What is the critique of the church in the novel The Good Conscience?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In Carlos Fuentes' The Good Conscience, 15-year old protagonist Jamie Ceballo struggles with feelings of social alienation, moral confusion, and existential despair. Jamie doesn't understand why his family members are obsessed over appearances. He is disgusted by what he perceives as their petty, meaningless fights over status, position, and wealth. For young Jamie, an ethics based on "keeping up appearances" doesn't seem right.

To find a deeper, more personally compelling basis for his morality, Jamie turns to the Catholic Church. Initially, he attempts to commune with Christ individually, through bizarre ritualistic enactments of his own creation. However, the personal, individual revelation he so desperately desires never comes. Jamie looses faith that Christ will ever speak to him directly, and is driven to even further to alienation and despair.

Fuentes' critique of the church is rendered through Jamie's inability to hear a word directly from God. The story suggests that the church can never function as a means of personal communion with the divine. At best, the church merely reifies and reinforces existing social norms. When Jamie visits a trust priest for help, the priest tells him to fulfill his social obligations and conform to social morality. The priest goes so far as to scold Jamie for his incessant individual searching; to search as though there were something more than social mores strikes the priest as selfish and short-sighted. The Good Conscience depicts the church that as a fundamentally a social structure: one designed to maintain the status quo through institutional morality and ethics, rather than facilitate personal revelation or an individual relationship with the divine. 

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