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by Pete Hautman

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"Why mess around with Catholicism when you can have your own customized religion?"
Fed up with his parents' boring old religion, agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason Bock invents a new god -- the town's water tower. He recruits an unlikely group of worshippers: his snail-farming best friend, Shin, cute-as-a-button (whatever that means) Magda Price, and the violent and


"Why mess around with Catholicism when you can have your own customized religion?"
Fed up with his parents' boring old religion, agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason Bock invents a new god -- the town's water tower. He recruits an unlikely group of worshippers: his snail-farming best friend, Shin, cute-as-a-button (whatever that means) Magda Price, and the violent and unpredictable Henry Stagg. As their religion grows, it takes on a life of its own. While Jason struggles to keep the faith pure, Shin obsesses over writing their bible, and the explosive Henry schemes to make the new faith even more exciting -- and dangerous.
When the Chutengodians hold their first ceremony high atop the dome of the water tower, things quickly go from merely dangerous to terrifying and deadly. Jason soon realizes that inventing a religion is a lot easier than controlling it, but control it he must, before his creation destroys both his friends and himself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
PW called this novel, in which a rebellious high schooler starts his own church, the Chutengodians, who worship the "Ten-legged God" their town's water tower, "provocative." Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Jason Bock is not exactly searching for the sacred. He is coping with having been flattened by Henry Stegg, while looking under the water tower for snails for his friend Shin's evolving science project. On his back, staring up at the orb overhead, a simple truth floods Jason's brain—"Water is life." In the face of the Teen Power Outreach program his anxious father has cornered him into, Jason finds himself inventing a new religion—the Church of the Ten-Legged God. Hautman captures a convincing teenaged anti-logic that is as wacky as it is charming. Shin provides a different energy altogether, grounded in weighty calculation and a penchant for philosophical riffs on Genesis, both of which culminate in a far darker outcome than Jason could ever have predicted. As up becomes down, Henry moves from stereotypical bully to reckless collaborator, and the numbers of the faithful grow unexpectedly. All this greatly increases the complexity of Jason's social life, until his lies of expediency and their consequences threaten to bring far more than his credibility crashing down. Hautman takes his ragtag cast of characters from humor to the brink of disaster, raising some water tower-sized questions in the process. The subplot of Jason's relationship with his father is resolved in a realistic enough manner, but the real strength of this novel lies in Hautman's sympathetic rendering of the everyday anarchy of adolescence. 2004, Simon and Schuster, Ages 12 up.
—Uma Krishnaswami
Agnostic and soon to be atheist, Jason Bock is bored with Catholicism and especially with the Teen Power Outreach discussion group. At one of the weekly meetings, hoping to shock group leader "Just Al" Anderson and to impress any cute girls in attendance, Jason announces that he does not believe in God. He now worships the Ten-legged One, a deity that just happens to be the town water tower. Jason founds a new religion, the Church of the Ten-legged God, and half seriously, half mockingly begins proselytizing for his new faith. Among his friends and acquaintances, Jason finds an unlikely group of recruits to his new faith. Dubbing themselves the Chutengodians, Jason, perky Magda, stolid Dan, eccentric Shinn, and violent Henry soon find that ideas, especially religious ones, can take on lives of their own. As Jason struggles to keep his new religion pure, Shinn labors over writing the Chutengodian bible, and Henry plots ways to make the cult exciting-and dangerous. Jason learns that it might be easier to create a religion than to control it, especially when the group holds its first ceremony atop the water tower, an act that has dangerous consequences. Suddenly the Church of the Ten-legged God is a deadly and terrifying cult. Readers will find Jason's first-person narrative compelling and provocative. Although Hautman chooses an atypical subject for a young adult book, he succeeds in creating a flawlessly paced and painfully realistic tale of the power and influence of religion. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Simon & Schuster, 208p.,Ages 12 to 18.
—Jamie S. Hansen
