January 01, 2004
Many a doctoral student might identify with Thomas Bunting, the central character of James Wood’s provocative new novel, The Book Against God. Seven years into his philosophy Ph.D., Bunting is brought to a standstill by his failing marriage, his inability to tell the truth, his unemployment, and his side project—an enormous atheistic project known as the BAG, the Book Against God.
The BAG is a kind of philosophical notebook, crammed full of Bunting’s arguments with various philosophers—he particularly hates Kierkegaard—and his conclusion that no being worthy of the name God would generate a world such as ours:
Kierkegaard says that we are always more loved by God than we can possibly love Him, and this (combined with the fact that we are always sinful) means that ‘against God we are always in the wrong’…He loves us more than we can ever love Him, and we do not deserve that love and we must rejoice in the gorgeous injustice of it, the swollenness of this top-heavy fraction, and simply say to ourselves again and again, ‘Against God we are always in the wrong’…Oh when will humans murder this devilish concept of God?1.
Doubting Thomas is also battling with his parish priest father—‘Saint’ Peter—whose cheery faith tramples all over Thomas’s adolescent worries, producing a pulp of stagnant agnosticism by the time he is thirty. In this remake of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Wood explores very familiar territory for literary thirtysomethings: denying the father figure, losing faith over the problems of evil and human freedom, and replacing it with despair and irresponsibility.
Despite its narrator’s appealing selfdeprecatory tone, Thomas Bunting ultimately loses the reader’s sympathy. His life is testimony to the limitations of his unbelief. Not once—not even in teenage enthusiasm —does he endeavour to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. God never gets to offer a defence against the charges made.
E N D N O T E S
1. James Wood, The Book Against God, Jonathan Cape, 2003, pp.110-12.
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