexless"), in other words, because she believes that she is behaving non-ideologically ("it's not I who ask it"), she feels perfectly justified in treating Christmas as she does.

Ironically, Burden's invitation to Christmas to pray marginalizes in exactly the same way as do the philosophies of Doc Hines and Charles Carroll. At the level of action, all three subscribe to the frontispiece philosophy pictured in Carroll's book. They consider themselves spiritual beings who, given their spiritual faculty of perception, can have Knowledge of God's Will or the Law of God. On the basis of this privileged relationship, they are "clothed with Divine authority to 'have dominion'" (Carroll 38) over all of creation. Indeed, failure to take control would be an outrage against "the design of God" and a violation of "Divine law" (Carroll 145). In commanding Joe to kneel and pray, Burden implicitly assumes the role of the privileged spiritual person, but she also implicitly casts Joe into the margins, outside the direct line of kinship between God and humanity--because he cannot know God's will, she must instruct and guide him. So Christmas can kneel and pray in Joanna Burden's spiritual world, but it is Joanna who actually knows God's will. Therefore, if Joe would do God's will, he must obey Joanna, a person who, unlike Joe, has the necessary spiritual faculty to know the "Divine law." In short, Burden, like Carroll, reduces Joe to the ape/African who does not have the spiritual faculty that makes a human human.

This theological structure, which implicitly casts Christmas outside the direct line of kinship between God and man, dominates the novel, leading to the tacit marginalization of various groups of people. For instance, McEachern is a spiritual man who, given his bodilessness, can know the will of God. Following Socrates, who considers Knowledge authentic only when it is untainted by "man or human workmanship," McEachern exorcises human impulses and urges from his body. After Joe fails to learn his Presbyterian catechism, McEachern takes his adopted son to the barn to give the boy a whipping. But McEachern notices that Joe has forgotten his catechism. As McEachern tells the young Christmas to retrieve the book, he exhibits no anger, no frustration, no human emotion at all. Clearly anticipating the monotonous, dogmatic voice of Joanna Burden, McEachern conducts himself as non-human, all-too-non-human: "His voice was not kind. It was not human, personal, at all" (149). This non-personal, non-human posture is absolutely essential, for if his actions were governed by the human, the personal, or the ideological, he would no longer be able to claim that it is not he who is acting. Therefore, beating Joe (and it is important to note that McEachern does not know that Joe is potentially of African descent) is God-mandated, willed by God so that McEachern can instruct his adopted son in the ways of the Lord.

McEachern sees himself as most thoroughly non-ideological when he confronts his son in the one-room schoolhouse where Joe is dancing with Bobbie. But notice how the reader is given a picture of McEachern not as he is seen by others, but as he imagines himself: "Very likely he seemed to himself to be standing just and rocklike and with neither haste nor anger while on all sides the sluttishness of weak human man seethed in a long sigh of terror about the actual representative of the wrathful and retributive Throne. Perhaps they were not even his hands which struck at the face of the youth" (204). As a "just and rocklike" emissary of the Divine, McEachern believes that his actions are uncorrupted by secular or human desire. Indeed, for McEachern, acknowledging that his actions are determined by an in-bodied human interest would be a tacit admission that he is governed by the personal and the ideological, an admission that would implicitly cast him on the margins of the direct line of kinship between God and man. But since he considers himself a non-ideological being, a "representative" of the Almighty and therefore motivated by nothing personal, nothing human, and nothing ideological, he does not even believe that it is his hand that strikes his thoroughly secular and all-too-human son.

It is exactly this kind of non-ideological posturing that governs McEachern's abusive relationship with his wife. For instance, after McEachern catches Joe in a lie about a suit that the youth has secretly purchased, Mrs. McEachern tries to defend her adopted son by claiming that she bought the suit for him. But McEachern is not fooled:

"You are a clumsier liar than even he," the man said. His voice came, measured, harsh, without heat, up the cramped stair to where Joe lay in bed. He was not listening to it. "Kneel down. Kneel down. KNEEL DOWN, WOMAN. Ask grace and pardon of God; not of me." (165)

Again, McEachern refuses to allow the human or the personal to control his actions; his monotonous, dogmatic voice is "without heat." But more importantly, he, like Joanna, insists that he is the non-ideological instrument of the Divine Will. By lying for Joe, Mrs. McEachern has offended God, not McEachern, so she must ask pardon of God, not of McEachern.

