On marching, or at least standing around, against Trump

We cycled down from Kings Cross to Cambridge Circus around five, and reached Trafalgar Square about five thirty. The square was still full but there were open spaces on Whitehall and all the way down to parliament square, which was almost empty. The police were quiet and off to the sides but with no hostility between them and the crowd at all. A line of police horses narrowed the entrance to Whitehall, not closing it off, but ensuring that people could only go through in small groups. One woman in early middle age stood stroking the flank of an unprotesting police horse with a blissed out expression, while the rider tried to look disengaged. Continue reading

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Fire and Fury

The Michael Wolff book about Donald Trump has a great deal more art in it than most reviews would have you believe. It’s written with a deft and elegant touch, and although it is undoubtedly an assault on Trump with both rapier and bludgeon, the crudest blows are dealt by Trump himself. Wolff prefers a rapier, sometimes moving so fast that the blade has been withdrawn before the victim realises they are bleeding. Consider these three sentences, and especially the last one: “But what did Ivanka and Jared really think of their father and father-in-law? ‘There’s great, great, great affection—you see it, you really do,’ replied Kellyanne Conway, somewhat avoiding the question. ‘They’re not fools,’ said Rupert Murdoch when asked the question.”

You learn a lot about Wolff and about Murdoch from that; you learn something about Jared and Ivanka (has Murdoch read them right?) – but by that stage we learn nothing at all about Trump. That he is a pampered boor and ignorant bully has been already established by the brutal technique of quoting him at length.

When Trump talks to an intelligent and moderately sceptical audience – people who respect his office but not necessarily the man – he has no idea what to say. His speech to the CIA, which Wolff quotes at length from the official transcript, is quite terrifying. I have heard less self-obsessed and more articulate people on daytime television. But they are not Presidents of the USA. What I think Wolff gets importantly right is in his portrait of Trump as a seducer: a man with the ability to listen to people he is trying to con, and usually to gauge their responses accurately.

This doesn’t always work. It didn’t work with James Comey. But one of the most striking aspects of Trump’s infantilism is that part of him is clearly always asking “What can I do to make you love me?”; even while another, closely related part, is ready to pre-empt rejection and say “You are completely worthless and I care nothing for your opinions”. This last, of course, is where inherited wealth has really shaped his character, by largely insulating him from the consequences of that attitude.

Hence the rapport with crowds and the gift as an entertainer: he tries out whatever line falls into his head and goes with the one that gets the best response. But when he sees no need to con or to manipulate, he has nothing to say except whatever was placed in his mind by the most recent TV programme he saw: “Much of the president’s daily conversation was a repetitive rundown of what various anchors and hosts had said about him.”

