Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540
Godbody is an intensely religious novel and at the same time an uncompromising attack on organized religion. For Sturgeon true religion has nothing to do with churches, priests, or hierarchies; nothing to do with commentaries, creeds, or theologies. True religion is not a question of celibacy, guilt or fear; true...
(The entire section contains 540 words.)
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Godbody is an intensely religious novel and at the same time an uncompromising attack on organized religion. For Sturgeon true religion has nothing to do with churches, priests, or hierarchies; nothing to do with commentaries, creeds, or theologies. True religion is not a question of celibacy, guilt or fear; true religion is love. It is love of a God who is not remote but present in everyone and everything; it is love of people and love of the body and love of nature. It is love of food and sex and beauty. True religion is a love rooted in sexuality, expressed through sexuality. In his last speech, the title character tells his friends, "If ever you want to touch the hand and heart of God Almighty, you can do it through the body of someone you love. Anytime. Anywhere. Without no middleman."
The novel then is both Sturgeon's retelling of the Christ-story and his explanation of how Christianity went astray. The plot is simple: Somewhere in the Catskill Mountains, late in springtime, a man called Godbody appears. He calls a few people to him, touches them, heals them, teaches them, loves them. He is killed (late on a Friday) by a scandalized pillar of society, and he returns to life (early the next Sunday).
The parallels with the life of Christ are too obvious to require comment, but Sturgeon's real concern is with what happens next. The novel condemns, at first implicitly, then finally quite explicitly, what has happened to Christianity since the death of Christ. Godbody is staunchly anti-institutional and anticlerical; it is also, at least in the sphere of religion, anti-intellectual. If the essence of religion is love, or the intimate contact between human and God (and between human and human), then anything that intervenes, any institutional or intellectual construct, is an enemy of religion. Thus in Sturgeon's eyes the development of a separate class of priests and bishops, the growth of rigid codes of behavior (especially sexual behavior) enforced by violence or the inculcation of guilt, and the evolution of elaborate and increasingly abstract interpretations of what Christ really meant — all these have served to undermine the original message of Christianity.
In a sense, Sturgeon is merely reprising a number of heresies (including the Montanism of the second and third centuries) that were ultimately suppressed by what became the orthodox church — in part because they criticized the increasing institutionalization of the church and the development of a whole class that mediated between the believer and God. Perhaps what most provokes Sturgeon, however, is the church's strict regulation of, and frequent hostility to, human sexuality, and here he ventures where very few variations of Christianity have dared. His Christ-figure, Godbody, is emphatically a sexual being, and the novel celebrates sexuality as the highest expression of human love and as the gateway to the mystical experience of God. The church's attempts to repress sexuality are, according to the argument of Godbody, insanely destructive and a principal source of human evil and suffering. Repression leads to rape and violence and exploitation. The novel then is nothing less than an audacious attempt to correct nearly two thousand years of theological and philosophical bungling — to restore a primitive, natural, and liberating religion.