Religion’s Wicked Twin – Tina, Grade 11

This literary analysis is written by one of my grade 11 students. The essay is based on the novel Boo by Patrick Waddington. The writer has appropriately pointed out the theme of the story. She has provided enough supporting details, including some textual elements, to support the theme.

Religion’s Wicked Twin

The existence of God has always been a controversial topic between two groups of people in society: the believers and the atheists. God, as the highest figure of authority, is supposedly the leading “superhuman” that controls and guides all aspects of human life by handing down religious instructions through his messengers. However, despite thousands of years of religious history, rendering religion for some as the power that creates justice and righteousness in society, still, the truthfulness of religion causes conflicts between believers and non-believers. The novel Boo, by Niel Smith, shines a light on the dark shadows of religion through the unjust trial and punishment of Johnny Henzel in Town, revealing the hidden corruption behind it. Town is a microcosm of a religious society claiming to uphold justice and promote kindness and compassion, while ironically breeding violence, bias, and ignorance among its residents.  

Feelings of vengeance and violence permeate the atmosphere of Town, a place where passed thirteen-year-olds reside. While some died of natural causes, a large portion of Town’s population is made up of gommers, kids who were murdered. Though Zig erases the most painful memories of their deaths, Zig does not succeed in cleansing them of their determination to seek revenge. These people carry the big burden of their devastating deaths on their sleeves, so when Johnny is charged with the murder of Boo Dalrymple, they see an opportunity to alleviate their own grudges by “demonstrat[ing] outside the Gene, [and] clamouring for the redeath penalty [through the barbaric] method [of] a stoning” (Smith 221). Though everyone is religious, no one demonstrates justice for the innocent Johnny when requesting a death penalty as capital punishment for murder. A religion cannot be fair if it accepts violence as a method of bringing justice to society through a “desire for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (174). Town’s religion brews a concept of being able to excuse one’s horrible and violent behaviours in the name of Zig as long as one is religious. In this case, religion acts as opium that deceives people of their actions, so when Johnny is bashed with “bricks till he is crushed and [redead]” (223), no one would have to feel guilty about it. A religion that encourages death penalties and horrendous acts of violence is nowhere near the image of a just society it claims to be. Apart from the cruel acts, the bias that occurs during Johnny’s trial also demonstrates the corruption of Town’s religion.

Bias is the basic building block of unfair judgements. As a victim of unjustified evidence, Johnny is put to redeath. Religious societies believe in the impact and power of a single confession as the only important evidence; therefore, when Johnny confesses about talking to Zig and how Zig tells “[him] to do things … real bad things” (208), everyone in that noisy courtroom silences themselves. Many judge Johnny based on his intangible and unrealistic converse with Zig. This is shown when the biased Reginald Washington, serving as the only judge of the trial, says, “‘I have no need to hear from any of the witnesses because the accused admits his guilt’” (215). The image of a religion that supposedly promotes fairness and neutrality fails when bias is the outcome. Adding on to the concept of bias, Town’s people fully accept the questionable words of Sandy even when she lacks credibility. Sandy is “nine and a half [sure]” (144) of Boo being the victim and Johnny being the boy with the gun, prior to Johnny’s trial. However, she retracts back to vague facts in the courtroom when her name is mentioned and she says, “‘All I remember, everybody, is that there were just two guys killed. That is basically all I got to say’” (207). Sandy’s statements demonstrate a strong sense of uncertainty, yet people still choose to guilt Johnny, due to their bias towards confessions and Sandy’s first statement that supports Johnny being guilty. If the people of Town actually behaved justly, the bias would not have been the main cause of Johnny’s punishment. 

Aside from the creation of violence and bias, religion also breeds ignorance in people. Ignorance causes people to overlook the absurdity of their cruel actions. This is due to the common belief that if something is incorrect, Zig as the “fair god” in the higher power, would interfere immediately. However, Zig does not send any signs to prove Johnny’s innocence, nor does he show up to Johnny’s inequitable trial, therefore concluding the fairness of Johnny’s cruel punishments in the eyes of the people in Town. Ironically, this shows how religious people believe in the justice of unjust actions. People believe that they are following Zig’s orders and that rekilling Johnny is acceptable because similar to the “injustice, violence, and death penalties in [America], Zig does not seem to pencil in days of reckoning” (100) for Johnny’s trial. Additionally, Zig supposedly set up the redeath penalty in such a way that spreads “the responsibility among enough people and no one person need to feel too guilty” (223). Indeed, Zig is kind to his people for alleviating their guilt, but he ultimately creates an ignorance that blinds the people of their brutal actions towards Johnny. The pain that Town’s seemingly peaceful religion has caused for Boo and Johnny demonstrates Zig’s lack of credibility. While reflecting back to Johnny’s trial, Boo questions, “why has Zig himself not put a stop to this folly? Has he no shame? No wisdom? No superpowers? What is the use of a god without superpowers?” (233). If otherwise, ignorance did not exist among the residents, Town’s religious society would remain fair, Johnny would still be alive in his afterlife, and Zig would actually appear in the novel. Ignorance is a value that a just society should not have, therefore Town’s religion is only a glamorous facade to its true practices.

It is the just and kind mask, behind which Town’s religion hides, that can deceive people, leading them to accept violence, breed bias, and follow ignorance. The injustice that unfortunately falls upon Johnny signifies the importance of separating religion from the justice system. Town serves as a representation of a real religious society that claims to have justice but does not. In Canada, living in a respectful society and having the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, which guarantees the safety, equality and conscience of all Canadian citizens are two privileges that are often taken for granted. Learning basic human rights and practicing religions that do not breed any injustice and bias in the name of God are what is needed to be done in order to avoid any jump scares from life. This is the only way to avoid any unexpected “BOO!”