Earthseed – A non-religion I could get behind

Growing up I had never been exposed to much about religion. I was told I was Jewish from birth, a fact that was never hidden from me, but one that really held no significant weight. My family did not discuss God or the afterlife often, as it was not something that my brother and I were ever extremely inquisitive about. To this day my thoughts on religion are never substantial; sometimes I’ll have an occasional deep thought, but a fleeting one at that until I turn back to the life in front of me. Lauren Olamina, the protagonist in Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, on the other hand was brought up into an intensely religious household that she learned to resent. Lauren’s father was a Baptist minister, raising her and her brothers in an intensely religious fashion in a post-apocalyptic time outside of Los Angeles. The post-apocalyptic America is not one ravaged by supernatural creatures or extreme weather conditions, but an extremely plausible world set into motion by drought and racial tensions. America is at the bottom of a downward spiral with Lauren’s gated California neighborhood being the only thing keeping the drug addled maniacs and thieves from raiding her community on a daily basis. Disaster is constantly right outside of Lauren’s gate causing the extremely bright but mentally damaged young woman to attempt to find her place in collapsing America. Refusing to believe in the religion her father preaches to her daily, Lauren begins establishing her own beliefs in God that translate into what she calls Earthseed. To Lauren, God is change. Earthseed presented through Lauren is Butler’s way of examining our own society. By predicting what will become of our society if it does not overcome individualism, racism, and tendencies towards violence, Butler presents her solution through Earthseed.
When society crumbles, so does 99% of the population. Anyone not protected in a gated or guarded society immediately turns towards looting, pillaging, rape, and especially arson. A new drug has been introduced on the streets dubbed “pyro” that makes watching a fire more exhilarating and enjoyable than having sex. Lauren being born in 2009 (the novel was written in 1993) has known only this nightmarish America her entire life. Racial tensions are at an all-time high, water is more expensive than food, and the government has basically collapsed. While the adults are fine with attempting to live life the way it used to be, preaching the same bible verses over again, and still believing things may eventually return to “normal”; Lauren is the next generation learning to live in this new society. Living in this new society and not understanding the old, Lauren rejects her father’s God. Lauren believes in a new religion she has discovered entitled Earthseed. Lauren claim’s she has not invented or made it up, but discovered it. There is no all mighty being or supernatural element to the God in Earthseed, God is only change. The book presents little Earthseed scripture and its beliefs throughout, which later make more sense towards the end of the novel. Earthseed believes that praying does nothing but assist the prayer, and that effort should be put into action to make change. The more the proverbs are read in the book the more the reader is able to comprehend Lauren’s beliefs. Lauren literally believes that God is change. Some of Earthseed’s texts give more insight into her complex thinking “We do not worship God. We perceive and attend God. With forethought and work, we shape God.” And “God is Power- infinite, irresistible, inexorable, indifferent. And yet, God is Pliable- trickster, teacher, chaos, clay. God exists to be shaped. God is Change”. I really loved the thought put into Lauren’s complex world view and it makes complete sense considering the dangerous world she learned to grow up in. Lauren is forced to leave the only home she has ever known when crazy drug addled arsonists come to pillage and destroy her neighborhood. If I grew up in that type of world I am not sure what I would believe in, but Lauren’s views are all justified and change is the belief and system that keeps her alive in post-apocalyptic California. Butler, through Lauren, is expressing that she believes that to get through the hard times any nation is facing, they need to be adaptable, diverse, and learn to embrace change. Another quote from Earthseed demonstrates Butler’s thoughts on diversity, “Embrace diversity. Unite—or be divided, robbed, ruled, killed by those who see you as prey. Embrace diversity, or be destroyed”.
My main issue with Butler’s Earthseed is the way that she presents it. At first Earthseed is not exactly referred to as a religion by Lauren until other people she meets on her journey refer to it as such. My problem with Butler deciding to refer to Earthseed as a religion is that it is too distinctly different from any other religion to be classified as such. A religion is classified by most sources as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, purpose, and nature of the universe; and the Gods that preside over it. Earthseed perfectly fits the set of beliefs and practices used and agreed on by a group of people, but when addressing its God of Change, it is not actually referring to a deity as is every other religion. Also converting the people Lauren traveled with to even accept the idea of something they were referring to as a religion would not go as quickly as it did in the book. It is hard enough reaching out to someone without a religion to think about one, but trying to convince a devout religious individual about a new way of thinking seems like it would not be possible.
Reading Butler’s essay “Devil Girl From Mars”: Why I Write Science Fiction, made it clear where Lauren’s attitude and beliefs came from. Butler believes in a well-educated, literate, news observing, and accepting society. Butler seems to view society on a macro level more so than a micro one, focusing on big picture issues and the state of the human race as a whole. Butler understands that global warming issue an issue in our society which is why she chose to have that be the cause of the draughts and erratic weather in her novel. From focusing on global warming in many of the novels we have read so far I believe Butler paints the most realistic picture of the consequences of ignoring global warming. I agree with Butler’s focus on the continuing productive existence of the human race. I often also have thoughts about human society as a whole and believe Butler made well educated and productive points, the things that she exaggerated for the sake of her novels are actual issues we need to be focusing on today.
Overall Parable of the Sower was one of the more realistic and enjoyable post-apocalyptic books I’ve read. The religious undertone was present but not abrasive, and focused more on religion as a general concept. Instead of focusing on one religion, Butler commented on religion as it fits into society as a whole.

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