Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Langston Hughes: Goodbye Christ, Hello Persecution

Langston Hughes caught a lot of grief for his poem "Goodbye Christ", written in 1932 during Hughes' most radical period. Subject to censorship by others and by Hughes, this poem can now be found all over the Internet, along with commentary by people who defend it and attack it, or defend it with qualifications (Christians who lament the exploitation of Christianity).

A good place to start is The Successful Censorship of Langston Hughes’s Poem “Goodbye Christ” by Joshua B. Good (Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007). Here you will find the text of the poem along with a history of the consequences of publishing it, including being banned, censored, hounded, subject to government surveillance, and being treated as a subversive. The poem excoriates the gamut of obscurantists from huckster preachers to popes to robber barons, and sends corrupted Christianity on its way, because it's now revolution time. Hughes was ultimately forced to back down to people and forces he attacked, e.g. powerful megachurch leader Aimee Semple McPherson. The FBI got on his case and surreptitiously worked to undermine his career. In 1953, during the McCarthy era, Hughes was hauled before HUAC, and took the trouble to explain his poem as a reaction against the abuse of Christianity, insisting that it was not anti-religious and denying he was an atheist. Hughes was forced to downplay his poem and mute re-publication in order to stay on the good side of his patron and others.

Ronald Bruce Meyer also contextualizes the poem, with some additional information and excerpts from Hughes' other mentions of religion. See also Hughes’ "Goodbye, Christ”: Controversy and Communism. Cited here is the important anthology you should seek out, Faith Berry’s Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writing of Langston Hughes. Red Flags reproduces the poem and notes its omission from Hughes anthologies.

See the web page On "Goodbye Christ" for brief passages on this poem by Christopher C. DeSantis, Faith Berry, and James A. Emanuel.

As for Christians' online reactions to the poem, here are a couple specimens. Adult Christianity's Poppy Dixon defends Hughes for indicting the hypocrisy of professed Christians. An airhead by the name of John Piper proclaims The Tragedy of Langston Hughes and a Warning I Will Heed, claiming this to be Hughes' "most lamentable" poem and a tragic "loss of this talent to the service of Christ." But don't despair, Piper is praying.

Last but least, let's not forget right-wing reactions, which continue to the present day. For example, note these specimens of the red-baiting of presidential candidate John Kerry for adopting a slogan from Hughes, "Let America be America again": John Kerry's Stalinist Campaign Slogan, These Last Days Ministries, and the late right-wing archvillain, William F. Buckley.

Don't you just love white Christian America?

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