James K. Morrow

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James Morrow South Street Seaport 2007-04-10.jpg

James K. Morrow (born March 17, 1947) is an American novelist and short story writer..

Quotes[edit]

Short fiction[edit]

  • There’s no objective evidence for an afterlife, and anecdotal reports of heaven cannot be distinguished from wishful thinking, self-delusion, and the effects of oxygen loss on the brain.

Bible Stories for Adults (1996)[edit]

  • Monotheism is just one of the myths by which we live, and Yahweh is just one of the deities who populate these stories.
    • Preface
  • My friends in the nouveau paganism camp accuse me of quaintness: Bible thumpers are straw men, so why bother?...My answer is that straw men, once set aflame with zeal, can be quite dangerous, and that the gap between New Age irrationalism and Christian fundamentalism is not nearly so wide as we might wish to believe.
    • Preface
  • When I destroyed my unwanted children, it was murder. When Yahweh did the same, it was eugenics. Do you approve of the universe, Ham?
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge" p. 11 (originally published in Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy)
  • Being God, I must choose My words carefully. People, I’ve noticed, tend to hang on to My every remark. It gets annoying, this servile and sycophantic streak in Homo sapiens sapiens. There’s a difference, after all, between tasteful adulation and arrant toadyism, but they just don’t get it.
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower" p. 61 (originally published in Author’s Choice Monthly #8: Swatting at the Cosmos)
  • If You intervene too profusely in Earth’s affairs, I’ve noticed, the inhabitants become chronically distracted, and they forget to worship You.
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower" p. 67 (originally published in Author’s Choice Monthly #8: Swatting at the Cosmos)
  • I’ve gone insane, Michael decided, retrieving a cowhide-bound appointments book from his valise. Only certifiable schizophrenics showed meetings with God on their calendars.
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower" p. 68 (originally published in Author’s Choice Monthly #8: Swatting at the Cosmos)
  • “In fact, there’s probably only one thing worse than not being able to understand a person.”
    “What’s that?” asked Nimrod.
    “Being able to understand him completely.”
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower" p. 76 (originally published in Author’s Choice Monthly #8: Swatting at the Cosmos)
  • Let us examine the language here. Evidently God is addressing this code to a patriarchy that will in turn disseminate it among the less powerful, namely wives and servants. And how long before these servants are downgraded further still...into slaves, even? Ten whole commandments, and not one word against slavery, not to mention bigotry, misogyny, or war.
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 31: The Covenant" p. 130 (originally published in What Might Have Been? Volume 1: Alternate Empires, edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg)
  • As with all things political, the issue was power.
    • "Abe Lincoln in McDonald’s" p. 140 (originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1989)
  • “You see, Ebenezer, charity begs a crucial question. How did the bestower attain the position from which he now exercises his largesse?” My dead colleague cleaned his teeth with one of his many appended keys. “Through imagination and merit? Or through inherited privilege and ruthless exploitation?”
    • "The Confessions of Ebenezer Scrooge" p. 158 (originally published in Spirits of Christmas: Twenty Otherworldly Tales, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell)
  • JOB. And now it’s time...
    FRANNY. To curse God...
    JOB. And live.
    • "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 46: The Soap Opera" p. 184 (originally published in Science Fiction Age, January 1994; ellipses in the original)
  • My own preliminary diagnosis is that I am out of my skull and getting farther from its vicinity every day.
    • "Diary of a Mad Deity" p. 191 (originally published in Synergy: New Science Fiction, Number 2, edited by George Zebrowski)

