In A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, the author has a lot to say. She points out to us the inevitability of our sins and the punishment they will one day earn. She makes obvious the grey mist surrounding good and evil, and making it so hard to tell between the two. She shows how hard it can be to believe in something you weren’t there to see, even if you’d really like to believe it. She describes for us all the flaws of humanity that we use to flaw our own religious beliefs.
Misfit tells us, “You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it.” Misfit could have just stolen the family’s car without killing them, but there was no point to the mercy. Either way is a crime and either way a punishment must eventually be faced. Since Misfit has already been punished severely for a crime he didn’t commit he sees no similarity between severity of crime and severity of punishment. In Christianity, no sin is any better or worse than another. Lying, stealing, and murdering are all equal sins. In the Christian God’s judgment Misfit would have eventually earned the same punishment for stealing the car as for murdering the lot.
Still, it is hard to tell good from evil throughout the story, just as it is in real life. Through most of the story it seems Bailey is a bad guy. He never lets anyone do what they want and is generally sour. When compared right next to Misfit, Bailey is certainly the less pleasant of the two. He cusses at his mother and makes her cry, while Misfit comforts her. As it turns out, Bailey is only normal. Not a good guy maybe, but certainly not a bad one either. Misfit, on the other hand, you are inclined to like even as he slaughters a lost family. He’s soft spoken and polite, with kind words and consideration. He must certainly be a good guy. That isn’t the case either. If you look solely at their actions it becomes obvious that the murderer is the bad guy and the man that takes his elderly mother along on a family vacation must really be the good.
Misfit is a grown adult that has seen first hand the punishments one might gain from such actions. He must know better. He would certainly like to know better. His earnest wish that he had been around to see Jesus himself is proof. He says to the grandmother, “if I had of been there I would have known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” There is always an underlying doubt in religious belief. No matter how strong ones faith you can never be certain things are exactly as they seem. You just weren’t there to see it for yourself. A secondhand account is all you can ever hope to know of biblical events.
Religion, sin, good, and evil are all quite mystifying. Sin, like crime, earns punishments. A one size fits all approach does not seem fair, but how often is the punishment for a crime really fair anyway? Good and evil intertwine indistinguishably. When seen in this light, even the most polar opposites are hard to tell apart. Religion itself is impossible to truly believe in because when it comes down to it, you just weren’t there to see it happen. The whole lot of it is bathed in the same gritty fog as the rest of reality. Misfit became lost in that fog, unable to distinguish good from evil, sin from crime, or knowledge from faith.