Mail tries to make Pratchett look a prat

With the headline “I create gods all the time and now I think one might actually exist” the Daily Mail distorts the content of its interview with Terry Pratchett.

There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.
But it is true that in an interview I gave recently I did describe a sudden, distinct feeling I had one hectic day that everything I was doing was right and things were happening as they should.
It seemed like the memory of a voice and it came wrapped in its own brief little bubble of tranquillity. I’m not used to this.

Experiencing a feeling of transcendence is REALLY not the same as a belief in god. Pratchett himself is aware of this.

For a moment, the world had felt at peace. Where did it come from?
Me, actually….
I don’t think I’ve found God, but I may have seen where gods come from

Most non-believers have experienced transcendence. Feeling awe at the wonders of the universe doesn’t necessarily equate with belief in a divine being. Pratchett’s a fantasy writer. He earns his living by dabbling in myth and metaphor. Throughout the Diskworld series, he plays with the ideas of gods and religion. He treats them as any other component of his imaginary universe.

Pratchett has some sort of brain disease (possibly Alzheimer’s but he has had an alternative diagnosis.) A voice in his head sounds more like a neurological symptom than a religious conversion. If the voice manifested as an instruction to wash his hair in chip fat and stand on a window ledge hollering, the Daily Mail would hardly present this as proof of a divinity.

The whole tenor of the Daily Mail presentation is to suggest that Terry Pratchett has had some sort of religious conversion, in the face of his own words. This is pretty absurd, and would hardly matter to anyone but himself, even if it were true.

The sleb-obsessed press, such as the Daily Mail, treats us as if we are under the spell of any remotely-famous people. Pratchett is a well-known non-believer. So the Daily Mail credits his beliefs or lack of them as somehow influencing the rest of the population. However, if Dawkins were to become a Russian Orthodox priest, it wouldn’t matter to the average non-believer. If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to become a Jain, millions of Anglicans wouldn’t suddenly follow him.

Comic Christian Death Cult

A recent link on Pharyngula took me to a site that would be a perfect home for the Terry Pratchett character “Visit-The-Ungodly-With- Explanatory-Pamphlets.”

Despite the evidence of the senses, seems not to be a spoof site, but some of these “tracts” defy belief. I’ll gloss over the bizarre claims in the adult tracts – such as the Pope having invented Islam.

Look, instead, at the comics aimed at children. The new “classic” one Phayngula linked to is about evolution. “Evolution” is by definition racist, in this bizarre interpretation, serving to make a blond-haired blue-eyed selfish child think he can be god…. Rejects friend’s message about Jesus. Godless evolution-influenced child dies and gets sent to eternal damnation.

Death is a pretty huge theme in the tracts aimed at children. Here’s a sample The Little Princess

Story line: dying girl goes trick-or-treating on Halloween, dressed as a princess – it’s her dying wish. Meets couple who pray for her. Whole family gets converted. She dies. But that’s well worth it because she goes to heaven and her family become “Christians”….

After the girl dies

I am forced to refer to Oscar Wilde’s remark about the death of a Dickens character:

One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.

But, then, I’m not a child subject to a style of brainwashing that owes so much to the manipulative powers of Victorian melodrama. And I am a bit disturbed by the juxtaposition of a smiling child holding out flowers and the explicit death threat.

You might think that this sort of thing (Catholic plots, eternal damnation, Armaggedon fears) appeals to only a tiny subset of the population – the truly mentally-challenged, So, the number of unfortunates who are subject to it might be counted in Westboro Baptist numbers.

Not so, according to its claims. The website claims that Chick has sold 700 million tracts worldwide. Let me momentarily assume this isn’t bearing false witness (because it’s on the Internet which is – like television – not allowed to lie.) That suggests at least seven hundred people have bought a Bumper Million Pack of the things. And that’s an issue for global deforestation in itself.

A whole list of “tracts” is here. I was going to count how many of these contained death threats or rants against other religions. But that would be more or less all of them. Here’s a few quotes from the blurbs:

They thought he was dead, but he woke up screaming, “I’ve got to get saved! I saw hell! I never want to see it again!” Dramatic!