The other theme in the book which is completely believable is the constant dishonesty and backstabbing of everyone involved. I loved this passage:
“After the bill had been pulled that Friday, Katie Walsh, feeling both angry and disgusted, told Kushner she wanted out. Outlining what she saw as the grim debacle of the Trump White House, she spoke with harsh candour about bitter rivalries joined to vast incompetence and an uncertain mission. Kushner, understanding that she needed to be discredited immediately, leaked that she had been leaking and hence had to be pushed out.”
The lying is seen from two perspectives – Bannon’s hatreds are voiced, so you can hear the personality behind them; whereas the other players, Jared and Ivanka mostly, are heard from the outside, at second hand.
“Jail was possible. So was bankruptcy. Trump may have been talking defiantly about offering pardons, or bragging about his power to give them, but that did not solve Kushner’s business problems, nor did it provide a way to mollify Charlie Kushner, Jared’s choleric and often irrational father. What’s more, successfully navigating through the eye of the legal needle would require a careful touch and nuanced strategic approach on the part of the president—quite an unlikely development. Meanwhile, the couple blamed everyone else in the White House. “Jared and Ivanka helped to coordinate a set of lurid leaks—alleging drinking, bad behavior, personal life in disarray—about Marc Kasowitz, who had advised the president to send the couple home. Shortly after the presidential party returned to Washington, Kasowitz was out.”
Bannon’s reaction to that expulsion is even juicier now that we have the porn star scandal to cope with:
“Kasowitz has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign—what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them. And now he’s out in, what, four weeks? He’s New York’s toughest lawyer.”
Yet all those lies are, so to say, adult. They are told in pursuit of limited gains which can be accomplished. The lies that Trump himself tells are only sometimes of that sort. Often they are simply vanity covering emptiness, like his hair. And this sense of evil as a privation, an insatiable hunger, is the strongest flavour the book left me with. There is a kind of destructive instinct which is simply a hunger: a primal need to see what you can get away with; an acid which eats at weakness as if it were etching wax away. I’ve known corrupt policemen, and journalists too, who carry this hunger but the type is as old as history. Only this morning, looking through the history of the Thirty Years’ War, I came across Christoph Karl von Slippenbach, a Swedish diplomat who said in the late 1650s that
“In the modern world a convenient opportunity of injuring a neighbour and annexing territory must take the place of dreams and prophecy as indicating the Divine Will”.
Such men investigate humanity by probing its wounds. Nothing but superior force will stop them. All that makes Trump remarkable is that he has never yet met a lasting, superior force. Three wives and four bankruptcies have not left him poorer. The horror and derision of the establishment has not checked his path to glory. He must feel the Divine Will leading him onwards.
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The TLS gets better

The TLS seems to have got a new philosophy editor, Tim Crane, and his influence on this week’s issue is remarkable. For a start there is his own long, excellent essay on what religion is and isn’t, exposing the inadequacies of treating is as either a mere set of propositions or only a social arrangement. The only thing this gets wrong is the tentative suggestions that Pentecostalism represented a novelty, or that this is what Pentecostal congregations are in search of.
In principle, it is possible for these two things to be separated: people might gather spontaneously, utter words, and perform some kind of ceremony together, even if these things had never been said or done before. (Perhaps Pentecostals’ speaking in tongues is an example of this kind of thing.)
Not only was the Asuza Street revival an entirely self-conscious attempt to return to the condition of the early Church; the services today are as ritualised as post-77 Grateful Dead concert. So for that matter, is an Alpha Course. Everything is done to condition expectations towards the arrival of the Holy Spirit. See also the “Was he slain or was he pushed?” passage of our church book. Then there is the dispute between Roger Scruton and Timothy Williamson, also flagged on the cover. As usual, Scruton seems to be punching where his opponents aren’t, but landing some real blows none the less. I still think that the best approach to his philosophy is through his thoughts on music.
There are concepts that play an organizing role in our experience but which belong to no scientific theory, because they divide the world into the wrong kinds of kind – concepts like those of ornament, melody, duty, freedom, purity, which divide up the world in a way that no natural science could countenance. Consider the concept of melody. Science tells us a lot about the properties of pitched sounds; but it tells us nothing about melodies. A melody is not an acoustical but a musical object. And musical objects belong to the purely intentional realm: they are sounds heard under a musical description. That means, sounds as we self-conscious beings hear them, under concepts that have no place in the science of sounds. No sound could rise from the depths as the E-flat major arpeggio rises from the depths at the start of Das Rheingold.
I am particularly susceptible to these arguments as someone who is profoundly affected by music but unable to reproduce or even consciously analyse it. But even if I were able to do that to the degree that a professionally trained musician can there would still be — I think — an absolute divide between analysis and experience. I find from music that I don’t believe in zombies. There is something it is like to listen to music which is absolutely unlike anything available in the third person world.

What I find odd is the question of whether this arises, as Scruton says, from our experience of other subjects. What effect does music have on severely handicapped babies?