Consistent throughout the novel is the way that the God-concept functions to justify psychological abuse and physical violence. But it does not matter whether a person is a black male or a "mixed-blood," a biological daughter or a submissive wife, the violation and abuse as well as the theological justification are the same. Consider, for instance, Mrs. McEachern and Joe. A character tries to force both figures to kneel and pray; this tyrannical character claims to be driven by nothing personal, nothing human; this character insists that he or she is following God's will; and, by virtue of this character's communication with the Divine, he or she assumes the right to govern and, when necessary, violate his or her inferiors--and what constitutes a person as superior is his or her ability to know God and thereby act non-ideologically. Highlighting how the God-concept functions to justify McEachern's abuse of his adopted son and wife implicitly undermines the interpretations that reduce Faulkner's novel to a critique of a white supremacist ideology. Such interpretations do not adequately explain the theological structure of mind that produces violence and abuse in Light in August. It is my contention that Faulkner, like Redding, examines the theological mentality that makes the abuse and violation of culturally designated inferiors possible.

Let me specify how this works in the novel. As a being on the margins of the bond of kinship between God and the human, the only type of "knowledge" that Christmas can produce is ideological, that which is governed by human and personal interest and desire. As such, his "knowledge" can only be provisional, ephemeral, and untrustworthy. Consequently, whatever view Christmas espouses will be suspect, which includes any discourse he tries to produce to name or define himself. By contrast, the Knowledge that Joanna produces, which does not emanate from her, is non-ideological and therefore objective and true. Consequently, she is in a position to define Joe and thereby control him, while Joe can define neither her nor himself. This closed system that divests Christmas of power over his own body is what inspires his violent reaction to Joanna's attempt to pray over him. Joe is not angry because the prayer brings McEachern to mind. He is furious because she uses the same theological structure of mind to cast him on the margins of full-fledged humanness.

Joe sheds most light on his situation when he reflects on his life after having killed Burden: "he believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe" (280). What fatality does Joe serve? The answer is the theological structure that Carroll pictures in his frontispiece. But to understand this theological model, we need to consider much more than just the relationship between God and the believer; we must also take into account how the theological model determines the life forms of the marginalized animal/human as well, that non-spiritual being who cannot know God and must therefore be controlled and defined.

Christmas is that animal/human. Throughout the text, Joe clearly rejects God and religion. In fact, as a youth in the McEachern household, he harbors a sense of "religious hatred" (184). Not surprisingly, when others communicate with God, he can only look on in puzzled amazement. Here's how he responds when his adoptive father makes his nighttime oblations: "Even the air seemed still to excrete that monotonous voice as of someone talking in a dream, talking, adjuring, arguing with a Presence who could not even make a phantom indentation in an actual rug" (153-54). Christmas is an empiricist, and he certainly sees no evidence to suggest the existence of a Divine Being. This scene is repeated when Joanna talks "to God as if He were a man in the room with two other men" (280-81). In both cases, Joe looks on in disbelief.

But looking on in disbelief is part of the overall structure of the theological model--the Apostle Paul and Carroll define spiritual people by setting them off from natural (non-spiritual) people. Spiritual people, who can interpret spiritual things in spiritual terms, can have authentic Knowledge, whereas natural people, for whom spiritual Knowledge is an absurdity, cannot come to know God-created spiritual realities. Consequently, the "spiritual man ... can appraise everything, though he himself can be appraised by no one," as the Apostle Paul claims. With Paul's distinction in mind, Joe is a natural man, a non-spiritual being who cannot appraise anything, specifically a spiritual person's life, while Joanna is a spiritual being, who can appraise everything and anything, including Joe's life. Moreover, as a spiritual being Joanna is obliged to have dominion over the created world, which includes non-spiritual beings like Joe. To put this in the words of Carroll: "Man alone is responsible to God for his acts; the lower animals are responsible to man, under whose 'dominion' they were placed in the creation, and into whose 'hands' God delivered them" (38). When Joanna prays over Joe and claims that it is not she who is acting, she is implicitly casting him into the role of the animal/human, that non-spiritual being who stands outside the direct line of kinship between God and the human and must therefore be placed in the inferior role of servant, never legislator. (17)

