Evidence, Beliefs, and ‘Wise Blood’

In a previous essay, it was noted that the most objective, the most invariant-across-contexts feature of evidence is that evidence fits with a story.

To regard evidence as that which fits with (and, thereby, supports) a story is not to suggest – much less say – that being able to come up with a story makes the included evidence or that story as worthwhile as any other simply by virtue of there being a story.

Furthermore, evidence is not disparaged by identifying or regarding it as a facet of a story. After all, to say of something that it is a story is not necessarily to assert that it is comparatively unimportant, fictional, or in any way untrue.

Even so, describing a presentation as a story does often connote that what is presented is either fictional, untrue, more doubtable than not, or more a matter of subjective opinion than of objective fact.

Terms such as narrative and explanation seem less likely than story to suggest the possibility that what is being presented is relatively insignificant, extensively subjective, fictional, or false. Amongst narrative, explanation, and story, it is explanation which currently tends to be more readily, reflexively, automatically related with facticity and truth, and this is probably because explanation is most closely associated with the activities (and accomplishments) of science.

This could seem to suggest that evidence better relates to explanation than it does to story. This, in turn, might seem to recommend considering evidence as that which fits with an explanation rather than that which fits with a story, particularly since not all stories are necessarily intended as explanations.

However, it is when explanation is isolated from any connoted facticity that another characteristic of evidence becomes more apparent.

It is by means of explanation that data come to be presented as evidence, and explanation accomplishes this transformation into evidence by putting forth conceptual connections between what are otherwise merely – and meaningless – data.

The conceptual connection aspect constituent of an explanation always originates from the subjective perspective. Since it is the conceptual connection which produces evidence, this means that there is a subjective aspect present in evidence so long as the subjective perspective remains constitutive of the explanation.

There are ways in which the prominence of the subjective component in an explanation can be reduced, but the matter of how objectivity can be attained or increased is a matter apart from the basic character – or function – of explanation and evidence.

Evidence functions within explanation, but the point of associating evidence with story is to warn or remind – and emphasize – that the subjective tends to persist no matter how much the prominence of the subjective component seems to have been reduced.

The tenacious persistence of the subjective is to be valued rather than regretted, because it is the subjective alone which is the point of access to the understanding contained within an explanation; it is also the subjective which provides for improvement in understanding.


It is by locating or identifying (with) the subjective aspects of explanations that access is gained to the best possible means for intentionally and most directly furthering investigations and improving or expanding explanations and understandings.

Within explanations, the subjective is located where judgments are made, and judgments are found wherever alternatives, other possibilities have been set aside. Of course, alternative possibilities are sometimes missed rather than consciously set aside. Alternatives can be missed because of prejudices (pre-judgments), and prejudices often can result simply from some inadequacy of imagination.

It is only by means of imagination that alternative possibilities ever come to be considered in the first place. Of course, imagination is necessarily subjective, but this just further highlights how an ever keener awareness of (the presence and the functioning of) the subjective is important for the improvement of understandings and explanations.

Yet, the subjective is relevant not only to the improvement of understandings but also to the initiation or formation of understanding. This is to be expected, because understandings are, of course, always subjective.

Many of what might be thought of as a person’s earliest understandings come about as – or because of – exposure to others’ stories or explanations. These exposures most often occur as part of education or (other) acculturation processes, and, in such circumstances, it is commonly the case that the earliest understandings are less about what is being explained than they are about how one is expected to respond to, replicate, speak about, or otherwise re-present the received explanations.

The very otherness of such explanations – the fact that they clearly originate from outside the subjectivity of the person to whom the explanation arrives – tends to impart a sense of (a more) accomplished objectivity (even facticity) to the explanation.

However, where the understanding that has been formed only regards how to satisfy the expectation about how an explanation is to be re-presented acceptably, then, with regards to that explanation itself, what has been formulated is a mimesis, a replication, a repetition of the explanation rather than an understanding of the explanation.

Such mimesis of an explanation is minimally subjective, to the extent that it is subjective at all. Were the objectivity of an explanation in a simple inverse relationship to subjectivity, then mimesis – having the most minimized subjectivity – would be the most objective form both for presentation and response. In that case, understanding (and explanation) would be largely besides the point.

This indicates that there is error in regarding objectivity in explanation as being necessarily in opposition to subjectivity.

An understanding of an explanation – an understanding of that which is explained – requires a more extensive subjectivity, a deeper subjective involvement than is necessary for mimesis. And just as progress from mimesis to understanding depends upon greater subjectivity, so, too, does the development of a yet furthered understanding require still greater subjectivity, a more thorough subjective awareness which comes about with a more extensively subjective involvement.