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Auden as a critic

My mother’s ill, but recovering, so I read to her. In the bookshelf is a WW2 selection from fifteen English poets which one of my parents must have had at Oxford. The range is from Chaucer to Matthew Arnold, and each poet has a prefatory essay. What leaps out at once is the difference between those essays written by professional critics and teachers and those written by other poets. The poets are so much less mannered and more direct. In this collection, there is Auden on Byron, Louis MacNeice on Keats, and C.S. Lewis, a don who thought of himself as a poet, on Spencer. That’s a little unfair to Lewis. I don’t like his poetry but he really subjected himself to its rigours, and came thereby to understand a great deal which leaked into his prose insights.
Auden on Byron is spectacularly good:

Byron was an egoist and, like all egoists, capable of falling in love with a succession of dream-figures, but incapable of genuine love or fidelity which accepts a personality completely. This did not prevent his writing good love poetry like Hebrew Melodies. In fact, nearly all love poetry is dream-figure poetry. Love may stimulate an artist indirectly and intensify his general vision of life; it does not often make him write love poems: their source is more commonly egoism or frustrated lust.

But Byron was not only an egoist; he was also acutely conscious of guilt and sin. Sometimes these two traits ran in harness, and their conjunction brought out the worst in him, both in his personal life and in his art; the self-conscious Satanism of his affairs, and the worst parts of The Corsair, At other times they were in opposition, and the conflict brought out the best; Don Juan and the Greek expedition.

No egoist can become a mature writer until he has learnt to recognize and to accept, a little ruefully perhaps, his egoism. When Byron had ceased to identify his moral sense with himself and had discovered how to extract the Byronic Satanism from his lonely hero and to turn it into the Byronic Irony which illuminated the whole setting, when he realized that he was a little ridiculous, but also not as odd as he had imagined, he became a great poet.

I discovered while writing this that the whole text of the anthology is available, eccentrically scanned, on the Internet Archive. I doubt this is in strict conformance with copyright law: it can’t be seventy years since Auden, Lewis and MacNeice all died, to name only the contributors I recognised. But that makes it much easier to copy the delicious passage in which Pope (whom Auden thought was one of Byron’s models) explains the dynamics of modern day Twitter. Take it away, Alex:

’Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dangerous is the offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose.
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
Some are bewilder’d in the maze of schools.
And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools.
In search of wit these lose their common sense,
And then turn critics in their own defence:
Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write.
Or with a rival’s, or an eunuch’s spite.
All fools have still an itching to deride,
And fain would be upon the laughing side.

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uncosy catastrophes

Ever since I finally got round to reading The Death of Grass I have been snacking on the novels of John Christopher (Sam Youd) a British writer of appalling fecundity who was active from the fifties to the Eighties at least. According to his Guardian obit he wrote up to four novels a year and it’s not surprising that there was a certain amount of repetition. Some fraction are being republished — rather as the works of Jack Vance are — in a limited edition, which led me to his other famous adult novel, The World in Winter; and I’ve just finished Pendulum, published in the late Sixties.

They are all catastrophes, in which the breakdown of large-scale civilisation produces a breakdown of the small structures of morality: men emerge as killers and rapists; women as tough and resourceful victims. In The Death of Grass, the catastrophe is a plague which starves most of the world by annihilating rice, wheat, barley, and all other grains. Only potatoes remain as a source of carbohydrates. In The World in Winter it is an ice age, with glaciers returning almost all the way down to London, and white refugees fleeing in boats to Africa, where they are not welcome. In Pendulum, the most dated, it is a Sixties apocalypse: Britain goes broke and gangs of “yobs” on motorbikes take over.

The breakdown of moral order is extremely well done in the first two books and genuinely shocking. In both cases there are conflicts of duty, difficult to resolve. Two brothers end up fighting to the death over possession of a potato patch. A man must choose between loyalty to the friend who saved his life, repeatedly, and to his wife who is pregnant possibly by another man. People find themselves doing things which neither they nor the reader thought themselves capable of, and we care. The scene setting is also extremely well done, especially in The World in Winter. 

Pendulum is much the weakest of the three, though I still gobbled it down. Read fifty years later, it’s mostly illuminating for showing how the fears of Daily Mail readers and Brexit voters have evolved and been racialised in the intervening period. The hero is a successful and decent businessman whose wife is a bit of a bleeding heart liberal. He is loyal to his family, for whom he generously provides. The only cloud on his life is the presence of yobs from the local estates, who vandalise his outbuildings and roar about on motorbikes.

