I’ve started a special page for this topic here.
“The Discworld, being a flat disc supported on the backs of four elephants on top of a giant flying turtle, exists in a region of the universe where reality is somewhat less consistent than it appears in our own, more mundane corner of existence. Because reality on the Disc is so fragile and malleable, belief has a tendency to take on a life of its own, and Gods are far more obvious to the people of the Disc than they appear to us.”
Terry Pratchets discworld series is strongly atheistic and humanist despite the factual existence of gods within it. The various gods are used as metaphors for both powerful human beings as well as for organised religion in general. This is best shown in lifecycle of gods who exist as powerless microscopic spirits who are strengthened by human imagination that allows them to transform into ancient Greek-style gods. If they are forgotten the gods shrivel back to their former state, resulting in the gods needing human worship to stay alive. This means that the gods function as a metaphor for organised religion.
Throughout the entire series of books there is a general themes that the various gods are nuisance. No intelligent characters are shown worshipping them or tacking them seriously. They habitual drop lighting bolts on people who deny their existence or overly reject them. Their are offhand reference to gods in the past ordering their followers to commit genocde of unbelievers or starting holy wars to spread the faith.
When the Gods are shown onscreen they are no better. The powerful gods are depicted living on mount Dunmanifesting (like Mount Olympus) where they entertain themselves by treating the mundane world as giant board game where humans are simply game pieces and props. The lesser gods are obsessed with their own morality and obtaining power, committing atrocities in order to gain become safe. All gods shown are utterly amoral, caring nothing about the lives of other lesser beings.
This critique is so effective because it is based in exaggerating real religious ideas of gods. The major ones shown are taking the metaphors of gods as high status human to its logical conclusion, showing that power causes corruption and amorality. The gods are far too human, performing miracles only to compete with one another for power/status and doing nothing to improve the world below them (Theodicy).
On a more religious friendly note, while faith is shown to strengthten gods, legalism is shown to weaken them. In “Small Gods” the god Om finds that his theocracy has destroyed all belief in him, with fear and empty ritual having replace all actual veneration. Similarly in “Monstrous Regiment” the state religion of the Borogrovio ended up killed their god Nuggan by replacing worship of him with fear of an endlessly increasingly list of abominations (e.g. chocolate, the colour blue, cats).
No gods anywhere play chess. They haven’t got the imagination. Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight to Oblivion; A key to the understanding of all religion is that a god’s idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.
Interestingly enough, the gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that’s where they think they deserve to go. Which they won’t do if they don’t know about it. This explains why it is important to shoot missionaries on sight.
Demons have existed on the Discworld for at least as long as the gods, who in many ways they closely resemble. The difference is basically the same as that between terrorists and freedom fighters.
Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn’t believing. It’s where belief stops, because it isn’t needed any more.
‘[…] on the disc, the Gods are not so much worshipped as blamed.’
Gods don’t like people not doing much work. People who aren’t busy all the time might start to think.
We get that in here some nights, when someone’s had a few.Cosmic speculation about whether the gods exist. Next thing, there’s a bolt of lightning through the door with a note wrapped round it saying, “Yes, we do” and a pair of sandals with smoke coming out.’
The Omnians were a God-fearing people. They had a great deal to fear.
Because what gods need is belief, and what humans want is gods.
When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency towards quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow’s-point- of-view is seldom necessary.
When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that’s a miracle. But of course, if someone is killed by a freak chain of events — the oil spill just there, the safety fence broken just there — that must also be a miracle. Just because it’s not nice doesn’t mean it’s not miraculous.
Creators aren’t gods. They make places, which is quite hard. It’s men that make gods. This explains a lot.
This is where the gods play games with the lives of men, on a board which is at one and the same time a simple playing area and the whole world.
“Gods are all right,” said Granny, as they ate their lunch and looked at the view. “You don’t bother gods, and gods don’t come bothering you.”
‘I know about sureness,’ said Didactylos. Now the light irascible tone had drained out of his voice. ‘I remember before I was blind, I went to Omnia once. This was before the borders were closed, when you still let people travel. And in your Citadel I saw a crowd stoning a man to death in a pit. Ever seen that?’
‘It has to be done,’ Brutha mumbled. ‘So the soul can be shriven and —‘
‘Don’t know about soul. Never been that kind of a philosopher,’ said Didactylos. ‘All I know is, it was a horrible sight.’
‘The state of the body is not — ‘
‘Oh, I’m not talking about the poor bugger in the pit,’ said the philosopher. ‘I’m talking about the people throwing the stones. They were sure all right. They were sure it wasn’t them in the pit. You could see it in their faces. So glad that it wasn’t them that they were throwing just as hard as they could.’
‘What’s abominable about the colour blue? It’s just a colour! The sky is blue!’ ’
‘Yes, sir. Devout Nugganites try not to look at it these days. Um …’ Chinny had been trained as a diplomat. Some things he didn’t like to say directly. ‘Nuggan, sir … um … is rather … tetchy,’ he managed.
From Sunlight, a bit of Rumi via Chittick:
Let us speak less, for if we speak, few understand. Pour
more wine, for we have entered the ranks of the self-deniers!
Existence is for women – the work of men is nonexistence.
Thanks be to God, for we have risen as champions in nonexistence!
Nice little youtube audio here: Jacques Derrida On ‘Atheism’ and ‘Belief’. It’s only six minutes of conversation but it’s long enough for Derrida to say it all.
Two fascinating articles on the return of Christian theism to the universities:
Nathan Schneider: The New Theist
Hazony is commenting on Schneider but both articles are worth a read.
Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.
This is a Latin saying that Jung found and popularised.
My preferred translation goes: “Called or not called, God is there.”