Of course, this more extensively subjective involvement is not accomplished with or as increased insulation of an already extant subjective perspective. The very otherness of a received explanation and the very otherness of that which is referenced in an encountered explanation instigate consideration which is not exclusively subjective.

What is required is a reaching out beyond the subjective, but this is a reaching out which neither eliminates nor even dilutes the subjective.


With regards to encountered explanations, the move from mimesis to understanding involves – indeed, requires – the imprinting of one’s own subjectivity upon the explanation, an imprinting which, in a manner of speaking, to some extent makes the explanation one’s own, an imprinting which frequently occurs in the form of a personal translation.

The manner in which an encountered explanation is expressed presents the perspective of whosoever produces that explanation. This means that, in order to understand the received explanation, it is necessary to seek out that same perspective. Contributive to the perspective that brings forth the explanation is a context which itself has a history, and included in that history are not just experiences of whosoever provides the explanation but also the manner in which those experiences are themselves interpreted. These interpretations are, to a very great extent, determined by the capabilities which the experiencing subject has – if not at the time of the experience, then – at the time the experience is interpreted. Most prominent amongst these capabilities is the ability to conceptualize, and conceptualization depends upon and is determined by the manner in which the experiencing subject undertakes to provide an explanation, initially for his or her own self.

Conceptualization does not necessarily occur in terms of words (or in terms of words alone). Even when put forth to be received by others, explanations can include non-verbal components such as diagrams – in instruction manuals, for instance – as a way of representing conceived relational connections.

In the case of instruction manual diagrams, the diagrams are intended as the most efficient way in which the person receiving the explanation can imitate the perspective from which the explanation proceeds. When instructions are done well, virtually nothing more than mimesis is required. When instructions are not done very well or are in any way not sufficient, the person receiving the explanation will have to devise his or her own explanation for how the task is to be accomplished. In that case, the person’s own subjectivity has to be imprinted upon the original presented explanation; in that case, mimesis is inadequate, and understanding is required.

The term evidence is not usually used in association with instructions, even though the components (data) referenced in the instructions are presented relationally to produce what would otherwise be recognized as an explanation. Of course, instructions are intended (or expected) to minimize the need for understanding on the part of the person receiving instruction. Therefore, to the extent that there is any distinction between instruction and explanation which is pertinent to this discussion, it remains the case that evidence functions in the bringing forth of understanding, a subjective condition which is wholly apart from mimesis.

Although diagrammatic presentations can often be helpful, the conceptual connections which transform data to produce evidence are usually presented in an extensively verbal form; hence, explanations are, more often than not, extensively verbal in form.

The verbal form of explanation is most often no less perspectival than is a diagrammatic presentation, and, just as the adequacy or success of a diagram depends on both the drafting skill of the presenter and the interpretive skill of the recipient, so, too, does an extensively verbal explanation depend upon the verbal capabilities of whosoever produces an explanation and whosoever receives the explanation.

Inasmuch as ambiguity tends to be a common (even inherent) feature of many or most words and, accordingly, many expressions, the manner in which an encountered explanation is expressed presents not only the perspective of whosoever provides that explanation, but the manner of expression can also give access to some very much deeper detail about the subjectivity necessary for and constituent of the presented perspective.

The ambiguity native to words and expression indicates possible occasions of judgment employed as word choice. The possibility of ambiguity also provides opportunity to make the received explanation one’s own.

The first step towards imprinting one’s own subjectivity upon an encountered explanation most commonly occurs when one modifies the manner in which the received explanation has been expressed.

Merely re-expressing an encountered explanation can amount, at times, to the sort of re-presenting that is more mimesis than understanding; nonetheless, some sort of personal expression – one’s own modification to the presentation – of the received explanation is necessary if understanding is to come to fruition.

After coming to understand a received explanation, one may well end up adopting the received expression as one’s own preferred manner of expression. However, in order to come to an understanding, it is necessary that the expression of the encountered explanation be tested expressively by experimenting with alternative terminology made possibly opportune because of possible ambiguities, including associated connotations.

As previously noted, subjectivity within explanations is located where judgments are made, and those judgments include choices regarding the manner in which an explanation is expressed. One effect of expressively testing an explanation will be a veritable reconstruction of – or alignment with – the perspective (which is to say the subjectivity, the subjective condition) from which the received explanation is presented. To become aware of a perspective is to become aware of the limits that define the perspective. These limits include not only the scope within which the encountered explanation is applicable but also the assumptions and prior bases upon which that explanation is dependent. This suggests that an understanding of an explanation relates to what understanding is had of the limits of that explanation.

One can become directly aware of the scope to which an explanation is limited by substituting manners of expression, and it is at the limits which define a perspective that the work which would expand or improve both explanation and understanding can succeed.