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2004: The main character in Godless is a 15-year-old boy named Jason Bock, a smart and smart-alecky only child who is driving his parents crazy. Jason is a bit of a geek, whose best friend Shin is even geekier, if possible; but the two are brilliant. They have spent many hours since they met designing graphic novels and pursuing strange obsessions, so their idea of starting a new religion doesn't come completely out of the blue. Jason, however, sees their new religion as a satirical poke at Catholicism, and about as meaningless as he has decided Catholicism is. (Beware Jason's comments about certain aspects of Catholicism; for instance, his remark that if you buy the belief in transubstantiation, then the communion wafer is "a sliver of Jesus meat.") The adventures that Jason and Shin start in motion with their new religion are the stuff that will get YAs' attention. The basic tenet of their faith is that water is the most important part of life on earth and they will worship the town's water tower—"The Ten-Legged One." This involves midnight excursions to the tower and climbing the tower, which interests several other teenagers who become members of the faith. They egg one another on to more dangerous activities, one involving a strange baptism ceremony swimming in the million-gallon tank of water at the top of the tower. Eventually there is an accident, their "crimes" are discovered, and there is one result no one could have predicted: Shin has to be hospitalized because he starts to really believe in this new religion and is losing touch with reality. Inventive, frequently funny and sometimes scary, this YA novel has a lotto offer readers. Note: Godless is an ALA Best Book for YAs, and it is a winner of the National Book Award. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Simon & Schuster, 198p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Jason is a smart 15-year-old, an agnostic-leaning-toward-atheism, who resists following in the footsteps of his devoutly Catholic father. Getting clocked under the water tower by the nasty and unpredictable Henry leads Jason and his friend Shin to combine their talents to posit a new religion. "Chutengodianism" sanctifies water, the source of all life, as manifested by the Ten-Legged God, aka that same million-gallon water tower. Creating the creed on the fly, Jason soon gathers a handful of acolytes, including his former nemesis. Their midnight pilgrimage to the top of the tower for worship transmutes into an impromptu baptism when Henry hacksaws through the padlock. Their swim rouses sexy thoughts about Magda, stripped to her panties and bra, balanced soon after by panic when it seems they might be trapped. Regaining the top of the tank, Henry slips and sustains severe injuries crashing onto a catwalk below. Fortunately for him, the authorities have already arrived. The Church is busted and the faithful face new trials and temptations. These are fun, wacky, interesting characters. While chuckling aloud may be common in the early chapters, serious issues dominate the latter stages of the book. The rivalry between Jason and Henry for the attentions of Magda, Jason's unrepentant certainty that doing what he sees as right is more important than following his parents' rules, and Shin's apparent continued belief in the tenets he helped create are thought-provoking and disturbing. Jason is left to ponder the meaning of a religion that has only himself as a member.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason's mother is a hypochondriac, his father is religious, and best friend Shin is a snail-collecting freak. Bored in his parent-mandated Catholic teen group, Jason creates Chutengodianism: the Church of the Ten-legged God, worshipers of the town water tower. Jason is Founder and Head Kahuna of his joke religion, Shin is First Keeper of the Sacred Text, and friends Dan and Magda are recruited as disciples. Amusing at first, their mini-cult goes sour when Jason invites thuggish Henry-who knows how to climb the water tower-to join the Chutengodians. Shin sulks, and Henry leads a dangerous midnight swim in the water tower that results in injury, police discovery, and punishment. Now Jason is grounded for life, Dan and Magda won't speak to him, and Henry and his bullying cohorts have co-opted Chutengodianism and made it crass. Worse, Shin seems dangerously unhinged-is he taking Chutengodianism seriously? Jason's explorations of faith, belief, and religion, told in a compelling and imaginative voice, will leave him a solitary, ostracized prophet. Thought-provoking and unique. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"Thought provoking and unique."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Anyone who has questioned his or her religion, especially as a teenager, will respond to Jason's struggles with belief."
Booklist, starred review

