That evening Haze drives around town until he finds Asa Hawks and the young girl. He follows them home, pressing his face against the car window to see their house number. Then Haze drives to the cinema, where a movie is just getting out. Haze climbs onto the nose of his car as the crowd drains out of the theater. A thin man with three “portly” women is buying tickets and refreshments, as the women laugh loudly.
Here the car continues to be a vehicle of Hazel’s free will, allowing him to accomplish on his own what he had wanted to do with Enoch’s help. As a home, though, it is somewhat isolating and lonely. Soon it will also be another echo of the influence of Hazel’s country preacher grandfather, as Hazel prepares to address the people of Taulkinham from the car’s roof.
As three men in red satin lumberjackets exit, Hazel begins to preach, asking them to show him where Jesus’ redeeming blood touched them. The group of women turns to look at him, and the thin man calls him a “wise guy.” Hazel repeats his question, and asks the men in satin what church they go to. One giggles, and the other answers in falsetto (“to hide the truth”), “Church of Church.” Haze tells them he preaches the Church Without Christ, “where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” They start to leave, and Haze continues, telling them that he will take the truth with him wherever he goes—that there was no fall and no redemption, and that Jesus is a liar.
The comic, grotesque listeners are unmoved by Hazel’s interrogation, which promotes the idea of empirical truth – only believing in the things that can be seen and touched. The giggling men in satin don’t take Hazel seriously, but Hazel, as ever, remains grave and intense. He continues to preach the truth of atheism, mostly as a rejection of the truth of Christ, as he rails against his destiny—even while reenacting his grandfather’s role as a man preaching from the hood of a car.
The crowd disperses, and Hazel begins his speech again with the next group to emerge, and then again with the next. The woman in the ticket booth glares at him. She has white hair “stacked in sausages around her head,” and yells at him to go and do his preaching in a church. Hazel says that without Christ, there is no reason to have a set place to preach. She threatens to call the police, so he drives away, and preaches at three other cinemas before going back to Mrs. Watts.
The ticket booth lady’s hair is reminiscent of Mrs. Hitchcock in the train. Like Mrs. Hitchcock, and many since, she labels Hazel as a preacher, somehow recognizing his spiritual destiny immediately. Hazel, though, now thinks he has found a way to be a preacher of his own free will, and to fight against Christianity’s pull on him – even if his blasphemies only seem to reaffirm his attachment to religion.
The next morning Hazel goes to the house where Asa Hawks lives, and asks the suspicious landlady if he can rent a room. He tells her he is a preacher in the Church Without Christ, and when she asks if it is Protestant or “something foreign,” he tells her Protestant. She shows him a tiny room, with a door that opens onto a thirty-foot drop into the backyard. Hazel only asks if Hawks lives there, and pays for the room when she says yes. Then he goes downstairs and knocks on Hawks’ door.
The landlady’s comic misunderstanding of Hazel’s mission with the Church Without Christ – that such a thing could possibly be Protestant – shows the shallow understanding that the inhabitants of this town have of spiritual things. They want what is familiar (not “foreign”), but are not very concerned with probing the truth of what that means. Hazel is still single-mindedly focused on Hawks.
The young girl opens the door, and tells her father that it is the boy who keeps following her. Asa comes to the door, looking sour and unfriendly. Hazel tells him that he has moved in to the house, and says that if his daughter means to give him so much eye, he should return some. She protests, insisting that it was Hazel who looked her up and down when they met. Haze stares at the scars on Asa’s face. He is confused when the preacher shuts the door—he had expected a secret welcome.
Hazel decides to use the young girl’s claim—that he is romantically interested in her—as a cover for his true interest in moving into the house: to probe Asa Hawks’ mystery and impose the challenge of his own Church Without Christ. Asa’s grumpy greeting confuses him, since the preacher makes no attempt to save his soul, as he should. Hawks clearly has a secret.
Removing his dark glasses, Asa peers out the window at Hazel as he gets in his car and drives away—it’s clear that Asa is not blind at all. He mutters that Hazel is a “Jesus-hog,” but the young girl defends Hazel, saying that Asa himself used to be that way, and he got over it. She tries to convince Asa that if she can seduce Hazel, then Asa can go away like he wants to. Asa considers this evilly, smoking a cigarette. Then he laughs, and agrees to show Hazel a “clipping”.
