Entirely contrary to the prevailing religious apathy in modern societies, religion is essential to most of the characters in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. This can be largely attributed to the story’s dystopian setting. Under this harsh environment, people only survive through communities and communities only unify and sustain through a single religious belief. Many religions are mentioned in the story, yet Earthseed (an invented religion) and Christianity stand out.
- How does the setting of the story affect people’s religious devoutness?
- Living in this dystopian world, what difference would having a religious belief make?
Parable of the Sower
Even from the title of the story, an emphasis on religion is apparent. An actual parable told by Jesus Himself to His followers is also titled “Parable of the Sower.”
“ A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit a hundredfold.”
(King James Version Luke 8:5-8)
This parable vividly depicts the relationship between religion and the humankind. While the majority, although have heard the truth a religion embodies, prioritizes other things before the truth and forgets, very few remain receptive to the message and consolidate their belief through actions.
- There are a total of 46 parables in the Bible, why do you think Butler chooses Parable of the Sower as the starting point for her Parable series?
- Why do you think Butler uses this Judeo-Christian reference?
What differentiates Butler’s Parable from Jesus’ is the fact that she sows Earthseed instead of Christianity. Earthseed is a religion invented by Lauren Oya Olamina, the protagonist of the story. It is her attempt to grasp a truth that explains and eventually seeks to resolve the current plight.
“All that you touch You Change.
All that you Change Changes you.
The only lasting truth Is Change.
God Is Change.
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING” (Butler 3)
Similar to traditional religions, Earthseed has a God, who is change, and a holy book called the Book of Living. It first started as a series of truths that Lauren discovers to be denied by those who latch onto the peaceful past. Later, Lauren recognizes its potential to become a religion that unifies communities and fosters life.
What differs Earthseed from other religions is that God is not a single figure or the all-encompassing nature. It is change. A process that is out of mankind’s control; whether it’s within one’s knowledge or not, it happens, wielding its insurmountable power against or for mankind’s benefit. Thus, change somehow does resemble a God yet without the holiness in traditional religions. Therefore, Earthseeds (the believers of Earthseed) do not pray to God, and instead, they learn to shape God.
“We do not worship God.
We perceive and attend God.
We learn from God.
With forethought and work,
We shape God
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING” (Butler 20).
This passage from the Book of Living embodies the purpose of Earthseed: to shape God. The Book of Living also specifies a series of actions that Earthseeds should take to understand God and how to shape Him. This is because eventually, Earthseeds need to manipulate God in such way that they can achieve their Destiny- emigrate to another planet.
“The Destiny of Earthseed
Is to take root among the stars.
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING” (Butler 109).
- What do think about Earthseed? Do you believe it is a valid religion?
- Since Butler is not “sowing Christianity,” why does she explicitly reference to Christianity at the title of this book?
- Do you think Butler juxtaposes Christianity and Earthseed on purpose?
Another form of religion also exists in the text. Reverend Olamina and the residents at Robledo (when Lauren and her family reside) uphold Christianity. This traditional religion offers a distant God, teaches out-dated lessons, and shackles its believers with passivity.
What Lauren has learned from the Bible contrasts with what she witnesses; while God should have been loving and praised, He seems uncaring to the 700 people died in a hurricane (Butler 18). Lauren believes ther is a lack of effective medium to connect to God, how do we know for sure our prayers are heard?
When Robledo is burned down into pieces, inflexible commandments such as “thou shalt not kill” and “ thou shalt not steal” only diminishes Lauren and her companions’ chance of survival. If they do not steal for food and clothes, and kill for protection, they would likely die within days (Butler 118).
Most importantly, Christianity encourages passivity. The residents of Robledo hide behind the seemingly impregnable walls, pray to God day and night, and believes that He will someday make everything better. Their inactivity in learning the current circumstance of the society and adapting to it only leads to their final demise (Butler 181).
Some other religions are mentioned in Parable of the Sower as well. Most ethnic Chinese follow Buddhist tradition; Catholics practice baptism through sprinkling. Combined with Earthseed and Christianity, Butler offers us a glimpse of a diversity of religion in this chaotic world. Would these religions serve as a solution for mankind?
- What do you think about religion? Do you think they are nherently destructive or beneficial? How do you think Butler will answer these questions?
- What do you think are the effects of religion on the characters, how do their different religious beliefs contribute to their lives?
- Why this proliferation of different religions, is one not enough?
Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. Warner Books, 1993.
West end of Harbottle village from the Castle cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Andrew Curtis – geograph.org.uk/p/1815704