Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 24 / Epilogue

In the twenty-fourth chapter and epilogue of Judgment Day, the authors make their case against religious belief. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Science of Discworld IV.

If you’ve followed my writing here on Mark Does Stuff for a while, you know I’ve been frank in the past about my journey from being a Christian to becoming a self-professed atheist. I’ve opened up about what it was like being raised in something that was like a five-person cult, how I thought that an edgy rebellion was to convert to Catholicism, how that GROSSLY backfired on me, and how, by the time I became a freshman in college, I accepted that I did not believe in anything in terms of a religion or faith. (Really wish I had had that reasoning of why disbelief can’t be a belief itself, though!) It’s impossible for me to talk about it without discussing how the idea of God was used against me to harm me, over and over again, and thus, even to this day, I only really talk about it in emotional terms. When I was new to atheism in college, it was easy for me to slip into some of the more obnoxious habits that you see in atheists. (Actually, a lot of them have been name-checked in this book, like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Gervais, and there’s a dire flaw in not examining how being in a dominant social class AND being an atheist often turns you into an asshole.) 

I moved away from a lot of that and drastically cut down on how much I talk about this stuff, aside from the context of Mark Does Stuff reviews, where I often feel safer to be open about being an atheist. Even then, I think I rarely approach the issue as a theological argument. I spent a lot of time in my early twenties discussing and arguing religion online and on campus, and at the end of the day, there’s no convincing to be had. Some people are just going to believe what they believe. No amount of evidence or logic will change their mind. And on some level, I get that. One of the things this chapter does well is address the concept of faith, something that was drilled into my head at a young age. If someone challenged me, I was taught that the end result should always be faith. Everything was a test designed by God, and He was always watching to see if I passed. (Wow, now I have no wonder where my anxiety around tests came from. Or my completely terrible need to make sure I’m perfect for everyone all the time!!!!) 

I don’t exaggerate here when I say that I was told that everything was a test. Again, no surprise that I have so much anxiety! But practically every time I asked a question about God or Jesus or what we as a family believed, I was accused of not having faith. If I had faith, the reasoning went, then I would accept any mystery as being a test from God that would demonstrate my belief in Him. But what did that mean for my inquisitive self? What happened when I had a hundred questions a day that all seemingly went unanswered? Did that mean I was being tested thousands upon thousands of times? Why were other people being tested once or twice a year? 

What was wrong with me?

That’s not a fun question to be plagued with at a young age, and obviously, there were other issues around my identity that I was struggling with. But it’s where faith—specifically the faith that many Christians are expected to have—falls apart for me. I was a kid who just wanted to know things, and ironically, I was stuck in an environment where the answer to most of my questions was, “Well, because God.” It was deeply unsatisfying back then, and it still is today. But why? And why should my “why” be met with such disdain and disgust? So yes, I do think there’s a lot in this final chapter that is a little too general for my taste. As much as I’m an atheist, I think the differences in religious aren’t just fascinating, but we need to be detailed in discussing them. Faith doesn’t operate across the board in the same way. Like… don’t say “African tribe.” That’s so vague that it operates under the assumption that they’re all the same, when there are a vast number of tribes and ethnic groups on that continent. I also get why there’s an assumption that the most conservative, religious states are the “middle ones,” but that ignores places like I grew up: California, which is definitely NOT in the middle, and most of the (less populous) cities that aren’t on the coast are deeply conservative, religious, and racist. Same goes for Oregon and Washington. And New York state. And Florida! 

But there’s also so much here that resonates, especially when the authors talk about the ways in which religion can harm. That sort of talk is probably always going to be relatable to me, especially because so much of my life (nearly half of it!) was defined by being underneath Christianity. I attended a school in a school district where most sex education was banned or heavily edited; where parents routinely fought the teaching of evolution; I was run out of the church community I was a part of when news of my outing spread further and further. Even looking back on this stuff, it feels like a cliché, doesn’t it? But where generalities and tropes can fail in some contexts, they can also be revelatory. I share an experience with countless other people, which is something I really wish I had known back when I was going through all that. Because the loneliness and isolation was the worst part. Even if I didn’t believe the same things, I was part of a community, and I can’t deny how powerful that sensation is. Well, not just that, but how eviscerating it feels to have it taken away from you. 

Which brings me to the last big point that the authors make: the paradox of silentio dei:

…if God exists, why does He not speak? An omnipotent, omnipresent being should have no difficulty in making His existence evident, in undeniable ways. Lined up alongside this strange absence are other problems of human existence: why a caring God permits diseases and natural disasters, for example.

Granted, this is a mostly Christian worldview, but it’s something I will always struggle with. If you read my second YA novel (which is out later this year!), I am certain you will see this very struggle on the page. (Though in a fantastical, secondary world, not our own.) It is a core reason for my eventual fall from belief, and even now, I admit it is selfish. Or, to use terms from this book: it is a very human-centered view of the universe. But why did God allow so many terrible things to happen to me as a child and a teenager? Why are some kids allowed a childhood to unfold “normally” (acknowledging that that term is kinda a mess) while other children have their faith tested in monstrous ways? How is that fair and just? Or is the truth that human behaviors and systems and cultures are responsible for all of this?

I’m not here to answer that. I can’t. I know just as little about the existence of God as the next person. I lack that belief in a God or god or gods. And while I am nowhere near as hardline as I used to be, I do think that as our societies slip towards fundamentalism, as we allow people to change laws and policies based on their ridiculous, unproven, and flat-out hateful religious beliefs, as we tolerate intolerance, we are not going to get better. For fundamentalists and extremists, there’s no compromise. They just push further and further towards what they want, bit by bit, until they have it all. And some of those people want my extermination.

Yeah, I’m good. Not into that. 

Anyway: wow, friends. I DID IT. All for Science of Discworld novels! From here, we move into the final two books. Starting next week, I’ll be reading Raising Steam. I look forward to it, even if it does make me sad that this is all coming to an end.

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen! 
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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