Back before my blogging days began, one of my relatives was reading a book entitled Towing Jehovah by James Morrow. Given my field of study, I was intrigued by the title, made a note of it, and got on with my life. I was reminded of the story when reading a book on religion in popular culture, so it seemed the time was right to pick it up and see what it was about. First of all, it is a work of fiction, so nobody should get too upset. The premise is that God has died and his corporeal body has to be given a proper burial. Since the corpse is huge and since it has fallen into the ocean, a washed-up oil tanker captain is selected by the angels, who are dying out of empathy, to tow the body to its final resting place. Herein lies the tale.
The book won a World Fantasy Award, and is generally an engaging story. Any lifelong student of religion will naturally find bits to quibble with, but the fantasy author’s heart wants what the fantasy author’s heart wants. The question the book raised in my mind was whether it really said much about religion at all. Sure, there are several great one-liners and quirky observations about how the established religions might react to the death of God, but the book itself intimates that humanity does fine without a God, but it required a God to get it started. It is the story of humankind growing up. When I finished the book, however, I was left with the impression that religion is developed here in spite of God.
God, being dead, is a strangely silent character in the book. Western religions have taught us to suppose God is active, and very vocal. Just tune in any televangelist. In Towing Jehovah, God has become an idol, a prime mover that became the main event. It is a provocative yet somehow respectful treatment of God as an idea. James Morrow is often categorized as a secular humanist, yet his book tows God into the consciousness of a world that already largely ignores the divine. In this sense it remains a paradox. No matter what people say, God just doesn’t go away. The reader, cast adrift, like the corpus dei in the novel, keeps bumping back into God. The concept, once born, will live as long as human consciousness survives.