His sister in law is conducting an affair with an unscrupulous and demagogic sociologist, who emerges as the sinister power behind a movement of student revolt. The students — get this — are rioting because their grants have not been increased in line with inflation. The sister in law is a complex and interesting character, with a keen interest in sex. She sees right through her lover, but enjoys, as she later realises, being able to despise his weakness and hunger for affirmation. She also takes up with a police inspector, with whom, she thinks, she has nothing in common but limerance.

Eventually, the students and the yobs combine, as in the cultural revolution, and take over the government. The police stations are sacked and many are killed. There is a wonderful parody of a sycophantic Times leader praising this development. The police inspector takes shelter with his lover and they move out to the mansion in the country. But that has been commandeered by the yobs, and the owner’s family are confined to a couple of rooms at the top of the house.

Things get worse, in ways both predictable and unexpected. Eventually, the yobocracy is overthrown by a fundamentalist Christian uprising — this is surprisingly plausible — and the decent hero ends up in a work camp in the outer Hebrides for helping a yob whom the mob has beaten half to death. The sister in law finds a rather implausible and fragile happiness with the policeman, whose taciturn, competent pessimism turns out to conceal enormous courage and decency*.

So, it’s a straight and skilful exposition of the provincial conservative worldview: hard work and providing for your family is good. Students, layabouts, oiks, and sociologists are all enemies of the people. Religion is good but impractical until it turns bad and frighteningly practical. Women are strong, resourceful and full of agency, but still dependent on a good man to love them. France is remote and hostile but America is benign and will help as much as it can.

But there’s a sort of innocence about this which I don’t see in today’s right wing press. For one thing everyone, to a first approximation, is white. Only at the end, when some characters are sunk in extreme poverty, do they come in contact with a black family, whose cooking smells. But the underclass has not been racialised at all, and class substitutes for Islam as the expression of alien cultural difference.

Then there is the aforementioned idea of student grants.

There is the way the bad times come as a surprise: no sense that the world is rigged against decent people, though there is of course a powerful sense that the world is rigged against decency itself. But that’s tragedy, not resentment.

At the end of the book there are blurbs, in Amazon fashion, for others republished in the same series. In one, a small party get trapped in tunnels under a mountain, and have to make their way for days towards an unknown exit. In another, a small group is trapped on a desert island, and must struggle against the elements etc etc. I was reminded of Robert Graves’s squib

He found a formula for drawing comic rabbits
The formula for comic rabbits paid
Alas, he found he could not change the tragic habits
The formula for drawing comic rabbits made.
  • Bet you didn’t see that coming.
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Scientism and fundamentalism (in honour of Jerry Coyne)

Below the fold is a piece I wrote for Zia Sardar’s magazine Critical Muslim. It’s rather long, partly because it contains an insertion on Sam Harris and torture. Although younger readers will not remember the new atheists this is a reminder that they could be quite as nasty and silly as traditionalist Catholics. Continue reading

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Statistics from the Mail Online

Mostly for my own amusement, I have written a twitter bot which examines the front page of the Mail Online once every hour and tweets out statistics of interest. You can follow it at the unfortunately named @mailtits account.
Continue reading

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Jack Chick and hell

Jack Chick, who has died in Los Angeles at the age of 92, was one of the most extraordinary, industrious and humourless comic artists of the 20th century. He claimed to be the most published author in the world. In an apparently unending series of pocket-sized cartoon tracts he laid out an idiosyncratic fundamentalism in which everyone who was not a Protestant Christian was in imminent danger of death followed by eternal torment.

Ecumenism had no charms for him and bigotry no terrors. He wrote and published tracts like “Are Roman Catholics Christians?” He even published the full length book “Convert … or Die! The Catholic Reign of Terror in Yugoslavia”. Both these, and more, I bought from a Christian bookshop on a trip to Belfast during the troubles. In that setting, they seemed less hilariously funny than when purchased from the Protestant Truth Society in Fleet Street.