Suicide…The subject is common among teens today. But when Lance decides it is the only way out of his troubles, he discovers that hell is not the party place described in popular songs

Here is a description of the horrible times the Bible says are coming in the future. There is no one to turn to for help but Jesus. He is the only hope.

When this Catholic dies, he learns that his church couldn’t save him

Bob was mean and didn’t need God, until he nearly died in jail.

Time was running out for Ashley. Drugs would soon kill her. But a praying grandmother made the difference.

This soldier learns that it’s not what you know that gets you into heaven. It’s WHO you know… Jesus

A young man goofs when he is talked out of receiving Jesus as Saviour. Adapted for Black audiences.

Danny is dying of cancer. The man in the bed next to him tries to win him to Jesus. A compelling story with a happy ending.

When the collapsing roof dumped him into the flames, Fred thought he had seen hell. But the real hell is much worse.

And so on, ad nauseam..

Happy Solstice to Hitchens

I admit I’ve not read Hitchen’s “God is not Great” but that has never stopped me pontificating before, so here goes.. I might though, on the basis of a really well-written review by Johann Hari that appeared in the Independent on Monday 20 June.

Hitchens has passed through many phases in his political life, from Trotskyite leftist to Wolfowitzian neoconservative, but there has always been a single animating core to his thought: an intense loathing of religion. He is not merely an atheist. He is an anti-theist, deeply convinced that the idea of God has been a disaster for humanity, leading us up a hundred blind-alleys of sexual repression, hallucination and sectarian slaughter. Here, he redefines organised superstition – ‘religion’ – as humanity’s real “original sin”.

Well, granted he lost me there a bit with “Wolfowitzian neo-conservative.” Who is/was Wolfowitz? Although linking his name with “neo-conservative” doesn’t inspire me with much confidence that I want to know. Still, it’s pleasingly novel to find a neo-conservative who isn’t in thrall to the Big Guy’s rules.

All the same I like the idea of anyone being anti-theist. And I am impressed by this bit:

The answer, to Hitchens, is obvious, and derived from Ludwig Feuerbach’s great insight: God did not create man. Man created god, cobbling him together from a string of half-understood events and rumours.

Impressed because I have heard of Feuerbach and because it gives me the opportunity to recommend Terry Pratchet’s ideas about Gods, which express this idea in so much more of an enjoyable read.

On Pratchett’s “The Lost Continent” there is a god so beneficent that even he provides a tree bearing such pleasures as roll-ups for the lost Unseen University academics. It’s only this god’s interest in cockroaches that impels the Lecturer in Recent Runes (or something) to decide not to be his assistant.

In “Small Gods” it is made quite explicit that gods draw all their power from their acolytes. Those with hardly any believers end up being insignificant “small” gods of things like “the bit of plastic round a roll of sellotape that is supposed to let you break off a piece.” (I made that one up, being too lazy to do the research.)

Great quotes from the Hitchens book in Hari’s blog include that the Church of England is what you get when you “build a religion on the family values of Henry VIII.”

However, I have to argue the toss over religion being bad because it’s organised superstition. Well, fine on the “organised” bit.

But I will admit to being as superstitious as the next person – if that person is touching wood while counting magpies after washing their face in the May dew……

Superstition seems to me to be a based on an intrinsically magical view of the world, which is pretty illogical but not taken seriously. So it’s just one of many poetic and metaphorical ways of looking at the world.

Some superstitions are based on observations over centuries, some even fed into science and became proven knowledge. Most are made up on the spot and discarded at will.

Noone really believes in “superstitions”. Even the most rabidly superstitious person is well aware that they have no impact on non-believers. They are a sort of kneejerk spirituality, evening out our joys and sorrows by keeping us aware that the Universe does indeed operate on chance.

A religious world view is quite distinct from a magical one. Superstition puts the individual at the illusory centre of his or her destiny.

Religion puts the organisation at the centre. Religion is nothing if not authority and organisation and power. In return, it sucks out our awareness of how we are subject to chance, as well as our innate sense of wonder at the universe. It redirects them to a magical super-being whose ineffable ways and laws can be got round through devotion, mediated through the priestly caste with preferential access to the big ear.

[tags]atheism, christopher-hitchens, magic, religion, small-gods, superstition, terry-pratchett[/tags]