When I started writing The Devil Within, I knew religion would be a huge part of the book. Religion, for anyone who is from the South or has lived in the South, is such a huge part of Southern culture. I’ve been toying with the idea of blogging about religion, but my views on religion are not standard—especially for a southerner. I’ve worried about alienating readers with this post, but I have to be true to myself and my beliefs.
The truth is, religion is a private matter between a person and their God (or their lack of God as may be the case), but in the South religion permeates all aspects of public life too.
I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to an Episcopal Church where I was baptized and confirmed. For fun, I’d go with my friends to their youth groups. My youth group called EYC was a second home to me and we did tons of fun things, which in the end should have kept me out of trouble but didn’t. But through it all I never felt a close kinship to God or Jesus. I have always been a questioner. I love to question things I can’t explain (how did we get here? Is God real? If God’s real then why are so many wars fought in her name?)
When I moved away for college, I stopped going to church. I had a boyfriend in college who was church-going and I went to the Methodist church with him a couple of times but eventually turned my back on organized religion. I had grown up thinking liberally in a conservative place and the hypocrisy of religion bothered me. Everyone is hypocritical—I get that, but I hate the idea of people being judged on their lifestyle because “God” said to do so. Isn’t God supposed to be loving?
And now I’m going to tell you the most hypocritical thing of all. I go to church. I work in the nursery there. When we moved back to the South, I wanted my children raised in the Episcopal Church. Why, you might ask, would I want that if I’m a questioner, an infidel, a heathen? Because in the South religion is a way of life. In the South, the first question out of someone’s mouth when they meet you is, “What church do you go to?” In the South, friendships are not made from cradle to the grave but from the baptismal font to heaven. Simply put, I wanted my children to fit into the society in which they were being raised.
I instill questions into my children’s head. I ask them if they believe in God. I ask them to prove it to me. I don’t want them blindly following. If they’re going to believe, then I want them to have a true belief, a belief I wish I had but never did. All my children believe in God, and I find comfort in that, because there is something comforting in believing in a higher power who can take all the pain away. There is something comforting in knowing you’re not alone in this world. There is something comforting in knowing that despite your sins, in the end you will be forgiven. I often think how much easier life would be if I had that kind of faith and believed in it wholeheartedly.
The Devil Within explores the intricacies of religion. William is wracked by guilt for sinning against his God. He blames himself for the deaths of his mother and siblings, because he believes he was being punished for his sins. He believes the devil has led him into temptation. But in the end, religion is such a huge part of his life, his world, and his culture that he still finds solace in it despite the fact that it almost destroyed him. How wonderful would it be to have that kind of faith?