When your public self pronounces against organized religion, is your actual self liable to be targeted?A new novel of ideas in the guise of a mystery thriller takes on this provocative question with flair.
The author of Wicked Gods (Humanist Press, 2014) chose to write under a pen name, Eilís Leyne, and as you read the book, you sense what her/his fears might be. In fact, the protagonist is a woman who’s written a bestseller, also named Wicked Gods, that takes all religions to task for their many historic misuses and abuses. This character states again and again (on talk shows and so on) that she isn’t an atheist, just a history-wise researcher and writer who believes that members of the human race should be treating one another far better.
As another character says about the fictional book at the center of the story,
It’s not blasphemous; it’s just honest. The only people who need to feel threatened by your book are those who use religion to whip up fear and hatred among their followers.
The tale soon turns into a mystery: who is behind the attacks and threats against the (fictional) author’s life? Her Muslim agent? Her angry ex-husband? A hate group? The evangelical preacher she debates in public? Someone else who has learned of her participation in a kind of secret conspiracy to save some of the world’s most rational writings, which themselves might change the face of religion across the world?
Some of the characters who are believers in a deity are shown in a very positive light. They’re allowed to explain both their faith and their doubts with genuine vulnerability, and the protagonist treats them with respect.
The writing is never jarringly amateurish; in fact, other than in a few particularly earnest paragraphs here and there, the narrative flows well and keeps the reader turning pages. Finally, the tone of Wicked Gods is actually quite positive and optimistic, as in this evocative excerpt:
Isn’t this the true miracle of the human animal? Mira thought. Not that some mysterious essence outlives the flesh, but from these fragile, fallible, needy collections of blood and bone, we create art and science, emotion and meaning.
The truth struck her with bracing clarity—the flesh is the spirit, and its beauty is unsurpassed.