The theme of religious belief is represented most obviously through the religious doubts, confusion and hypocrisy of Gideon Mack himself.
Mack is a
son of the Manse. He grows up engulfed by religion due to the influence of his Church of Scotland minister father. His strict religious upbringing shapes his entire childhood, makes him the young man he is and prevents him from having the ‘normal’ life that his friends enjoy.
However, despite being raised in such a religious household, he has always found it difficult to believe in the existence of God, who
frightened him. These doubts harden into a certainty that there is no God as he became a teenager then an adult. He states:
I did not believe in anything I could not see
This quote reflects the dilemma between religious belief, which relies on faith, and rational thought based on evidence. These two opposite aspects are reflected in Gideon's struggle with religion. They are also personified through the characters of Lorna Sprott and Catherine Craigie.
Despite Gideon's strong scepticism and lack of faith, he decides to study divinity and become a minister. He believes that he has the knowledge and character needed to perform the duties of a Church of Scotland minister. He feels able to hide his agnosticism from his congregation.
When Gideon and Jenny discuss his becoming a minister, they separate the ideas of belief and morality. Jenny talks about it in terms of work:
A job for life...A roof over your head.
But she also sees it as a way of doing good:
The chance to help people, make their lives better
Gideon uses his position to do good and raise money for charity. But later he comes to admit that he worked
under false pretences and that he
lived a lie on a daily basis.
Nonetheless, during this time Gideon experiences periods in his life where he considers the possibility that God does exist, that he is judging him and punishing him for his lies and lack of faith. According to Gideon, God:
was still there, a hovering doubt in every move I made
Gideon's in-depth and honest conversations with the Devil convince him that God is real but that he is not the God of the Bible. Mack decides that he is no longer able to pretend to believe in Christianity or preach it to others anymore. He decides that he no longer wants any association with the Church and this brings him
Gideon’s career in the Church ends after his conduct at Catherine Craigie’s funeral. He is reported to the Church authorities and suspended from his duties immediately, due to
profane, blasphemous and scandalous language and for making:
remarks contrary to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith
The fact that Gideon loses his place within the Church as a result of finally speaking honestly raises questions about links and differences between individual faith and organised religion.