Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Importance of Belief (Or, The Sun is Not a Ball of Gas)

Recently, while browsing the depths of the ‘Watch Instantly’ section of Netflix in the Fantasy genre, I came across a movie called The Color of Magic. For those of you that are fans of UK author Terry Pratchett, I offer up my humble apology for having never read his books or seen any of the movies based on his books until now. I realize what a grievous error I have committed. After coming to the same conclusion everybody else seems to have over the past 3 decades - that Pratchett’s Discworld is a delightfully humorous, magical world worth visiting as often as possible - I found my way to another story from the world on top of 4 elephants on top of a massive turtle, The Hogfather.

I have never loved a Christmas/holiday movie as much, I think, as I loved The Hogfather. It was as hilarious and original as it was sincere and touching. The originality of having the character of Death wind up playing Santa is just about the best combination of ludicrous and fantastic as I’ve seen in quite some time.

But, this isn’t a “go out and by this movie” article. Though you should. Right now. In fact, you can stop reading - because unlike TV, this will still be readable in 5 minutes - and go to Amazon.com and purchase the movie. Or, go to Netflix and watch the movie instantly.

For a quick plot summary (don’t worry, no spoilers will be revealed): There are some folks called the Auditors who are in charge of making sure that logic and order are maintained. They’ve decided that the Hogfather (a character that looks and performs all of the functions of Santa Claus, with the exception of not being called Santa Claus) and a belief in said Hogfather is no longer conducive to logic and reason. So, they’ve decided to assassinate him. Yep, they want to kill Santa. They hire a guy named Teatime to carry out the inhuming, and hilarity ensues as Death gets wind of the plot and takes over for the now-missing Hogfather.

Why does Death - who already has quite the busy job as a psychopomp - feel the need to put on the jolly fat man’s suit? Because, as he puts it, if the Hogfather does not make his rounds on Hogswatch (the Christmas equivalent), and belief in the Hogfather dissipates, then the sun will not rise tomorrow. That’s right. The fate of the world hangs on getting presents one night a year.

The entire movie revolves around this idea. They must save the Hogfather, along with appearances by a few other mythic beings, or else the sun will not rise. But, towards the very end of the movie, the meaning of this statement gets a bit of a twist. Death has a granddaughter, naturally, and her name is Susan. She asks her dear old granddad to expound on what would happen instead of the sun rising. Death tells her “a burning ball of gas would illuminate the Discworld.”

Then and there he makes the distinction between a sun that rises each morning and sets every evening and the scientific nature of the burning ball of gas, which our planet revolves around and is illuminated by daily. See, it is a small bit of suspended reality, a bit of belief and whimsy to call it a sunrise or a sunset. Because, we know that to be a technical fallacy.

Death goes on to say that humans live in a world run on belief, on fairy tales and Hogfathers and Tooth Fairies. We need to believe in the little things so that we can believe in the big things. Of course, these “big things” aren’t things like a belief in Deity/God-in-a-Box. Death says the biggest things are ideas like mercy, compassion, and justice. When Susan pushes him further, he says that if you take all that the Universe is and condense it down to its most pure form and sift it through the finest sieve, you would not find one atom of mercy, or compassion, or justice.

See, a child’s belief in Santa or the Tooth Fairy isn’t a huge stretch for a child. These are small, pleasant beliefs. There’s no bad side to Santa. The Easter Bunny doesn’t have some famous dark side - though that would be a movie I’d pay to see. As we get older, we choose to believe in the Divine. This is a bit tougher, because for every one thing that goes right, one thing we “thank God” for, there are 5, 25, 125, to infinite things that go wrong on this world on a daily basis. People die too young or too healthy. There are people around the world, millions upon millions of them, that are poor in a way that we cannot even fathom being poor. And, there is starvation in parts of this world that the very thought of makes one sick.

So, it’s hard to believe in a good god, a fair god, or a just god, but it’s not impossible. People do it everyday. It’s sort of why they believe in Divinity. Because, even though life might suck, I get a better one after I die.

The part that stuck with me through all this, and the part I want to share with you, the reader, is that the idea of mercy, compassion, justice - all those good and fair things in the world - is an even bigger leap of faith humanity makes. Attributing unfairness to “God’s will” or karma is using the divine as a kind of scapegoat. Not in a negative way, necessarily, but it helps to write off the terrible questions of why bad things happen to undeserving people. When you get right down to it, Death was right. The Universe, humanity, is not inherently compassionate. It is a kill or be killed world, and the very fact that we have created these notions of fairness is a beautiful example of the human spirit’s ability to believe.

We believe that the stop sign works and that everyone will adhere to its power. We believe that humans are mostly good deep down. We believe that we can appeal to someone’s compassion for a second chance. We believe. We believe. We believe. It is these very large beliefs that keep our little ball of dirt and foliage spinning.

This is a new concept for me, considering our everyday beliefs as the bigger leaps of faith, but I think it is a truer concept. A child does not question the veracity of the Santa mythos. An adult can live with the struggles of life, because they can lean on their Deity of choice. But for any of it to happen, for us to continue as a species, for us to live and thrive, and for there to be a sunrise tomorrow, we have to make the greatest leap of faith of all and believe in the improvable, unknowable, unverifiable, unseen, untouchable, improbable compassion of the person in front of us.

Happy Hogswatch, everyone.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  

5 comments:

  1. This is something I've been thinking about a lot for a while but I could never have put it into words so eloquently, thanks Fire Lyte!

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  2. The Hogfather movie & book are two of my favorite things.

    "You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they BECOME?" - Death

    -Gabriel

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  3. I love your article, I got goosebumps! <3

    . "[Y]ou might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No-one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things."

    -Bran

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  4. Hogfather is our favorite Christmas movie. We discovered by accident on the ION channel. It is now in our movie collection.

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  5. Hogfather is a wonderful movie - but you MUST read the book (and all of Pratchett's books!) The movies just don't compare, fun as they are. I recommend Small Gods, Soul Music (and all the other Death books), and the Witch books (about a wonderfully individual trio of witches. Granny Weatherwax is my heroine).

    Pratchett may not know that his readers are using his books as philosophy, but I've long been inspired by his idea that beliefs create the anthropomorphized focuses of those beliefs, whether the Hogfather or Death. His books made the actual spiritual concepts of thought forms and numinous energy make a lot more sense to me! Who knew humorous fiction could be enlightening? And also ridiculous fun.

    "Ah. Philosophy," said Om.
    -- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

    On nights such as this, witches are abroad. Well, not actually abroad. They don't like the food and you can't trust the water and the shamans always hog the deckchairs.
    -- Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters

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