The Wine of Violence (1981)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 0-441-89441-0
  • Let’s just hope that gravity isn’t as heavy as it used to be...
    • Chapter 1 (p. 8)
  • Burne was tough. Burne practiced archeology, the most inconvenient of the sciences.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 9)
  • The new homeland bulged with the sort of free-for-the-grabbing bounty that invites greed, envy, exploitation, profiteering, and politics.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 12)
  • People found ever more ingenious ways to hate each other.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 12)
  • Smugness kills all utopias.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 12)
  • Children, being close to the ground, have a special rapport with insects.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 17)
  • The world’s odd tolerance of fighting cropped up again and again in Francis’s study of history, particularly ancient history. On Earth, where his remotest forebears lived, a person could be indisputably responsible for the deaths of thousands and still go down in the history books as some sort of great hero. This was before Francis understood the biological inevitability of violence, so he was bewildered. Why, he wanted to know, were the names of Samson, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Ulysses S. Grant, and Julius Caesar not obscenities, spoken after dark in whispers of revulsion and shame? The same teachers who couldn’t bring themselves to say shitbrain or ortwaddle openly discussed Alexander the Great.
    He never found anyone who had the answer. Until he got to Planet Carlotta, he never even found anyone who had the question.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 19)
  • Luli turned out to be uncompromising and brilliant. She could prosecute honey before a jury of bears and win.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 21)
  • In physical pursuits Luli was considerably less passionate. Her idea of a good time in bed was breakfast.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 21)
  • Francis’s office did not come with a videophone; at times he was surprised that his office came with a floor.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 25)
  • It is far more arrogant to profess intuitive knowledge of the sacred than scientific knowledge of the tangible.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 44)
  • It was not a question of regressive old ideas versus enlightened new ideas, but of reasonable caution versus arrogant caprice.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 46)
  • She was by some standards slovenly, failing to see any virtue in made beds, since, as she put it, you are either asleep or somewhere else. On her birthdays she was sad. This tradition traced to earliest childhood, when she had consistently misinterpreted her birthday parties to mean that she was dying. Why else would the world be going to such exorbitant lengths to cheer her up?
    Science was her first love. Long after the preschool years, she aspired to know the why of everything. Why babies had a Babinski reflex, and why the reflex disappeared. Why people licked their upper lips when concentrating, and why there was humor. Tez wanted to understand light. She wanted to solve mud, decipher rocks, and unlock grass.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 48)
  • Francis had always been ecumenical in his atheism. He was as prepared to disbelieve in this Tolca character as he was to disbelieve in Yahweh, Jesus, Buddha, Vishnu, or any of the other words for what his father used to call “forcing yourself to misperceive the obvious.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 83)
  • “I’ve always regretted not having a brother. Maybe I shouldn’t.”
    “For me it’s always been like having pubic hair. You have it, but what the hell is it for?”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 110)
  • “On your planet, how do you tell somebody that you love her?”
    “It’s very complicated. You say, ‘I love you,’ and then you stand back and see what happens.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 112)
  • “Everyone here does think as I do,” replied Nefertiti Jones’s double, “and consequently I have no enemies.”
    • Chapter 10 (p. 119)
  • In Francis’s view there was ultimate gold in this commitment to impractical knowledge, to theories that had no responsibilities other than to be true. On good days the new ideas inched human intellect toward the grand understandings that were science’s pride and joy.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 130)
  • Tez always had warm feelings about paradoxes. It was the scientist in her.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 132)
  • Francis realized he was afflicted with what his father used to term “an erection of the curiosity organ.”
    • Chapter 11 (p. 132)
  • Someday that man will be astonished to discover there’s a whole world marching along outside his buzzing head.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 136)
  • Like most visionaries, The Teller saw the distant future with optical-glass clarity, the intermediate future with beeswax clarity, and the immediate future with the clarity of dark glasses dipped in tar.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 153)
  • Nature may not be benign, but she is reliable.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 157)
  • Forgive me if I’m confusing you with logic.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 157)
  • Like all good friends, they hated seeing their relationship lose its emotional innocence, its chastity of good will, and now that the thing was lost, now that searing statements had changed hands and left scars, neither looked forward to the future.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 160)
  • Every religion says war is evil, but one way or another they end up playing along.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 164)
  • “That was a very pretty speech,” said Loloc, “but if it contained an answer to even one of my questions then I did not hear it.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 178)
  • “Zolmec,” said Nazra, “has always taught that the greatest words are ‘I could very well be wrong.’”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 185)
  • Often Burne found himself saying, “I don’t think you would make a very good soldier,” and with grating predictability he heard that he wouldn’t make a very good pacifist.
    • Chapter 16 (p. 188)
  • Sneer, frown, and be miserable, for tomorrow you live.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 202)
  • A second slash ended the monster’s misery. So, he thought, this is how my Earthling ancestors ran their affairs. This is how lands were won, empires expanded, insurrections resisted, prisoners taken, slaves kept, heretics converted, captives made loquacious. For the first time in his life, Minnix felt himself a part of history.
    History, he decided, was a terrible idea.
    • Chapter 18 (p. 223)
  • “As a race of scientists and thinkers,” she concluded, “we cannot claim with absolute certainty that Teot Yon’s personality is now beyond Heaven’s gates or inside Satan’s stewpot or about to enter the embryo of a bull. Some of us subscribe to the Afterworld Hypothesis, some to less cheerful views. We all know that as an empirical event Teot Yon’s existence is over, and it is time for his molecules to become air and ash and after that—where will his drifting pieces go and what new things will they help to form? Let the transformation begin!”
    • Chapter 19 (p. 234)
  • Father says don’t kill your principles just because the government is paying for the funeral.
    • Chapter 22 (pp. 257-258)
  • “Talo, it would appear that our sons are growing up.”
    She tut-tutted in mock solemnity. “And we always said, ‘It can’t happen here.’”
    • Chapter 25 (p. 296)
  • Naturally you expect the moral thing from me. But I’ve learned something, friend. Morals don’t count for a hell of a lot in this galaxy. I rank them somewhere between straight teeth and the ability to carry a tune.
    • Chapter 26 (p. 303)
  • “What do you want out of life, Francis Lostwax?”
    Francis smiled. “To never hurt anybody again.” His lack of hesitation surprised him. “To feel clean.”
    • Chapter 27 (p. 314)

This Is the Way the World Ends (1986)[edit]

