Terry Pratchett and a great definition of sin

Actually, it’s the best definition I’ve ever read.

Once again I find myself flabbergasted by a bit of wisdom from a Terry Pratchett book. Actually, from one Terry Prachett book, Carpe Jugulum, which I wrote about here, just the other day.

Apparently, I was not the only one taken with the excerpt posted by Julie. Siggy got inspired by it, too (commenting eloquently at Happy Catholic) prompting Julie to send him more, which he posted here.

From Carpe Jugulum:

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.

“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”



“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

“It’s a lot more complicated than that –”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes –”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things …”

Yes, yes, yes!!

It’s the source of every sin. I used to think the source of sin was connected to vanity, pride and selfishness, but even those things are all about treating others as things, or even treating ourselves as mere things. We forget that we are created creatures, begotten – as in loved into being. In our exceedingly polarized world we increasingly lose sight of that, to the point where we cease to see each other as human beings at all – which always leads to bad stuff. Lots to think of here, and for me it’s wrapping itself up in Advent, in the idea of the bridegroom and the concept of covenant – all stuff that’s rattling around in my still-unquiet brain (I think I need to go on retreat – can’t get quiet, and I need to). It’s all stuff I mean to write about, as soon as I can put it together.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Viola

    Dear Anchoress, I think this post is wonderful and so very important. I agree completely, when we start treating folks as “things” instead of the fragile, beautiful human beings that they are, we all get ourselves in big trouble. It starts at home of course, but we see the effects world wide through wars, political upheavles, and so on.

    I hope you can find a restful place to quiet yourself.

  • http://happycatholic.blogspot.com Julie D.

    You are too kind! I like the diamond miner analogy … I always feel that someone’s got to appreciate those pearls of wisdom that other people are wise enough to come up with. :-)

    As I mentioned elsewhere, I only really enjoy the Pratchett books that feature the witches, most notably Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Also, highly recommended is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a match made in … dare I say it (?) … heaven to write about the birth of the anti-Christ and the Apocalypse. Many more pearls of wisdom can be found there as well as good entertainment along the way.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    “they start with thinking about people as things …” . . . It’s the source of every sin.
    Much as I dearly love both you and HC, I think you got it wrong. Certainly the objectification of other persons often accompanies sin, but it is not the root cause. The first original cause of each and every sin is the same as that first and original sin — not thinking of people as “things,” but thinking of people as gods.
    Or, more specifically, thinking of ourselves as God, and therefore able to choose our own truth, our own reality, our own conception of right and wrong, such that, no matter what we do, it is always (so we believe to be) just and right and proper, and not a sin. And therefore having the ability to treat others as things, rather than persons, as objects, rather than subjects. Believing that you are a god unto yourself, that is what the serpent said to Eve, that is the source of all sin.

  • http://musing-minds.com/ Kimsch

    Terry Pratchett, in all his wonderful silliness with the Disc World is also extremely profound. He comes up with truths that, when read, you say – that’s it!

  • TheAnchoress

    #3, Julie – I should have said you were a “pearl diver” then!

    #4, Bender – then we’re back to what I used to think – vanity and pride! :-)

  • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

    From Bill Clinton with women to Islamofascists with the infidel, it’s “all about me,” and YOU are merely a prop in my fantasy.

  • http://hillaryneedsavacation.blogspot.com/ HNAV

    wonderful post…
    and i agree with Ms. Willis very much…
    * is this a sin?
    Placido Domingo was roundly and vociferously booed at the Metropolitan Opera House on Tuesday evening.

  • tbrosz

    A good guide to the Pratchett novels can be found here.

    The “Witches” series is very good, but the others, particularly the “Watch” novels, also have a lot of good philosophical insights.

    One of the best authors out there.

  • http://musing-minds.com/ Kimsch

    tbrosz – I like the watch novels too. Thud! was the last one. It had a wonderful little bit that I had to read out loud to my husband. I can’t remember it now, and I borrowed the book from the library so I can’t skim and find it right now…

  • OldeForce

    Be aware that Pratchett is firmly against there being any chance there is a God. See his “Science of Discworld III”, which alternates a wizards’ story with his opinions of all those who believe in God and creation. But I still read all of his books. If you haven’t read them yet, find the three wee free men books, usually in the “Young Adult Science Fiction” section of your library.

  • wolfkit

    In one of his novels, Robert Heinlein once said something like – “The only sin is bad manners”. To treat anyone as a thing would definatly come under the heading of ‘bad manners’.