Americans look back on the western migration as a period of growth, referring to the movement as America’s “Manifest Destiny” to claim the untamed western land they viewed as their God-given right. Americans viewing western migration as a mission to take the land that God wished them to have, resulted in a brutal war against the native Mexicans of the area and vicious, detrimental colonization of the Native American tribes that lived in the country before. The religious journey of westward expansion was, in reality, acts of war and violent colonization.
Cormac McCarthy’s anti-Western novel, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, about a young man who ends up with a gang of men on a mission to hunt for American Indians following the end of the Mexican-American war, makes a point to call attention to the gratuitous violence used in the name of America’s religious calling to concur the west. McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West displays the American ideals, such as those present during the western migration, which blend violence and religion.
Framework from Harry S. Stout’s article “Religion, War, and the Meaning of America” will lay out the deep seeded connection between war and religion; following this, analysis from Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West will show how McCarthy uses the presence of religious violence in order to challenge the American ideals that condone murder as a religious tool. This examination will shed light on the religion of war and violence that has imbedded itself as part of American consciousness.
Whether it be wars in the name of religion, a prayer before entering battle, or targeting Native Americans with the supposed goal of trying to enlighten them to Christianity, violence is perpetually linked to religious faith (Stout 275). This is particularly notable in America, a county which establishes itself as a super power due to economic power and the ability to triumph in a majority of it’s ever present wars (Stout 278). This topic is closely addressed in Harry S.
Stout’s article, “Religion, War, and the Meaning of America,” in which Stout writes about the history of both war and Christian religion in America to show how these two entities intertwine with one another. He writes, “religion… has been a conspicuous presence in American wars from the seventeenth century to the present. American wars are sacred wars and American religion, with some notable exceptions, is martial at the very core of its being. The ties between war and religion are symbiotic and the two grew up inextricably intertwined. (Stout 275) This quote draws on American history with “evangelical Protestantism,” and its connection with wars, to show how both are present within each other; meaning, religion being used to substantiate wars and militancy is vital to how Americans understand religion (Stout 275). This states that war and religion are inseperable ideologies, and to look at acts of war and violence in the American context means to also look at religion, and vice versa.
Stout later describes, “Put bluntly, the American consensus consists in America’s faith in the institution of war as a divine instrument and sacred mandate to be exercised around the world. (284) This sentence suggests that American’s understand wars as religious “instruments” used to impart the county’s divine will upon others (Stout 284). Considering Stout’s conclusion that war is a “divine instrument,” and war is a “sacred mandate,” this means that wars denote almost a religious practice in America, as the violence is framed as a religious mission (Stout 284). This argument, that war is an exercise of religion, is present in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West as the novel aims to target how American conflate war and faith in order to create a violent American consciousness.
To open the novel, Blood Meridian, McCarthy narrates a religious scene where the protagonist, called the kid, is in a tent with a crowd of people listening to a reverend preach about death and Hell (6). Not long into the scene, a mysterious man, later named the judge, comes into the tent and informs the crowd that the reverend is an imposter, specifying, “In truth, the gentleman standing here before you posing as a minister of the Lord is not only totally illiterate but is also wanted by the law in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. (McCarthy 7) The judge goes on about the reverends supposed crimes of pedophilia and beastiality, thus falsely exposing the religious figure as violent and corrupt, thus devaluing the religious message (McCarthy 7) The scene then shifts from a religious gathering into a battle on account of the reverends supposed deceit.
The author narrates, “Already gunfire was general within the tent and a dozen exits had been hacked through the canvas walls and people were pouring out, women screaming, folk stumbling, folk trampled underfoot in the mud. (McCarthy 8) As the sermon switches into an armed conflict, complete with trampling, gunfire, and screams, the reader sees how quickly the crowd contorts a religious gathering into a violence escapade (McCarthy 8). This connects religion and war by putting both of these themes only pages away from each other, in the same scene, as one quickly morphs into the other (McCarthy 6-8). This scene’s presence at the beginning of the novel allows it to set the scene for the entire novel, thus imprinting in the readers the immediate connection of religion and violence (McCarthy 6-8).
