In Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s memoir Colored People, how and why did Gates's hospitalization affect his spirituality?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s memoir titled Colored People, part of young Gates's religious awakening happened soon after he became a member of the Methodist Church, which happened soon after he blamed himself for his mother's hospitalization due to a breakdown and sought atonement. He soon came to realize that one of the main reasons why he was a religious person was because he was "scared, scared of Jesus coming back to earth and sending me to Hell ... scared of what was happening to my mother--scared, in all likelihood, of life itself" (137). Therefore, later on, during his own hospitalization, he became very grateful and relieved to learn about a way out of his fears.

Later, Gates became hospitalized himself when a minor neglected injury from playing touch football at the church summer camp turned into a major catastrophe requiring multiple operations and a great deal of painful work to exercise his atrophied muscles. During his prolonged hospital stay, he met an Episcopal priest named Father Smith who gave Gates a new religious revelation and a way out of his fears. Father Smith proclaimed to him that he could "drink, smoke, curse, and still be a good Episcopalian. [He] could even date girls" (144). In Gates's mind, becoming Episcopalian rather than Methodist was a way out religious imprisonment, a way to still be a religious person without being imprisoned by fears of Hell. Hence, it was while talking with Father Smith in the hospital that he figured out a way to still cater to his desires of being a spiritual person without also having to live in fear.

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