THE WORD OF GOD
by Thomas M. Disch
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Divinity is something that isn’t seen too often in the modern world. Many claim to be divine, and often they wind up leading their followers to the World Beyond, a la Jim Jones or Marshall Applewhite. This is not a likely occurrence for the followers of Thomas M. Disch, who uses his book The Word of God to proclaim his own recently discovered divinity.
In this relatively short book, Disch provides a look at the religion that he, as a deity, espouses. A lot of it does come down to the concept of the “Golden Rule,” although perhaps “Mind your own business” and “Leave others alone” would be equally good summations. There is no fear of him leading his followers prematurely into the afterworld, because Disch resolutely denies the existence of a Heaven or Hell.
Disch also has an anti-Disch in the book, in this case in the form of a posthumous Philip K. Dick who has the task to ensure that Disch is never incarnated. In the 1970s, Dick denounced Disch, and several others in the science fiction community, to the FBI, although it is unclear that the FBI ever did more than simply acknowledge Dick’s concern. The Dick storyline in The Word of God is interesting, in part because various aspects of it, regarding Dick, Thomas Mann, and other events, indicate that Disch the Deity is something of an unreliable narrator. This is even more apparent as Disch weaves pieces of his own biography with his divine pronouncements, or even the vignettes which almost turn The Word of God into a strange amalgam between a novel and a short story collection.
The Word of God, however, is not entirely Disch’s Gospel. It is also a brilliant satire on religion. The primary focus tends to be the Evangelical-based religions which currently appear to have a political influence in the United States well beyond their actual size, but Disch feels free to turn his wit on other religions as well, particularly any religion (not just Islam) whose adherents believe that martyrdom is the ultimate expression of piety.
Often the satire in The Word of God comes in the form of vignettes and short stories, Disch’s equivalent, perhaps, to the allegories which fill the Gospels of Jesus, one of Disch’s colleague, and rival, deities. Perhaps the most entertaining of these short stories is Disch’s depiction of Jesus and St. Peter attending a presentation of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in a middle American movie theatre.
Satire is a difficult skill, and religious satire particularly so. The Word of God is well-written satire, taking on the hyper-religious. Unfortunately, for all its success as a written satire, it seems that those at whom the book is most targeted, the hyper-religious, are exactly those who wouldn’t touch Disch’s Gospel with a ten foot crucifix and if they did happen to pick it up, they would most likely be offended rather than have a Pauline moment. The question then arises as to the point. The already converted may get a chuckle over Disch’s wit. However, the book will have most served its purpose when read by the unassuming unaffiliated. Those who are open to see reason as Disch describes it.While at its best, The Word of God is a biting satire, all too often it seems unfocused as Disch includes items which could easily have stood on their own, or jumps back and forth between his own divine pronouncements and a somewhat strained narrative, mostly concerning his own conception and Philip K. Dick. The Word of God is, however, short enough and amusing enough that its lack of focus doesn’t have time to become a problem.
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