While Joe never believes in the bond of kinship between God and the human, he nevertheless implicitly and fatally accepts the role of the marginalized non-spiritual being nevertheless. For instance, when Joe first comes to Burden's old colonial plantation, instead of approaching the woman as on an equal footing, he fixes himself up in a "tumble down negro cabin" (36) on her property. After being in a sexual relationship with Burden for some time, Joe realizes "that she had never invited him inside the house proper. He had never been further than the kitchen" (234). On arriving at the sawmill, rather than applying for a "respectable" job, Christmas accepts "the work of a nigger slave" (96). At all levels, Joe willingly, fatalistically, accepts the marginalized role scripted for "inferiors," a role that does not allow Christmas to have power or authority over anyone.

Even in his relationship with Burden, Christmas is cast as an "inferior." This relationship puzzles Joe, who believes that as a man he has a natural right to dominate and control her. But as he reflects on his relationship with her, he concludes: "'it was like I was the woman and she was the man'" (235). At this point in the novel, Christmas is in search of a discourse that could explain why Joanna feels so comfortable and justified exerting power over him. While he initially offers a gender interpretation, he soon realizes that that explanation "'was not right'" (235). It will not be until he kills Burden that he finally understands. From Joanna's perspective, Joe is a "Negro" (260). This is not primarily a racial designation; it is, first and foremost, a theological expression, code for Paul's "natural man," a non-spiritual being who, because he can never interpret spiritual things in a spiritual way, must always be controlled, a servant at the beck and call of spiritual people like Burden.

Let me briefly explain what I mean by calling the "Negro" reference primarily a theological expression. The theological structure posits a relationship between God and the theological subject, a spiritual being who has the epistemological capacity to know spiritual things. The natural person lacks the spiritual faculty of perception and therefore cannot come to know spiritual things. Consequently, the natural person must always stand on the margins of the divine/ human bond of kinship, which means that the marginalized, non-spiritual being can never apprehend non-ideological Knowledge. This is the socio-cultural structure that determines who should rule and who should serve, and while the structure remains the same from one culture to the next, the individuals that will be marginalized and violated will change in relation to a culture's specific ideology. So in Forster's Maurice, heterosexuals can be spiritual beings, whereas homosexuals can only be natural beings, while in the last chapters of Larsen's Quicksand, black males can be spiritual beings, whereas black women can only be natural beings. Whatever being is plugged into the structure is, first and foremost, a theological being, either an epistemologically trustworthy subject that can have authentic (non-ideological) Knowledge and therefore can act as a responsible agent or a non-trustworthy (ideological) subject that cannot have authentic Knowledge and therefore must be placed in a position of servitude. It is within the context of this theological model that a person's position within the culture is determined.

Given this theological model, even if Joe were to kneel and pray, this would not alter his condition as a non-spiritual being, for Burden has Joe's whole life scripted; she will send him to a black school so that he can become a black lawyer. (18) What Joe would decide for himself is irrelevant: as a natural man he must accept the rule of the spiritual people who "have dominion" over natural people like himself. This is the theological fatalism to which he is a "volitionless servant." Since he rejects the God-concept, he thinks that he does not support the theological model's vision of socio-cultural forms and relations. But little does he know that the theological model also has a script for non-spiritual beings like himself, a script that he follows nearly his whole life. It is in this sense that he believes what he believed he did not believe.