All page numbers from the hardcover book club edition published by Henry Holt and Company
  • Gravestones, he knew, were educational media, teaching that life has limits: don’t set your sights too high.
    • Chapter 1, “In Which Our Hero Is Introduced and Taught the True Facts Concerning Strategic Doctrine and Civil Defense” (p. 14)
  • Now we’re getting somewhere, George told himself, although he sensed that this situation would not endure.
    • Chapter 4, “In Which Our Hero Is Asked to Sign a Most Unusual Sales Contract” (p. 43)
  • Curse God, and die. To George it seemed like remarkably sage and relevant advice.
    • Chapter 6, “In Which a Sea Captain, a General, a Therapist, and a Man of God Enter the Tale” (p. 61)
  • Maybe I’ll end up on the fun side of her pants some day.
    • Chapter 6, “In Which a Sea Captain, a General, a Therapist, and a Man of God Enter the Tale” (p. 66)
  • “You want a motive, William? I’ve got a motive. Vengeance may not be a pretty word, but it’s what’s expected of us.”
    “Right!” said Sverre. “We owe it to all those millions of dead people to make more millions of dead people. Be careful how you rewrite strategic doctrine, General, or you’ll come out of this war without a single medal.”
    • Chapter 7, “In Which Our Hero Makes a Strategic Decision and Acquires a Reason Not to Curse God and Die” (p. 80)
  • For moral reasons, the young Reverend Peter Sparrow declined to join the Saturday night gatherings of the Erebus Poker Club. Gambling, he knew, was Satan’s third favorite pastime, after sex and ecumenicalism.
    • Chapter 8, “In Which Our Hero Witnesses Some of the Many Surprising Effects of Nuclear War, Including Sundeath, Timefolds, and Unadmittance” (p. 97)
  • “In the end Humankind destroyed the heaven and the earth,” Soapstone began...
    “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be security,’ and there was security. And Humankind tested the security, that it would detonate. And Humankind divided the U-235 from the U-238. And the evening and the morning were the first strike.” Soapstone looked up from the book. “Some commentators feel that the author should have inserted, ‘And Humankind saw the security, that it was evil.’ Others point out that such a view was not universally shared.”...
    Casting his eyes heavenward, Soapstone continued. “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be a holocaust in the midst of the dry land.’ And Humankind poisoned the aquifers that were below the dry land and scorched the ozone that was above the dry land. And the evening and the morning were the second strike.”...
    “And Humankind said, ‘Let the ultraviolet light destroy the food chains that bring forth the moving creature!’ And the evening and the morning—”...
    “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be rays in the firmament to fall upon the survivors!’ And Humankind made two great rays, the greater gamma radiation to give penetrating whole-body doses, and the lesser beta radiation to burn the plants and the bowels of animals! And Humankind sterilized each living creature, saying, ‘Be fruitless, and barren, and cease to—’”
    • Chapter 9, “In Which by Taking a Step Backward the City of New York Brings Our Hero a Step Forward” (pp. 115-116; ellipses not in the original)
  • The fission bomb was a costly mistress. Consider, your Honors. In 1979 this planet celebrated the International Year of the Child. Of the one hundred and twenty-two million children born that year, one of every ten was dead by 1982, and most died for lack of inexpensive food and vaccines. Yet in 1982 the world spent one trillion dollars on weapons. One trillion dollars!
    • Chapter 12, “In Which It Is Shown that the End of the World Was More Necessary than Previously Supposed” (pp. 156-157)
  • “It must have been hard converting your elders in the Pentagon to this view.”
    “Ever try stuffing a melted marshmallow up a wildcat’s ass? It can be done, but you have to like your job.”
    • Chapter 13, “In Which the Prosecution’s Case Is Said to Be a Grin without a Cat” (p. 165)
  • Be sure to convict that chucklehead. He thinks a country’s Christianity is measured by the size of its thermonuclear arsenal.
    • Chapter 13, “In Which the Prosecution’s Case Is Said to Be a Grin without a Cat” (p. 167)
  • To George, Overwhite still seemed like a windbag, but he was obviously a resourceful and intelligent one, a windbag woven of the finest material.
    • Chapter 14, “In Which the Nuclear Warriors have Their Day in Court” (p. 183)
  • “Are we innately aggressive?” asked Aquinas. “Was the nuclear predicament symptomatic of a more profound depravity? Nobody knows. But if this is so—and I suspect that it is—then the responsibility for what we are pleased to call our inhumanity still rests squarely in our blood-soaked hands. The killer-ape hypothesis does not specify a fate—it lays out an agenda. Beware, the fable warns. Caution. Trouble ahead. Genocidal weapons in the hands of creatures who are bored by peace.”
    “I think I’m going to throw up,” said Brat.
    “But the fable went unheeded. And the weapons, unchecked. And then, one cold Christmas season, death came to an admirable species—a species that wrote symphonies and sired Leonardo da Vinci and would have gone to the stars. It did not have to be this way. Three virtues only were needed—creative diplomacy, technical ingenuity, and moral outrage. But the greatest of these is moral outrage.”
    • Chapter 16, “In Which the Essential Question Is Answered and Something Very Much Like Justice Is Served” (p. 211)

