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Musings on Nihilistic Atheism & on Reading More Terry Pratchett - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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June 24th, 2015

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02:56 am - Musings on Nihilistic Atheism & on Reading More Terry Pratchett
I have an odd relation to atheism, as I discuss here, I'm very far from being a materialist , but I also have no interest in obeying any gods, except perhaps my own personal godhood. Also, I very much see each person's purpose in life as whatever they choose it to be and have no use for destiny, karma, or similar (usually seriously creepy when closely examined) ideas.

As a result, a number of atheist ideas appeal to me, but there is one particular subset of atheism that I've both encountered on-line and have seen repeatedly in mass media that both holds no interest for me and baffles the heck out of me – what I'm calling here nihilistic atheism. The best example I know of is Russel T. Davies' work on Dr. Who and (especially) Torchwood - in addition with RTD's clear fascination with The Doctor as time-traveling atheist Jesus, these shows are set in a world which is inherently bleak, victories are not merely temporary, but exceedingly so, and the world is inherently pretty darn crapsack.

However, what got me thinking about this was another atheist author of a very different sort, Terry Pratchett. I typically avoid humorous literature with the same dedication that I avoid comedy movies or TV series and so I've read very little Pratchett. However, I quite enjoy the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Stephen Baxter, and am currently reading and liking the 4th book, The Long Utopia. Interestingly, I also avoid fiction by Baxter. He writes SF that is filled with fascinating ideas and with nifty premises, but which far is too brutally grim and relentlessly unpleasant for me to read. The only exception is his Long Earth collaboration with Terry Pratchett. Pratchett brings a level of humanity and compassion to the Long Earth series that is entirely absent from all of Baxter's solo work, but which I've also seen in the very little other work by Pratchett that I've read, and it tempts me to investigate more of Pratchett's work.

In any case, I simply don't understand Davies' brand of atheism. Sure, in a billion years the Earth will be uninhabitable and it's exceptionally likely that the human species will be extinct in 10 million years, but neither of these is a short time scale, and very little else is remotely certain. It feels to me liked Russell T. Davies' work focuses on the same bleak despair at the lack of a caring god that was a hallmark of early to mid 20th century Existentialism. Perhaps it’s the fact that I've never believed in a deity who controls my destiny or the destiny of the human species and is looking out for us, but I've never for an instant felt that lack, which is perhaps also why Existentialism is a philosophy that I find simultaneously baffling and uninteresting. In vivid contrast, Pratchett's compassionate humanism is definitely something I understand and quite like.

On a related note, I'd definitely appreciate it if someone who knows Pratchett's work could recommend books that are in no way works of humor but that they enjoyed (for reference, I bounced off of Good Omens and several of the early Discworld books because they were way to much humor for my taste).

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 24th, 2015 10:42 am (UTC)

Standalone Pratchett

"Small Gods" is a standalone Discworld book that directly addresses the idea of godhood as structured in a universe where gods are real and hands-on manipulators of events but who are also dependent on worship and the presence of worshippers for their powers.

Yes it's got humour in it but with an edge -- the pseudo-Inquisition's torturers have a break-room with coffee cups labelled "World's Best Dad" because it's just a job and they have families and friends outside work.
[User Picture]
Date:June 24th, 2015 05:40 pm (UTC)
I too recommend "Small Gods" I thought the relationship between God and Worshipper was quite thought provoking.

Plus, I Shall Wear Midnight, it just is a good book.

His humor at times is droll, or dry, but, he does get the human condition as it were in Discworld.
[User Picture]
Date:June 24th, 2015 09:25 pm (UTC)
I haven't read a lot of Discworld since the early 90s, but I tried some last year, and really enjoyed the compassionate morality of them (especially when it felt like the entirety of modern media had turned to using torture as a plotpoint and grimdark generally). As I understand it, the early Discworld books are by far his weakest -- the later ones use the worldbuilding in the way thoughtful fanfic can be written of silly shows. But they are still light and wry, so it depends where you draw the line for humour vs light drama.

Maybe try Guards! Guards! and see what you think?
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:June 26th, 2015 06:38 am (UTC)
1) Since two days ago, I got it at soon as it was out.

2) He stated he was a number of times, which is good enough for me.

3) I have ordered a copy of Small Gods
[User Picture]
Date:June 26th, 2015 06:05 am (UTC)
You want to start with Small Gods.

Based on what you wrote, and knowing you, and knowing anything about Pratchett's corpus, this is incredibly obvious to approximately all of us.

Edited at 2015-06-26 06:06 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:June 26th, 2015 06:40 am (UTC)
:) Thanks for the recommendation, in a few days a copy of Small Gods will arrive here.

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