Christianity, according to James, is not a simple idea. He believes that grasping a thorough understanding of this religion is extremely difficult. It is, however, a refuge and a breeding ground for hypocrisy. He goes on to say that it is only in the church that those who despise themselves or their circumstances seek salvation. James is raised by his stepfather, who is harsh with him in contrast to his siblings. As a result, he faces many difficulties at such a young age, prompting him to seek comfort and consolation in the church. It is also funny how his stepfather, a preacher, mistreats him yet as a member and an evangelist of the Pentecostal church ought to have preached love to everyone and without discrimination. This form of irony amounted to what is described as hypocrisy by James.
At around fourteen years, James attends Pentecostal meetings and his participation in church activities pulls more believers than his stepfather had done before. At 17 years however he terms religion as “false” and makes it clear that he had joined it at an early stage in order to find refuge of the harsh life.
Christianity according to him can be grouped into two: members of the black’s church and the missionaries. ‘The missionaries’, he notes, is a group comprised of mostly the white. The white people here try to manifest themselves as liberals trying to protect their ideologies and self-awareness in an ever dynamic world from rejection and rebellion.
Members of the black church are therefore defined with ease. Most of them have undergone numerous difficulties and hardships in life, and all is left of them is find refugee and solace from their realities. The missionaries develop the idea of promising these types 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 such as drug trafficking. And this is achieved by selling to people the idea that avoiding these bad ways gets one closer to eternal life. James 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 exists.
He however tries to appreciate that the church would be considered advantageous as it tried to motivate the black- Americans to challenge the power of oppression and captivity. However he feels that introducing another religion that would favor the blacks alone was still not the best remedy for discrimination
After dropping Christianity, James interacts with Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Islam religion at that time, who tries to persuade him to join the religion. James disagrees totally with Elijah’s teachings. The Black Islam required the black to be taught that God was black and that the white was 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 adds that such social interactions would enable the white enslave and frustrate the black people.
James Baldwin therefore felt that the black Islamic religion was still a way of despising one race to the expense of the other. He suggests that this taught “a tooth for tooth” ideology that preached vengeance. The blacks were therefore trying to revenge all the years of captivity and slavery by now considering themselves superior and more significant than the white. It was however 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. James however argues 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 i.e. black should only marry black since the whites are ‘devils’. Religion has also been a major factor of the emotional beings. The blacks for example think of the white as evil and would treat them with less dignity. The emotions created in a black’s man mind in regard to the white will be hatred.
People therefore 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 colours, one people?” James also fails to understand why religion is used as a method of promoting violence instead of spreading peace between the races.
James Baldwin therefore rejects the two religions as according to him neither the white god nor the black one would provide help. The teachings and ideas of these religions do not conform to his way of reasoning.