Perhaps the vilest of all his works was a comic called “Lisa”, still available on the web, where Chick has become the subject of ironic attention. In this, Henry, a middle-aged, man loses his job, “and my wife had to go to work”, so naturally he turns to porn and starts to abuse his fourteen-year-old daughter. When his neighbour finds out, the girl is shared between them. When the family doctor discovers this, he explains that only God can save Henry. But it turns out this has nothing to do with what Henry has done to his daughter.

“You were going to hell before this ever happened, Henry … You say you’re good, but the Bible tells us that no man is good, no, not one. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
So the doctor gets him to pray and at once “
I feel different, Doctor … I feel clean. God has forgiven a horrible wretch like me. Oh Thank you Lord. You’re such a merciful and wonderful God to clean me up. I’m so grateful.”
After the epiphany he goes home and tells his wife about Jesus. She testifies in turn that she knew all along that he was abusing their daughter because she herself had been abused by her uncle. But Jesus saves her, too. In the last frame, the happy parents summon their daughter, who appears clutching a teddy bear.
“We’ve got wonderful news, Lisa. Your daddy and I will never hurt you again … Really, honey. We love you, and Jesus loves you too.”

Self-righteous and self-pitying, profoundly misgynistic, deaf and blind to the reality of evil and suffering, the Christians in Jack Chick’s little tracts add up to an entirely damning indictment of fundamentalism. Quite possibly, a tract like Lisa strengthened some Appalachian child abuser in his crimes. There is no suggestion anywhere that secular justice might be involved in the process. In the end, even the Chick organisation withdrew the tract from sale, and expunged its memory from the official web site.

The other thing that makes Lisa noteworthy is that it is one of the very few Chick Tracts that deals with anything recognisable as evil. As you read through the rest, it is almost impossible not to start laughing out loud, not just because of the puerility of the drawing and the story lines. There is also something fundamentally absurd and inadequate about the targets he uses to illustrate the depravity of our times. Feminists, evolutionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, players of Dungeons and Dragons, people who celebrate Hallowe’en, Witches, Jews, Rock Musicians, Gay people, Roman Catholics, Liberals – in all this library of paranoiac fantasy there is hardly anything that could worry a normal person, still less frighten them.

On reflection, this may be the secret of the appeal of Chick-type fundamentalism. It’s paranoia as entertainment, since no one could possibly be frightened of most of the things that terrify him. And then there are the sudden awfulnesses where he demonises (literally, of course) the groups that large numbers of American really do hate — Gay people, Muslims, and educated women. That’s when the paranoia stops being funny and you feel like one of his characters, suddenly borne off by an angel and dropped into hell.

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Tove Jansson’s Autumn Song

This is a rotten although pretty literal translation of Höstvisa (Autumn Song), a poem by Tove Jansson which I found through a line in PO Enquist’s Liknelseboken. I have lost all of the rhyme and most of the swing of the original, but I think what remains is still worth posting.

I met with no one on the long way home
The evenings grow cold and stretch far ahead
Come comfort me a little for I am tired now
And suddenly so dreadfully alone.
I never saw before that the darkness is so vast,
I walk and think of all those things I ought
There are so many things I should have said and done
And there’s so very little that I did

Hurry, beloved; hurry to love
The days are darker for every minute
Light our candles; night is close:
The flowering summer soon will be gone

I’m looking for something perhaps we’ve forgotten
which you might help me to find
One summer passes, and it’s always just as brief
It’s the dream of what we could have gained.
Perhaps you will come some time before the dusk grows blue
before the meadows are dry and empty
Perhaps we’ll find each other perhaps we’ll find then
a way to make everything flower

Hurry, beloved; hurry to love
The days are darker for every minute
Light our candles; night is close:
The flowering summer soon will be gone

The storm out there has slammed the summer’s door
It’s too late now to wonder and too late to search
Perhaps I love you less than I did before
But more than you will ever know
Now we see all the lighthouses down the long coast of autumn
and hear the lost waves wander
One thing only matters and that’s the heart’s desire
And to be together with one another.

