Study Guide

Nation Religion

By Terry Pratchett


Once we were dolphins and Imo made us into men! [...] If that wasn't true, then there was just dark water and nothing was anything... (3.117)

Mau is clinging to the last vestiges of his faith here. The promise of an afterlife is a critical component to most religions. Darkness and nothingness are the most scary things of all, and religion (usually) offers some version of light and warmth afterlife.

Would [Imo] have made useless gods? There was, out of the darkness inside, another thought that [Mau] wouldn't even have known how to think a few days ago. (4.89)

Surprise, surprise: Mau's doubting the gods again, and that's scary. Mau's religion doesn't encourage contrary thoughts, so even the fact that he's questioning his faith makes him think these are "dark" thoughts.

The Nation was blessed, people said. (4.104)

Talk about an ironic statement. The Nation was swept away by a deadly, violent tsunami. If that's "blessed," we'll take … unblessed. (Except that Mau ends up seeing the tsunami as a good thing—for him.)

"It would only be blasphemy to say [the gods] don't exist if they were real." (4.239)

Mau verbally punches Ataba right in the faith again here. And you know, he kind of has a point. If a god falls in the forest, and no one is around to swear at it, is it really real?

[The people] were lost, and they wanted their gods. (7.17)

No one can explain the tragedy that befell the islands, so the people blame it on the gods—and yet they still turn to the gods for comfort and guidance. This sounds a lot like—bear with us here—an abusive relationship: first they give you candy and tell all the best stories, and then they smack you around a little to teach you a lesson.

Please give us a simple answer, so that we don't have to think, because if we think, we might find answers that don't fit the way we want the world to be. (7.149)

Mau's putting himself in the minds of his people, trying to figure out why they want gods. But… he's a little condescending and presumptive about it. We're not loving this side of Mau, so it's nice that he seems to mellow out by the end of the novel.

Lumps of stone, thought Mau. Why did we think they were worthy things to worship? (10.86)

Here, Mau is reconsidering the importance of the marble god stones. Most religions have some sort of objects, whether they're stones to worship or images to contemplate. Do the stones make the Nation's religion seem less valid? Does science "worship" certain objects? (Can we make another joke about iPads?)

It was a terrible thing, said Cookie, to see religion get such a hold on a decent soul. (11.193)

Daphne is relaying Cookie's thoughts about the pious Captain Roberts, who hated swearing so much he had his men swear into a barrel of water. Okay, weird, but that actually seems fairly mild when compared to, say, the Spanish Inquisition. People who were too obedient to question orders have done many worse things in the name of religion.

[Mau's] people carved the gods. (12.51)

The statue of the gods didn't materialize out of thin air. People made the gods, not the other way around. This is a common theme in Terry Pratchett's work: we don't need gods; gods need us.

"Mau said Imo made us clever enough to work out that He does not exist." (Today.61)

The old man at the end explains Mau's opinion of religion to the children. Our heads hurt trying to wrap our minds around this paradox. But in the end, it seems like Mau found a way to both believe and not believe that the same time.