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
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12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the beginning was the Ocean. And the Ocean was alone.

Getting punched hard in the face is a singular experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a little too cocky, obnoxious, or insensitive. I also recommend it to people who think they're smart enough to avoid getting punched in the face by the likes of Henry Stagg.

I was all those things the day Shin (real name: Peter Stephen Schinner) and I ran into Henry beneath the water tower. Henry was in the company of three lesser juvenile delinquents — Mitch Cosmo, Marsh Andrews, and Bobby Something-or-Other. None of the four were particularly dangerous one-on-one, but in a pack? That was different.

"Hey, Henry, how's it going?" I said, striving for the sort of gruff heartiness I imagined he might respect.

"Who's that? Is that Jay-boy and Schinner?" Henry squinted ferociously, his face scrunched into a hard little knot. He was wearing his usual getup: beat-up cowboy boots, jeans, and a black T-shirt. "What're you guys doing here?"

"Just hangin' out," I said. I wasn't about to tell Henry what we were really doing there.

"With each other? You guys must be desperate," he said. Then he laughed. Bobby, Mitch, and Marsh all laughed too. The three stooges. Watching Henry as if he were the most fascinating thing they'd ever seen.

I have to admit, Henry Stagg is an interesting specimen. He's only about five-foot-five and scrawny as a wild cat, but Henry has presence. He's twitchy, cobra-quick, and wound up so tight you just know something has to give. Henry has a history of sudden, unprovoked violence. That makes him both dangerous and exciting company. Fortunately — or so I thought — Henry and I had always gotten along just fine. That might have had something to do with the fact that I'm twice his size. Also, I figured I could outthink him any day of the week.

"Could be worse," I said. "We could be hanging out with you guys." I laughed to make sure he knew I was kidding, which I wasn't.

Henry gave me a neutral scowl. "So how come you're hangin' out here?"

"We're working on a science project," Shin said in his Shinny voice. I groaned silently. I've gotten used to Shin's somewhat high-pitched, nasal voice, but it sends a guy like Henry right up the wall.

"A science project?" Henry said, lifting his voice to a quavering falsetto. "I thought fags were only interested in hairdressing and ballet."

"I'm not a fag," Shin said, his voice rising even higher. And I thought, Uh-oh.

"Not a fag?" Henry piped, raising his arms to display his knobby hands hanging slack from the ends of his wrists.

Shin, realizing that he was headed for trouble, crossed his arms over his notebook and went into his shell. More about that later. Henry capered in front of him, hopping from toe to toe, chanting, "I'm not a fag I'm not a fag I'm not a fag..." Shin just stood frozen, staring at the ground. Henry dropped his arms and walked up to him and stuck his face a few inches from Shin's and shouted, "Anybody home?"

Shin said nothing. Henry's jaw muscles flexed and the veins on his neck throbbed. Shin didn't even blink. When he went into his shell you couldn't pry him out if you stuck a firecracker in his ear. Not until he was ready.

arHenry looked at me. "What's the matter with him?"

"Nothing," I said.

"Hit him," said Bobby. "Give him one."

The stooges laughed as if Bobby had said something witty.

Henry glared at them. Beneath it all, Henry had his rules. It wasn't his style to hit someone who was, say, unconscious. He wouldn't beat up a little kid, or an old lady — at least not without just cause. And he could sense that Shin, in his shell, was just as helpless.

"Push him over," Marsh suggested. "See if he, like, tips."

Henry put his palm against Shin's chest and gave a little test shove. Shin teetered, but his internal gyroscope kept him erect. Henry realized that a more aggressive push would topple Shin, but he decided not to do it.

"What's the matter with him?" Henry asked me again.

"He just gets that way sometimes."

Marsh said, "He must be, like, some kinda, like, freak."

"He's not a freak," I said, knowing that Shin was hearing everything.

Henry shifted his attention to me.

"You guys are both freaks. Look at you. How much do you weigh?"

"One ninety-four," I said, taking my standard thirty-pound deduction.

"I bet you weigh two hundred and fifty. You're huge."

I wanted to say something like, To a Munchkin like you, everybody must look huge. But I just looked back at him.

Then my head exploded.

At least that's what it felt like. I never saw the blow coming. His fist took me high on my left cheek, and the next instant I was laid out flat, wet grass soaking my back, staring up past Henry Stagg's florid knot of a face at the belly of the water tower, silver against blue sky. In the background I could hear the three stooges laughing, and I could taste blood where Henry's hard knuckles had smashed my cheek against my teeth, but mostly I was looking up at that enormous silver tank.

"It felt like an earthquake when you hit," Henry said, leaning over me. He was smiling happily, his face as relaxed as I'd ever seen it. Somehow I knew that he would not hit me again, at least not on that particular day. Whatever demon had been controlling him was temporarily sedated. We were safe.

But I have to explain myself. I have to explain why I didn't jump to my feet and pound the little creep into the ground. You might think it was because he had his friends to back him up, but that wasn't it. I'm not even sure they'd have done anything. The three stooges were bored and stupid and all they wanted was a little jolt of adrenaline. It didn't matter to them who got beat up — me, Henry, Shin, or any one of them.

The real reason I didn't jump all over Henry is quite simple, and I'm not ashamed to admit it: He scares the crap out of me.

I outweigh Henry Stagg by a good eighty pounds, I'm six inches taller, I'm coordinated, and I'm fast. I can grab a fly out of midair. I could take a guy like Henry any day of the week. But Henry has something I don't have.

Henry doesn't care what happens to Henry.

And that is why he can punch me in the face and get away with it.

Staring up at him, I could see it in his eyes. Henry didn't care. I could have thrown him against the tower's steel pillar and beat his head to a bloody pulp and that would have been okay with Henry. He'd just keep on swinging those hard, knobby fists, laying on the cuts and bruises and pain until I beat him unconscious, and he wouldn't care one bit. But I would. I'd care a lot. And that was Henry's power.

I respect power. Even in the hands of such as Henry Stagg.

