By Erum Rizvi
Godless by Pete Hautman is a stimulating novel that portrays how religion and teenagers are a potentially fiery pair. At the age when significant decision-making skills are being formed and teenagers are finding their own identity, whether it may be apart or the same as their rearing, it is shown that the pressure to follow the status quo can cause rebelliousness. In Godless, Hautman shares a humorous representation of a group of teenagers who get over-involved with the expansion of their self-made religion, family and community.
Sixteen-year-old, imaginative Jason Bock is fed up with being pushed into Catholicism by his parents which he finds to be a bland religion. His religious father puts him in the church’s ‘outreach’ program. On the spur or the moment, he starts his own church, Chutengodianism, whose followers worship the ‘Ten-legged God’ which is their town’s 207-foot water tower. What begins as a joke with Jason Bock and his friends creating rules that he thinks are as arbitrary as the rules of the Catholic Church such as observing Sabbath on Tuesday, turns out to be taken seriously by some of the followers.
Jason’s best friend, Peter “Shin” Shinner is there from the start. As the religion’s Head Kahuna, Jason names Shin the First Keeper of the Sacred Text. Shin even begins writing Chutengodianism scripture as he gets serious about the religion. The other subsequent members of the religion are also granted a title. Jason’s attraction to a fellow member of the church group, Magda, leads him to name her High Priestess. Henry Stagg, a bully, becomes known as the High Priest because he knows how to climb to the top of the water tower. As more disciples join his faith, Jason begins to lose control of Chutengodianism and he realizes that, although it may have been easy to create his own religion, it will certainly be difficult for him to control what it has become.
Although this story may seem to be unbelievable, Hautman makes it work throughout most of the novel. While one could criticize some of the character personalities such as the bully, Henry, who wavers from bully to friend and how Shin is obsessed with the made up religion, the novel reveals the consequences inbuilt with practically any religion or faith. Godless shows the ease with some people in how they feel better when they fit into a group and how some who go deep can become fanatics. The novel also showed how there are penalties to actions taken on the basis of faith alone.
I thought that this book was well-written and stimulating. Hautman presented an interesting and new way to examine faith. Godless was one of the most thought-provoking novels I have ever read especially because it is a story many people can relate to. Those who feel doubts that come with teenage reflection might very well see a way toward greater religious maturity. Readers will meet characters who are spirited and serious in their struggles. They are willing to take risks for the sake of a touch of the divine. The story actually allows anyone to think about faith without promoting any position and is written in a context comparatively unimpeded by the emotions that tend to come along with discussions of faith.
Page count: 198
Quality of Writing: B+ (not really page turning until the last half of the book)