Go Tell it On the Mountain

Saints and "Sodomites": Sex and Spirituality in James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain College

In James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, religion functions not only as form of worship but also as a covert site of sexual expression. In the novel’s opening chapters, Baldwin often characterizes religious worship in language that borders on the erotic. This undermines the popular conception of sexuality as detached from and even antagonistic toward the soul—the site where divinity resides. However, as can be observed in the Bible itself, sexuality and the body are never completely separate from the soul. In both Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians and the Song of Songs, there are passages that compare the relationship between Christ and the Church to the relationship between lovers. This concept, known in theological circles as “embodiment,” informs Baldwin’s understanding of sexuality; for Baldwin, the sublimity of desire is profoundly similar to spiritual transcendence, and the two seemingly disparate forces interact and influence each other in significant ways. John, the protagonist of Go Tell It on the Mountain, begins to understand this when he must reconcile his latent homosexuality, which he perceives as being at odds with his religious upbringing, with his fraught spirituality. He accomplishes this after a lengthy...

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