A bit of theology, Pratchett-style

I’m most of the way through the new Discworld book, Unseen Academicals, and wanted to share this passage:

Quoth Lord Vetinari: “… one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on this delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”


6 thoughts on “A bit of theology, Pratchett-style

  1. executivepagan Post author

    Yeah, but that’s part of what I love about Pratchett’s work… even when he slips the knife in there’s always a real thought attached. It may not be the best answer to the problem of theodicy, but it’s a perspective that I don’t imagine a lot of people have thought of!

    As a wise person I know once said, “we are responsible for the Gods we choose to worship…” ;)

  2. Kay

    My first thought when I read the Pratchett quote was “Wow, that man is insightful. How refreshing.” (And I mean that sincerely. I LOVE Pratchett.)

    My second thought was “But that’s not evil, it’s just the way it is.” Everything changes and flows and morphs. Things die and become other things. Atoms change places even before death. We are all interconnected. Life is a dance and death is part of that dance.

    I’m afraid that sounds nihilistic, but I don’t mean it to be so. I certainly don’t like death. I think it sucks. But I don’t think it’s evil. It’s just part of the way things are, necessarily.

    Does that make sense?

  3. Feral Boy

    Makes sense to me … I’m a mushroom enthusiast. Fungi are part of that web of creation
    and destruction. Without death & the re-processing of our bodies (whether human, or tree,
    or anything else living), eventually all sustenance in the world would be used up, trapped
    in the undying forms of immortal organisms.

    In some ways, Vetinari is mistaken here — as you say, it’s just how it is. Life feeding on
    life is not evil. We only judge it to be so when we destroy our own kind — AND understand
    why we are doing so.

  4. executivepagan Post author

    In Christianity, there’s a theory of “natural evil” that goes along with the fallen-ness of creation; I don’t agree with it, but it’s there and I’m pretty sure it’s what Pratchett was playing with here. One of the reasons I posted this quote was as a partial response to one of the commenters on Cat’s “Red in Tooth and Claw” post who apparently holds to that theology, as I read it after he had left the conversation.

    The real truth I found in this passage is in the last sentence. One of the things that led me out of Christianity for the last time was the realization that if God was accurately represented in Christian theology – even the liberal Episcopal version I was in at the time – that there was no way I could worship him.

  5. Kay


    Yeah, I had read Cat’s post and suspected that this was in reference to that. I’m agreeing with her and (in a way) disagreeing with ‘Vetinari’ in that I wouldn’t use the word evil to describe any of it. As Cat said in her post:

    Life is opportunistic. Life sees a chance and it takes it, whether it means colonizing the body of a caterpillar, chasing down and eating a rabbit, or a blood meal from a human host. Life kills, and life is dying every day. Because that’s what life is.

    I wondered as a Christian and I wonder now, how exactly this ‘natural evil’ is going to be overcome? How will ‘death be no more’ in a material, finite universe? We live in a closed system. It’s a BIG closed system, but still … ;-)

    JWs used to jump through hoops by saying that only animals and humans will quit dying. Plants still will and insects still will. (So much for death being destroyed as the last enemy.) We’ll all be vegetarians (including the carnivores) so killing for meat will stop and food will be no problem. And either God will shut down our reproductive systems to control over-population, or we will leave planet Earth and colonize other star systems.

    Ah, the good old days of theodicy. :-D

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