Only Begotten Daughter (1990)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Harcourt Brace
  • He was a devout believer in the second chance. To the man who asked, “What’s the point of closing the barn door after the horse has been stolen?” Murray would answer, “The point is that the door is now closed.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 12)
  • “Pop, do we have heaven?” he’d asked on the day he discovered the (dead) cat. “You want to know a Jew’s idea of heaven?” his father had replied, looking up from his Maimonides. “It’s an endless succession of long winter nights on which we get paid a fair wage to sit in a warm room and read all the books ever written...Not just the famous ones, no, every book, the stuff nobody gets around to reading, forgotten plays, novels by people you never heard of. However, I profoundly doubt such a place exists.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 13)
  • What enormous potential for intermittent happiness the world offered.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 37)
  • Murray held his daughter at arm’s length. “Does God...er, visit you?”
    “She doesn’t even whisper to me. I listen, but she doesn’t talk. It’s not fair.”
    God didn’t talk. The best news he’d heard since Gabriel Frostig announced his embryo. “Look Julie, it’s good she doesn’t talk. God asks her children to do crazy things. It’s good she doesn’t whisper. Understand?”
    “I guess.”
    “Really?”
    “Uh-huh. Where’d the crab go? Is he looking for his friends?”
    A profound weariness pressed upon Murray. “Yes. Right. His friends. It’s good God doesn’t whisper.”
    • Chapter 2 (p. 46)
  • What good is it having God for a mother if she never sends you a birthday card?
    • Chapter 3 (p. 50)
  • “There’s something else, Beverly. I’m a minister of the Lord. This will be unusual for me, a kind of experiment.”
    “I know all about it, Reverend. You folks do more experimenting than Princeton’s entire physics department.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 66)
  • People are always asking, does God exist? Of course she does. The real question: what is she like?
    • Chapter 4 (p. 69)
  • “Right before bed, I spend twenty minutes in this place. Then I can sleep.”
    “You mean you simply sit here, staring at everybody’s pain? All you do is look at it?”
    “Uh-huh. Just like God.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 74)
  • The labels fascinated Julie—Cutty Sark, Dewar’s, Beefeater—each logo dense with staid print and Anglo-Saxon dignity, as if alcohol were really a type of literary criticism and not a leading cause of traffic fatalities and brain rot.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 77)
  • “I’ve been good, I’ve been bad—nothing gets her attention. What am I supposed to do, sacrifice a goat?”
    “Perhaps you should start a religion. You know—reveal your mother to the world.”
    “How can I reveal her when I don’t know what she’s like?”
    “Use your imagination. Everybody else does.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 84)
  • You wouldn’t like him. Major fanatic. Confuses migraine headaches with God.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 84)
  • “Actually, the answer’s quite simple.” Two red eyes floated in the mist.
    “Really? Tell me. Why does God allow evil?”
    The red eyes vanished, leaving only the lantern and the night. “Because power corrupts,” said Wyvern’s disembodied voice. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 85)
  • “I’m really interested in this stuff.” Julie rubbed a carton labeled ELEMENTARY PARTICLES.
    “Physics?”
    “Physics, biology, stars, everything.”
    Howard said, “Good for you. These days most people prefer to impoverish their minds with mysticism.”
    • Chapter 5 (p. 87)
  • “Myriad contradictory worlds,” lectured Professor Jerome Delacato, “forever splitting off from each other like branches on a tree, so that, somewhere out there, I am presently giving a lecture explaining how the many-worlds hypothesis cannot possibly be true.”
    • Chapter 5 (p. 88)
  • What most people don’t realize is that something unprecedented has entered the world. Bang—science—and suddenly a proposition is true because it’s true, Julie, not because its adherents have the biggest churches or the grandest inquisitors or the most weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 88)
  • She asked, “Do you believe science has all the answers?”
    “Huh?”
    “Science. Does it have all the answers?”
    “Everybody thinks he’s being oh-so-deep when he says science doesn’t have all the answers.”
    Done. All of it. Virginity gone, flesh ratified, mother spited, mission discovered—the gospel of empirical truth! Yes! Oh, yes!
    “Science does have all the answers,” said Howard, withdrawing. “The problem is that we don’t have all the science.”
    • Chapter 5 (p. 90)
  • He smiled. Julie’s wedding, exquisite thought. Would his grandchildren be free of godhead? Was divinity a recessive trait?
    • Chapter 5 (p. 92)
  • I think you’re so full of shit you’ve got roses growing out of your ass.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 96)
  • I can’t help suggesting that a God who communicates through leukemia is at best deranged.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 116)
  • When a species fixates on the supernatural, it ceases to mature.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 118)
  • As with the rest of Phoebe’s species, Julie must not let her become dependent upon supernatural solutions, trading one addiction for another.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 133)
  • The problem is, only a few people get to be scientists. You see the dilemma? Given the choice between a truth they can appreciate and a lie they can live, most people will take you-know-what.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 138)
  • Although Bix Constantine disbelieved in hell as intensely as he did in heaven, he knew what the place would be like. Hell, for Bix, was jealousy. It was failed journalists seeing their enemies receive Pulitzer Prizes. It was compulsive gamblers seeing jackpots gush from adjacent players’ slot machines and sex-starved young men seeing their friends piled high with naked cheerleaders.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 144)
  • Better a citizen in hell than a slave in New Jersey.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 162)
  • “Don’t believe everything you hear about hell. Next time you run into some anti-hell propaganda, consider the source.”
    “You inflict eternal punishment on people,” Julie countered.
    “Merely because it’s our job. And remember, we persecute only the guilty, which puts us one up on most other institutions.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 162)
  • Hell was not perfect, but it was paradise compared with New Jersey.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 174)
  • The man was fat. His belly arrived like an advance guard, heralding the bulk to come, huge shoulders, a surplus chin. His white cassock had settled over his body like a tarpaulin dropped on a blimp.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 214)
  • “The universe,” says Wyvern, “is a Ph. D. thesis that God was unable to successfully defend.”
    • Chapter 13 (p. 221)
  • The wonders of nature, she learned, from wing of bee to sonar of bat to eyeball of baby, were not so much perfect machines as adequate contraptions. If nature bespoke a mind, it was a confused and inchoate one, a mind incapable of locating the optic nerve on the correct side of the retina, a mind unable to accomplish much of anything without resort to jerry-building and extinction.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 254)
  • “You’re not very religious, are you?” said Irene.
    “I’m more into gravity.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 256)
  • Babies are like kittens, Julie, they grow into something much more sinister.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 258)
  • The Sermon on the Mount—it never ends for you, does it? If somebody kicks your right buttock, turn the other cheek.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 260)
  • “You see God as an engineer?” asked Urpastor Phelps.
    “I don’t see God as anything at all.”
    “An engineer, you said. An incompetent engineer.”
    “Incompetent, perfect, who knows? God is whatever we agree to pretend God is. God is our image of God.”
    • Chapter 16 (p. 272)
  • Her libido blazed to life. She smiled, impressed by the party-crashing shamelessness of sex, its willingness to show up anywhere—a funeral, a sermon, a final farewell. This was the way to go out, all right, thumbing your labia at the cosmos.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 285)
  • There are none so blind as those who see angels...None so deaf as those who hear gods.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 288)
  • —Then there is the final possibility, my favorite.
    —Yes?
    —The final possibility is that I’m God.
    —You’re God?
    —Just a theory, but the data are provocative. I mean, look at me. Faceless, shapeless, holey, undifferentiated, Jewish, inscrutable...and a hermaphrodite to boot. Years ago, I told you sponges cannot be fatally dismembered, for each part quickly becomes the whole. To wit, I am both immortal and infinite.
    —You’re God? You’re God herself? You?
    —The data are provocative.
    —God is a sponge? A sponge? There’s not much comfort in that.
    —Agreed.
    —Sponges can’t help us.
    —Neither can God, as far as I can tell. I’d be happy to see some contrary data.
    • Chapter 18 (p. 312)