It is to be noted that expression-testing, such as is used to develop some understanding from and about a received explanation, can just as well be used by the person who intends to present an explanation. While the explanation which gets presented will be imbued with the subjectivity of the person who provides the explanation, expression-testing prior to the presentation of the explanation can effect a perspective (and subjectivity) which itself encompasses (such as via abstraction) what might otherwise have been presented as multiple perspectives. The multiple perspectives constitutive of such a subjectivity – as well as the explanation which proceeds from that subjective condition – could, of course, be recovered during expression-testing conducted by a person who seeks to understand that explanation when it is received.


Thus far, evidence has been primarily considered in terms of its fit with a story and how it functions in explanation for the purpose of presenting and developing understanding. The ultimate purpose of evidence (conceptual connections) is to provide for understanding, and, to this point, understanding has been portrayed as veritably inseparable from explanation, whether that explanation is presented to others or whether that explanation is an internal presentation to self.

This close association of understanding and explanation follows from the noted fact that (presumably) all individuals come to many of their understandings either because of or under the influence of exposure to stories and explanations provided by others. This means that understanding is very often posterior to explanation. Since explanations are most often presented and received in verbal form, understanding is just as often extensively dependent upon individuals’ verbal capabilities.

As a consequence, assessment of how well an individual understands a received explanation is commonly based upon how well the individual can present his or her understanding in his or her own manner of expression. However, this manner of assessment presumes that the individual has the verbal facility adequate for optimizing expression of the understanding.

Then again, there are some situations in which assessment of understanding eschews the need for verbal expression and, instead, depends upon the individual’s ability to apply his or her understanding.

This indicates that an individual can have understanding even if that individual is unable to well express that understanding. An individual who cannot well express his or her own understanding may, nonetheless and despite the expressive inability, have actually conceptualized; this individual will have devised the conceptual connections necessary to transform what had been mere data before those connections were conceived. Therefore, in effect, this individual has what would be readily recognizable as evidence were that person able to suitably express his or her understanding.

Yet, others might well deny that this person has evidence for what that individual understands. In fact, some might even decry any claim that what such an individual has is an understanding. Rather than understanding, it might be asserted that this individual has a belief, and it might also be said that this individual would have to present some sort of outward and visible sign that would demonstrate understanding before this person can be rightly said to be in a condition of understanding rather than in a condition of believing.

This outward and visible sign would, of course, be called evidence, but a public demonstration – or evidence – of an understanding in no way changes the understanding as it was prior to its being made public. This reiterates the point made earlier that understanding is always subjective. Furthermore, since understanding depends upon conceptualization, and since conceptualization is itself a matter of conceptual connections which transform data into evidence, this also reiterates the point that evidence (as well as explanation within which evidence functions) always has a subjective aspect.

The subjective aspect of evidence is not reduced when the explanation in which the evidence functions convinces (or is accepted by) any other persons. Consequently, care is to be taken to ensure that objections to an understanding which are cast in terms of – or with reference to – inadequacies of evidence do not amount to mere expressions of passive unconvincedness.

After all, explanations need never be intended to convince, and this is the case even when explanations are presented in the form of an argument.

There are a number of reasons why it is worthwhile for understandings to be presented in explanation to others, despite the fact (maybe even because of the fact) that understandings are always subjective. For like or identical reasons, it is worthwhile to encounter, to receive explanations from others. Whether these understandings amount to beliefs or qualify as knowledge, whether they tend more towards opinion or more towards fact is relatively rarely of immediately critical importance.

Accordingly, in consideration of what amounts to the privileged status currently granted to verbally expressed explanation, in conjunction with the great differences in individuals’ verbal expressive skills, more appropriate than a simple dismissal for lack of sufficient evidence is the charity by which the perspective – and the understanding – of the other person is sought. This charity seeks to devise and suggest explanations which that person has not expressed but which could as favorably as possible present the other person’s understanding.


Philip Kitcher’s “belief model of religion”, which is discussed briefly in the previous essay, is meant to apply to any individual who “believe[s] the doctrines constitutive of that religion” to which the individual is committed, wherein that “belief in doctrine” serves as “the fundamental basis from which the other religious states emerge.” According to Kitcher:

Believing the doctrines she does, including the claim that particular texts are true and represent the divine will, she is moved in particular ways, recognizes particular rules for conduct, forms her plans and goals, and, to the extent that her will is strong, expresses what she values in her actions.

Assuming that the doctrines at the heart of Kitcher’s belief model originate as – or contain some – explanation, the belief model fits well with the current discussion about encountered explanations inasmuch as those doctrines precede an individual’s belief in, or commitment to, those doctrines.