O’Connor quickly reveals this secret: Asa is a fraud, and not blind at all. He accuses Hazel, whose resolute atheism only serves to convince those around him that he is deeply, inescapably religious, of being a “Jesus-hog,” and Sabbath hints at further secrets from Asa’s past in response. They hatch a plan to seduce the unsuspecting Hazel.
Meanwhile Hazel is sitting in his car to think, and he decides to seduce the young girl. If he sees his daughter ruined, Hazel thinks, then Asa will understand that Hazel is serious about the Church Without Christ. Hazel is also tired of Mrs. Watts, who cut an obscene shape out of his hat the night before. He doesn’t want a woman for pleasure—he wants one to prove that he doesn’t believe in sin. Before going back to his room, Hazel goes to buy a new hat, choosing one that is the exact opposite from his old one: a glaring white.
Having just revealed that the young girl is not so pure as Hazel thinks, O’Connor now sets Hazel on a comic mission to seduce her as a way of proving his seriousness about atheism. His break with Mrs. Watts proves that pleasure, the animal urge, is not what motivates him – he wants a woman as a way of asserting his free will and rejecting his past and religious destiny. His new hat is just as odd and isolating as his old one, and so as a symbol it remains practically the same.
Hazel returns to the Hawks’ room that afternoon, when they are eating supper. He doesn’t look at the young girl, but stays focused on Asa, who barely managed to get his dark glasses on before Hazel entered. Hazel asks why Jesus doesn’t cure Asa’s blindness. Asa responds that St. Paul was blinded. Hazel asks about the scars on Asa’s face, and Hawks shows him a yellowed newspaper clipping. The clipping explains that Hawks promised to blind himself at a revival to justify his belief that Christ had redeemed him. Hazel is struck by the clipping, and reads it three times. The young girl pipes up, explaining that Asa blinded himself with lime, and says that hundreds were converted.
Now that we know the Hawks are not what Hazel thinks they are, we have a new perspective on the lies he is being taken in by. The story of Asa’s supposed blinding strikes Hazel to the core, since it demonstrates a commitment to the truth of Christ that he once felt, and is now trying desperately to escape. This is the kind of conviction that Hazel seems born into – the conviction of a martyr, one set apart from the world. The irony is that this conviction is just an act for Asa, so Hazel is even more alone than he thinks.
Hazel murmurs that “nobody with a good car needs to be justified,” and hurries out of the room. He then reopens the door to give the young girl a note he had written, telling her that he came because he “never saw anybody looked as good” as her. Asa is annoyed that Haze left with his clipping, but the girl mockingly reminds him that there is another one. The other clipping reads “Evangelist’s Nerve Fails.” Ten years before, Asa had preached for an hour at a revival, working himself into a fury, and then plunged his hands into the lime and streaked his face, but he had been unable to put the lime into his eyes.
Hazel leans on the idea of free will and self-reliance that his car represents. The awkwardness of his “seductive” note delivery is comic in this context. Once Hazel is gone, O’Connor reveals the second clipping, which completes the story that Hazel read, explaining how Asa lost his nerve on the edge of his big moment and never blinded himself at all. This begins to explain Hawks’ current lonely, bitter state.
Hazel takes his car to a garage and asks the mechanic to fix the horn and take out the leaks in the gas tank. After a silent inspection of the car, the mechanic tells him that it can’t be done. Hazel insists that it is a good car, and that it gives him a place he can always get away in. He leaves the garage and goes to another, where the mechanic tells him he can have the car in the best shape overnight, since it is already such a good car. Hazel leaves it with him, “certain that it is in honest hands.”
The first mechanic tells Hazel the truth the reader knows, but which Hazel is unable to hear: it is a terrible car. Continuing the recent string of lies, however, the second mechanic tells Hazel exactly what he wants to hear – that his car, emblem of his free will, is an excellent one. Hazel is completely taken in, deceived and deceiving himself.