Towing Jehovah (1994)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Harcourt Brace ISBN 0-15-600210-8
  • To Thomas’s eye, Union Square combined the exoticism of The Arabian Nights with the bedrock banality of American commerce, as if a medieval Persian bazaar had been transplanted to the twentieth century and taken over by Wal-Mart.
    • Chapter 2, “Priest” (p. 29)
  • “What’s theodicy?” asked Anthony.
    “Hard to explain.”
    “Sounds like idiocy.”
    “Much of it is.”
    • Chapter 2, “Priest” (p. 38)
  • Somehow his grandfather had wrought an honorable and glamorous life from the sea. But that era was gone. The system was dying. Advising a young man to join the United States Merchant Marine was like advising him to go into vaudeville.
    • Chapter 2, “Priest” (p. 44)
  • When Cassie Fowler awoke, she was less shocked to discover that an afterlife existed than to find that she, of all people, had been admitted to it. Her entire adulthood, it seemed, year after year of spiting the Almighty and saluting the Enlightenment, had come to nothing. She’d been saved, raptured, immortalized. Shit. The situation spoke badly of her and worse of eternity. What heaven worthy of the name would accept so ardent an unbeliever as she?
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 67)
  • “It’s tragic,” he said.
    “God killed them with His hurricane,” she said.
    “God had nothing to do with it.”
    “Actually I agree with you, though for reasons quite different from yours.”
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 69)
  • “Another boyfriend?”
    “A character in one of my plays. Runkleberg’s my twentieth-century Abraham. One fine morning he’s out watering his roses, and he hears God’s voice telling him to sacrifice his son.”
    “Does he obey?”
    “His wife intervenes.”
    “How?”
    “She castrates him with his hedge clippers, and he bleeds to death.”
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 71)
  • She had long ago accepted the fact that, when it came to the affectations with which radical feminists liked to impoverish their minds—crystal therapy, neo-paganism, Wicca—her skepticism placed her emphatically in a minority.
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 72)
  • It was the most portentous mission since Saul of Tarsus has suffered an epileptic seizure and called it Christianity.
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 73)
  • Sweetie, if I’ve learned anything during my ten years at sea, it’s this. Never confuse your captain with God.
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 74)
  • A corpse was far too easy a thing to rationalize. Christianity had been doing it for two thousand years.
    • Chapter 4, “Dirge” (p. 91)
  • Say “rationalist” to the average New Age chucklehead, and you conjured up unappetizing images: killjoys obsessed with rules, boors fixated on order, logic-mongers skating around on the surface of things, missing the cosmic essence. Phooey. A rationalist could experience awe as readily as a shaman. But it had to be quality awe, Oliver believed, awe without illusions—the sort of awe he’d felt upon intuiting the size of the universe, or sensing the unlikeliness of his birth.
    • Chapter 5, “Teeth” (p. 109)
  • “I don’t see you at Mass anymore.”
    “It’s like fucking, Father. You gotta be up for it.”
    • Chapter 6, “Plague” (p. 137)
  • Life’s meaning doesn’t come from God! Life’s meaning comes from life!
    • Chapter 7, “Island” (p. 178)
  • That maxim, it’s not an argument against atheism—it’s an argument against foxholes.
    • Chapter 8, “Famine” (p. 213)
  • There’s nothing quite so pernicious as wishful thinking.
    • Chapter 11, “War” (p. 285)
  • Her audacity turned him on. There was nobody quite so arousing, he decided, as a worthy opponent.
    • Chapter 11, “War” (p. 298)
  • “I knew this guy one, a demac on the Amoco Cádiz, dying of bone cancer. You know what he said? ‘When they give you morphine like there’s no tomorrow, there isn’t.’”
    • Chapter 12, “Father” (p. 321)
  • Under the midnight sun, despair acquires the intensity of sex, insomnia the vehemence of art.
    • Chapter 12, “Father” (p. 337)

