Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do You Believe...in the Hogfather?

Fans of fantasy, humor, and writers who like thoughtful philosophical topics should check out the Diskworld books by Terry Pratchett. He is constantly using his imaginative fiction to (not so subtly) comment on the world. It is true satire. It is well written. It is very funny. However, be warned. He will make you think. He also likes to question things that many hold dear. He not only targets politics, commercialism, and all the stupid things in our culture—but religion and faith.

His approach to religion and faith is particularly interesting in that his fantasy world is inhabited by truly supernatural beings and belief is important, even if organized religion is corrupt and flawed.

Terry Pratchett is a self-described humanist, and based on his writing, could probably be described as an Absurdist. For example consider the following conversation between Death and his granddaughter in the film adaptation of Hogfather:

“Humans need fantasy to ‘be’ human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
“With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?”
“Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.”
“So we can believe the big ones?”
“Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.”
“They're not the same at all.”
“You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.”
“But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?”
“You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?”

This is typical absurdist thought about faith. The irony is… while Death calls the objects of belief lies; they are very real in his world. So the question is:

Why do humans the world over and throughout history need and turn to faith? If there is no meaning to life, why is it a universal condition of humanity to seek it?


  1. Hi
    Nice blog. Love good old Terry, always there when you need a good laugh and some sort of perspective on life. Anyways for you question of why we turn to faith. Possibly because it is related closely to hope?
    It is not that we believe in justice but that we hope it will be extended to ourselves in the way/format we extend it to others.
    Hope the best for you ;)

  2. Hey Mikkel,
    Thanks for the comment. My question would be not "why" we turn to faith, but since everyone does: what is it that makes us all turn to it in one way or another? Sort of like why do we turn to food when we are hungry and water when we are thirsty? It seems to me that there really must be an object of faith out there. The people who believe that there is nothing in the end seem to be like people who are starving but have convinced themselves that food is a myth.

    What I really like about Terry is the way he exposes the ridiculous things we do, even here when he (rightly) exposes the silliness of religion. What I don't like is when people see how wrong religion can be and decide to toss God out with the bathwater (so to speak).


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