Say you were walking down the street at night and you ran into me and Shin. Here is what you would see: two figures, dark and menacing. One is large-bodied, hulking, and neckless. That would be me. The other is thin, loose-jointed, with hair sticking out in every direction. That's Shin. If you are extremely observant, you will notice that Shin and I are the same height. Most people think I am taller, but I'm not. I'm just bigger.

Look closer now, as we come into the cone of light cast by a streetlamp. Shin is the one with the long fingers wrapped around a spiral-bound, nine-by-twelve-inch sketchbook. He is never without it. I'm the one with fat lips, freckles, and twelve dark hairs growing between my eyebrows. Like I'm half ape. Do you know who Orson Welles is? I look a little like Orson Welles. If you don't know who he is, then, never mind. Just think of me as the big, fat, pouty one.

We met in a computer workshop when we were ten years old. I was the smartest kid there, and Shin was the second smartest. That's according to a formula I devised based on knowledge of X-Men trivia, Game Boy performance, and the ability to lie with a straight face to the teachers. I was better at lying and X-Men, but Shin could out-game me.

Shin and I collaborated on a comic book that summer. We called it Void. It was about a bunch of guys fighting aliens on a planet where all the buildings were intelligent and all the plants had teeth. I drew the people, aliens, and plants. Shin would draw the buildings, machines, and cyborgs. My drawings were always full of drama and action; Shin was into the details.

Inevitably, we became best friends.

There are times, though, when I wish Shin was not who he is. His interest in invertebrates, for instance, can be embarrassing at times.

The day Henry Stagg flattened me beneath the water tower we were hunting snails, or "pods," as Shin likes to call them. That's short for gastropods, which is what you call slugs and snails if you are a science nerd like Shin. He had built himself a terrarium — he calls it a gastropodarium — and was looking to populate it with an assortment of slimers.

In case you're wondering, the reason we were looking for snails under the water tower (instead of someplace else) was because snails like moisture. It had been a dry summer, and the ground beneath the tower is always moist from the dripping tank. It wasn't really a science project. Shin just said that because he thinks science is sacred. He invokes science as if it were the name of God. Like it should be sacred to Henry, too.

Everything makes sense once you understand it.

Anyway, I was just glad that we'd run into Henry before we found any snails. That would have been bad. Henry probably would have made Shin eat them. Escargot, sushi style.

The reason I'm going on about Henry Stagg and snails is because that particular incident was a turning point in my life — one of those magic moments where suddenly the way you see the world changes forever. That's the other reason I didn't jump up and pound the crap out of the little monkey: I was busy having a religious experience.

I was flat on my back looking up past Henry at the silver, dripping bottom of the water tower tank, my head still scrambled, when it hit me just how important that tower was to St. Andrew Valley. It was the biggest thing in town. Water from that tower was piped to every home and business for miles around. The water connected all of us. It kept us alive.

That was when I came up with the idea of the water tower being God.

"Water is Life," I said, staring up at its silver magnificence.

Henry, shaking his head, walked away, saying, "You guys are both whacko."

Copyright © 2004 by Pete Hautman

Meet the Author

Pete Hautman is the author of Godless, which won the National Book Award, and many other critically acclaimed books for teens and adults, including Blank Confession, All-In, Rash, No Limit, Invisible, and Mr. Was, which was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Pete lives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Visit him at PeteHautman.com.

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Godless 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
There is a reason that GODLESS won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and I don't believe it's because author Pete Hautman wrote a book he intended to be satire, as other reviews have suggested. To me, GODLESS is the epitome of everything that is both bad and good about organized religion--it is, in effect, an entreaty to the leaders of religions around the world to look at how blind faith funds their coffers.

Yes, maybe I'm reading more into the book than the author intended. If so, I can only hope that he appreciates the fact that I've obviously thought about the words he wrote long after they were published, and that he'd be happy about that fact. Now, though, on to the story...

Fifteen-year old Jason Bock is an agnostic ("I'll believe in God when I see Him") bordering on being an atheist ("There is no God"). His mother is obsessed over his health, coming up weekly with a new ailment that he just has to be suffering from. His father, though, is more concerned with his son's soul. That's why Jason, regardless of his personal beliefs, finds himself attending weekly Sunday Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd, and even occasionally joins in at Thursday night TPO (Teen Power Outreach) meetings. The fact that he's ordered to attend the meetings more frequently when he's in trouble doesn't escape his notice.

Until one day, agnostic slash atheist Jason wonders what would happen if he started his own religion. Along with his best friend, Shin, fellow TPO attendee Magda, preacher's son Dan, and town rebel Henry, Jason creates the Chutengodians, a religion who worships the Ten-Legged One. That the Ten-Legged One is the town's water tower doesn't seem to deter them.