Blameless in Abaddon (1996)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Harcourt Brace ISBN 0-15-600505-0
  • On three occasions, Martin had wed a man to a man; twice, a woman to a woman. Although these same-sex unions scandalized many of his fellow Republicans, he performed them with equanimity, believing that the principle of laissez-faire should apply no less to the bedroom than to the marketplace.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 6)
  • Love does strange things to a man’s sense of proportion, which is why—contrary to rumor—it is by no means the Devil’s least favorite emotion.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 11)
  • But just because our Creator subcontracts evil out to me, we mustn’t neglect to notice the blood on His hands.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 12; spoken by the Devil)
  • I am the Father of Lies. Over the years, my children have done me proud. I shouldn’t play favorites, but I am especially pleased with “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Likewise, I shall always retain a soft spot in my heart for “Every cloud has a silver lining.” As for “Time heals all wounds” and “Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window”—they, too, make me gloat unconscionably.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 13; spoken by the Devil)
  • As usual, He underestimated the human potential for self-deception.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 28; spoken by the Devil)
  • Never underestimate the value of a falsehood, friends. Never doubt the power of a lie. Blessed are the mendacious, for they shall grow wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 42; spoken by the Devil)
  • “And what are you?”
    “Me? I knew God was dead even before the corpse showed up.”
    • Chapter 3 (p. 62)
  • “God is out of the loop,” said Martin...“He’s left the scene”—he grimaced, realizing what he was about to say—“of His crimes.”
    • Chapter 3 (p. 64)
  • That night Martin read the Book of Job for the first time in thirty years, discovering to his surprise it was a kind of courtroom drama, with the perverse twist that the Accused also functioned as Judge and Jury. Equally disturbing was the fact that when God went to make His case, He completely ignored Job’s main concern—justice—opting instead to intimidate him with the majesty of Creation: lions, whales, horses, hail, stars, and, ultimately, the unknowable monsters Behemoth and Leviathan.
    A rigged proceeding, yes, and yet Martin found it gripping. He was moved by both the force of Job’s bitterness and the caliber of his blasphemy.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 76)
  • In my protracted sojourn on this planet, Mr. Candle, I have come to value three commodities above all others: good books, decent claret, and worthy opponents.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 122)
  • For many citizens of the Western world, this situation proved, as you might imagine, troubling—especially in the United States, where reality has never enjoyed a great deal of prestige.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 129; spoken by the Devil)
  • I said my standard grace—“Dear Lord, we know You have good reasons for allowing thousands of children to starve in various undeveloped nations, and we thank You for concomitantly supplying our own table with these grossly superfluous portions, amen”—after which we all dug in.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 153; spoken by the Devil)
  • You should be talking to a doctor of theology, not a Father of Lies. The distinction is subtle but real.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 154; spoken by the Devil)
  • Don’t get testy with me, sir. I am Augustine of Hippo Regius, discoverer of concupiscence. Between my legs hangs the axis on which will turn the brave new world of Christian antieroticism.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 171)
  • “I cannot respect any theory of evil that so neatly immunizes itself against empirical disconfirmation,” said Gordon. “All theodicies requiring belief in an afterlife are manifestly begging the question.”
    • Chapter 7 (pp. 171-172)
  • “When an upright citizen hears his neighbor has met with an earthquake or a hurricane, he doesn’t stop to ask, ‘Is there a hidden harmony here?’ He rolls up his sleeves and tries to help.”
    “Exactly.” With an athleticism that defied his years, Noah regained his feet and climbed onto the long, taut mooring line. “If I learned one thing from the Deluge, Your Grace, it is this: a man who seals up his ark for the sake of a greater good is a man who has ceded his soul to chaos.” Slowly, cautiously, he tightrope-walked toward the rudderless vessel. “The hidden harmony defense is pornography, Bishop Augustine—pornography for priests!”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 190)
  • “It doesn’t derive from any sort of biology,” snapped Augustine. “It derives from sound reasoning and the Book of Genesis. ‘In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.’”
    “Through Adam’s shlong, our race went wrong,” replied Saperstein, jeering. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, but it just won’t wash, either scientifically or theologically.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 211)
  • I stand before you today not as your hypothetical descendant but as the ambassador of my kind. The statistics, as you may know, are appalling: two of us sloughed off for every six who make it into the world. In all of history, there was never a more prolific abortionist than God Almighty. Make sure the tribunal learns that fact.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 234)
