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Thread: Salvation - A short essay by Langston Hughes

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    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Salvation - A short essay by Langston Hughes

    "Salvation"

    By Langston Huges

    I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this. There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed's church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting, and some very hardened sinners had been brought to Christ, and the membership of the church had grown by leaps and bounds. Then just before the revival ended, they held a special meeting for children, "to bring the young lambs to the fold." My aunt spoke of it for days ahead. That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners' bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus.

    My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her. I had heard a great many old people say the same thing and it seemed to me they ought to know. So I sat there calmly in the hot, crowded church, waiting for Jesus to come to me.

    The preacher preached a wonderful rhythmical sermon, all moans and shouts and lonely cries and dire pictures of hell, and then he sang a song about the ninety and nine safe in the fold, but one little lamb was left out in the cold. Then he said: "Won't you come? Won't you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won't you come?" And he held out his arms to all us young sinners there on the mourners' bench. And the little girls cried. And some of them jumped up and went to Jesus right away. But most of us just sat there.

    A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands. And the church sang a song about the lower lights are burning, some poor sinners to be saved. And the whole building rocked with prayer and song.

    Still I kept waiting to see Jesus.

    Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." So he got up and was saved.

    Then I was left all alone on the mourners' bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and song swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans and voices. And I kept waiting serenely for Jesus, waiting, waiting - but he didn't come. I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened.

    I heard the songs and the minister saying: "Why don't you come? My dear child, why don't you come to Jesus? Jesus is waiting for you. He wants you. Why don't you come? Sister Reed, what is this child's name?"

    "Langston," my aunt sobbed.

    "Langston, why don't you come? Why don't you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don't you come?"

    Now it was really getting late. I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long. I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn't seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.

    So I got up.

    Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.

    When things quieted down, in a hushed silence, punctuated by a few ecstatic "Amens," all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God. Then joyous singing filled the room.

    That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old - I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me.

    ****************************

    This piece is very dear to me. I was in my second year of college when I read it. People react to it in different ways. I think it's important now and then to demonstrate how adult (and cult) behaviors can effect children. My personal experiences in church settings were very similar to this. It was like a weight on my mind until I was able to distance myself from people consumed by their ideology. Should children be raised in the manner demonstrated in this essay? It is my opinion that Hughes was brave for having written this. What's yours?

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    This is a great essay. I will reiterate that I love his style of writing!

    As for children being raised like this, I don't know. Part of me (the cynical, at times atheist part) says: "forcing religion upon your kids in this manner is like entering them in beauty pageants....you're doing it for your own good not theirs."

    But at the same time, general exposure to religion when you are young is not a bad thing, as long as you are also offered the tools to question it. Hughes did not have that option - if he had not stood up, or if he stood up and walked way - that would be the end of him. Unfortunately, that is not just "a sign of the times", and that there are many children (and adults) who are rejected by their friends and families for a lack of faith.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    This is a great essay. I will reiterate that I love his style of writing!

    As for children being raised like this, I don't know. Part of me (the cynical, at times atheist part) says: "forcing religion upon your kids in this manner is like entering them in beauty pageants....you're doing it for your own good not theirs."

    But at the same time, general exposure to religion when you are young is not a bad thing, as long as you are also offered the tools to question it. Hughes did not have that option - if he had not stood up, or if he stood up and walked way - that would be the end of him. Unfortunately, that is not just "a sign of the times", and that there are many children (and adults) who are rejected by their friends and families for a lack of faith.
    Very well put, Charles. I will freely admit that I didn't mind some of the nicer lessons I learned in Sunday school when I was small. Psalms seemed peaceful and caring. I really didn't understand all of the rituals though. Eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Christ? Weird. I tried so hard to buy into it and belong, but it simply did not make sense to me. The adults seemed scared, self involved and angry all at the same time.

    I hear a lot of calls for people to respect personal beliefs, but I've never witnessed respect for a child with doubts within a church. My mother does not respect secular viewpoints. She's offended and disgusted and, more than anything, scared. Since I told her I wasn't ever going to a church again (5 or 6 years ago), she has felt it necessary to nearly shout at me that she is "strong in her faith" every time I see her. I wonder if she knows how that comes across. It feels very strange to be aware that I'm more adult and less afraid of death than my mother is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Varenne Rodin View Post
    "Salvation"

    By Langston Huges

    I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this. There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed's church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting, and some very hardened sinners had been brought to Christ, and the membership of the church had grown by leaps and bounds. Then just before the revival ended, they held a special meeting for children, "to bring the young lambs to the fold." My aunt spoke of it for days ahead. That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners' bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus.

