Study Guide

Snow Crash Religion

By Neal Stephenson


"Many Pentecostal Christians believe that the gift of tongues was given to them so that they could spread their religion to other peoples without having to actually learn their language." (27.43)

Language and religion are super intertwined in Snow Crash, since both are means of accessing people's brains and beliefs. Both can mess you up. Fun times, yeah?

The Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates #1106 is a pretty big one. Its low serial number implies great age. (25.10)

Yep, even religions operate as franchises in the America of Snow Crash. It kind of says a lot about how people view religion, if they're willing to treat its outlets like fast food restaurants.

"Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?" Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?" (26.46)

So if a virus can be the same thing as a drug, which can be the same thing as a religion…yeah, this is complex stuff. But if you think of all three as things that can affect the human brain and change our behavior, it starts to make sense.

"The expulsion from Eden to the bitter lands of the east is a parable for the massive deployment of Israelites to Assyria following Sargon II's victory." (30.70)

The story of Eden from the Bible may not be about good and evil; it may be a recasting of actual historical events. A political parable, even. Chew on that one for a while.

"Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bulls***, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds." (8.63)

You go, Juanita—tell those atheists not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Even smart people can fall victim to that mentality.

For example, when one of his programmers and her husband engaged in oral sex in their own bedroom one night, the next morning she was called into Rife's office, where he called her a slut and a sodomite and told her to clean out her desk. (14.39)

And here we see one of the downsides of religion: It can make you into a judgmental jerk like Rife. Okay, so Rife probably would've been a jerk no matter what, but having rigid religious beliefs made it easier for him to condemn others' behavior.

"So you might say that the nam-shub of Enki was the beginnings of human consciousness—when we first had to think for ourselves. It was the beginning of rational religion, too, the first time that people began to think about abstract issues like God and Good and Evil." (56.27)

If you think about how much religion is used to control people in these books, it's kind of ironic that religion as we know it emerged only after Enki forced everyone to have free will and creative thought.

"I wonder if viruses have always been with us […] Maybe there was a period of history when they were nonexistent or at least unusual. And at a certain point, when the metavirus showed up, the number of different viruses exploded, and people started getting sick a whole lot. That would explain the fact that all cultures seem to have a myth about Paradise, and the Fall from Paradise." (30.53)

World religions do tend to have a lot in common. Some kind of ancient flood, for instance, also appears in a lot of mythology. Maybe there is some historical basis for this, or maybe not. Most creation myths are bizarrely imaginative when you get down to it.

The Reverend Dale T. Thorpe holds the vial up to his left nostril. When the LED counter gets to zero, it hisses […] At the same time, he inhales deeply, sucking it all into his lungs. Then he shoots the vial expertly into his wastebasket. (25.47)

Religious officials purchasing illegal drugs and doing them in their offices—that sounds just dandy. No hypocrisy here, move along folks.

"But according to what you quoted me, the Torah is like a virus. It uses the human brain as a host. The host—the human—makes copies of it. And more humans come to synagogue and read it." (30.21)

And that, dear Shmoopers, is one of the main points of the book: Religion is like a virus.