Along with marriage and society, Hardy spends much of Jude the Obscure critiquing religion and the institution of Christianity. He often portrays Christianity as life-denying and belonging to “the letter” that “killeth” (from the novel’s epigraph). In contrast, Sue is introduced as a kind of pre-Christian entity, an ethereal, pagan spirit, and she first appears buying figures of the ancient Greek gods Venus and Apollo. Jude, meanwhile, hopes to join the clergy as part of his intellectual pursuits. At a model of Jerusalem, Sue wonders why Jerusalem should be honored above Athens or Rome, but Jude is mesmerized by this city which is so important to Christianity.
As with most of his arguments, Hardy also undercuts himself and favors a nuanced approach to an issue. Even as he seems to reject Christianity, he also portrays almost all the main characters as Christ-figures at several points, even describing them with Biblical language. The “pagan joy” of Sue and Jude’s unmarried, unreligious love is not actually that joyful either, and Hardy thoroughly punishes them with his plot, ultimately driving Sue to submit to a harsh, legalistic version of Christianity. By associating Sue’s turn to religion with Jude’s turn to alcohol (both used as relief from the tragedy of their children’s death), Hardy again adds more nuance – Christianity may be the “right” way for his country and time, but it can still be used for less-than-pure purposes. As “Nature’s law” fails Sue and Jude, so “Heaven’s law” also fails them, and the “letter” of the law of Christianity can seem less moral than human nature. Hardy gives many examples of this, including Sue’s return to Phillotson, which is a kind of adultery even though they are legally and religiously married. As usual, Hardy ends without any clear answer. He seems to reject a Christianity that is overly concerned with laws and traditions, but he doesn’t portray paganism or atheism as a particularly fulfilling alternative either.
Religion Quotes in Jude the Obscure
As the halo had been to his eyes when gazing at it a quarter of an hour earlier, so was the spot mentally to him as he pursued his dark way.
“It is a city of light,” he said to himself.
“The tree of knowledge grows there,” he added a few steps further on.
“It is a place that teachers of men spring from, and go to.”
“It is what you may call a castle, manned by scholarship and religion.”
After this figure he was silent for a long while, till he added,
“It would just suit me.”
“Cathedral? Yes. Though I think I’d rather sit in the railway station,” she answered, a remnant of vexation still in her voice. “That’s the centre of the town life now: the Cathedral has had its day!”
“How modern you are!”
“So would you be if you had lived so much in the middle ages as I have done these last few years! The Cathedral was a very good place four or five centuries ago; but it is played out now… I am not modern, either. I am more ancient than mediaevalism, if you only knew.”
I have been looking at the marriage service in the Prayer-book, and it seems to me very humiliating that a giver-away should be required at all. According to the ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don’t choose him. Somebody gives me to him, like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of woman, O Churchman!
I feel that we have returned to Greek joyousness, and have blinded ourselves to sickness and sorrow, and have forgotten what twenty-five centuries have taught the race since their time, as one of your Christminster luminaries says…
“She’d have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! it’s all the same in the end! However, I think she’s quite fond of her man still – whatever he med be of her. You were too quick about her. I shouldn’t have let her go! I should have kept her chained on – her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf task-master for taming us women. Besides, you’ve got the laws on your side. Moses knew… ‘Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.’ Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi’ it – Haw haw! – Well; she’s got her deserts now.”
“Yes,” said Phillotson, with biting sadness. “Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would!”
“It would almost be better to be out o’ the world than in it, wouldn’t it?”
“It would almost, dear.”
“’Tis because of us children, too, isn’t it, that you can’t get a good lodging.”
“Well – people do object to children sometimes.”
“Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have ‘em?”
“O – because it is a law of nature.”
“But we don’t ask to be born?”
“And what makes it worse with me is that you are not my real mother, and you needn’t have had me unless you liked. I oughtn’t to have come to ‘ee – that’s the real truth! I troubled ‘em in Australia; and I trouble folk here. I wish I hadn’t been born!”
We said – do you remember? – that we would make a virtue of joy. I said it was Nature’s intention. Nature’s law and raison d’etre that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us – instincts which civilization had taken upon itself to thwart. What dreadful things I said! And now Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools as to take Nature at her word!
“I see marriage differently now!... My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgment; the right slaying the wrong. What, what shall I do! I am such a vile creature – too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings.”
…He returned vehemently… “You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it’s that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond – whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you – should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity – damn glad – if it’s going to ruin you in this way!”
It was like a re-enactment by the ghosts of their former selves of the similar scene which had taken place at Melchester years before. When the books were signed the vicar congratulated the husband and wife on having performed a noble, and righteous, and mutually forgiving act. “All’s well that ends well,” he said smiling. “May you long be happy together, after thus having been ‘saved as by fire.’”
We’ve both re-married out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision. Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!