In the world of Blood Meridian, Christianity is decaying. Early on the kid sleeps in an abandoned church littered with feces and shot up by American soldiers, and the gang encounters many such ruins on their travels, including a church in which the kid and Sproule discover forty human corpses, slain and scalped by the Apaches. Traditional Christian doctrine is also in tatters in the novel, and the idea of a benevolent God would certainly be hard-pressed to account for the hellish world the novel depicts. A hermit tells the kid that the devil was at God’s elbow when He made man. A dying squatter sings hymns and curses God alternately.
It is in such a spiritual climate that the Judge’s religion of “War is God” thrives. At the beginning of the novel, the Judge enters a tent where the Reverend Green is holding a Christian revival, and by slandering the Reverend he quickly converts religious experience into a shootout. Indeed, the Judge himself acknowledges that there are “strange affinities” between priests and warriors, exemplified in the novel by the connection between religious and military rituals, especially sacrifice. Throughout the novel, an ironic comparison is implied between the rebirth of a soul into God through baptism with the rebirth of a warrior through the shedding of blood. Moreover, the Judge explicitly characterizes warfare as a ritual, a deadly dance of fate and wills—one that in the world of Blood Meridian has come to supplant the rituals of Christian worship.
While the Judge’s god is one of wrath, though, there are also flickers in the novel of more moral centers of worship. For example, when the Judge gives his sermon on war, one of the scalp hunters listening insists that might does not make right. The kid faintly but uniquely adheres to this code by refusing once in a while to brutalize his fellow travelers. A woman named Sarah Borginnis justly shames Cloyce Bell for keeping his imbecilic brother in a filthy cage, and she and the other women in her company deliver the idiot from his bondage, take him to the Colorado River while singing Christian hymns, bathe him, and in a small way restore his humanity. This is perhaps the gentlest act that McCarthy reveals to us, but it would seem that, even if the majority of the characters in the novel act more like the Judge than Sarah, the characters at least in theory recognize that love and mercy are more solid foundations for ceremony and right worship than hatred and violence.
Religion and Ritual ThemeTracker
Religion and Ritual Quotes in Blood Meridian
There is no government in Mexico. Hell, there’s no God in Mexico. Never will be. We are dealing with a people manifestly incapable of governing themselves. And do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That’s right. Others come in to govern for them.
The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.
In this company there rode two men named Jackson, one black, one white, both forenamed John. Bad blood lay between them and as they rode up under the barren mountains the white man would fall back alongside the other and take his shadow for the shade that was in it and whisper to him. The black would check or start his horse to shake him off. As if the white man were in violation of his person, had stumbled onto some ritual dormant in his dark blood or his dark soul whereby the shape he stood the sun from on that rocky ground bore something of the man himself and in so doing lay imperiled.
The nearest man to him [the white Jackson] was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.
For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures.
If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night… This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.
They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote.
The trailing of the argonauts terminated in ashes and…the expriest asked if some might not see the hand of a cynical god conducting with what austerity and what mock surprise so lethal a congruence. The posting of witnesses by a third and other path altogether might also be called in evidence as appearing to beggar chance, yet the judge…said that in this was expressed the very nature of the witness and that his proximity was no third thing but rather the prime, for what could be said to occur unobserved?
He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.