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Small Gods

Updated on October 20, 2009

"It's a god-eat-god world."

Welcome back once more to the world of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. We've reached lucky number 13, Small Gods, the third independent novel in the series, and even though I rarely think of it, one of my favorites. It tells the story of a young man, raised in unquestioning devotion to his religion, who gets to meet his god, and finds out what faith is all about.

Brutha was raised by his grandmother, a very strict and devout Omnian, who did all she could to beat her very clear ideas about her god, Om, into the young man. Now Brutha would be the first to admit he's not very bright, though many people would no doubt beat him to it, but he does have a good memory. A very good memory. A perfect memory. He can't make connections between things very well, but once he's seen it, he never forgets. So it's probably a mixed blessing when Om appears before him.

Understand that all his life Brutha has known Om as a mighty figure, perhaps a bull, something strong and fierce. A tortoise certainly wasn't what anyone had in mind, especially not Om! But that's the shape he finds himself in, with no idea how it happened. Worse yet, Brutha, poor stupid Brutha, is the only person that can hear the once mighty voice of Om. Now the god and the fool must depend on each other to cross the desert and restore the faith of the people, both growing greatly on the journey.

His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, "You

I believe that I've mentioned in other posts that Sir Terry Pratchett has stated he is an atheist. In his own words "I think I'm probably an atheist, but rather angry with God for not existing." And when you read the Granny Weatherwax and the Night watch books, you see hints of how he views gods in general. As granny puts it "I know they're there, but i don't go around believing in them."

With that in mind, it's interesting to see how he writes a story centered around a god. In Pyramids, we saw the gods running rampant, very much subservient to the people around them. We revisit that to a great extent in Small Gods. Om has become diminished because the people no longer truly believe. They have grown to worship the idols and the priesthood, the trappings of the religion itself instead of the god. And with that loss of belief comes a loss of power, for the god, over his people. They become more afraid of the priest and the Quisition than they are of getting smitted from above.

All of which serves as a great fable for the religious mind of today. We have to be aware that god is not in the alter or the church. That he's not in the service or vestments, but in the spirit of everything we do. That he walks as a part of us, and if we believe, we must always walk with him.

Oh, and of course its a funny story. Eureka! Naked philosophers are always fun.


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