Hurry, beloved; hurry to love
The days are darker for every minute
Light our candles; night is close:
The flowering summer soon will be gone
You can hear it done as a song, rather beautifully, here
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A sermon for Terry Pratchett

Many years ago, I was asked to preach a sermon at Wadham College. I hemmed and hawed a bit, saying this really wasn’t my line of work, but they were pressing. So I wrote something, and spoke it. When Pratchett died I dug it out for a look. Here it is

This is not a sermon, so if you’ll forgive me, I’ll start without a bad joke.
We’ll have some Terry Pratchett instead.
Pratchett, for those of you who have not met him, is an extremely funny writer who has written a series of mildly improbable books about a flat world which is borne through the universe on the back of a giant turtle. If I were Terry Pratchett I would add a footnote to that description saying that he is sometimes a less funny writer, too; and a footnote to that footnote saying he is very fond of footnotes.
Apart from the turtle and being flat and so on, the Discworld is really very like our own. That is where the comedy comes from. It has folk music, which must be preceded by a long melancholy chord drawn out like a string of snot to give the onlookers time to get way. It has cats and kings and cabbages. Bits of it are like Ancient Greece and bits like ancient Egypt. There is death — a very important character. And there is magic.
Pratchett’s world is full of gods and wizards and magic that works. People are wholly comfortable with this, and atheists can only be identified by carbon dating; you take a handful of the carbon that used to be an atheist and date it. So it’s not very like our world after all.
I like this because it is a completely pragmatic attitude to magic or the supernatural, and in that sense it is rather realistic. Because if there is one thing that people nowadays do to distinguish themselves form people a hundred years ago, it is to play with myths. There are lots of deep cultural explanations, though myself I blame LSD as much as anything. It gives people a kind of provisional attitude to reality which is hard to shake off, and fairly catching.
So people are able to enjoy myths without wondering too much about whether they are true. They work. Some of the more popular myths we play with are ideas of character, or personality, and of soul. None of them are wholly satisfactory: indeed the crisis in the idea of the soul is one of the root causes of the difficulties for religion at the moment. It wouldn’t be a difficulty if we didn’t have souls, or at least something for which soul is the best world. But we do, as a matter of experience, and we can’t work out how they can exist when they are transparently not things.
So this is puzzling. In case you thought that I could untangle the puzzle, I can’t. As far as I can see, I have a mortal soul, and there’s an end to it.
Now Terry Pratchett is not, so far as I know, a Christian, and the religions that feature in his work are either pre-or post Christian. There is a pseudo-aztec religion in some jungle; a bunch of philosophers in the Greek city-state, and a whole load of pyramids somewhere in the desert. There are also some wonderfully tatty new-age witches, whom I am sure I have met at the Aquarian shop in Saffron Walden, browsing the shelves for crystals, and books on homeopathy for cats.
But one of his books does deal directly with religion, and I want to talk about it as a way of looking at what happens to Christianity in a post-Christian age.
Small Gods is a book about belief. The central god is smaller than he wants to be: he has changed into a tortoise, and he can’t get back. In fact, people keep mistaking him for a tortoise. Worse than that, eagles keep mistaking him for a tortoise, and trying to drop him on rocks to see what the insides taste like. The only person who can believe in him is a very stupid and straightforward novice called Brutha. Note that Brutha does not choose to believe in the great god Om (temporarily the small tortoise Om). He hears the voice of the God and he has no choice. Experience comes before belief.
Now Brutha is already part of a religion; and this religion, organised around the worship of Om, is utterly repulsive. It is, I think, a folk-memory of Roman Catholicism as refracted through nineteenth century prejudices and given a heavy top-dressing of Richard Dawkins. There have been a series of prophets, who have gone out into the desert to take dictation from the great god, and come back with ever more ridiculous and inflexible commandments. Its main business is torturing people, and its main office-holder is Vorbis, an exquisitor. Lower ranks do the inquisiting. Vorbis organises and supervises the torture, out of pure curiosity.
The idea of a man who will torture for interest, rather than pleasure, is a more subtle sort of evil than you would expect to find in million-selling fiction.
The great enemy of Vorbis’s repulsive state is a simple, philosophical, peace-loving, democratic (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) bunch of greeks, of whom the shiftiest are the philosophers. After the usual failure of all the best-laid schemes, the evil Vorbis, the saintly Brutha, and the divine tortoise end up wandering in the wilderness together.
There they meet thousands of other gods: disembodied voices twittering in the wilderness for people to believe in them. There is even an anchorite, a hermit who lives very happily up a pole, hallucinating sensual delights while he lives of brackish water and the occasional lizard. This is a book about belief.
Somehow, the simple, trusting Brutha gets them all through the desert, where he has refused to abandon the evil Vorbis; and as soon as safety is in sight,. Vorbis clunks him with a rock and strides back to proclaim hiself the next prophet.
At last we have reached the state where the paragon of evil is at the head of the religion which encapsulates every evil. At this point, God steps in. Om is, as I was saying, a very small god. But he knows he cannot let down the one man who aboslutely believes in him, for without believers, he will himself be annihiliated. So he goes for a walk, until an eagle finds him. But once the eagle has gripped him in his talons and is gaining height looking for a rock to drop him on, he extends his neck from his shell and grabs the bird by the negotiating parts. I think this is a theological novelty. So the eagle drops him not on a rock, but out of a high, clear sky onto Vorbis the high priest, who is preparing to have Brutha burnt alive in front of a huge crowd.
And of course, at this tremendous demonstration of divine power, the crowd is filled with belief. So the tortoise God Om is instantly restored to something worth believing in. He throws a few thunderbolts around and rushes off to Heaven — a place reserved for the superior class of God. Here he headbutts the doorkeeper, thus proving his own ontological superiority and fitness for the place.
At this point something weird happens. Brutha, the man, teaches forgiveness to God. He tells Om at his moment of greatest power that he will not worship him if he is unjust. On Discworld, it works. Om strong-arms the other gods into arranging a lasting peace in the war between Omnia and its neighbours.
Brutha, when he finally dies, finds Vorbis waiting for him in the afterlife, which is a simple desert. You have to walk across it alone. There are no other people, and no gods. Vorbis has waited a hundred years, or a thousand eternities, as you prefer, and is still huddled where he started, unable to bear himself. Brutha picks him up and helps him to start moving.
And that’s the end.
The book of Job it isn’t.

