Preston’s ‘Blasphemy’ Aptly Named

Cover of "Blasphemy"

Cover of Blasphemy

A while back I read Douglas Preston’s novel Blasphemy. The title—plus the fact that I’ve read Preston’s work before and enjoyed it—was enough to get me to pick it up and take a gander at the back-cover blurb.

The last several years have seen an abundance of mainstream novels with the “here’s the real story about Jesus” theme. You know, that he was married, fathered children, imparted secret wisdom to Judas Iscariot, yada yada yada. That kinda bunk. I’d read my fair share and was tired of it, but Blasphemy promised something different: the story of a secret scientific project that would recreate the moment of creation (the Big Bang, as science types call it). I was intrigued, wanting to know how Preston saw the implications of such a project, and what his general views on God are.

As with so many novels, the run-up was good but the ending was lacking—in this case, spiritually as well as in literary terms. (If you want to avoid spoilers, don’t read any further).

Turns out the project (called Isabella) was functional and had real scientific merit, but was ultimately part of an elaborate hoax by the project’s director—a hoax meant to convince his fellow scientists that they had communicated with God (not the God of the Bible, by the way) so that he (the director) would have “disciples” to spread the message of a new religion he was creating—a religion meant to undercut all other religions in general, but Christianity in particular.

And the real kicker? The director’s inspiration for his scheme is none other than L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the spaced-out, Hollywood-hip Scientology cult.

Preston’s book does nothing to pose a serious challenge to Christianity, but he certainly does a decent job of making Christians and other God-believers/religionists look like a bunch of whackos. The book’s two “Christian” characters, Pastor Russ Eddy and the Rev. Don T. Spates, are, respectively, a nutty zealot and a televangelist huckster (gee, haven’t seen those characters before). During the course of the book, Eddy goes from quietly respectable country preacher to the leader of a bloodthirsty mob, and Preston shows that the only thing Spates loves as much as money is looking good. On top of all this, the director’s scheme “proves” that the Christian God is worthy only of the scrap heap.

The story’s protagonist, an ex-CIA-agent-turned-Catholic-monk-turned-Isabella-chaperone named Wyman Ford, starts off promising enough. He’s a real human being grappling with real faith struggles who truly seems to want to do what’s right, whatever the cost. At one point towards the end of the book, he even defines the line between legitimate faith and religious violence, choosing the former, but at the very end—after the director reveals the hoax to him—Ford makes only a half-hearted attempt to convince his ex-girlfriend and “new religion disciple” Kate of its fraudulence. No, make that quarter-hearted … at best. And so the new religion is allowed to take off, and so it does—it spreads like wildfire across the country. And why? Basically, because Wyman sees that Kate is “so happy” now, and why spoil it?

In sum, Blasphemy is built on a healthy amount of intrigue but falls short, both spiritually (the start of another false religion) and in literary quality (the whole thing is a hoax that never gets into the much-hoped-for scientific inquiry of God). There were several sections in which the characters were supposedly communicating with God through Isabella’s supercomputer, but these became less interesting as it became apparent that “God” was more Eastern mystic than Biblical. Then they ceased being interesting when they were revealed to be nothing more than a man-made charade. For some reason (perhaps because Preston really wants people to give up the God of the Bible?) Preston includes the story’s entire “convo with God”—uninterrupted—at the back of the book. Riveting stuff (not really).


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