Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead. James Morrow offers us the corpus delecti dei in his novel Towing Jehovah. Oil tanker captain Anthony van Horne was responsible for one of the worst oil spills in history. As a result, his career was in a downward spiral and he was seeking a means of redemption. His salvation came in the guise of a visit from an archangel with a strange request. God is dead and His body is floating off the coast of Africa. Would van Horne be willing to tow the body to a frozen tomb prepared in the Arctic?
Religious satire is a particularly difficult form of humor. This is due, partly, to the fact that so many people find it offensive, but also because all the world's religions are open to satire. Morrow, however, skillfully manages to satirize several of the world's religions, not only once, but time and again in several books. In part, he is successful because, while attacking individual religions, he leaves no doubt that his characters do believe in a divine being, if not in a particular religion.
The characters in Towing Jehovah range from devout Catholics to lapsed Jews to atheists. Each must come to terms with God's death in their own way. It is when Morrow is dealing with issues directly relating to faith that his work is the strongest and most on target. When he turns his attention to satirizing other aspects of society, he tends to fling his darts at random. One of his biggest misses were his attacks on a World War II re-creation group. Also, while the characters of the group play a major role in the plot, they tend to be more "comic relief" in a novel which does not particularly need any additional comical characters.
Morrow's examination of what God's dead body means to people's religious faith is interesting and his characters alter their beliefs in intriguing ways. A doctrine of self-imposed morality becomes important to several of the crew members while other characters refuse to accept the presence of the divine corpse as proof of God's death.
Towing Jehovah is not, generally, laugh out loud humor. Instead it is a more subtle, cerebral humor which causes the reader to stop and think about the issues which Morrow brings up in the work. Religious satire is not everybody's idea of a good read, but if you are willing to let your creed take a few hits, Towing Jehovah is among the least religiophobic novels available within science fiction.
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