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Envisioning a new idea of God
The pleasure of reading a good philosophical novel is a greedy one. Not only do you get to enjoy interesting characters in dramatic situations, you are also confronted with the ideas that have formed those characters and led them into those situations. The ideas can assume a life of their own, becoming "characters" in their own right, crackling and uncontrollable, full of promise and risk.
The ideas of Whitbread Award-winning British author Nicholas Mosley are out of control in just this beautiful way in his new novel, Inventing God. As the title suggests, Mosley sets in motion an inquiry into what a new idea of God might bean idea that could offer more hope for humanity than the current belief systems.
Even the central character of the book is more an idea than a person, a maverick theologian named Maurice Rotblatt who has disappeared from Beirut and is presumed murdered by terrorists for his radical statements about the follies of various religions. To the other protagonists, who are all searching for Maurice in one way or another, his absence is almost God-like. If they could only understand what he really meant and what happened to him, then Maurice's new vision of God could be realized.
Mosley gradually unfolds the ways in which, from disparate points, the men and women in his story become bound to each other and so to the quest. At a crucial juncture, a connection arises between a Muslim man involved in biological weapons research and an Israeli teenager. Their tale is strange proof of a new theology, depending not on ethnic identity, doctrine, or even on God, but on individuals who take responsibility for each other.
Such a story seems a small sort of miracle in the end, not much on which to build a religion. But that is precisely Mosley's point: inventing God anew demands the assigning of ultimate significance to what happens between one person and another. God, as in a good novel, is in such details.
Michael Alec Rose teaches at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.