godless by pete hautman

Like most teenagers, Jason Bock questions the faith of his father, literally.  In this case, Catholicism.  To Bock, religions seem arbitrary and based on arbitrary rules. So one day, he creates a religion of his own and invites his friends to “worship” with him.  What results is a look at faith and religion from a teenager perspective.  I have always maintained that I was at my most philosophical and intelligent when I was in 7-8th grade.  Since then, it’s all been downhill.

Theology – Postmodern = truth is relative.  A lot of great theological questions are brought up in this book:  Is religion arbitrary?  Which religion is the correct one?  How do you know?  Is God real?  How do our actions show our belief?  Are faith and religion synonymous?

All great questions!  I am sure that every one of us has questioned our faith at some point.  When it comes down to it – what do you really believe?  On what do you base your beliefs?  What can you tell others about what you believe?  As Christians, we must always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope we possess (1Pe 3:15).

Unfortunately, the author does not promote a Christian worldview in his book.  The protagonist’s view that religion is arbitrary and that there is no real God permeates the novel until the end.  In fact, at the end, Bock decides “I have a religion, but I have no faith.  Maybe one day I’ll find a deity I can believe in.  Until then, my god is made of steel and rust.”

This book offers a great opportunity to speak to teens about these and other theological questions.  HOWEVER, you must be ready for the dialogue or risk that your teen will agree with the protagonist.  It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers – use this as an opportunity to find out the truth with your teen.

Maturity – PG-13 Religion and faith are the main themes in this book.  There are scenes in the book where the characters sneak out of the house, flaunt parental authority, and commit dangerous acts (climbing to the top of a water town at night).  There are characters that suffer from mental/emotional imbalance, including one of Bock’s parents and his best friend.

Social issues – Aside from religion, the social issues raised in this book are mental instability, friendship, child abuse (in passing), and parent-child relationships.

I can see why this book won the National Book Award – the author didn’t pull any punches when dealing with organized religion from a YA perspective.  The subject is there and explored from many different angles.  The book is provocative and can generate some really great discussion if you’re willing to tackle the subject.  Just be ready.

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