Flannery O'Connor on "Christian Atheism"
Flannery O'Connor was a short story writer, born and raised in Georgia, USA. Like the rest of her family, she was staunchly Catholic. Her writings and lectures reflect her Catholicism as well as her cultural environment in the deep south of the US. She had a very good sense of humour with loads of common sense and a deep distrust of rationalism.
She died of systemic lupus – inherited through her father – in August 1964 at the age of 39. The following text is taken from the end of Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Revelation". Throughout the story we have been privy to Mrs Turpin's thoughts and her constant judgements on other people. Her she is back on the hog farm where she learns an invaluable lesson through a "revelation".
"Mrs. Turpin stood there, her gaze fixed on the highway, all her muscles rigid, until in five or six minutes the truck reappeared, returning. She waited until it had had time to turn into their own road. Then like a monumental statue coming to life, she bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs. They had settled all in one corner around the old sow who was
grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.
"Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary
light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like' frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.
"At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the
voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."
("Revelation" may be found in published in Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980, 488-509.)