    My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her. I had heard a great many old people say the same thing and it seemed to me they ought to know. So I sat there calmly in the hot, crowded church, waiting for Jesus to come to me.

    The preacher preached a wonderful rhythmical sermon, all moans and shouts and lonely cries and dire pictures of hell, and then he sang a song about the ninety and nine safe in the fold, but one little lamb was left out in the cold. Then he said: "Won't you come? Won't you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won't you come?" And he held out his arms to all us young sinners there on the mourners' bench. And the little girls cried. And some of them jumped up and went to Jesus right away. But most of us just sat there.

    A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands. And the church sang a song about the lower lights are burning, some poor sinners to be saved. And the whole building rocked with prayer and song.

    Still I kept waiting to see Jesus.

    Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." So he got up and was saved.

    Then I was left all alone on the mourners' bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and song swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans and voices. And I kept waiting serenely for Jesus, waiting, waiting - but he didn't come. I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened.

    I heard the songs and the minister saying: "Why don't you come? My dear child, why don't you come to Jesus? Jesus is waiting for you. He wants you. Why don't you come? Sister Reed, what is this child's name?"

    "Langston," my aunt sobbed.

    "Langston, why don't you come? Why don't you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don't you come?"

    Now it was really getting late. I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long. I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn't seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.

    So I got up.

    Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.

    When things quieted down, in a hushed silence, punctuated by a few ecstatic "Amens," all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God. Then joyous singing filled the room.

    That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old - I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me.

    ****************************

    This piece is very dear to me. I was in my second year of college when I read it. People react to it in different ways. I think it's important now and then to demonstrate how adult (and cult) behaviors can effect children. My personal experiences in church settings were very similar to this. It was like a weight on my mind until I was able to distance myself from people consumed by their ideology. Should children be raised in the manner demonstrated in this essay? It is my opinion that Hughes was brave for having written this. What's yours?
    Except for the final scene and the crying, I had a very similar experience in the Luna Park forum, Buenos Aires, Argentina, before Billy Graham. I stood up and went to the platform to please my grandmother elbowing me for courage. I lied but I cared little about lying to liars. I did suffer from liars on an everyday basis, so why would I play so surprised?

    Excellent story, except for that final puton.

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    Thanks for posting that. I copied and saved it. I love Langston Hughes for writing it. I never had an experience like that, but sympathize with people who do. I have a co-worker who goes to church and takes her two boys. Her husband hates it so he doesn't go, and her kids hate it too. So what is the point?

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    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KCurtis View Post
    Thanks for posting that. I copied and saved it. I love Langston Hughes for writing it. I never had an experience like that, but sympathize with people who do. I have a co-worker who goes to church and takes her two boys. Her husband hates it so he doesn't go, and her kids hate it too. So what is the point?
    Good point, K. It's counterproductive for secular and religious people. Sometimes people get wrapped up in themselves and don't see how they are effecting others. I feel like this essay is a good eye opener.

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    .....what?

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    Registered User Darcy88's Avatar
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    It reads like he's sitting in front of you telling a story.

    I've never been to church. My father told me he stopped believing in God when he was taught all about hell in a class in Catholic school. The notion of a loving God who would subject a person, however corrupt and unrepentant a sinner they might be, to suffer in a fiery inferno for the rest of all days, was a contradiction that ended his faith and ended my family's catholicism going back God knows how many generations.

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    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darcy88 View Post
    It reads like he's sitting in front of you telling a story.

    I've never been to church. My father told me he stopped believing in God when he was taught all about hell in a class in Catholic school. The notion of a loving God who would subject a person, however corrupt and unrepentant a sinner they might be, to suffer in a fiery inferno for the rest of all days, was a contradiction that ended his faith and ended my family's catholicism going back God knows how many generations.
    Your father made a brave decision. I'm glad you never had to go through the church experience. I remember going week after week, always wondering why. I listened to the same sermons repeated over and over. I felt terrified of God. I would say my prayers in fear. My father died when I was small. I couldn't understand Christian logic for it. I never heard god or my dead father speak to me. I begged them both to. Religion made a fool of me. I knew it didn't make sense, but I tried so earnestly to make sense of it, and to embrace it. I felt like there was something wrong with me for not being genuinely enthusiastic. I still deal daily with pressure from family and my community to convert. I don't think they know what they're doing. This has been going on so long, parents passing it to children, putting their own spin on it, trying to make it stick early in life. It's seldom questioned. There's no awareness that in order for a small child to absorb and believe the stories, some amount of emotional damage has to take place. That, or the damage is labeled as a healthy and "reverent" fear of god. People who do this to their kids really have no idea that it's brainwashing, because the brainwashing worked so well on them.

