Monday, February 28, 2011

The book I read: "Godless" by Pete Hautman.

The book opens with two best friends, Jason Bock, an agnostic who has great contempt for the religion that his parents forced unto him, and Shin, a frail, but highly intelligent and obsessive boy, walking to a massive water tower in search of gastropods. When they arrive, Jason is inspired by the grandeur of the water tower to create his own religion involving the water tower as its deity.

“Water from that tower was pumped to every home and business for miles around. The water connected all of us. It kept us alive. That was when I came up with the idea of the water tower as being God.” (8)

And so, as Shin begins to feverishly write the holy book for their newfound religion, Chutengodianism(CTG), Jason recruits three other followers, Dan Grant, a friend of his whose father is a priest, Magda Price, a girl from his religious group, and Henry Stagg, the local rogue. The five of them agree to meet up at the top of the water tower for a religious gathering at midnight, and while Shin is not strong enough to make it onto the tower, the other four reach the top, and in an instance of typical childish stupidity, go for a swim inside the reservoir. After their little swim, Henry slips and falls off, breaking several bones in the process, and the four are arrested for trespassing and contamination. From this point on, everything goes downhill. Jason is grounded, Dan disappears and is turned against Jason by his fundamentalist father, Magda is in deep trouble, and Henry is in the hospital, broken. Jason desperately attempts to contact Shin, but realizes that Shin had actually begun to believe in CTG. Shin’s combined fanaticism and his jealousy of being excluded had led to a total mental breakdown that almost got him killed.

“Shin did most of the talking. I just listened to my best friend tell me the “truth” of water tower, that the ocean was a conscious entity, and that water towers could walk.”(181)

All of this is blamed on Jason. Meanwhile Jason’s father, a religious fanatic, desperately tries to remedy the situation and convert his son, failing miserably. Eventually, everything collapses as a recovered Henry, Magda, and a couple of lackeys break off into their own separate sect of Chutengodianism. At the end of the book, Jason reflects on what he had done and the influence that he had, envying at others who possessed the thing he did not have: faith.

Now, a summary of this book is difficult, because of the complexity of its message, however, this is why I enjoyed the novel. The story was a fascinating exploration of the effects of religion on the mindset of people. It shows, through parody, the consequences and power of religion unleashed upon the human condition. This book mainly does three things. First, it emphasizes fact that a religion is simply an idea, that it was “all just made up anyway” (145). It addresses the simplicity with which such an idea can come about. That all you need is “a few disciples, and a god.”(18) This book also stresses the consequences that such an idea can have. It can inspire and make people follow you. “[Jason’s] friends listen to what he says.”(188) But can still be deadly. If it weren’t for the idea popping up, Shin would not have gone insane, Dan would not have betrayed Jason, Henry would not have broken 3 bones and Magda would not have been severely punished. However, the theme that stands out most is the influence religion can exert on people. This shown in Shin’s madness, which drove him to go as far as actually believing that the water tower god he and Jason created as a joke, was actually real. This is shown in the punishment and disgust that Jason, the rebel, faces from religious folk like Dan, this father, and the people in his religious group that leads him to feel persecuted. In the end, what the book shows is that all of this power, this consequence, all originate from a singular idea, simple and easy to create, further emphasizing its danger.

While the message that this book delivered was really what I got from this book, other aspects really jumped out and sucked me in. First of all, I find the biblical references quite amusing. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a small excerpt from the CTG bible that closely resembles Genesis. For it includes nearly a carbon copy of the beginning of Genesis, only replacing God with the Ocean, and making it conform more to scientific fact. It also uses a style of writing that matches that of the Bible. Clearly, the author expected the reader to have known about the creation story, and to have known the way the Bible is written, from which he can then successfully parody. Furthermore, Jason writes his own version of “The Ten Commandments”, yet another biblical reference. The author also successfully parodies this by having Jason declare that he was to write a better set of commandments. Secondly, the book also had sections that took us into the thought process of Jason, which I thought was a neat touch. But most importantly, this book ceases to be interesting. There is always a buildup. The plot continuously moves, and there is hardly any exposition, which I thought was quite brilliant.

Overall this book is a brilliant exploration of the consequences of religion via parody. Now, I personally hold the opinion that the greatest way to get a point across is through comedy and parody. And I can say with confidence, after devouring this novel in an hour, that it is wholly entertaining, well written( unlike this book letter), and, most importantly, conveys a powerful message effectively. It is for these reasons that I enjoyed this book.

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