Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The theology of Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3)


Jewish date:  5 Siwan 5770 (Parashath Naso’).

Today’s holidays:  Day 49 of the ‘Omer/‘Erev Shavu‘oth (Judaism), Feast Day of John I (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Leonary Nimoy (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Elias Ashmole (Thelema).

Note:  There will be no blogging by me for the next two days due to the Jewish holiday of Shavu‘oth.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Friends of the Earth U.S.:  Say 'No!' to Offsets, 'Yes!' to Real Climate Solutions”, “Repower America | Tell Your Senators: Time to act!”, “An inconvenient truth about the climate bill”, and “Help Wild Tigers Survive - The Petition Site”.

Cover of "Equal Rites"Cover of Equal Rites
Topic 1:  Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3) by Terry Pratchett.


This is not a theological story.  It is not even a non-theological story with major theological elements.  The central theme of this story is magic performed by men versus magic performed by women as they are treated in fantasy:  the male magic of wizardry is considered good, while the female magic of wizardry is considered bad.  This is definitely not the first book to attack this cliché, i.e., the Oz books of L. Frank Baum featured good witches and bad wizards alongside bad witches and good wizards.  Pratchett has different method of handling this problem:  a dying wizard bequeaths his “wizardness” to a newborn baby girl, Eskarina “Esk” Smith, not knowing she is a girl.  This one act forces Esk and many of the other characters to try to find some way of dealing with the anomaly of a female wizard, whether to try to turn her into a witch or to accept her as a wizard.  In the process the worlds of witches and wizards collide, and your humble author decides to not spoil you on how things turn out in the end, as the state of sexual politics at the end of the story is not a theological issue.  (OK, I know:  there is a sexual political aspect of religion, especially these days when sexual equality or lack thereof is a real issue.  But the wizards-versus-witches issue is given as much theological depth here as the matter of feminism is given theological depth in The Marvelous Land of Oz.  Perhaps in another book...)

There are, nevertheless, a few theological elements in Equal Rites.  Pratchett does mention the cliché of witches worshiping a mother goddess and dancing naked in the woods—and he immediately dismisses it as a common delusion (at least so far as the Discworld is concerned).  Also noted in passing is the notion that religion makes people act unnaturally, leading them to visit witches to help them deal with the consequences.  There is real truth in this.  Much natural behavior (murder, rape, violence, infidelity, domination, promiscuity, etc.) is forbidden or strictly controlled by religion.  Pratchett give this a bit of a negative spin, but even adamantly anti-religious secularists normally advocate some degree control of such natural behaviors, if only for utilitarian reasons.  If some unnatural behavior is necessary for a more pleasant and safer society, so be it.

Also present is the notion that thought creates reality, which the wizard prodigy (and proto-love interest of Esk) Simon lectures on at Unseen University.  In our reality this is, of course, wrong.  Unfortunately, some people implicitly treat it as true by means of the fallacy of wishful thinking, and there are even a few works (The Secret, What the Bleep Do We Know?) which argue (badly) for the explicit version.  The counterfactual belief in thought creating reality shows up as a plot element in the form of the Things which dwell in the Dungeon Dimensions.  The Things threaten Esk and Simon, but once Esk realizes they are merely ideas without independent existence, they atrophy and evaporate.

Overall classification:  Humorous fantasy, but not for children.  Don’t beware of Things.

Theological rating:  ☈.  (Absurdist.)

Note:  I do not yet own a copy of Mort (Discworld Series, book 4), so it will be a while until I review it.  I could skip to the next book in the series I have, but I would rather review the series in order.  Anyone wishing to speed things up is welcome to send me copies of Discworld books I do not already own.

Topic 2:  The daily dose of anti-Semitism:  “Anti-Israel Detractors Go Postal to Stamp Out Israel (May 16, 2010)” and “"You Lied to Me, Jew Producer": Comedy Central Shocker”.  Irony may be found in “Rachel Corrie Died for This?”  “Journalist says only truth will set Palestine free” deals with the question of what it really means to be “pro-Palestinian”.  “Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on Wikipedia” deals with a relatively recent method of trying to get a set of beliefs enshrined as the truth.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “I IS AMISH LOLCAT.”  (Sorry, they made no provision for embedding this one.  You will have to click on the link.)

Peace and ḥagh sameaḥ.

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