Mere christianity, according to Baldwin, is not a simple concept. He claimed that having a clear understanding of this religion is difficult to achieve because it is a shelter and nurturer of hypocrisy. Only the church, according to Baldwin, can one find those who despise themselves or their circumstances and hide in an attempt to find redemption. Baldwin was treated harshly by his stepfather in comparison to his other siblings because he was raised by him. At this young age, he faced numerous challenges that led him to seek comfort and consolation in the church. His stepfather was a preacher and mistreated Baldwin yet as a member and an evangelist of the Pentecostal church ought to have preached love to everyone without discrimination. This form of irony amounted to what is described as hypocrisy by Baldwin.
At the age of 14, Baldwin attended Pentecostal meetings and his participation in church activities pulled more believers than his stepfather had ever done before. At the age of 17, he terms religion as “false” and made it clear that he had joined it at an early stage in order to find refuge from the harsh life.
According to him, Christianity can be grouped into two: members of the black’s church and the missionaries. “The missionaries,” he noted, are a group comprised of mostly the white who try to manifest themselves as liberals in attempts to protect their ideologies and self-awareness in an ever dynamic world from rejection and rebellion.
Most of the members of the black church have undergone numerous hardships in life, and all is left of them is find refuge and solace from their realities. The missionaries develop the idea of promising these type of people a form of hope and light. Clearly, the missionaries here are promising their members “good living after they die,” an ideology that in Baldwin’s opinion propagates the American slavery system by setting up a very prolonged promise of salvation that is to be achieved in the “next world.”
The missionaries have aligned themselves to have solutions to the problems faced by the members of the black church. The church is an institution that encourages one to refrain from any harmful activities as well as illegal practices, including drug trafficking. This can be achieved by selling to people the idea that avoiding these bad ways gets one closer to eternal life. Baldwin shows his disregard further to Christianity in that as much as they pretend to be preaching love, they are actually encouraging racism through the black-white divides that exist.
Baldwin tried to appreciate that the church would be considered advantageous as it tried to motivate the blacks to challenge the power of oppression and captivity. He felt that introducing another religion that would favor the blacks alone was still not the best remedy for discrimination.
After dropping Christianity, Baldwin interacted with Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Islam religion at that time, who tried to persuade him to join the religion. However, Baldwin disagreed totally with Elijah’s teachings. The Black Islam required the black to be taught that God is black and the white is a representation of the devil. This was a religion that directly despised the white. Elijah advises that the idea of intermarriages between the two races was malicious hence needed to be discouraged as it could cause confusion and lack of identity for the black people. He added that such social interactions would enable the whites to enslave and frustrate the black people.
Baldwin felt that the black Islamic religion was still a way of despising one race to the expense of the other. He suggested that this taught “a tooth for tooth” ideology that preached vengeance. The blacks were trying to revenge all the years of captivity and slavery by now considering themselves superior and more significant than the white. It was wrong to live in consideration with the past trying to reciprocate what was done to them for the past 300 years.
According to Elijah, the blacks could still make it in life without the involvement of the whites. Baldwin argued that such an idea could only promote disunity between the two races. The black Islam was trying to propagate racial violence as it encouraged a negative attitude and induction of hatred towards the white.
Generally, the issue of religion has been addressed to be of more negative emotional and social value than its spiritual aspect. Religion has been used to draw a line of distinction between who should interact with whom and who should not: the blacks should only marry blacks since the whites are “devils”. Religion has also been a major factor of the emotional beings. If he blacks, for example, thought of the whites as evil, they would have treated the whites with less dignity. The emotions created in a black man’s mind in regard to the whites would be hatred.
People spent very little of their time on the spiritual aspect of religion. Why would they spend so much on the sideshows of religion rather than giving much on the main theme of the existence of religion? Why should religion be a battle of races rather than a doctrine of preaching, “Different colors, one people?” Baldwin also failed to understand why religion is used as a method of promoting violence instead of spreading peace between the races. Therefore, he rejected the two religions as neither the white god nor the black one would provide help. The teachings and ideas of these religions did not conform to his way of reasoning.