Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Gods Are Made

 

The late, great Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors. In his fantasy universe known as the Discworld (so named because the world is a disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants standing on a turtle swimming through space) he explored nearly every facet of humanity: war, peace, family, crime, politics, time travel, magic, and even religion. A concept running through a number of his books is the notion that believing in something causes it to exist and grow strong.

In Small Gods, a satire on the Reformation, he describes the origin of the gods thus: just as the physical universe was formed of the collation of dust from the origin of the universe, there was a great cloud of gods spread evenly over the universe. As humans believed in a god, it became stronger and better able to answer prayers. Moreover, the gods took on the characteristics of the humans who believed in it — a god of shepherds had a different personality than a god of goatherds, as their followers had different views of how one controls livestock — and the god took its physical characteristics from the sculptures and icons of the followers. e.g. Patina, the goddess of wisdom, was supposed to be associated with an owl; because her most famous sculptor was terrible at sculpting birds, she now has a penguin.

This idea is taken further in Hogfather. There, an assassin takes on the task of killing the Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, not by poisoning his milk or cookies, but treating him as just another god. If a god needs believers, you can kill him — or at least render him impotent and forgotten — by simply convincing people he wasn’t real.

Was the Hogfather a god? Why not? thought Susan. There were sacrifices, after all. All that sherry and pork pie. And he made commandments and rewarded the good and he knew what you were doing. If you believed, nice things happened to you. Sometimes you found him in a grotto [at the mall] and sometimes he was up there in the sky …

In the course of the book, the extra belief freed up by people not believing in the Hogfather allows for the creation of other mythical beings: the bird that eats pencils down to the eraser, or the elephantine eater of socks:

The book concludes that as children we need to believe in the Hogfather to make him real, so that as adults we can believe in things like justice, mercy, and duty to make them real.

So my question to you: what are you believing in, and what intangible things are you making tangible by your belief?

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A future 

    • #1
    • December 14, 2018, at 7:04 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas PrattJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gaiman and Pratchett’s magnificent “Good Omens” is being made into a TV show for one of the streaming services (Netflix? I forget). Gaiman is deeply involved to keep it true to the original. I’ve seen a trailer and I am hopeful. If it’s one-tenth as good as Martin Jarvis’ performance of it on Audible, it will be just fine.

    I tried believing that all television was not utter crap. I clung to a belief in Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, Lucy, “The Prisoner,” Ray Bradbury…am I showing my age? Supercar was a highlight of my childhood. A couple years ago I found a DVD with 10 of the original episodes, and discovered that they held up pretty darn well. Watching the original Thunderbirds is an exercise in spotting stuff that was futuristic in 1966 and is commonplace today. All of it was good television.

    Kovacs was the first to play with the medium; seeing his character paint a door on a blank wall and open it, or seeing a moosehead on one wall and the rest of the moose on the other side, still cracks me up. Steve Allen was a remarkable talent in so many ways, but I still see him hailing a cab, throwing a Hebrew National salami into the back seat, yelling, “The airport, and step on it!” to the driver, and watching the cab disappear into the night.

    If this new production turns out as well as some stuff I’ve seen on streaming services, maybe enough other people believed too.

    • #2
    • December 14, 2018, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    If this new production turns out as well as some stuff I’ve seen on streaming services, maybe enough other people believed too.

    I actually have a post in the works about the new version of “The Tick.” I particularly love the theme of the protagonist moving from a victimized bystander to self empowered hero. 

    • #3
    • December 14, 2018, at 8:09 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  4. Andrew Miller Member

    Amy Schley: So my question to you: what are you believing in, and what intangible things are you making tangible by your belief?

    Hope. Redemption. Truth. Grace. Character. And Wow-Wow Sauce (it’s the grated wahoonie that does it). 

    • #4
    • December 14, 2018, at 8:49 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Amy Schley: As humans believed in a god, it became stronger and better able to answer prayers.

    Never much liked this sort of cosmogony. Makes godhood vulnerable to unionism. What sort of god is worthy of the title when he’s forced to negotiate with the AFL-CIO?

    • #5
    • December 14, 2018, at 9:16 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  6. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    Amy Schley: As humans believed in a god, it became stronger and better able to answer prayers.

    Never much liked this sort of cosmogony. Makes godhood vulnerable to unionism. What sort of god is worthy of the title when he’s forced to negotiate with the AFL-CIO?

    Perhaps the single best exchange in “Small Gods” is when the prophet Brutha is negotiating the new rules of the reformed theocracy with the Great God Om. (Working from memory here)

    “And we’ll have freedom of worship.”

    “Other gods, here?!”

    “Why should you worry? They’ll come here and see how much better you are.”

    “Thou shalt not subject thy God to market pressure!”

    • #6
    • December 14, 2018, at 10:04 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  7. JosePluma Thatcher

    Neil Gaiman also explores this theme, though with less humor, in American Gods. 

    • #7
    • December 14, 2018, at 11:09 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. RightAngles Member

    the gods took on the characteristics of the humans who believed in it

     This is one of the most amusing things about the Greek and Roman gods. They imbued them with human frailties, unlike the Judeo-Christian concept of a perfect God.

    • #8
    • December 14, 2018, at 11:55 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    I have this golden calf for sale for the right price.

    • #9
    • December 14, 2018, at 12:18 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  10. RightAngles Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I have this golden calf for sale for the right price.

    You are going straight to Heck.

    • #10
    • December 14, 2018, at 12:32 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  11. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    If this new production turns out as well as some stuff I’ve seen on streaming services, maybe enough other people believed too.

    I actually have a post in the works about the new version of “The Tick.” I particularly love the theme of the protagonist moving from a victimized bystander to self empowered hero.

    I eagerly await that post. I thought the new series brilliant.

    • #11
    • December 14, 2018, at 12:40 PM PST
    • 1 like
  12. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I have this golden calf for sale for the right price.

    You are going straight to Heck.

     Where he will undoubtedly take over the job from Phil, the current Prince of Insufficient Light. 

    http://dilbert.wikia.com/wiki/Phil,_the_Prince_of_Insufficient_Light

    • #12
    • December 14, 2018, at 12:54 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  13. Saint Augustine Member

    Amy Schley: So my question to you: what are you believing in, and what intangible things are you making tangible by your belief?

    It takes the power of G-d–or octarine magic–to create reality out of belief. But belief can be very good at reshaping preexisting reality. William James is good at explaining this. Thanks for the reminder that on Discworld the gods were already there.

    It tells you something about philosophers and their questions. If a tree falls in the forest and no human is around, there are always a few small gods around to hear it.

    • #13
    • December 14, 2018, at 1:52 PM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Saint Augustine Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    A future

    Good answer.

    • #14
    • December 14, 2018, at 1:53 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. RightAngles Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I have this golden calf for sale for the right price.

    You are going straight to Heck.

    Where he will undoubtedly take over the job from Phil, the current Prince of Insufficient Light.

    http://dilbert.wikia.com/wiki/Phil,_the_Prince_of_Insufficient_Light

    “he ‘darns’ people” hahaha

    • #15
    • December 14, 2018, at 2:07 PM PST
    • 3 likes

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