Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 19 / Chapter 20, Part I

In the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Judgment Day, Marjorie speaks up, and I learn about why belief is what it is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld IV. 

You know, I should have expected this ending. I even remarked on video right after Stibbons encouraged Marjorie not to speak that he was off-base. This was Marjorie’s business because Roundworld was her home! This isn’t an abstract idea or concept to her, and it certainly is for all the parties involved. (Well, okay, perhaps not for the wizards, either, since they’re the only ones who have traveled into and experienced Roundworld. Even then, they’ve always been visitors, and that’s not the same experience as living there.) Let the presentation of the Roundworld itself stand as evidence of that. Vetinari had literally never even seen the globe until it was presented before him. And I’m also guessing that the Omnians hadn’t either? So they’re claiming ownership over an object that they’ve never laid their eyes on, right? 

Even then, the case the wizards are making is based first on a complete accident—the previous Dean wiggling his fingers in raw firmament—and then on what became of the Roundworld afterwards. Pratchett cleverly reverses our own reality, and the Roundworld takes on parts and pieces of the Disc, but it’s still its own independent world. That being said, it’s really easy to see why Marjorie had the outburst that she did. Vetinari is viewing Roundworld in terms he understands! On the Disc, gods are just… real. They are! We’ve met quite a few of them throughout the series, and thus, Vetinari views Roundworld as being inherently flawed because it doesn’t have gods that are anywhere near as “real” or as demonstrative as the ones on the Disc. 

For someone like Marjorie, who does not seem all that religious or faithful herself, the very idea is offensive. Something is wrong with her world because it doesn’t have gods walking around, fueled by belief? Hardly! Now, it’s clear Marjorie is a stand in for a specific type of human, one who believes they are rational and scientific, and perhaps she’s even a stand-in for someone who would be part of the British Humanist Association. It’s also much clearer in the text (at least in chapter 20) that the authors aren’t trying to dunk on every single person who has ever had a religious belief, that the focus of most of their ire is on extremism, on the sort of people want their Truth to be the Truth that everyone else believes.

Which is something I am unfortunately familiar, as I moved from one of those (extreme right-wing Christianity) to another (Catholicism) while I was still a teenager. So yeah, I am SUPER into what’s being discussed in this chapter, and I’m interested to see where else the authors will take this discussion of belief. Because it’s genuinely a fascinating thing to me, and it’s something I want to talk about pretty much all of the time. (And as a bit of a preview: both my second and third YA books deal heavily in faith and belief, but from completely different angles. I’M EXCITE.) Why do we all believe what we believe? I can definitely trace a lot of my beliefs about God, about religion, about my own self-worth, and about humanity to what my parents taught me, specifically my mom. I can also see the origins of other beliefs in the nearly all-white playground in Boise, Idaho, where I learned what prejudice was at a super young age. If you could assemble my Make-a-Human-Being Kit, you’d have those experiences, plus the move to Riverside when I was 8, as integral pieces to it all. There are others, but I don’t feel the need to list them out here. The point being that I think it is possible for us to trace back the origins of some of our beliefs! Our immediate cultures—families—informed them. So did other cultures, like those in school, or in the neighborhoods around where we lived. 

So why is it, then, that so much of America is more religious than other places? If so many of the people who came here were from a place that wasn’t as religious, what changed? What about the idea that it’s actually pretty common and expected for humans to form communities around beliefs? I feel like that’s a solid explanation, personally, and even as an atheist, I still find myself aching for communities around shared ideas. I just haven’t really found the right one. 

Anyway! The authors run through three very different belief systems: the Cathars, the Jews of Poland in the late Middle Ages, and Scientologists. That last one… lord, y’all. I’m operating under the assumption that the authors summarized these three faiths because they had to. Why? Because knowing a lot about Scientology means that I’m also very sure that the authors have barely touched the surface on what the Scientologists believe. It’s a solid summary, but I lost a lot of friends and acquaintances in Los Angeles to what the Church offered. (And to that whole Landmark Forum thing, too, but that’s a whole separate issue.) There are LEVELS, y’all. And there is so much money you have to spend to ascend to higher levels. Like, enough that I knew someone who threw an entire inheritance AND their life savings at the Church, and they took it, and they expected it all to be returned to them because that was the promise. And then, a couple years later, they were filing for bankruptcy and STILL IN THE CHURCH. 

And it’s not even close to the only thing I’ve seen over the years that filled me with anger or confusion or rage. So… how? How do we humans get ourselves into systems of belief like this? I’m curious why these three religions were brought up and if there’s something the authors are going to do to tie them all together. How do they help explain humanity’s penchant for religion?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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