City of God


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CITY OF GOD begins in mystery: the large brass cross behind the altar of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in lower Manhattan has disappeared ... and even more mysteriously reappeared on the roof of the Synagogue for Evolutionary Judaism on the Upper West Side. The church's maverick rector and young rabbinical couple who lead the synagogue set about attempting to learn who the vandals are who have committed this strange double act of desecration and to what purpose, but their joint clerical investigation only deepens the ...

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May 28, 2017

God In New York City

The late E.L, Doctorow's turn-of-the century novel "City of God" explores the nature of religious faith for those for whom traditional forms of religion have become difficult or lost their meaning. The book straddles the line drawn by some people between religion (in the sense of devotion to a traditional creed) and spirituality (a personal devotion to the transcendent separate from any church or group.) The predominant form of religion in the book is Judaism, but it is very evolutionist, modernistic, and personal, in many respects, and definitely not tied to the texts and practices of traditional Judaism.

The book is modernistic and episodic in tone with three principal voices: a journalist who seems to be a figure for at least some of the author, a lapsed Episcopalian priest, and a woman rabbi of the Synagogue for Evolutionary Judaism. The three are drawn together by the theft of a cross from the Church and its mysterious appearance at the Synagogue. The "mystery" is dropped but it is mostly a vehicle to discuss the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, another theme of this complex book.

There are long chillingly written scenes of the Holocaust which forms a backdrop to at least some of the thought and action of the principal characters. Also, important discussions of the philosopher Wittgenstein, which I found very apropos to the spiritual questing theme of the book, contemporary physics, the big bang theory, and popular song and film.

Doctorow has New York City in his bones and the large secular city is artfully drawn. In fact, one of the main themes of the book is the secular city (to steal a title from Harvey Cox's book of many years ago) and of a secular America with its own Civil Religion. Contrary to what I remember of Doctorow from earlier books, such as The Book of Daniel, Doctorow appears to me to cherish the city and America in their very variety and secularity for the purposes of spiritual growth and questioning that they afford. A wonderful development from the America-bashing of the 1960s.

The book also shows song and poetry, (in the line of Whitman, Reznikoff, Ginsberg, W.C Williams) as components of a spiritual journey towards self-understanding.

As befitting a book with a title from St. Augustine, the book explores questions of original sin, the nature and possibility of immortality and religious change. It shows the continual struggle of people with religious questions and, importantly, suggests an evolving religion, not necessarily bound to the forms of the past.

The book does not give answers but provokes questions and is an antidote to all-pervasive smugness or indifference.

Doctorow's "City of God" is a valuable book for those who want to think about religion and spiritual issues or to see why people think about them. Although difficult to read, the effort will be rewarded.

Robin Friedman

Joan C

May 12, 2011


Not an easy read, but well worth sticking with it for views on religion, politics, and more. Less a novel than a series of philosophical essays, but still suspenseful.


Feb 4, 2010

Good book shopping experience

The book was in great condition as the seller advertised.

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