Religion in the Wild Seed

While reading Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler discussed how most science fiction novels deal with religion. She begins by explaining, “…science fiction tends not to deal with religion, and when it does deal with it, it’s with contempt. Science fiction seems more interested in machines than in people. It tends to dismiss religion.” 9 She goes on by wishing that the human race could outgrow religion and depend more on ethical systems that did not involve “the Big Policeman in the sky.” Right away I thought about how this idea is presented in Wild Seed.

One of the prime examples of Butler implementing this idea of religion in Wild Seed, is when she uses the actual history of the slave trade as a way of showing how religion can be dangerous at times. Chief among these is the obvious example of the slave trade, shown when an entire culture set up by Doro is decimated (3). Butler also shows the European slave traders as acting under a false sense of moral superiority because of their religion. Daly, who serves the purpose in the book as the representative character of the slave trade, voices his belief that all Africans are “heathen savages…They’re like animals. They’re all cannibals” (43). Doro retorts with, “Spare me your mythology, and your righteous indignation. At least we cannibals are honest about what we do, we don’t pretend as you slavers do to be acting for the benefit of our victims’ souls. We don’t tell ourselves we’ve caught them to teach them civilized religion.” In Doro’s eyes the act of receiving communion is more than a type of “symbolic cannibalism”.

Butler also critiques religion through the Doro and Anyanwu’s first encounter. When their conversation turns to the topic of religion, they ultimately agree upon a secular view of the world. Both of them claim that they follow no gods, instead preferring to “help themselves”. Anyanwu continues by saying that “people must be their own gods and make their own good fortune. The bad will come or not come anyway” (19-20) In fact, both seem to only respect religion in order to keep good relations with other people. Even right before Anyanwu leaves her home, she seems to mock her people’s religion by saying, “Perhaps they will make a shrine and give it my name…then at night when they see shadows and branches blowing in the wind they can tell each other they have seen my spirit” (25)

There are even examples in Wild Seed in which Butler uses specific examples from Christian Scripture in order to critique it. The first example is when Doro’s relationship with Daly is described to be similar to the story of Job and Satan on page 42. In the Book of Job, Job’s devotion to God is put to the test when God allows Satan to inflict the highest degrees of torture upon Job. By bringing up this story, Butler is calling God’s benevolent status into question. Doro’s actions are often questionable, and by bringing these parallels to Doro as a god figure, she is subtly critiquing Christianity.

When I saw how Doro’s main rule for his people was an unquestioned obedience, I couldn’t help but think of the God of the Old Testament. Aside from Anyanwu, Doro gets their full obedience as well as their love. This unyielding love that his seeds have for him is shown as a sort of self-deception with the resistance of Anyanwu. She seems to be the only one who can accept that what Doro does is wrong.

Finally there is the matter of the titles of the three books that make up Wild Seed. Each name seems to hold a religious effect to them. The first book is titled “Covenant”. My guess is that the title implies the agreement made between Doro and Anyanwu. If we continue to look at Doro as a stand in for God, we see that he breaks his promise to Anyanwu in order to satisfy his own interests. The second book is titled “Lot’s Children”. In the bible Lot’s seed is spread through incest, thus bringing about God’s wrath on the abominations. Book II takes place in Wheatley, a place where Doro uses incest as a way of selective breeding, something that Anyanwu sees as an abomination. Then there is Book III which I find the most interesting. Book III is titled “Canaan”, the name of the holy land in the Bible. Ironically Book III takes place when Anyanwu is settled in her own farm away from Doro. It seems that the holy land was only found when Anyanwu broke away from Doro and his oppression. It seems that Butler is trying to say that Anyanwu was successful on her farm because she broke away from her “god” and made her own fortune.

Overall, it seems to me that Butler believes that as an ethical system, religion is flawed. She believes that humanity needs to develop a new moral system where we can police ourselves and not worry about “the big policeman in the sky”.

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