Written by Joseph
What would happen to the world if God died? According to Ron Currie’s debut book, humanity would devolve into a frenzy of increasingly abstract and humorous spiritual expression.
The scope of God Is Dead is gargantuan, dealing with big questions, big answers, and great swathes of space and time. It is, however, a short book at 205 pages, told in a series of short stories that weave together to form a very oddly shaped, but rather pleasing tapestry. This mix of large themes and small stories leaves the book feeling like it has asked far more questions than it has answered, which is certainly intentional and makes the book, as The Times puts it on the cover quote, ‘hard to forget.’
I have no doubt that my background as a vehement atheist has muted my reaction to the subject matter, and I’m sure that the mere concept of God Is Dead would be considered inflammatory in particular circles. That said, the book has very little to do with the story of God’s death, but more to do with the impact of such a revelation on (mostly American) society. Currie explores these hypothetical zeitgeists directly and with brevity, crafting characters and conflicts intelligently to best expose the core of these possibilities. He tip-toes carefully across the lines of the disturbing and the absurd, occasionally standing firmly on both sides. When the third story’s protagonist enacts a frenzied mass suicide with his friends in the wake of God’s death, Currie deftly molds the results to be so disturbing it becomes hilarious.
At its core, the prose is satirical. This is best shown in stories such as False Idols, in which the population has turned to worshiping their children in the place of God:
‘She opens her eyes again. Her gaze falls on the sign hanging on the wall behind me, which bears, in embroidered calligraphic letters, the motto of the Child Adulation Prevention Agency: Children Are Like Any Other Group of People—A Couple of Winners, A Whole Lot of Losers.’
The satire is, however, so well thought-out and so dark that it becomes something more like speculative fiction. Akin to the sometimes terrifying ‘what ifs’ of Asimov’s robots or Lovecraft’s monsters, Currie presents a ‘what if’ of a society, which had relied so heavily on religion, falling to pieces in the absence of a creator. Currie gives us something to fear — not God or even God’s death — but the actions of humans without a divine babysitter. He makes it plain to the reader that the catastrophes resulting from God’s death are not caused by a lack of divine intervention, but are all human errors.
Currie’s prose is generally direct and lacking in flowery details, which serves to promote the idea that this is fact, that these stories are what has happened (or what will happen). The exceptions to the rule come sparingly, and are beautifully written:
‘Later that night, however—After the fires had burned themselves down and filled the air with the thick honeyed scent of soldering cinders, after the conversations had faded one by one and were replaced by the gentle sound of forty thousand people dreaming the same dream under a sequined sky, after God had gone into a fevered sleep and even a few of the Secret Service agents had begun to flag and slump outside the tent— Powell had to admit that he’d committed political suicide today not just for the sake of a belated racial pride, but for something simpler and more tangible: a chance at redemption.’
Although incredibly enjoyable to read, these passages often draw the reader out of the usually frank text, forcing you to think about the writing itself rather than what’s being told. Having said that, this works to Currie’s advantage in my favourite of the stories, Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God’s Corpse. In this Q-and-A style story, the now-enlightened dog’s name is unpronounceable, represented in the text only by “________”, and as the viewpoint character is communicating non-verbally, his questions and comments are denoted only as “Q?” and “Q.” Currie expertly utilises these unusual devices to allow us to gain some understanding of the incomprehensible dog, and the reader is allowed to temporarily imagine themselves as the protagonist, asking their own questions in thoughts and images in place of the Q.
The title of course is drawn from Nietzsche’s famous line, but it’s obvious the intent of the book is far more than that. I can imagine the fun Currie had writing these stories, and they certainly provide an entertaining starting point for philosophical questions concerning the nature of human spirituality. Happily, Currie does this in a light-hearted, creative way, prompting many of the same questions posed by writers such as Dawkins and Krauss, without the pomp.
As Currie himself said in an online interview:
‘Of course, Nietzsche said famously “God is dead,” but my book is much more in the spirit of a line from The Brothers Karamazov: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” Now that’s a fun premise to work from.’
Thanks for reading.