In the climactic scene of the book, Om says
I could destroy you utterly. I could crush you like an egg!
You can’t use weakness as a weapon.
Why not? It’s the only one I’ve got.
Why should I yield then?
Not yield, bargain: deal with me in weakness. Or one day you’ll have to bargain with someone in a position of strength. The world changes.
Hah! You want a constitutional religion?
Why not? the other sort did not work.”
This is definitely not the book of Job. In a sense that is why the message of forgiveness, and constitutional deity which it teaches is so interesting. Religious doctrines are largely truths or aspirations about humanity. They are manifestos about our place in the universe. The message of Job about human helplessness may be in the long run more realistic. But I have to say that I like the idea of a constitutional deity. It speaks well for our confused century that someone can come up with it.
The way the world is, our descendants may well look back on books like this and regard them as lightweight or cynical and frivolous. They may even regard them as blasphemous. But I think we should be grateful to have lived in an age when this sort of witty optimism sold in millions.
As I said at the start, Pratchett is not a Christian, and his message is not, so far as I can discern a Christian one. But it may be a post-Christian message. It may be that his style of thinking about large questions and his style of affectionately distancing mythmaking are representative of what will triumph. It’s only a thought, to leave you with. But suppose we are leaving the era of father gods, not for mother gods, but for children gods, or maybe Brutha gods.

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