Significantly, in the novel Faulkner underscores how the theological model, which justifies the existence of non-ideological Knowledge, is a thoroughly ideological construct. We see this most clearly through the characterization of Percy Grimm, a "prophetlike" (453) character, like "a young priest" (464), whose "face had that serene, unearthly luminousness of angels in church windows" (462). Grimm is a man certain of his faith, totally committed to a righteous program of justice and truth, and this certitude serves him well, for he is guided by "the blind and untroubled faith in the rightness and infallibility of his actions" (459). Indeed, with each movement, he proceeds "as though under the protection of a magic or a providence," and when the laws of biological necessity would seem to limit his action, Grimm is inspired, energized, invigorated, as if he were somehow beyond the human: "He seemed indefatiguable, not flesh and blood, as if the Player who moved him for pawn likewise found him breath" (462). Like McEachern and Burden, Grimm's thoughts and actions are motivated by nothing personal, nothing human ("unearthly," "not flesh and blood").

As an instrument of the Divine, he is the quintessential non-ideological being. Not only does Percy consider himself an instrument of the divine, so too do the townspeople. Just before the castration scene, Faulkner briefly examines the psychological process whereby Grimm comes to represent the divine will. Christmas is in jail awaiting his indictment. The day is Sunday and "the quiet church bells rang and the congregations gathered" (456). The townspeople know that the Grand Jury will convene the next day, but it is the words "Grand Jury," that inspire so much awe: "Somehow the very sound of the two words with their evocation secret and irrevocable and something of a hidden and unsleeping and omnipotent eye watching the doings of men, began to reassure Grimm's men in their own makebelieve" (456). The references to religion (church bells and congregation) highlight the sense of mystery, the feeling that an omnipotent and impartial judge is paying particular attention to the human events in Jefferson. For Grimm's men, this sense of religious mystery functions, on a psychological level, to sanction their actions as divinely inspired, not just "their own makebelieve." The next day, with a deputy escorting Christmas to the courthouse, the prisoner escapes and the chase begins. When Christmas dashes into Hightower's home, Grimm and his men follow, and it is there that the pursuers are transfigured: "It was upon them, of them: its shameless savageness. Out of it their faces seemed to glare with bodiless suspension as though from haloes" (463). The men are no longer of this world--they are "bodiless." The God-concept has so taken control of their persons that they appear as saints (with "haloes"), ministers of impartial justice and bearers of non-ideological truth. But since Faulkner's narrator has already pointed out that the "omnipotent eye" which seems to be "watching the doings of [the] men" is really nothing more than a communal illusion ("their makebelieve"), we as readers are not fooled by the pretence of being objective, neutral, or non-ideological. In fact, the Grimm episode underscores not just that the knowledge possessed by the seemingly bodiless characters in the novel is human-created and ideologically driven, but also that the whole theological apparatus, which includes the spiritual and natural man, is an arbitrary construction. In short, Grimm, Burden, Hines, and McEachern are the most dangerously ideological characters in the novel precisely because they convince themselves that they are non-ideological.

But for Faulkner, the problem is not just that the God-concept and the subsequent claim to non-ideological Knowledge are misguided makebelieve; the problem is that this makebelieve leads to violence, despair and sometimes death. Like Hines, McEachern, Burden, and Grimm, Hightower has internalized the dehumanizing structure of faith, an internalization process that has led him to renounce his humanity and become an instrument of the divine will: "'I acquiesced. Nay, I did worse: I served it'" (487). Typical of Faulkner's believers, once Hightower commits himself to the God-concept, he sees himself as a person who has access to authentic, non-ideological Knowledge, while he sees others, like his wife, as mere natural people, individuals whose lives must be controlled and determined by spiritual people like himself. Therefore, instead of attending to or respecting the interests, needs and desires of his wife, he looks past her altogether. But after witnessing how the God-concept ultimately blinds people like Doc Hines to the quotidian realities of everyday people, he begins to realize how this theological model has had the same effect on him, which leads him to the discovery that he has failed to see his wife just as Hines has failed to see his grandson: "he did not see her face at all" (479). The same applies to his congregation: "I did not see them" (487). Unlike McEachern, Burden, Hines, and Grimm, however, Hightower realizes that in being an instrument of the Divine he has also been an instrument of death and despair and that consequently he is responsible for his wife's doom: "if I am the instrument of her despair and death, then I am in turn instrument of someone outside myself" (491). The word instrument clearly brings to mind Doc Hines, who is "the instrument of His will" (380). (19)

