By Raymond Khoury
Center Point Large Print, 2009, 653 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - September 3, 2009
This is Raymond Khoury's third book, following The Sanctuary and The Last Templar. He writes about age-old religious mysteries that become significant suddenly in modern times.
The Sign is a tale of the unexpected and seemingly supernatural appearance of a very large shimmering sphere of light hovering in the sky in Antarctica where ice is breaking up and melting because of global warming. Is this a sign from God to warn foolish humans that they need to change their behavior before they destroy the world? It certainly seems so, and most people are convinced that it is; after all, there is no scientific explanation for the sphere.
There is support for this conclusion. One of the world's most recognized holy men disappeared in the desert for months and then resurfaced drawing pictures of the sphere before it appeared. The holy man is confused about his time in the desert, but he is certain that he is hearing a voice that confirms the divine origin of the sphere.
People are disturbed and many try to find a solution to the mystery. The book focuses on two of the people. One is a TV reporter, Gracie, who wants to obtain get an exciting story that will make her career. The second is Matt, with a somewhat bad past. Matt discovers that his brother, a scientist, who he thought was dead for the past two years, may be alive. Is his brother involved in the sphere? Is he doing so willingly? If the sphere is not from God, who made it? How and why was it made? If the sphere was sent by God, what God sent it? Was it a Christian God, and, if so, of what denomination?
Like all good works of fiction, The Sign has several plots. The principle plots, of course, are the two independent quests by Gracie and Matt. But the reaction of people to the sign is another interesting one, one that is worthwhile considering carefully.
A 2008 Pew survey found that the number of Americans that do not believe in God has doubled since 1990. Yet the United States has a higher percentage of believers in God than most other nations. And about seventy percent of Americans believe that demons are affecting their lives.
Is belief in God good for society? Curiously, scientists have found that people who believe in God are more prone to violence, such as murder and robbery, than non-believers. Also, it is well-known, that all-to-many wars have been fought and all-to-many people have been killed because of religion.
Now, in this tale, how will people act when they see or hear about the sign? As can be expected, most of the people in the novel are certain that God is communicating with them. Will people become more religious? How does the sphere affect their particular denominational belief? How does it affect their attitude to people of other faiths? Will they act rationally?
Americans, Khoury has a character say, "elect any bumbling fool, any champion of mediocrity to the highest office in the land as long as they have God as their running mate. We'll hand them responsibility for everything – the food we eat, the homes we live in, the air we breathe – we'll give them the power to nuke other countries and destroy the planet, even when they can't pronounce the word 'nuclear' properly. And we'll do that proudly and with no hesitation at all just as long as they say the magic words: that they believe…. We've got presidents making policy decisions based on faith, not reason."
Describing how people intoxicated by God filled a stadium, listened to the holy man from the desert and saw the reappearance of the sign, Gracie says:
"They were loving it. They loved believing in him. They were lifted by it. I know, it's primitive and it's cultish and it's even a bit creepy, but somehow, some part of me thought it was beautiful. For a moment there, they were happy. They'd forgotten about their problems and their jobs and their mortgages and everything that was wrong in their lives. They were happy and they were hopeful. He gave them all hope."
"'False hope,' Matt corrected."
This is one issue to ponder when one reads this fine novel.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of a series of books on Maimonides, a twelfth century rational philosopher, and the co-author of a series of books on Targum Onkelos, the earliest existing translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both are published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.