Southern View of Religion in Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream Essay

Southern View of Religion in Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream Essay

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Southern View of Religion in Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream

“Our first lesson about God made the deepest impression on us. We were told that He loved us, and then we were told that He would burn us in everlasting flames of hell if we displeased Him. We were told we should love Him for He gives us everything good that we have, and then we were told that we should fear Him because He has the power to do evil to us whenever He cares to. We learned from this part of the lesson another: that “people,” like God and parents, can love you and hate you at the same time; and though they may love you, if you displease them they may do you great injury; hence being loved by them does not give you protection from being harmed by them. We learned that They (parents) have a “right” to act in this way because God does, and that They in a sense represent God, in the family.”
-Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream, p. 85

This short passage introduces the first of many paradoxes and contradictions that dominate the Southern way of life that Smith depicts in Killers of the Dream. It is fitting that Smith (and her contemporaries) should remember their first lesson about God as a terrifying self-contradiction, because this theme perpetuates itself in the Southern view of religion. It lays the framework for a theological doctrine that banishes a person to the flames of hell for taking a sip of alcohol, yet turns its head as human beings banish others to the ghettos and old slave quarters for having dark skin.

This passage also creates a parallel between the white people and their role as the “God” of Southern society. Smith states, “We were told we should love Him for He gives us everything good that we have, and then we were told that...


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...hild understands his relationship with God and his parents as such, it is fairly natural that he will grow up to perpetuate a facsimile of that relationship between himself and his own children and the black community, both environments in which he is “God.” Smith summarizes her description of her early “lesson” with “We learned that They (parents) have a “right” to act in this way because God does, and that They in a sense represent God, in the family.” This satirical presentation of the word “right” in parentheses both the parental and the societal desire for the white man to play God. However, Smith ironically suggest that God does not act this way, He is simply drawn into the trial as an unwitting testimonial justifying the behavior that society wants to believe is right, despite their gnawing knowledge that it is far from right, and far from human, or humane.

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