The theological model, which effectively alienates and dehumanizes so many, ultimately destroys everyday people, like Milly Hines, like Christmas's father, like Mrs. Hines, like Mrs. McEachern, like Mrs. Hightower, and like Joe Christmas. Is it any surprise, then, that Hightower's wife is seen "shaking her hands at him [Hightower] or God" (65), the same way that Christmas is heard cursing "God" (323) in a black church? The God-concept has been responsible for suffering, alienation, and despair. But just because Hightower's wife and Christmas curse God, it does not follow that they believe in God. Like the title character from Jean Toomer's experimental short story "Kabnis," these characters curse a non-existent God: "God, he doesnt exist, but nevertheless He is ugly. Hence, what comes from Him is ugly" (Toomer 85). God does not exist, yet belief in Him has caused unspeakable suffering and psychological damage, which explains why He is ugly nevertheless. As Faulkner suggests throughout Light in August, positing the existence of a spiritual reality that only a certain group of people can see necessarily leads to a stratification of humanness that ultimately perpetuates the wicked idea of human inferiority.

Therefore, to make truly humane interactions between people and peoples possible, it is necessary to renounce God and the theological model. Such is what Hightower does. As Grimm and his men enter the house in search of Christmas, Hightower yells out: "'He was with me the night of the murder. I swear to God----'" (464). To save a supposed black man who has supposedly murdered a white woman, Hightower lies. (20) But he does not just lie. He swears to God. In God's name, the God whom he serves and represents as a minister, he purposely and consciously lies. If God is the basis and foundation of non-ideological Truth, then to lie in his name is to pervert the very essence of God's being; it is to invoke God in order to simultaneously denounce God; it is to call on God in order to abolish God. But at the same time, in renouncing God, Hightower pledges allegiance to Christmas, to the innocent human who has been God's victim, the Isaac who never chose to have his life sacrificed in the name of faith. Indeed, by renouncing God, Hightower can finally see the human, the human as a being, the human being independent of God, independent of all systems of truth. In all his years as a minister, the one thing Hightower could never do was to see the human, to connect with another human; only by denouncing God can he finally achieve this.

Not surprisingly, after the dreadful event, after his private discovery that he has been responsible for his wife's and other people's deaths, Hightower can see human faces for the first time. In fact, he sees "all the faces which he has ever seen ... his wife's; townspeople, members of the congregation which denied him, which had met him at the station that day with eagerness and hunger; Byron Bunch's; the woman with the child; and that of the man called Christmas" (491). At this moment, Hightower, when he is on the verge of prayer, finds that prayer is as insignificant as God:
 Then it seems to him that some ultimate damned flood within him
 breaks and rushes away. He seems to watch it, feeling himself
 losing contact with earth, lighter and lighter, emptying, floating.
 'I am dying,' he thinks. 'I should pray. I should try to pray.' But
 he does not. He does not try. (492)


Now that he has found humanity, now that he has been released from God and prayer, the harrowing vision of his grandfather is beginning to fade, "skyward sucking" (493), becoming only a distant memory. Hightower has experienced the liberation that Christmas so passionately desired.

III.
 Life is at an end where the
 'kingdom of God' begins....
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (55)


Within the context of Light in August, liberation can only occur through a radical affirmation of the humanness of 'knowledge,' which is an implicit renunciation of the non-human and the non-ideological, in short, God. Had Faulkner been a less astute or more simple-minded cultural critic, he would have countered the racist ideologies of people like Carroll by creating marginalized characters who would have been able to enter into a bond of kinship with God, thus making the theological model more inclusive. But Faulkner's target is not the surface injustices of his culture. His focus is the foundational structure that makes the construction of an oppressive ideology a logical necessity. The idea of non-ideological Knowledge, which only true spiritual ("bodiless") subjects can access, leads--necessarily--to a stratification of humanness. Those who have epistemological access to God-created, non-ideological Knowledge are full-fledged Humans and therefore best prepared to rule and govern sub- and non-humans. Such a stratification principle ultimately allows those who believe that they have access to non-ideological Truth to think that they have a right to decide for and define natural beings, like Christmas. Therefore, to make it possible for the culture to overcome its dehumanizing ideology, to enable people to see people as people, Faulkner implicitly calls for the humanization of 'knowledge' and the concomitant deconstruction of the theological apparatus. He makes that plea in and through the character of Joe Christmas, who is ideology, a human, all-too-human character in search of human connection with other humanized humans.