  • He set down the paddle, lowered his head, and, as tears squirted from his eyes, began pondering the curious fact that in the entire Book of Job the sufferer never once lamented the loss of his children.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 236)
  • “He said we’d learn the answers!”
    “Life is full of disappointments.”
    “Here’s a question you can answer.” Beauchamp pointed to the INRI plaque. “That sign above your head—it’s in all the crucifixion paintings. I’ve always wondered, what does it mean?”
    “‘I’m Not Returning Immediately.’”
    • Chapter 10 (p. 248)
  • Asia gave us dowry deaths and the caste system. Africa elevated famine to an art form. North America cultivated chattel slavery for far longer than I would have dared hope; South America has done things with political oppression that I am obliged to call brilliant; Australia showed the world that the only good aborigine is a dead aborigine; and Antarctica has fabulous weather. Of all the continents that constitute Earth’s terrain, however, Europe remains dearest to my heart and closest to my soul.
    I allude here not to the sweatshops, the world wars, or totalitarian socialism (though none of these innovations has escaped my notice) but to the fact that the European imagination endowed me with a degree of glamour—you might even say charm—that in pre-coma times enabled me to function with extraordinary effectiveness. The concept of an Evil One is intrinsic to Islam, of course; the ancient Hebrews had their “adversary,” their satan; the Egyptians feared a dark deity called Set; Zoroastrians believed in Ahriman, essence of destruction (forever warring with Ohrmazd, source of all things bright and beautiful). But only in Christian Europe did the Prince of Hell acquire a personality as vivid and endearing as any you will meet in a Dickens novel.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 253; spoken by the Devil)
  • Although covetousness is not my only flaw, it seems to cause me more pain than all my other sins combined.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 255; spoken by the Devil)
  • If nothing else, their adventure had proved that God was not about to put science out of business.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 259)
  • “How’re you feeling?”
    “I highly recommend cancer. It’s worth it just for the drugs.”
    • Chapter 14 (p. 361)
  • “I’ve always wondered: are snake handlers in it for the religious ecstasy or merely for the ritualized masturbation?” asked Funkeldune.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 370)
  • To close the gap between jurisprudence and justice would require a canon of a hundred million laws.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 383)
  • Do you really think your terrestrial counterpart is living in the best of all possible worlds? Where I come from, an eighth grader would be ashamed to enter planet Earth in a junior high school science fair.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 387)
  • “I am what I am. I am Christ and Antichrist, God and Satan, Heaven and Hiroshima, Arcadia and Auschwitz.” Smiling devilishly, Sarkos lumbered up to Lovett. “Get it, fat boy? God is a duality. Dr. Jehovah and Mr. Hyde.” He lobbed the bottle cap into his mouth and chewed. “Allow me to tell you a bedtime story. It’s called ‘The Day the Gas Chambers Malfunctioned at Auschwitz.’ On second thought, why bother? You know the plot—the title gives it away—I’m surprised Braverman and Kelvin left it out of their overblown epic. Can you imagine how it feels to be a seven-year-old Jewish child, standing in line with hundreds of other Jewish children, waiting your turn to be thrown alive onto an open fire?” Swallowing the bottle cap, Sarkos swerved toward Martin. “Don’t you see? It’s the only solution that can possibly work. No other theory comes close. Of course God has a dark side. Not just dark—evil. Radically, radically evil.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 390; spoken by the Devil, named Jonathan Sarkos in the book)
  • “You aspired to be God’s advocate, you got the job, you performed admirably. But God’s advocate was ipso facto my advocate. Theodicy’s a sucker’s game, Professor. When Yahweh was operational, humanity’s obligation wasn’t to worship Him, for chrissakes. It was to celebrate His creativity and stand forevermore opposed to His malice. And anybody such as yourself, anybody who sought to shoehorn an omnibenevolent God into the same universe as Auschwitz...that person, Dr. Gregory Francis Lovett—that person did the Devil’s work for him.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 391; spoken by the Devil)
  • Bitterness is not a philosophy, friend. Outrage is not an ethic. Stop counting corpses and reach a truce with the universe, or you’ll be stuck on the dung heap forever.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 392)
  • “God was guilty. The best defense is the Manichaean heresy, which isn’t a defense at all, it’s—”
    “Never mind about that.”
    “—an indictment.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 394)
  • Much as I hate to admit it, humanity will get along perfectly well without me. Any species that could invent the twentieth century entirely on its own doesn’t need a Prince of Darkness.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 402; spoken by the Devil)