Within a belief model form of religion, there could also be doctrines which were purely instructional and, hence, devoid of explanation and without need of understanding. For instance, there could be doctrines which instruct how and what rituals are to be performed periodically; there could be doctrines which record instructions that only applied to some particular and singular occasion in the past.

It is even imaginable that a religion could be constituted entirely and only by these sorts of purely instructional doctrines. In that case (so long as the actions prescribed for the present did not involve the taking of life, or forced impoverishment, or the like), commitment to that religion and belief in its doctrines would likely be neither benign nor malignant; that commitment would probably be more aptly described as inert, certainly in regards to the valuing and judgment that affects and sets the course of lives. This would be a religion which had nothing to do with morality, ethics, or any goals in life; this would be a religion which would probably end up being regarded as one of Kitcher’s orientations rather than being thought of as fitting with the belief model.

The reason for bringing up such a hypothetically inert religion is to make it plainly apparent that the great bulk of religions which fit Kitcher’s belief model are not religions entirely constituted by (sufficient) instructions. Even if adherents of these religions think of their religions as constituted entirely by instructions, those adherents are likely to admit that those instructions are such that individuals must on occasion make judgments in order to maintain accord with those instructions (doctrines).

Those judgments will be the result of explanations devised as addenda to the relevant instructing doctrines; however, in order for such judgments to be recognized as being in accord with the instructing doctrines, it is first necessary that some understanding have been derived from the instructions. The judgment, then, extends the understanding derived from the perspective which the doctrines provide so that the understanding and the doctrines can be applied in a new context while remaining in accord with the doctrines as they were previously received by the committed believer(s).

This is to say that, although the doctrines were (believed to have been) received as instructions, since they are insufficient to effect mimesis, those doctrines have to serve as explanations. Otherwise, the adherents of the religion will eventually make their religion inert.

Given that there is the need for the development of understanding (rather than mimesis) on the part of persons committed to religions which fit Kitcher’s belief model, it starts to become rather difficult to stringently maintain a distinction between Kitcher’s religious belief model (which he assigns to being assaulted by “militant modern atheism”) and religious orientation(s) (upon which those same assaults are alleged to be less appropriate and likely counter-productive).

Kitcher says that what he refers to as an orientation “does not include factual beliefs”. This is apparently supposed to be in stark contrast to the belief model which includes “specific beliefs” that are, for the sake of contrast with Kitcher’s orientation concept, presumably factual beliefs “about a transcendent entity”. In addition, an orientation “embodies a person’s sense of what is most significant and worthwhile in his own life and in the lives of others” whereas in the belief model it is “suppose[d] that traditional texts contain doctrines that express the will of” the believed-in transcendent entity by which “particular goals are set for” those whose lives fit with Kitcher’s belief model.

There is nothing about Kitcher’s orientation approach which requires that there be no beliefs in – or specific beliefs in facts about – a transcendent entity. Furthermore, there is nothing about the orientation approach presented by Kitcher which is necessarily incompatible with the religious sense that there is an ultimate otherness to virtue, wherein virtue is not a matter of any individual’s subjectivity nor is it a matter of agreement between any number of persons. After all, as was noted in the above referenced previous essay, this notion about an ultimate otherness to virtue is not necessarily a matter of religion.


In light of the discussion in this essay regarding manners of expression and the fact of widely varying expressive capabilities, it is to be noted that there is similarity between the notion about the ultimate otherness of virtue and the notion of “particular [life] goals [being] set” in some way from beyond each individual and beyond any cultural context.

This similarity is sufficient to warrant consideration of the possibility that what seems like a “belief in doctrine”, which doctrinal belief serves as “the fundamental basis from which the other religious states emerge”, might – in fact and despite appearances – be no such thing.

Doctrines, creeds, and rituals all provide means by which an individual can establish and foster his or her identification with a community – whether of a cultural (even secular) sort or of a specifically religious sort. These same insignia of community do not, in and of themselves, reveal anything about a participating person’s committedness or – and this is the issue of interest in this discussion – understanding.

For that matter, a person’s fervent insistence that some doctrines contain or reveal absolute truth does not necessarily reveal the state of that person’s understanding – even if whatever strong community identification there is can be isolated from the belief-commitment which the person expresses.

That fervent insistence, certainly for so long as it is maintained, can certainly make significant inquiry into the understandings had from those doctrines very nearly impossible. And while virtue is not usually associated with precluding honest inquiry, it is also not necessarily the case that there is virtue in expressively assaulting or shaming persons who preclude such inquiry; sometimes the virtue rests with patient silence or, at least, something less than assault.

The doctrines to which people commit themselves are available prior to the commitment (except, of course, when the doctrine is put forth for the first time as the expression of an understanding had by whosoever produces the explanation which is that doctrine).

