The novel, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, takes place in a post-apocalyptic society where there is little to no hope left for the remaining survivors on Earth. Many people have given up on saving the world and now result to taking what’s left of it. However, the few people who do believe in a better life, including protagonist Lauren Olamina, all share one common ideology, religion. Illustrating religion as the last hope against the looming darkness of the dying world, Octavia Butler emphasizes the character development of religious believers and non-believers in Parable of the Sower to represent the differences in lifestyles and choices between them; ultimately making the argument that religion is the driving force in which gives us humans a purpose and reason to prosper, or in this case, rebuild the world.
Lauren’s relationship with religion sprouted at a very young age. Her father, a local reverend, instilled his Christian beliefs upon her such as many parents do to develop good morals within their children. However, Lauren has since abandoned her father’s beliefs and now devotes herself to her personal religion, Earthseed. Earthseed, a work-in-progress, is founded on the belief that “God is change”. Earthseed says that God shapes us as we change, but we are also able to return the favor and directly change God. In addition, Earthseed claims that God exists to change the universe, and paradoxically the universe exists to change God. Earthseed is a religion in the novel, even if hardly anyone in the world knows or acknowledges it. Religion does not need a minimum number of followers, but simply one person engaging in and sharing it with the world. The reason for Lauren giving up on Christianity is not clearly stated. It seems as though she has no hard feelings towards it, she just prefers to focus more on reality as she knows it rather than place false hope into unforeseen entities. Lauren never denies religion or shows any signs of being an atheist, she certainly believes there is something more going on in the universe and the novel as a whole seems to be a coming-of-age story for Lauren and her development of Earthseed.
Octavia Butler doesn’t always portray religion in the best way and often challenges it throughout the novel. However, it can be seen in the characters who hold religion dear to their hearts that their faith is the much-needed foundation for the reconstruction of the broken world. It seems that almost every character who holds a belief in some sort of religion is also the only people left on Earth actively making it a better place, or at least trying. In order to show how each believer will achieve their common goal of restrengthening the world, the main characters’ purposes, which they will strive towards, are revealed through their religions and actions. Lauren’s father’s purpose is to be a teacher. He works tirelessly as a full-time professor, dean, pastor, and leader in their community. He not only teaches the youth how to read and write at the local school, but he is also a teacher of morality. He teaches those around him through words and actions how to maintain a solid community and relationships with others. It is safe to say that most of his actions are religiously motivated, and it’s not a coincidence that his actions are unselfish and out of love for his family, community, and the overall good of the world around him. He is the epitome of a leader during times like the one they’re in, and without him, Lauren would not have the role model and friend she needed as a child. Similar to her father, Lauren is also a believer trying to pick up the pieces of a broken world. However, instead of using Christianity as her main source of reasoning, Lauren makes decisions based on what’s best for Earthseed. Lauren treats Earthseed as if it is her child, and will do anything to protect it because she believes Earthseed could be the savior of humanity. Lauren can be seen as a type of prophet in her new religion. Similar to many other prophets from different types of religions, Lauren is a leader of a group walking into the unknown wanting to share and grow her faith with the world. Lauren strives to find “good ground” to create Earthseed communities such as Acorn, and develop a population that will join her in creating a better life, and ultimately “take root among the stars”.
Contrastly, the characters in the novel who don’t belong to any sort of religion seem to have accepted the fate of the Earth and don’t strive to improve the general quality of life. The pyromaniacs embody this persona and have no regard for anyone or anything aside from feeling short-term pleasure by burning the world to the ground. In addition, Keith Olamina, Lauren’s brother, believes “God is the adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want”, and he certainly fits the theme of non-believers who don’t care about well-being of society. Keith’s role in the novel is short but meaningful. Keith, with money as his incentive, chooses to constantly sneak out of the gated town and get involved in dangerous activities against his father’s wishes. While he was trying to do what he believed was good for his family, Keith was unable to realize that he put his entire community at risk, and ultimately led to its demise. Characters such as these have tunnel vision and seem to have no sense of responsibility for the greater good of society but would rather take advantage of the broken world and deprive it of its last chances of recovering from such a plight. Octavia Butler continues to show that religion is the only thing keeping society together, and those who approach life with religion in their corner understand that it’s up to people like them to save humanity. In a dystopian world, religion is the hope that people need and cling to desperately to survive.
While religion seems to be the motive for bringing the world back together, it is also possible that religion could be hindering society’s ability to progress. Wasting days at Sunday masses or using resources and money for baptisms are a few examples of how religion may seem to have a negative effect on the outlook of society. The time and energy that Lauren’s community spends on organizing and putting on religious events could very well be used to help one another prosper and grow their community. Religion forces them to work towards achieving their ultimate goal of gaining access to heaven, but is it really worth it to spend their lives working towards something that may not even be true when people all around them are struggling to survive in this life? While religion may seem as though it could be a false hope and a waste of precious resources, losing it would leave humans with no purpose or reason to do anything but survive, such as Keith or the pyromaniacs. If there is no goal or something to work towards and everything is meaningless, then what is the point of doing anything? Even Earthseed, a religion that doesn’t believe in an afterlife, still has heaven. However, this heaven is attainable during one’s life, and “the destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars”. Religion pushes us to create a better life for ourselves, and a better future for the generations to come. Even if the religions in Parable of The Sower are false, they are necessary because in achieving their ultimate goals, society will also begin to be restored.
Parable of the Sower offers a potential look into our near future and serves as a warning to all of humanity. The horrors of this dying world are explicitly shown by the harsh conditions Octavia Butler displays throughout the novel, leaving many of the non-believers to give up and assume hope for this world is all but lost. However, religion constantly serves as a beacon to those who believe in a new life, a better life; and those who choose to follow this beacon are tasked with the responsibility of saving those around them and the ones who will make up our future. Religion offers the hope that can be used as motivation and the end goal its followers are longing for and striving to achieve, it ultimately gives them a reason and purpose to keep on living.