The Philosopher's Apprentice (2008)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Harper Perennial
  • With a rush of joy, I realized that this Darwinist stance would appeal neither to secular Marxists, for whom moral lessons lay exclusively within history’s brute curriculum, nor to evangelical Christians, for whom a naturalist ethics was a contradiction in terms, nor to middle-class mystics, who detested any argument smacking of biological determinism. A philosophical position that could simultaneously antagonize the collectivist left, the God-besotted right, and the Aquarian fringe must, I decided, have a lot going for it.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 4)
  • Late in my senior year, I went through a crisis of doubt when my provisional girlfriend, a willowy physics major named Morgan Piziks, informed me at the end of our fourth date that anybody seriously in the question “Why?” should look not to philosophy but to the physical sciences—to cosmology, quantum mechanics, molecular biology, and the periodic table of the elements.
    My mind went blank. Try as I might, I could contrive no riposte. I felt instinctively that Morgan’s claim enjoyed the nontrivial virtue of being true.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 8)
  • My spirits rose: I could see the photon at the end of the tunnel.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 43)
  • As Jean-Paul Sartre reminds us, in the case of human beings this metaphysic is reversed: a person’s existence precedes his essence—he is a subject among objects. The danger, says Sartre, following Heidegger, is that he will “fall” into the world of objects, becoming ever after the prisoner of arbitrary strictures masquerading as universal principles.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 47)
  • I know the God hypothesis has its partisans, but, oh, what a boring idea. Where did the universe come from? He did it. How do we account for rivers and rocks and ring-tailed lemurs? He made them. Ho-hum.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 108)
  • What really got under Londa’s skin, I soon learned, was not the Messiah’s sermon per se but the discontinuity between its sublime directives and the ignominious course of Western history, a spectacle that, the more we thought about it, increasingly struck Londa and me as largely a fancy-dress danse macabre, Titus Andronicus on a hemispheric and ultimately global scale, though I hastened to point out that the chronicles of other civilizations were likewise awash in blood. What had gone wrong? She wanted to know. When and why had the teachings of Jesus Christ become an optional component of Christianity?
    • Chapter 6 (pp. 128-129)
  • “Which alternative is worse, I wonder?” she said. “To deny death and thus risk never being wholly alive, or to face oblivion squarely and risk paralysis by dread?”
    “Nobody knows,” I said. “It’s ambiguous.”
    “If I ever get to be God,” she said, unleashing the grin of the person who’d invented Largesse, “my first act will be to make ambiguity illegal.”
    • Chapter 6 (pp. 134-135)
  • “Ah, yes, the spiritual realm.” In those days “spiritual” was my least favorite word. It still is.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 141)
  • Dexter Padula, a member of that ubiquitous academic breed, the professional graduate student, forever revising his dissertation while eyeing external reality with the anxious demeanor of a nursing infant struggling to imagine life beyond the tit.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 169)
  • Neither Dexter nor I knew the first thing about running a small business. We were entrepreneurs the way Abbott and Costello were watercolorists. And so naturally it came to pass that Pieces of Mind was a hands-down, thumbs-up, flat-out success.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 170)
  • The undergraduates lamented the high price of textbooks and the equally outrageous fact that they were expected to read them.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 171)
  • Fair are the daughters of men, and fairest are those who read. Is there any creature more desirable than a damsel in intellectual distress?
    • Chapter 8 (pp. 171-172)
  • Is there anything quite so ludicrous as two intellectuals grappling in a philosophy-department parking lot? Each of us wanted to pummel the other to a pulp, but neither knew how to go about it.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 215)
  • “It’s an old story, perhaps the oldest on earth,” Joan said. “The sky rumbles, the clouds congeal, the sun spasms. Is that a saint I see on high? An angel? The Lord God Jehovah himself? Now a holy voice booms down, instructing the poor prophet to grab a sword and thrust it into a fellow human, or perhaps a hundred fellow humans, or even a million if the cause is sufficiently sacred. The prophet never talks back. The tradition existed before me. It flourishes to this day. The sword, the blood, the freshly created corpses littering the battlefield, exuding the stink of epiphany.”
    • Chapter 10 (p. 243)
  • Many are the consolations of literature, and not the least such solace occurs when an annoyingly virtuous hero succumbs to carnal temptation.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 245)
  • Recent biblical exegesis by Anthem’s newest organization, Hermeneutics Unlimited, had established beyond doubt that Jesus Christ was adamantly opposed to universal health-care insurance, class-action lawsuits, and corporate whistleblowers. Several prominent postrationalist theologians had successfully exposed public education for the misguided Marxist boondoggle it was, while a majority in Congress now advocated replacing the secular school system with private academies committed to sparing children the bad news that Charles Darwin had brought back from the Galápagos Islands.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 292)
  • Those who can kill themselves do, and those who can’t, teach philosophy.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 295)
  • “Your disciples will expect something even grander from you. They’ll want you to become a deity.”
    She snickered and said, “I’m not ruling out that possibility.”
    “What sort of deity? A hamadryad? Plato’s demiurge? The Creator God of Judeo-Christian revelation?”
    “That job’s already taken,” she said.
    “But you could do it better,” I said.
    “When it comes to the physics, no, but in other areas—you’re right.”
    • Chapter 13 (pp. 304-305)
  • “The state flower of New Jersey is the common violet,” she explained, smirking, “the state bird is the eastern goldfinch, and the state fragrance is unrefined petroleum.”
    • Chapter 14 (p. 319)
  • I shall never cease to marvel at the clarity of stars when viewed from midocean, each as sharp and bright as the laser pointer God uses when lecturing the angels on evolution.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 333)
  • “A golden age, Londa calls it. She hopes it will return.”
    “Golden ages rarely return,” I said “especially if they never existed.”
    • Chapter 16 (p. 366)
  • “If Western Europe and the United States committed seven billion dollars annually to the cause of clean drinking water worldwide, that investment would save four thousand lives a day”...
    “Seven billion dollars. That’s less than what Europeans spend each year for perfume and Americans for cosmetic surgery. Before he went to the gallows, Enoch Anthem spoke often about Christ turning water into wine, but he never once implored Christendom to turn perfume into water.”
    • Chapter 16 (p. 368)
  • Imagine that a team of neuroscientists has just unveiled a technology that lets a person remove all trace of some terrible experience from his brain. Under what conditions, if any, would you use it? What might it be like to go through life knowing you’d once suffered an ordeal so dreadful that it demanded radical excision? How long could you endure this strange affirmative ignorance, this lost access to the unspeakable, without becoming neurotic, or even slightly mad? In the long run, might you not decide that such circumscribed amnesia was worse than whatever memory you’d felt compelled to erase?
    • Chapter 17 (p. 400)
  • The real reason Charles Darwin distresses people, I would argue, is not that he stumbled on an argument against theism. No, the problem was that he replaced theism—replaced it with a construct more beautiful and majestic than any account of the Supreme Being outside the Book of Job, a construct that invites us to see every variety of life, from aphids to archbishops, zygotes to zoologists, as vibrant threads in an epic tapestry, its warp and woof stretching across the eons and back to the Precambrian ooze, the seminal sea-vents, the primordial clay-pits, or wherever it all began. An astonishing construct, a mind-boggling construct, a construct of which Jehovah is understandably and insanely jealous.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 401)
  • What I love about fiction is the way this form of expression allows an author to wrestle an idea to the ground, as opposed to the bumper-sticker dialectics that pass for political and philosophical discourse in most sectors of our culture. In the age of mass communication, we need the quiet, contemplative and often ambiguous medium of the novel more than ever.
    • P. S. (p. 13)
  • I figure that, given our “thrownness,” as Heidegger called it, we should work hard to become as bewildered as possible by this strange state of affairs, asking the most impertinent and audacious questions we can imagine. To do otherwise—and instead hand over the mystery of it all to dubious cults of expertise—is to waste one’s life, I feel.
    • P. S. (p. 14)
  • I wish more English teachers helped their students engage the classics at the level of raw delight, instead of putting them on the scent of symbols. A novel is not a cryptogram.
    • P. S. (p. 15)

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