Langston Hughes published so much brilliant literature with a strongly religious flavor that many people, including academic critics, appear to assume that he was in some way ultimately a devout believer in God. This essay argues that while Hughes was fascinated and inspired by the dynamic role of religion in black American life, he himself, like so many writers black and white, was hostile to religion. Growing up with a sense of personal abandonment, he experienced God as a power that promised much but delivered little or nothing. Threatened because of his harshly irreligious poems (notably “Goodbye Christ”) written especially in the 1930s, when he was a radical, Hughes later embraced religious themes as a writer less because of his faith than because he saw this posture as likely to bolster his position against right-wing leaders, such as Senator Joe McCarthy, who wanted to silence him. Hughes's script for his own funeral, which explicitly excluded religion, reflected his bitterness on the subject and his rival belief in the redemptive power of values rooted in the black world, including jazz and the blues.

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