Friday, July 24, 2015

Octavia Butler and the Parables (part 7; Parable of the Talents)

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents

Note: If you plan to read Parable of the Talents it would be best not to read this post and the following posts, because they contain a few spoilers. Also, if you plan to read only one of the two books in the series, you should read Parable of the Sower, not just because it is the first of the two volumes but also because it is the better of the two books.

None of the following will appear in the reception history of the parables book; it has already been cut because of word count.

Continuing the discussion of Parable of the Talents:

In a way similar to how the persecution of the early Christians in the Book of Acts served as a catalyst for Christianity’s spread “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), the spreading of Earthseed was ultimately spread by persecution and an attempt to eliminate the new religion. The persecution stemmed from followers of presidential candidate and Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret. Jarret was also a pastor of his own “Church of Christian America,” and he called for a return to “Christian America”: In his words, “America was God’s Country and we were God’s people and God took care of his own. Now look at us. Who are we? What are we? What foul, seething, corrupt heathen concoction have we become?” (84). He continues:
Why have we allowed ourselves to be seduced and betrayed these allies of Satan, these heathen purveyors of false and unchristian doctrines? . . . These pagans are not only wrong. They’re dangerous. . . . They are the natural destroyers of our country. They are lovers of Satan, seducers of our children, rapists of our women, drug sellers, usurers, thieves, and murders! (84).
Olamina notes that someone like Jarret becomes an option for people when they “are frightened and just plain tired of all the chaos. They want someone to do something. Fix things. Now!” (30). That fearfulness opens the door to Fascism, and it also spelled the end for the tiny Earthseed community of Acorn. As Olamina writes in her journal: “It shouldn’t be so easy to nudge people toward what might be their own destruction” (143).

Olamina is still certain that the community is building something good at Acorn, something that will grow and spread (45-46), but eventually, in order to evade the “specialize-grow-die” evolutionary path the human species faces on earth, Earthseed must spread to other planets:
We can be a long-term success and the parents, ourselves, of a vast array of new peoples, new species . . . or we can be just one more abortion. We can, we must, scatter the Earth’s living essences—human, plant, and animal to extrasolar worlds: “The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars” (48; cf. 65, 249, 293, 321-322).
Earthseed is not a religion that provides the “comfort” of speaking of an eternal heaven that awaits. Instead, Earthseed’s heaven:
Is literal, physical—other worlds circling other stars. It promises people immortality only through their children, their work, and their memories. For the human species, immortality is something to be won by sowing Earthseed on other worlds. Its promise is not of mansions to live in, milk and honey to drink, or eternal oblivion in some vast whole of nirvana. Its promise is of hard work and brand-new possibilities, problems, challenges, and changes (49; cf. 143-144).
Although Earthseed’s foundational belief is that God is Change, God can be directed, focused, and shaped—even slowed or accelerated—in various ways. Earthseed is not a religion of consolation in God, a god who is “utterly indifferent,” according to Larkin (49), but the Earthseed community itself provides consolation, as this verse from Earthseed: The Books of the Living indicates:
God is Change,And in the end,God prevails.But meanwhile . . .Kindness eases Change.Love quiets fear.And a sweet and powerfulPositive obsessionBlunts pain,Diverts rage,And engages each of usIn the greatest,The most intenseOf our chosen struggles (47).

Thus Olamina, in spite of their dire situation, believes that what human beings have broken, they can mend (102). That philosophy is severely challenged, however, when Jarret is elected as president of the United States, and tensions continue to rise. A few months after Jarret takes office and two months after Olamina and Bakole's daughter, Larkin Beryl Ife Olamina Bankole was born, Acorn is attacked and taken over by supporters of Jarret, who rename Acorn, “Camp Christian Reeducation Facility.” The children of Acorn are sent away to “good Christian homes” to families who will “re-educate” them. Larkin, for example, is adopted by the Alexander family and renamed Asha Vere Alexander (201). The adult members of Acorn who survive the attack are enslaved—including the use of virtually unremovable “slave collars” that punish offenders painfully and severely and keep them in perpetual servitude.

The next post will talk about how Olamina and others escape their imprisonment and what they do afterward. 

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