Those who commit to a doctrine produced by someone else might do so merely in order to be accepted into a community, but this would not be an instance of having received the doctrine as the explanation which it is (at least in part) intended to be. This sort of commitment is not one which depends on or follows from understanding. Such a commitment is essentially identical to the sort of commitment had by a person born into a doctrinally defined community before the person develops an understanding of the explanation contained within the doctrine(s).

As has been discussed, all understanding is subjective; therefore, for a person to understand an encountered explanation, it is necessary that the person imprint his or her own subjectivity (perspective and experience) upon that explanation. In order for this imprinting to occur, the person receiving the explanation must conceptualize that which is being explained. Conceptualization does not necessarily occur in terms of words or in terms of words alone. Given that most explanations (and probably all those called doctrine) are expressed verbally, a person’s understanding of that which is presented in an explanation is often extensively dependent upon his or her own verbal conceptualization capabilities.

In order for a person to reasonably accept an encountered explanation, it is not necessary that the person conceptualize that which is expressed in an encountered explanation in the same way that it is conceptualized by whosoever has produced the explanation. Indeed, it is not even necessary that the person who encounters the explanation have as thorough or well-developed an understanding of that which is explained as does whosoever has produced the explanation.

Instead, acceptance of an explanation often indicates that the person receiving the explanation has discerned an affinity between the understanding had of the explanation and other understandings which that person has.

An individual’s professed acceptance of an explanation – or belief in a doctrine – does not justify putting forth as the only possibility the conclusion that the explanation or doctrine well expresses that person’s understanding. In addition, a person’s inability (which might take the form or appearance of unwillingness) to provide an expression which better presents that individual’s understanding does not justify putting forth as the only possibility the conclusion that the person lacks understanding, nor does it justify a conclusion that the person is unreasoning – unless terms like unreasoning, unreasoned, and unreasonable only assess manners of expression rather than the understandings and beliefs which give rise to the inadequately received expression.

An understanding might be expressed incoherently (for instance, if the presenting person’s expressive capability cannot inadequately convey his or her understanding), or an understanding might only seem to be incoherent because of some sort of inadequate conceptualization on the part of the person who encounters the explanation which contains the presented understanding.

In either case, incoherence in encountered explanation is very often a significant opportunity for charity – not just the charity which takes the form of patient silence but, rather, a constructive charity; not just whatever charity there may be in informing a person that his or her expression is insufficient if not outright incoherent or objectionable but, rather, the charity which presumes and seeks an affinity between its own perspective and the subjectivity of the other person and, therefore, strives to offer expressions which might better present the other’s understanding and establish (some chance for) likeness with one’s own understanding.


Wise Blood1, by Flannery O’Connor, is a story rife with the very sort of expressive incoherence discussed in this essay.

The story begins by introducing Hazel (Haze) Motes. Recently discharged from the army, he is dressed in a new suit (price tag still attached) and has a “stiff broad-brimmed hat … a hat that an elderly country preacher would wear” as well as “a nose like a shrike’s bill”. He is on a train. As he explains to a woman nearby, he is “Going to Taulkinham. Don’t know nobody there, but I’m going to do some things … some things I never have done before. I ain’t from Taulkinham … I’m going there, that’s all.” The conversation moves on; to make conversation, the woman volunteers some autobiography to which Motes responds, “I reckon you think you been redeemed.”

To another woman on the train, Motes announces, “If you’ve been redeemed, I wouldn’t want to be.” Then he adds, “Do you think I believe in Jesus? Well I wouldn’t even if He existed. Even if He was on this train.” The woman responds with a question: “Who said you had to?” And Motes draws back.

He arrives in Taulkinham but has no place to go. He sees a sign for the restroom and goes into a stall where he notices some writing on one of the walls which says, “Mrs. Leora Watts! 60 Buckley Road. The friendliest bed in town! Brother.” Motes jots down the name and address on a piece of toilet paper, leaves the train station, gets into a taxi, and gives the driver the address that Motes had just written down.

The driver asks, “You ain’t no friend of hers, are you? … She don’t usually have no preachers for company.”

Haze informs the driver, “I ain’t any preacher. I only seen her name in the toilet.” The driver responds, “You look like a preacher. That hat looks like a preacher’s hat. … It ain’t only the hat. It’s a look in your face somewheres.”

Motes becomes more adamant as he announces, “Listen, I’m not a preacher. … Listen, get this: I don’t believe in anything.”

He arrives at Leora Watts’ house, goes inside, and after some time informs Mrs. Watts, “I come for the usual business.” Then he adds, “What I mean to have you know is: I’m no goddam preacher.” Mrs. Watts assured him “in a motherly way” saying, “That’s okay, son. Momma don’t mind if you ain’t a preacher.”