    I'm happy that I could share this essay with people who had never read it before. It's hard not to relate to. Like you said, Darcy, it seems like he's telling us a story here and now.

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    Registered User Darcy88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Varenne Rodin View Post
    Your father made a brave decision. I'm glad you never had to go through the church experience. I remember going week after week, always wondering why. I listened to the same sermons repeated over and over. I felt terrified of God. I would say my prayers in fear. My father died when I was small. I couldn't understand Christian logic for it. I never heard god or my dead father speak to me. I begged them both to. Religion made a fool of me. I knew it didn't make sense, but I tried so earnestly to make sense of it, and to embrace it. I felt like there was something wrong with me for not being genuinely enthusiastic. I still deal daily with pressure from family and my community to convert. I don't think they know what they're doing. This has been going on so long, parents passing it to children, putting their own spin on it, trying to make it stick early in life. It's seldom questioned. There's no awareness that in order for a small child to absorb and believe the stories, some amount of emotional damage has to take place. That, or the damage is labeled as a healthy and "reverent" fear of god. People who do this to their kids really have no idea that it's brainwashing, because the brainwashing worked so well on them.

    I'm happy that I could share this essay with people who had never read it before. It's hard not to relate to. Like you said, Darcy, it seems like he's telling us a story here and now.
    I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I typically see in adults who were raised Christian either a return to the faith after a period of adolescent and early-adult apostasy, or else a deep life-long antipathy towards the very idea of God. I'm kind of mild towards religion. I think its good for some people, bad for others. But I've never been subjected to it the way you were. If I had I don't know what my present attitude might be.

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    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darcy88 View Post
    I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I typically see in adults who were raised Christian either a return to the faith after a period of adolescent and early-adult apostasy, or else a deep life-long antipathy towards the very idea of God. I'm kind of mild towards religion. I think its good for some people, bad for others. But I've never been subjected to it the way you were. If I had I don't know what my present attitude might be.
    Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm bitter, I'm just tired of having to tiptoe around people I care about because, basically, they're insane. I'm not angry at any gods. I don't know any.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Varenne Rodin View Post
    Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm bitter, I'm just tired of having to tiptoe around people I care about because, basically, they're insane. I'm not angry at any gods. I don't know any.
    clever. I'm sorry you went through this also. But thanks for sharing the short story, I love Langston Hughes. I love one short story by him (forgot the name of it) that has to do with a boy stealing from an older woman, and how she gives him a lesson in kindness- it takes place in Harlem. It has quite a message.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blogs View Post
    I hear a lot of calls for people to respect personal beliefs, but I've never witnessed respect for a child with doubts within a church.
    Of course. For 99.999% of churches, doubt is the cardinal sin.

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    The problem is every religious group believes without any doubt that morality comes only from its own religion. That's not true, because basic moral standards like charity, kindness, killing prohibition-except for justified reasons which vary from country to another-, stealth prohibition, etc. have evolved naturally over the years between humans. The proof is that each religious group or even atheistic group has both good and bad individuals. That belief makes parents try to teach their children moral standards by religion, forgetting other bad stuff and experiences that children could face.

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    Quote Originally Posted by free knight View Post
    The problem is every religious group believes without any doubt that morality comes only from its own religion. That's not true, because basic moral standards like charity, kindness, killing prohibition-except for justified reasons which vary from country to another-, stealth prohibition, etc. have evolved naturally over the years between humans. The proof is that each religious group or even atheistic group has both good and bad individuals. That belief makes parents try to teach their children moral standards by religion, forgetting other bad stuff and experiences that children could face.
    Very true, I'm not religious but I don't lie, steal, covet or do anything that most religions would consider immoral. It's pretty annoying when religious people think that non religious people are bad people or don't have any morals.

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