How is Hazel Motes a Christian malgre lui?

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Hazel Motes, protagonist of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, becomes a committed atheist when he returns from World War II. Despite his sincere professions of atheism, he exhibits most of the Christian-like behavior of all the characters in the novel. There are several indications that he is a bona fide Christian throughout the novel.

First, he is devoted to the truth. He states, "I'm going to preach a new church—the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified." Hazel claims that he prefers his prostitute to God. In some ways, this behavior is Christlike, as it demonstrates a commitment to the destitute and abandoned classes. Hazel also becomes a de facto ward for Sabbath Lily, who stays with Hazel when she is abandoned by her father.

Hazel's desire to be apart from the world is another strong indication that he is a sort of embodiment of Christ within the novel. He eschews worldly relationships, and ultimately goes to live in a boarding house.

The end of the novel constitutes a martyrdom for Hazel. Unlike Asa Hawks, who lacks the resolve to blind himself as he claims, Motes blinds himself. He does this after losing his car at the whim of a police officer. The police officer mistakes him for a homeless person, which is reminiscent of the way that Jesus himself was outcast by the agents of the contemporary Roman state. Motes also wraps wire arounds his chest and fills his shoes with rocks, in an act resembling the martyr acts of the early Christian saints (such as St. Lawrence's death by fire, and St. Bartholomew's being skinned alive).

In the book's closing pages, his landlady tells Hazel,

"You must believe in Jesus or you wouldn’t do these foolish things. You must have been lying to me when you named your fine church. I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t some kind of a agent of the pope or got some connection with something funny."

His landlady stays with him until beyond his death, and she even venerates his dead body, like the corpse of the saint that he ultimately is.

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