Later, while taking in the sites around Taulkinham one evening, Haze Motes meets a blind man and his daughter waiting outside of a theater for the crowd of people who will soon be leaving. The girl and Haze Motes argue over whether she had given him “the fast eye”, and the blind man, an itinerant preacher named Asa Hawks, proclaims, “He followed me … I can hear the urge for Jesus in is voice.” Motes curses, and the blind man continues, “Listen boy, you can’t run away from Jesus. Jesus is a fact.” Hawks puts his hands on Haze’s face and says, “Some preacher has left his mark on you, Did you follow for me to take it off or give you another one?”

Haze again mutters a curse, and the blind man announces that he can hear the crowd preparing to leave the theater. He hands some of his tracts to Haze and tells him to repent and go distribute the tracts to the people as they pass. Motes takes exception, “Listen, I’m as clean as you are.” And the blind preacher says, “Fornication and blasphemy and what else?”

To this Haze responds vehemently, “They ain’t nothing but words. If I was in sin I was in it before I ever committed any. There’s no change come in me. I don’t believe in sin.” People were coming out from the theater, and Haze starts calling out to the people as they pass:

Look down yonder. See that blind man … giving our tracts and begging … Sweet Jesus Christ Crucified. I want to tell you people something. Maybe you think you’re not clean because you don’t believe. Well you are clean, let me tell you that. Every one of you people are clean, let me tell you that. Every one of you people are clean and let me tell you why if you think it’s because of Jesus Christ Crucified you’re wrong. I don’t say he wasn’t crucified but I say it wasn’t for you. Listenhere, I’m a preacher myself and I preach the truth. Don’t I know what exists and what don’t? Don’t I have eyes in my head? Am I a blind man? Listenhere, I’m going to preach a new church – the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified. It won’t cost you nothing to join my church. It’s not started yet but it’s going to be. I don’t need Jesus. What do I need with Jesus? I got Leora Watts.


Hazel Motes goes from denying that he is a preacher (despite looking like one) to publicly proclaiming that he is a preacher of truth for a church yet to come. Even before he announces his preachership, Motes is clearly concerned with redemption, sin, and Jesus – the very topics which typify the preaching in the Christian world in which Motes finds himself, but Haze presents these matters in a way which apparently intends to shock those to whom he speaks into realizing that he is no part of their community.

Using words which are familiar to those to whom he speaks – words which the community will regard as terms concerning sacred matters – but using those terms in a way which will strike the community as sacrilegious, Haze Motes could expect – indeed, he might even intend – to raise ire against what will strike his audiences as outright blasphemy. Then again, using terms in an unfamiliar way can lead to new thinking. Regardless of whether Haze intends to anger or inspire, his remarks mostly get politely ignored as if exhibiting the unintelligibility expected of a lunatic who is of no danger to anyone, except possibly himself.

But Haze is not at all discouraged.

He spends the night with Mrs. Watts. The next morning he buys a car – not a new car, but a good car, not a good car in anyone else’s eyes, but a good car as far as Hazel Motes is concerned because, after all, “Nobody with a good car needs to be justified.”

Haze starts to drive. Eventually he comes across a large boulder jutting out from an embankment. He notices a sign which has been painted on the boulder: “WOE TO THE BLASPHEMER AND WHOREMONGER! WILL HELL SWALLOW YOU UP?” He stops right in the middle of the road and just sits there; then he notices another part of the message written in smaller letters: “Jesus Saves.”

Traffic starts to build up behind him. A man gets out of a truck that is stopped behind Motes, comes up to Haze’s car, reaches through Haze’s open window, places his hand on Haze’s shoulder, and asks him why is he parked in the middle of the road. Motes tells the truck driver to take his hand off him; Haze tells the truck driver that he is reading the sign on the boulder, and then he decides to inform the truck driver that “There’s no person a whoremonger, who wasn’t something worse first. That’s not the sin, nor blasphemy. The sin came before them. Jesus is a trick on niggers. I don’t have to run from anything because I don’t believe in anything.”

Haze returns to Taulkinham, drives around town, and one evening he decides to preach in a proper fashion – that is to say he drives his car up to a movie theater, gets out of the car, and climbs “up on the nose of it.”

He raises his arms and cries out to those who happen to be around: “Where has the blood you think you been redeemed by touched you?” Haze points to a boy who is standing there and asks him, “What church you belong to, you boy there?” The boy giggles; a man standing nearby disdainfully dismisses Haze as a “rabble rouser”, and then the boy, “in a falsetto to hide the truth,” says, “Church of Christ.” A woman observes, “He’s a preacher.” And then, as exegesis of her own remark, she adds, “Let’s go.”

Haze, of course, has a mission:

Church of Christ! Well, I preach the Church Without Christ. I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about the church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.

