cover image GOD

GOD

Alexander Waugh, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $24.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-312-32905-1

Despite its title, this book should not be confused with Jack Miles's God: A Biography or Karen Armstrong's A History of God . Those books are works of serious scholarship for the general public; this one seems more like a Monty Pythonesque Book of Lists as Bertrand Russell might have compiled it. Waugh—grandson of Evelyn, son of Auberon—comes by his cynicism honestly and employs it relentlessly as he piles up thousands of tidbits about God from the Bible, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, the Mishnah, the Gnostic gospels, Dante, the medieval mystics and John Milton. Dividing his chapters by Shakespeare's seven ages of man, he amasses creation stories in chapter 1 ("Mewling and Puking"), stockpiles death-of-God philosophies in chapter 7 ("Sans Everything"), and in between accumulates snippets about every imaginable or unthinkable topic including God's preferred smells (burnt meat and incense), short memory and, above all, vicious cruelty. Though Waugh says that questions about God's existence and nature "ought to be treated with respect at the very least, for they are questions of the utmost historical significance," his own approach relies heavily on sarcasm and acrimony. "God must be gratified," he writes, "surprised, puzzled even, that he is nowadays so often described as 'good'—especially since the holy scriptures bear a considerable weight of testimony to the contrary." Readers who appreciate British schoolboy humor, are amused by exaggerated literalism and enjoy poking fun at organized religion will hail this encyclopedic mishmash. (May)