In a strangely original way, Faulkner offers his readers in Light in August a seemingly counter-intuitive approach to ideology. Let me articulate this approach by challenging Donald M. Kartiganer's view of ideology. In his "Introduction" to Faulkner and Ideology, Kartiganer discusses the "decidedly sinister quality" (xi) of ideology, specifically the idea that ideology divests humans of authorial autonomy or personal agency: "That this life could somehow constitute a compelling argument of its own, could 'speak' him [Faulkner] as if he were nothing more than a passive vocabulary for predetermined values, is something he could not conceive of" (ix). Actually, Faulkner could and did conceive of such an idea, but ironically, it is the characters who believe in God and the non-ideological, glibly assuming they could overcome their human interests and desires, that become "nothing more than a passive vocabulary for predetermined values." Not only are these characters' lives scripted; they want to script the lives of everyone around them, especially natural men, like Christmas, who have supposedly been created to serve spiritual men and women. It is, ironically, the characters who renounce God and the concomitant apparatus of non-ideological Knowledge that behave outside the framework of the culture's "predetermined values." Byron Bunch chooses, against all reason, to pursue Lena Grove, a "whore" (6), "another man's laidby crop" (416), rather than fulfill his weekly church service obligation, while Hightower, in clear violation of his society's religious values, renounces God and simultaneously pledges allegiance to Joe Christmas. And yet, given the logic of the novel, it is by renouncing God and the attendant non-ideological Knowledge that Byron and Hightower experience something we could almost call human intimacy. In their post-God worlds, both men look at the Other, not as natural men and women who are inferior because they supposedly stand outside the bond of kinship between the human and the Divine, but as wounded beings, like themselves, in search of human companionship. Given Faulkner's treatment of God and non-ideological Knowledge, we could say, contra Kartiganer, that what has a decidedly sinister quality is the theological apparatus, which implicitly authorizes the existence of a type of Knowledge that only superior humans, who overcome humanness, can access. For Faulkner, by admitting that knowledge is 'human'-constructed and ideological, humans can live and experience their humanity. Put simply, what makes humans human and humane is the recognition that all 'knowledge' is human-constructed and ideologically based. Such a recognition effectively deconstructs the stratification of humanness that the God-concept and the theological apparatus institutes.

This critique of the God-concept and the concomitant belief in a non-ideological Truth is the basis of the novel's aesthetic unity. In the very first chapter, we are introduced to Lena's brother, who is described in exactly the same way as Doc Hines: "He was a hard man" (6, 126). At this point in the novel, we do not know what makes him such a hard man, who is willing to call his own sister a "whore" (6), but after meeting McEachern, Burden, Hines, Hightower, and Grimm, we see how the God-concept has created such hard people. By the end of the novel, Hightower finally discovers how the God-concept ideology has converted him and many others into dangerous and destructive people. In the name of compassion, intimacy and love, he abandons God, an act that enables him to see and embrace others. Unfortunately, he makes his discovery too late to save Christmas from his God-mandated crucifixion. Witnessing how the God-concept ideology leads so many characters to marginalize and violate godless characters (natural people) with impunity can only make the reader fearful of the ominous possibilities in store for Lena, an unwed mother. But fortunately, after Byron meets Lena, he turns his back on the church, and as a consequence, he is liberated from his God-concept ideology. Notice how Faulkner draws the reader's attention to Byron's transformation when Byron reflects on his emotional response to Lena:
 He did not care now, though a week ago it would have been
 different. Then he would not have stood here, where any man could
 look at him and perhaps recognise him: Byron Bunch, that weeded
 another man's laidby crop, without any halvers. The fellow that
 took care of another man's whore while the other fellow was busy
 making a thousand dollars. (416)


