The assumption made by most of her readers in the early ’50s when she came into print was that here we have another H.L. Mencken, here we have another Sinclair Lewis, here we have a sophisticate, and above all a Catholic sophisticate, making fun of these dumb, backwoods, benighted, backward fundamentalists who are screaming “Jesus saves,” who are doing wild and hairy things like handling snakes and so forth, so she must be mocking, she must be having fun with them, she must be satirizing them in the fashion of Mencken or Sinclair Lewis. Of course, Mencken called the Bible the nastiest name he could think of, you know””not the Cotton Belt, not the Tobacco Belt, but the ugly word, the Bible Belt. And for O’Connor that was the glory of her region, these people, backwoods””not our contemporary fundamentalists, not those that have moved into political power. These were the emarginated people in the sidelines of southern life in small, out of the way places, never making it into the news, never wanting to get into the news, never trying to push political candidates forward, never using the Gospel for some so-called larger political end. They were, instead, obsessed with God’s own self-identification in the Jews and in Jesus and in the book that is that story of self-identification, and so she saw””look, these are my brothers and sisters, they are as unlike me as they can be when it comes to the church and its sacraments, but they are a whole of a kind of sweated Gospel, a Gospel that takes God and God’s world with the utmost seriousness, and therefore I’ve got to attend to them, I cannot dismiss them, and so she winds up saying these are people after my own heart, and I want to write about them sympathetically, and of course that just stunned her secular audience, as they couldn’t understand at all what she was trying to do, when she was saying I think, in fact, what St. Thomas says. She says most sins are committed by acts of immoderation, of excess. There’s one and one only quality that can never be sufficiently immoderate, and that’s the love of God. And in fact Thomas says you cannot love God moderately, you cannot love God in a kind of lukewarm fashion. We love God either absolutely or not at all. And she saw in these backwoods, southern, I call them folk Christians more than fundamentalists, that kind of completely radical love of God in their own way.
Read it all.