Listen, you people. I’m going to take the truth with me wherever I go. I’m going to preach it to whoever’ll listen at whatever place. I’m going to preach there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn’t the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar.

Another objecting woman shouts at Haze, “Listen, if you don’t have a church to do it in, you don’t have to do it in front of this show. Listen, if you don’t get from in front of this show, I’ll call the police.”

Motes retorts, “My church is the Church Without Christ, lady. If there’s no Christ, there’s no reason to have a set place to do it in. There’s plenty of shows.” Haze steps down off of his car, and that “night he preached in front of three other picture shows before he went to Mrs. Watts.”


Hazel Motes continued to drive around and preach night after night. The church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified had become the Church Without Christ, but Haze’s preaching continued to touch no hearts or minds, despite the fact that his message (such as it was) continued to find new and more refined manners of expression (or so Motes must have imagined):

If you had been redeemed, you would care about redemption but you don’t. Look inside yourselves and see if if you hadn’t rather it wasn’t if it was. There’s no peace for the redeemed, and I preach peace, I preach the Church Without Christ, the church peaceful and satisfied!

Listen, the truth don’t matter to you. If Jesus had redeemed you, what difference would it make to you? You wouldn’t do nothing about it. Your faces wouldn’t move, neither this way nor that, and if there was three crosses there and Him hung on the middle one, that wouldn’t mean no more to you and me than the other two. Listen here. What you need is something to take the place of Jesus, something that would speak plain. The Church Without Christ don’t have a Jesus but it needs one! It needs a new jesus!

One night, outside one of the picture shows where Haze had parked his car and begun preaching, a “plumpish” man “with showy sideburns” wearing “a black suit with a silver stripe in it and a wide-brimmed white hat” was in the crowd which stopped to listen to (or gawk at) Hazel Motes. When the crowd began to thin out – as it always did – even as Haze preached, the plumpish man interjected and spoke up saying:

Friends, I know you’re all interested in the Prophet here, and if you’ll just give me the time I’m going to tell you what him and his idears’ve done for me. Friends, lemme innerduce myself. My name is Onnie Jay Holy … two months ago you wouldn’t know me for the same man. I didn’t have a friend in the world … Then I met this Prophet here. That was two months ago, folks, that I heard how he was out to help me, how he was preaching the Church of Christ Without Christ, the church that was going to get a new jesus to help me bring my sweet nature into the open where ever’body could enjoy it … I love ever’one of you people and I want you to listen to him and me and join our church, the Holy Church of Christ Without Christ, the new church with the new jesus …

Haze broke in: “This man is not true. I never saw him before tonight. I wasn’t preaching this church two months ago and the name of it ain’t the Holy Church of Christ Without Christ!”

To regain the crowd’s attention, Onnie Jay Holy (whose real name, it turns out, is Hoover Shoats – Onnie Jay Holy being, in effect, his stage name) spoke up, saying, “Now I just want to give you folks a few reasons why you can trust this church … you can rely on it that it’s nothing foreign connected with it. You don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of. If you don’t understand it, it ain’t true, and that’s all there is to it … you can absolutely trust this church – it’s based on the Bible. Yes sir!”

Haze breaks in again and announces that “Blasphemy is the way to the truth, and there’s no other way whether you understand it or not!”

Unperturbed, Onnie Jay Holy continues and eventually invites the people who have been listening to sign up for the new church and contribute a dollar apiece “to unlock that little rose of sweetness inside you”. After the crowd disperses, Onnie Jay Holy invites Haze to team up with him so that they can make some money off of Haze’s ideas and style. Onnie Jay says that all that is needed “is a little promotion.”

He particularly likes this idea of a “new jesus”, one which “would be more up-to-date”, and Onnie Jay wants to know if Haze’s “new jesus” is “somebody you see ever’ day? I certainly would like to meet him and hear some of his idears.”

Haze replies, “Listen here, you get away from here. I’ve seen all of you I want to. There’s no such thing as any new jesus. That ain’t anything but a way to say something.” Somewhat perplexed, Onnie Jay asks Haze, “What do you mean by that?” Haze reiterates, “That there’s no such thing or person. It wasn’t nothing but a way to say a thing. No such thing exists!”

To this Onnie Jay replies, “That’s the trouble with you innerleckchuls, you don’t never have nothing to show for what you’re saying.”

Then he adds, “You watch out, friend. I’m going to run you out of business. I can get my own new jesus and I can get Prophets for peanuts, you hear? Do you hear me, friend?”


Hazel Motes is an intellectual? Could someone actually think that? Seriously? Haze did have some schooling. As a child, he “had gone to a country school where he had learned to read and write but that it was wiser not to”. It turns out that “the Bible was the only book he read”, and he “didn’t read it often”. Can such a person even seem – to anyone – like he is an intellectual?