"[W]hore" and "laidby crop" (377)--these are the expressions of Doc Hines, though they are also the ideological pronouncements of the whole community. And it is this ideology that almost prevents Byron from pursuing Lena. That this ideology determines Byron's experience of the world he admits by saying that he would not be here were it a week earlier. At that point in time, Byron was still committed to God and the church, but now, after distancing himself from the church, he has also distanced himself from its ideology. This is fortunate for Lena, because as a godless immoralist (an unwed mother), she is in danger of being crucified, like so many other characters in the novel. But in connecting with the now godless Byron, Lena has the hope of experiencing intimacy and agency (she can choose Byron or not, while he is free to pursue what is ideologically forbidden by his culture), two things that Christmas most desired.

Not surprisingly, by the end of the novel, the hierarchical model that is established in and through the God-concept has been effectively deconstructed. Luckily, for it is only in a world beyond God and authentic Knowledge that people can engage people as people. For Faulkner, it is in the denial of ideology that humans lose their humanity, a dehumanization that makes people like McEachern, Hines, Burden and Grimm, incapable of connecting with others, but also capable of violating the rights and dignity of others with impunity. Contrariwise, ideology humanizes us; it is the prerequisite for meaningful human connection. From Joanna Burden, Christmas does not want an empty concept like God or non-ideological Knowledge. Having "prepared himself like a bridegroom," though "unaware of it" (267), he wants connection and intimacy with another flesh and blood human. But such connection will not be possible until others, like Hightower and Byron, renounce the source of the non-ideological, which is God. In short, like Nietzsche, Wright, Hurston, and Redding, Faulkner faults not perverted versions of theology and religion, but God, the source of all our woe. For Faulkner, and this is the unifying idea of Light in August: only by renouncing God and embracing ideology can human intimacy become a real possibility.

(1) I would like to thank Kevin Railey for giving me valuable suggestions for reorganizing and revising the argument of this essay. I would also like to thank the library staff, especially Joan Campbell, at Wellesley College Library for helping me with the research for this essay.

(2) Let me supply just a few examples to clarify and illustrate this approach to Christianity. In The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano criticizes Christians for the horrors of slavery, but instead of criticizing the Bible, which lays out the conditions for and never condemns slavery, he faults "nominal Christians" (38). In other words, true Christians would never sanction slavery. In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass condemns the religion of the South, which "is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,--a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,--and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection" (301). But in his "Appendix," he qualifies his critique by claiming that his condemnation applies "to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper" (326). In A Son of the Forest, William Apess documents how Native Americans regularly suffered a "violation of their inherent rights" (4) at the hands of Christians, but he considers this violation inconsistent with Christianity: "I felt convinced that Christ died for all mankind--that age, sect, color, country, or situation made no difference" (19).

(3) The German text reads: "Im Glauben liegt ein boses Prinzip." But here is how George Eliot translates the passage: "In faith there lies a malignant principle" (252). Because "malignant" has a biological association (a malignant tumor), I have decided to translate the German word "bose," which could also be translated as evil or bad, to "pernicious." This captures the extremely negative quality of faith that Feuerbach tries to depict.

(4) The German text reads: "alle Religionen sind auf dem untersten Grunde Systeme von Grausamkeiten" (295). It is important to note that Grausamkeiten can be translated as cruelties or atrocities.

(5) It is worth noting that Freud's writing took a distinctively anti-religious turn just before Faulkner started working on Light in August. In 1921, he published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, a work that suggests that religion is on the wane. But in 1927, he revised this view with his publication of The Future of an Illusion. By 1930, with the publication of Civilization and Its Discontents, he was horrified by the return and rise of religion. It is within this world-wide context of a religious resurgence that Faulkner penned Light in August.

(6) The following citations are from the 1991 reprint of Carroll's book.

(7) Regina M. Schwartz has written a very insightful book, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism, which tries to detail why believers so often perpetrate extreme acts of violence against other people. Schwartz focuses on the monotheistic principles of exclusion and scarcity, exposing how belief in a single God leads to a particularly violent construction of a communal identity.