Subsequently, this opening scene can function for a microcosm of the remainder or the novel, in which what was originally viewed righteous mission deteriorates into violent chaos (McCarthy 6-8). The opening scene of the novel introduces two significant elements to the novel; the first is the intermingling of war and religion, and the second is the character of the judge (McCarthy 7). The judge remains a puzzling feature in the novel, standing seven feet tall and hairless, he seems to appear in the initial cene simply to insight violent outrage, and then repeatedly reenters the narrative thereafter, ultimately showing up in the middle of the desert to join Glanton’s gang in hunting Aboriginals, where he reconnects with the kid (McCarthy 6, 129).
The judge is framed as a somewhat mythic creature, as the character Tobin relates, “Every man in the company claims to have encountered that sootysouled rascal in some other place. (McCarthy 130) The judge’s ability to encounter all the characters, as is present in this quote, sets him up to be the central person in the gang, somehow linking all of the character with one another (McCarthy 130). At several points in the novel, the judge becomes a hub for philosophical contemplation, as he presents himself to be significantly smarter than the rest of the crew (McCarthy 259). On the topic of war, the judge says, ‘War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him.
The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. ” (McCarthy 259). In this musing, the judge is explaining that war is the only definite, ever-present promise from the universe, and, thus, to exist in the planet requires one to partake in the practice of war (McCarthy 259). The significance of this is, if war it the only truth on earth, then to have war as a “trade” is the ultimate, and only, purpose for man; signifying, to enact war is simply a person fulfil ing their destiny.
This statement is representative of the groups beliefs, as the gang eventually ends up wandering around, killing everyone in their path, and thus fulfilling their purpose in the world by the judge’s standards(McCarthy 259). Following this, the judge’s statements about the consistency of war do not make up the entirety of his beliefs on the subject (McCarthy 259-261). As the scene progresses, the judge goes on to discuss war as a game of fate and makes the conclusion: This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination.
It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god. (McCarthy 261) This excerpt from the novel continues to pull on the judge’s idea that the ultimate purpose of the world can be found in the act of war, but it goes further by explicitly stating that “war is god. ” (McCarthy 261) In this quote, the judge is suggesting a number of things, the first of which is that war is self-justifying and requires no higher authority (McCarthy 261).
This represents the ideology of the gang, who, by the end of the novel, indiscriminately dole out violence without a greater goal, but, as the judge suggests, they do not feel the need for purpose guiding this violence since war is purpose in and of itself (McCarthy 261). The judge then informs the reader that war is “the truest form of divination,” thus likening it to a practice of religious or faith-based searching, and making the act of war a religious act in itself (McCarthy 261).
He then continues with “war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence,” insinuating that war is a unifying force and purpose of the universe, very similar to the way that Christianity is often framed in the American context. He then comes to the final conclusion, “war is god,” to announce that war is not simply backed by religion, but that war itself has replaced religion or become a religion in and of itself (McCarthy 261). With this considered, war and religion in Blood Meridian become not only connected, but actually one in the same in regards to consciousness of the Americans presented.
Clearly, there is a connection between religion and war in American consciousness that is reflected in both Harry S. Stout’s article and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Framework from “Religion, War, and the Meaning of America” established the association between these two ideologies by discussing how religion is and has been used to justify war, and how war has been implemented as a tool or religion (Stout 275, 284). With this scaffolding, analysis from Blood Meridian displayed how McCarthy presented and grew this war and religion connection in the opening scene of the novel and through the character of the judge (McCarthy 7, 261).
Stout writes, “Religion not only provided an overarching meaning to America as ‘exceptional, and ‘messianic,’ it also contributed to the blind eye Americans have cast toward their nation’s myriad military adventures. ” (284) Americans are able to ignore or justify violence, such as that which occurred when concurring the west, as McCarthy writes about in Blood Meridian, by ascribing the brutality to a religious will. Hopefully studying the blurring between acts of war and acts or religion will call attention to this harmful philosophy that America continues to turn a “blind eye” to.