I know what you're thinking--who in their right mind would worship a water tower, even if they are teenagers? The answer, of course, is pretty simple. Why do people worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Why are there Buddhists, Muslims, Scientologists, Mormons, Protestants, or Latter Day Saints? Why does anyone worship anything? They do it because someone came up with their own ideas, made up some rules, implemented some commandments, created posts of leadership, and recruited parishioners.

Jason does the same, with some of the same consequences other organized religions have faced over the centuries--infighting, backstabbing, persecution, and doubts. When one Chutengodian almost ends up dead in an accident, and another seems determined to take his own life, and the others doubt the wisdom of associating with the creator of their religion, things start to fall apart. Sounds to me a lot like what happens in most "normal" organized religions found throughout the world today.

GODLESS is, without a doubt, one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone searching for their own truths, regarding not only religion but finding your sense of self. You won't be disappointed--I know I wasn't.
Wrath-kun More than 1 year ago
A quick and enjoyable read that gets you thinking.
JimRGill2012 12 months ago
In *Godless*, Pete Hautman sets out to examine an issue that is largely neglected among many YA novels—faith, religion, and the role of spirituality in the lives of adolescents. What works in this novel—but especially what does not work—illustrates the difficulty of writing entertaining and meaningful YA fiction about this subject. Jason Bock, the teenaged protagonist, is a rather unlikeable guy. Sarcastic to the point of obnoxiousness, relatively friendless, physically large (he describes himself as “large-bodied, hulking, and neckless”), and without any genuine interests or ambition, Jason—bored with the summer break from school—chooses to entertain himself by founding his very own religion. Rather than coming to this decision as the result of some sort of enlightening or relatable soul-searching or even as the result of a profound epiphany of some kind, Jason comes up with the idea of worshipping his town’s water tower after he’s decked by a punch from Henry Stagg, the town bully. Without going into great detail about the rather uninspired plot, suffice it to say that Jason’s religion—founded on quite a flimsy notion to begin with—spirals out of his control, devolves into a source of his nerdy friend Shin’s neurotic self-doubt, and sets the stage for a sparsely developed love triangle among Jason, Henry, and Magda, the lone female member of Jason’s budding religion. An ill-advised adventure results in an injury for one of the characters, another character suffers a nervous breakdown of sorts, and Jason briefly considers the value of religious belief as a source of strength and motivation. As the story of Jason’s inability to identify why he feels so disillusioned and pessimistic about his desultory and pedestrian adolescent life, *Godless* works well. As a story that examines the purpose of faith, religion, and spirituality in the lives of adolescents—and why it’s imperative that teens question and examine these issues on their own rather than simply aping the beliefs of their parents and other adults—*Godless* falls short of the mark.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I ave adopted chutengodianism as my religion. I read this book as much as i can and i love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If your looking for a great book read this it gies by quick i read it in one class period its worth the read
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book and it was a little hard for me to put down.
CoryW More than 1 year ago
This book starts off really cool, with the main character creating his own religion and other kids joining and stuff, but then it doesn't go anywhere. It stalls out about halfway through, and the character doesn't really learn much by the end, and neither do you. I totally recommend The Atheist's Church over this book any day.
JP22 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most interesting books I have ever read!!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i absolutely loved it!!!!! it was funny, thought provoking and exciting! i totaly agree with everything hautman says!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pete Hautman's sense of humor is great. My friends and I have the same imagination and the idea is just funny. Note: this book isn't suppossed to be read with all out seriousness but to joke about it and just enjoy the creativity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel had one exciting part. I felt like most of this book was building up and concluding the ten pages of action. The idea of the book to begin with is crazy, and how obsessed the kids in the novel became with the crazy idea in the first place just makes it even worse. I mean to the point where kids are breaking bones and getting in trouble with the police, just to visit the water tower, or their made up 'god', just doesn't sound reasonable. The coming together of the characters is somewhat interesting though, just because they are so different from one another, but the fact that they all betray each other in the end and break apart ruins that. Overall this book wasn't worth my time, I don't suggest it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pete Hautman has officially become my favorite author besides Anne Rice. In Goddless he takes a look at what it's like to doubt your faith. Through the eyes of his main charecter, he gives us a reason to question that which seems as solid as your religion,in a way that keeps you turning pages. Every book i've read by him has been a triumph and Godless is no exception, I simply couldn't put it down. If you enjoy a story with a seriouse meaning that doesnt take itself to seriously, then you have to read this book.