(8) I want to thank the Wellesley library staff for their assistance with this copy.

(9) Hurston published an updated version of the Moses story titled Moses, Man of the Mountain. She knew the scriptures well.

(10) For a more comprehensive analysis of Larsen's critique of religion and the God-concept, see my essay, "American Prayer: A Spiritual Exercise in Race and Gender Subjection in Nella Larsen's Quicksand."

(11) For a more detailed discussion of the way Eliot's theology justifies his anti-Semitism, see my essay, "Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot: An Atheist's Commentary on the Epistemology of Belief."

(12) In "The Moral Conditions for Genocide in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness," I argue that Conrad exposes the Biblical and theological justification of European atrocities in Africa.

(13) For discussions of Woolf 's critique of the God-concept and theological Knowledge, see my essays, "Atheism and Sadism: Nietzche and Woolf on Post-God Discourse" and "The Gender of Atheism in Virginia Woolf's 'A Simple Melody.'"

(14) There have been many studies that focus on racist and patriarchal ideologies in Faulkner's text. For the ones that have, in one way or another, influenced my interpretation of Faulkner, see Sundquist, Davis, and Wittenberg.

(15) Carroll's book had "a very wide circulation," especially in the South. For a discussion of this book and its circulation, see Stokes.

(16) In this essay, I examine only one facet of ideology, but it is a crucial one. Once we clarify how "knowledge" is human constructed rather than ontologically pre-given, we would be in a better position to understand some of the more subtle and complicated formulations of ideology, as in the works of Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, and Judith Butler, who argue that ideology situates and constitutes (interpellates) us as 'subjects,' or as in the work of Raymond Williams, who makes valuable distinctions among dominant, residual and emergent ideologies. For discussions of the way ideology functions in Faulkner's text, see Railey, Mellard, and Kartiganer and Abadie.

(17) In a recent essay, Laura Doyle, instead of examining and interpreting the way prayer functions in the novel, uses Emmanuel Levinas's concept of prayer to interpret the text, and as a consequence, she makes Faulknerian prayer do the exact opposite of what it does in the text. According to her interpretation, were Christmas to pray "[i]t would be a giving over of himself to himself as himself" (356). Given the numerous and consistent negative references to prayer in the text, this interpretation is simply not plausible.

(18) Robert Dale Parker claims that Christmas, through marriage with Burden, would significantly increase his "chances for a peaceful life," but instead, Christmas "chooses to continue his life of loneliness and waste" (95). The problem with this interpretation is that Parker assumes that Burden does or could treat Christmas as a human, but given her views about blacks as 'things' and her dehumanizing religious orientation, such a relationship would ultimately destroy Christmas. Christmas secretly desires marriage, but only if he will be treated as a human, and this is something Burden could never offer Christmas.

(19) Without taking into account Faulkner's complex critique of the God-concept, it is difficult to explain, in aesthetic terms, how Hightower and Christmas relate to one another. For this reason, Sundquist considers Faulkner's discussion of Hightower's past in the penultimate chapter to be an aesthetic lapse: "The long, most isolating plunge into the past of Hightower that follows Christmas's death offers little that is relevant to Christmas's life, or even to Hightower's act of providing him with a futile, last-minute alibi" (91). Contra Sundquist, we could say that the Hightower chapter is absolutely necessary for two reasons. First, by renouncing prayer, Hightower's humanization is complete--he renounced God in the previous chapter, which was also necessary for him to recover his humanity. Second, it is only by rejecting God and prayer that Hightower can finally see people for the first time. In essence, the chapter indicates that, in providing "a futile, last-minute alibi," Hightower may not save Christmas, but he himself is 'saved' through the action.

(20) I say "supposedly murdered a white woman" because I follow John N. Duvall, who argues that Christmas was, to some degree, justified in killing Burden. From a legal perspective, Joe could legitimately claim self-defense.

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Michael Lackey

Wellesley College
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Title Annotation:Theory and Practice; William Faulkner
Author:Lackey, Michael
Publication:The Faulkner Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:12616
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