He never left.

God, that is. From your local bookstore shelves.

Last year, you heard a lot about atheism chic. Richard Dawkins continued to pummel him in

The God Delusion

. Sam Harris tried talking him away in

The End of Faith

. Christopher Hitchens ascended to best-sellerdom with

God Is Not Great

.

Well, maybe he's not, but he

is

eternal - at least when you're on the receiving end of the book publishing business. And it's not just because store managers are rushing G-word books out to display as his vicar - or one of them - visits America this week.

We're not jabbering just about weighty tomes, though a good Scholastic could argue that any book about God must be weighty, just as he must be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.

Consider, for instance, a book destined to be sold next to the cash register,

God Made Easy

(Cider Mill Press, $6.95) by Patrice Kart, an inspirational speaker who lives on the beach in L.A. Let's work our way up the staircase of God books from there.

"On the morning of November 11, 1995," its flap copy says, "Patrice Kart woke from a deep sleep with the title

God Made Easy

. From this divinely inspired beginning comes a magical little book to help you experience God as God truly is: everywhere, eager to listen, willing to answer,

and there for us all

."

Makes you wonder whether God has any flaws. Though that same good Scholastic might remind us that if he has any, he can't be God.

Kart's God certainly sounds friendly: "He doesn't even mind if you scream at Him," she advises, because he has "no ego."

Wait - is that a lack that makes him not God???

No matter. Unless thoughts like this one on "Food" grab you - "There has got to be something pretty wonderful in charge of things that grow out of dirt that taste that good" - take one step upward to Amoda Maa Jeevan's

How to Find God in Everything

(Watkins, $14.95).

Jeevan, a spiritual teacher, guides one into the pros and cons of working in this genre. "I was sent a letter not long ago," she writes, "by someone who demanded I take God out of the title of my book because it would put off too many readers . . . ."

"But whenever I have shied away from using the God word I have received clear nudges from Existence to stop pussyfooting around and brave the storm."

You didn't know there was a literary agent named Existence?

Jeevan also divulges the extra help available in this area. She confides: "And let us remember that we do not need to look for God. God is

right here

, writing this book . . . and reading it."

As one moves away from bookstore cash registers and up the celestial staircase, the quality improves.

Take, for instance,

In God's Name

, by Jules and Gedeon Naudet (National Geographic, $28). In line with its publisher's top-notch graphic values,

In God's Name

presents gorgeous photo ensembles of some of the world's spiritual leaders, among them Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Michihisa Kitashirakawa, high priest of the Shinto Grand Shrine of Ise.

With the photos come messages and thoughts by the leaders on God and his presence. ("He came into my heart as a nine-year-old boy," says Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, "and he lives at the center of my heart now.")

This is the foolproof ecumenical gift book.

Winding higher toward heaven, we find books that present meaningful, albeit unofficial, discussion of God. Of these, the most satisfying is

Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine

(Continuum, $24.95), by Val Webb, an Australian theological scholar.

Like Catching Water

ranges over the writings of Sufis, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Christians, even into the traditions of aboriginals, to explore Webb's "ongoing theme," the "metaphorical nature of anything said about the Divine." It's chock-full of lovely tidbits:

A Pacific island chief was being bullied by a missionary about his beliefs.

"Have you, my dear, no coneception of a deity?"

The chief replied: "We know that at night-time someone goes by amongst the trees, but we never speak of it."

Closer to home, consider two different accounts of God chat. One is

God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency From John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush

(HarperOne, $24.95), by Randall Balmer, a Barnard College professor of American religious history.

Balmer expertly traces our peculiar American desire for presidents who believe in God but keep church and state separate. Balmer's own guiding principle - that religion "functions best from the margins of society, not in the councils of power" - emerges from acute insights on religion

in

those councils.

Every journalist on the presidential campaign should read

God in the White House

. Ditto for every voter.

But perhaps you prefer the thoughts of people too creative and glitzy to get to the White House, except as guests. In that case, turn to

Do You Believe?

(Vintage, $12.95), interviews on God and religion with artists and writers gathered by Antonio Monda, a well-known New York City arts impresario.

Saul Bellow gives the shortest answer to "Do you believe in God?" ("Yes.") Poet Derek Walcott still thinks of an old bearded white man. Novelist Michael Cunningham says any person "who believes in anything other than shopping is a hero." Jane Fonda declares her passion for the Apocryphal Gospels.

A lively time is guaranteed.

Finally, near the top of the stairs - we'll leave the very top steps to sacred texts - come those polemics that just can't stop fussing over whether or not he exists.

In this corner, we have the new edition of

God: The Failed Hypothesis

(Prome-theus, $17.95) by Victor Stenger, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Hawaii, and

Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up

(Hill & Wang, $20), by Temple professor John Allen Paulos.

In that corner,

The Reason for God

(Dutton, $24.95), by Timothy Keller, pastor of New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

It doesn't seem fair, two against one. On the other hand, Keller has God on his side. Go figure. And read.

What you won't find on any local shelves is a book denying the existence of God books. They are with us always, even unto the end of time.

Contact book critic Carlin Romano at 215-854-5615 or cromano@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http:// go.philly.com/carlinromano.