Onnie Jay Holy, of course, meant intellectual in a damning and dismissive way – damning and dismissing not just Hazel Motes but all people who allow their minds to become concerned with anything that cannot be seen or held. In that sense, Hazel Motes is an intellectual, and the fact that he remains beyond intelligibility to those who meet him only seems to reinforce and certify the judgment that he is an intellectual.

Intellectual or not, Motes has an understanding. But, it is elusive. A significant part of his understanding is his concern with the “way to say a thing.” All he has at his disposal in order “to say a thing” is the expressive manner of the community, culture, context in which he has developed. In his development, he has learned how to use the expressions he has encountered, but the understanding he has come to have is something almost completely dissimilar to the understandings had by everyone else in that very same context.

As Haze sees it, those allegedly sacred terms have been converted into their very opposites – the absolutely trite – by the very people who allegedly believe in the sacredness to which those terms are supposed to refer. It is the triteness – not the sacredness – to which Haze objects, and, so, he struggles with how to restore an awareness of the sacred while assaulting the triteness which is all that the (formerly) sacred terms now convey. But he has no terms for the sacred other than those which point to the trite.

An analysis of Hazel Motes’ assortment of philosophical presentations would be interesting in its own right, but, for the purposes of this discussion with its concern about the relationships between explanation, understanding, and expression, it is Haze’s cited remarks about redemption upon which attention will be focused.

From the start, Hazel Motes insists that he will have no part of redemption, commonly understood and referred to as Redemption. His tirade against Redemption is always accusatory, and the people he is accusing most directly are those whose use of the term Redemption flaunts a too easy belief in Jesus as the Christ whose blood and death has saved them from – and washed away – their sins.

What he means to show when he says, “If you had been redeemed, you would care about redemption but you don’t”, is, first of all, that if those who claim to be redeemed actually were redeemed, then they would think very differently and be very different than how they are.

He denies that there was “the Fall” so that he can deny that Redemption which is understood as a promise for an eventual return to a prelapsarian state of peace. At times, he seems to outright deny Redemption per se, but what he means to indicate – and what he gets close to being capable of explaining – is that there is Redemption. It just happens to be the case that true Redemption brings “no peace for the redeemed”, and that is because the peace expected by those who mistake themselves as being redeemed is an utter passivity. The truly redeemed – those aware of the truly sacred as distinguished from the triteness brought to sacred terms – realize perfected being as an activity rather than as a peaceful passivity; the truly redeemed find peace in activity because there is a sacred, that ultimate otherness of virtue and authority.

Motes indicates that since there was no Fall, there is no sin that caused a Fall. He says, “I don’t believe in sin”, because he does not believe in the Fall. Yet, there is sin: “There’s no person a whoremonger, who wasn’t something worse first. That’s not the sin, nor blasphemy. The sin came before them.”

For Haze, Redemption is not for washing away acts like whoremongering and blaspheming, because whoremongering and blaspheming are acts, but sin is not in acts; sin precedes acts; sin is more like a condition or a context. Rather than washing away acts like whoremongering and blaspheming, Redemption has more to do with recognizing and realizing a sacred way of actively being. This sacred way of being is not an otherworldliness; it is not restricted to some other world, such as an afterlife, but it is also not worldliness. Haze seems to preach unmitigated worldliness, but what he is indicating is that if what one wants is the passivity often confused for peace along with satisfaction, then an ever more thorough worldliness is the best means to that goal.

Of course, it is the alleged believers in Jesus who Haze finds to be particularly self-satisfied and passive (at least with regards to Redemption); so, in his way, Haze actually denounces those alleged believers for the trite manner in which they regard Redemption and the sacred. In his way, Hazel Motes is providing constructive criticism for those around him.

The problem is that because it seems to them that Haze is the one misusing terms, they never seek to understand his explanation and the understanding – or maybe just the germ of an understanding – it contains.

The eccentric manner of expression which they encounter is thoroughly off-putting as explanation (even if it is somewhat entertaining at least for a brief while). As a consequence, those who hear Hazel Motes preach never see themselves in anything he says despite the fact that he uses the very terms which they profess to revere as referring to those matters allegedly of greatest importance to them.

For others, such as Onnie Jay Holy (a.k.a. Hoover Shoats), it is not so much Haze Motes’ eccentric manner which is the problem; rather, it is the fact that he presents no tangible evidence which would justify the effort necessary to come to an understanding about what Hazel Motes is trying to explain.


1 O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.

This entry was posted in Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Evidence, Beliefs, and ‘Wise Blood’

  1. Pingback: Is Derek Parfit a Speculative Realist? | The Kindly Ones

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