Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

First read: 11/05
Reviewed on: 12/1/05
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

As I type this, there is a three month old in my lap, and I am singing, "Go tell it on the mountain, go tell it on the mountain, go tell it on the mountain, la la la la la." I don't know the words. If you write a novel whose title is a song title, you should always have the lyrics as an appendix. Dammit.

"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." George Bush, 8/27/1987 - quoted by reporter Robert Sherman, by UPI and by Boulder Daily Camera.

These days it is hard for me to like Christianity. When a bunch of religious fundamentalists chose to destroy the world trade center in an attack on America, prominent religious fundamentalist Jerry Falwell blamed - ummm... Atheists living in the United States. And more than one of my Christian Friends sent me the chain-email with his remarks, thinking this was perfectly a perfectly socially acceptible non-controversial thing to say. And the response by the Christian community to this horrible bit of hate by someone who often claims to speak for them? Ummm... I haven't heard any.

I'm guessing that most scholars think of Go Tell It On The Mountain as a book about Race. And of course it is. But I read it as a book about the wonders and benefits of Christianity. If you are an Atheist, I want you to think about this question: You have a group of people who are not only poor and oppressed, but it looks like no end in sight. When one of them tries to make something of herself, she is beaten down or killed by the system. There is the temptation to commit crimes as one of the only available means to get themselves out of the pit. There is the temptation to indulge in massive benders of self-destructive behavior. But they have this wonderful thing called Christianity. Crime and self-destructive behavior is labeled "sin", and Christianity fights sin.

And there are other benefits. These people are what Baldwin calls "lowly." They don't get any respect when working their unfufilling jobs, but every one of them can be respected and exhalted, based on their Christian practice. The guy who shovels rich people's driveways for a few bucks can feel like a King at home.

Atheist - here's the question. Would you take that away from them? If your answer is "yes", then this book might change your mind.

Let's make it more personal now (again using ideas from this book). I'm a Jew, trying to diet, and you are a Christian, trying to diet. Oh, look, here is a piece of Chocolate Cake. I know that this one piece isn't going to make the difference between thin and fat, so I either give in to the temptation, or have to extensively rationalize and make a very big effort not to eat it. How about you? Well your life is a constant battle between God trying to get you to do good (well not God per se, but his son, who is also him, but not really) and Satan trying to get you not to. As a Jew, I don't get the feeling that the decision to eat this piece of cake matters to anyone but me. As a Christian, you know that it COUNTS. There is a great war going on, and you are important, and giant powerful forces are fighting over you. Satan REALLY wants you to eat that cake - it will make him happy. Jesus REALLY wants you to resist Satan's wishes. It will make him happy if you do, and he will cry if you don't. You are SO IMPORTANT. This decision is SO IMPORTANT. It must make it easier to resist the temptation.

It also makes life more exciting. You aren't just shoveling snow off of some guy's driveway for a living, you aren't just emptying trash for an office, you are the custodian of a soul that Great Forces are fighting over. Jesus cares! He wants you to acheive salvation. Satan cares! He wants you to die and burn! You are SO IMPORTANT.

Hey, Atheist, would you take that away from someone?

I'm not actually answering any of these questions. I don't know the answers. But this book brought up the questions, and I'm glad I read it.

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