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In the novel Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo uses religiousness as a characteristic that contrasts with the characters? lack of moral codes and lack of faith normally attributed to religion. The people in the town of Comala are obsessed with the afterlife and prayer, and they even attend church regularly, but these are just habits that have lost their original meaning. Rulfo uses these symbolic activities to make the characters? dichotomous nature more apparent.

Father Renteria?s occupation, the town priest, demands integrity, purity, and the power to believe his own teachings. Father Renteria might, at one time, have had those attributes but something changed him. The realization and consequences of his own conflictive nature haunt Renteria, and the town subconsciously senses his anguish, thus shedding light on Comala?s religious and psychological condition. A question arises about Renteria?s disillusionment with religion: Did the townspeople make Renteria cynical or did his doubts lead them astray? I think it was more of the former, and the catalyst in Renteria?s religious failing was just one man: Miguel Paramo. Miguel Paramo killed Father Renteria?s brother and raped Renteria?s niece Ana. These events were merely taken in stride with Renteria?s philosophy of ?never hate anyone? but it was the death of Miguel that dashed Renteria?s religious beliefs. Father Renteria performed the funeral ceremony and did not offer a final benediction partly for selfish reasons of revenge, using his pastoral robe as a barrier. Disregarding Renteria?s condescending remarks of Miguel, Pedro Paramo offered gold to the priest as restitution, or a bribe, and said, ?Weigh him and forgive him, as perhaps God has forgiven him.? At Paramo?s defiance, Renteria realized that his religious power was no longer effective or revered in Comala, because Paramo?s gold was now the controlling force in the land. Crushed and depressed, Renteria no longer felt worthy of his office; ?What has their faith won them? Heaven? Or the purification of their souls? And why purify their souls anyway, at the last moment?? Renteria had lost all faith in his religion and himself. As if he had failed a test, he says, ?Alright Lord, you win.? Father Renteria represents the constant struggle a person has to maintain personal integrity against outside corruption and personal vices. His struggle becomes frightfully overwhelming at confession time. Renteria is trapped in the booth and tormented with the mocking words ?I have sinned?? tolling louder on his conscience until ?there was a taste of blood on his tongue.? The blood is symbolic of another drop of his faith slipping away, or somehow being forced out by the misfortune around him.

Perhaps a result of Father Renteria?s religious failing was the disconnection in people?s minds between religious practice and its significance. Or maybe the people of Comala never truly believed in Renteria?s teaching because they had replaced religion with superstition. The inhabitants of Comala have skewed the concept of salvation from acts of kindness and living the word of the bible into just the act of prayer and confession. The women of the town have daily confession to rid their consciences of guilt, but they do not have any moral codes that would effectively prohibit these guilty acts from the start. They have lost their moral codes and religious fervor partly because of the environment: Life becomes a constant struggle to live in the hellish desert, and when their prayers of rescue go unanswered for years, they become jaded.

Is Rulfo criticizing the perpetuation of meaningless habits thought to bring rewards? Religiousness without faith? And ultimately: The prospect of eternal happiness promised by a daily prayer, no matter what sinful acts one has committed? I think he is. Or is he just using this idea as a tool to describe the hostility of land and patron that eventually destroys the will to believe, or to hope. He is saying this also. Rulfo uses both aspects for different reasons: the first as a criticism of society and the second merely for literary effect. The absence of moral guidelines or faith in the Comalan people serves as a warning to everyone and also demonstrates the faith shattering forces of nature. By using a priest, Rulfo intensifies this ordinary struggle into bigger proportions that could not be achieved without these extreme circumstances. It becomes an epic battle: the ultimate effort for the human spirit to overcome hopeless opposition.

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