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Mendoza     1  

Is Religion a Human Necessity? Exploring the Elimination of the G-spot in Oryx and Crake
“Why not, why not?” (12) ask the Crakers at the beginning of Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and
Crake.

The curiosity of these genetically perfected beings endows their utterances with strange

anthropomorphic undertones, resulting in the questioning of their level of humanness.

Atwood

presents the Children of Crake as a primitive society starting to develop their own belief system – a
liturgy in crescendo – despite Crake’s thunderous efforts to eliminate credence. In this paper I will
propose that, according to Atwood, religion is an inherent need for humans and that the Crakers’ urge
to question is an unmistakable sign of their humanness that inexorably leads to the creation of a
theology.
We are introduced to the Crakers by their burning desire to know what it is that they have picked up
on the shore. “Snowman, what have we found?” they ask (Atwood 9). The following chain of what’s
and why’s during the first chapter establishes their deep thirst for knowledge. Furthermore, Atwood
presents this characteristic as quintessential in these beings, to the point that Snowman exclaims that
they “ask too many questions” (118). Thus, regardless of Crake’s attempts to eliminate the “monkey
brains” (Atwood 120) that humans possess, Atwood herself mentions that his genetically engineered
offspring “still are avid questioners” (“Revealed”). Such explicit displays of inquisitiveness imply that
there is a congenital necessity in the Children of Crake for gathering information about their
environment. These childish enquiries are reminiscent of primitive tribes of hominids exploring their
surroundings, establishing an undeniable link between these humanoid creatures and us.
It should be noted that Atwood identifies humanity by their unique forms of investigation. She recalls
that “someone has defined human beings as the animal that asks why” (“Revealed”). It is only fitting
that her novel evokes so many questions, both in the readers and the protagonist.

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Snowman’s

constant re-examinations of past events and the Crakers’ incessant curiousness share a common link
– the innate need to understand the environment in which they live. This, in turn, can be explained by
the Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest: our advantage as humans over other animals is the
same characteristic Atwood alludes to. By knowing how our environment functions we can manipulate
it to our advantage, placing ourselves above nature. This is symbolically represented by Snowman’s
“rough platform” on top of a tree (Atwood 45) and, more practically, by Crake’s genetic manipulations.
If it weren’t for other scientists’ previous prying, or Crake’s own trial-and-error experiments, none of

                                                                                                               
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See, for example, Snowman’s musings on page 409 or Jimmy’s inquiry on the disease on page 24.

Regardless of the modifications made to these creatures. He assures Jimmy that “[t]hat stuff’s been edited out. “Revealed”). This idea is in harmony with Juan Enriquez’s theory of the homo evolutis. This question is one of the main bases of any theology.Mendoza     2   the technological advances that enabled human beings to progress would have existed. Danette DiMarco explains that “[o]nce thought to be a quality of the divine – to create a person outside of natural birth – it now becomes known and measured by . and such aspirations provide both a common social goal that unites its members. as well as an asymptotical challenge for the individual. a betterment of humanity. Atwood explicitly shows that people inherently try to assimilate their deities. Atwood implies that the resulting holy characters that stem from answering the Blakean dilemma have two main functions: providing the possibility of self-apotheosis. and his fixation with games like “Barbarian Stomp” (Atwood 93). Crake has failed to efface their hunger for answers. the image of him “[s]itting in judgment on the world” (Atwood 406). Hence. this is not entirely true. the Crakers would not have been created. and the Crakers are. “[h]ominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species… and others” (“Mindboggling science”). the implementation of a God-like figure provides a cultural role model. who made thee?” (253). Crake’s plan ironically backfires through the process of “his own gradual deification” (Atwood 126). She writes that “create-an-animal was so much fun … [because] it made you feel like God” (59) and that the driving force behind Amanda Payne’s art is the desire to feel “like [she’s] watching God thinking” (296). therefore. that the author berates. Humans strive to be like their revered idols. Crake’s creation of his Children. according to Atwood. It is the hubristic use of technology. Meditations of such nature have profound theological implications and the quest for an answer leads to the creation of deities. Whilst Oryx and Crake might seem like a critique of the destructive power of scientific endeavors. not the advances per se. “improved” people (Atwood. Crake’s project is. Atwood even parodies a famous verse from William Blake’s “The Lamb”: “Little spoat/gider.” yet Oryx corrects him by clarifying that “they asked who made them” (Atwood 374). and as a step towards a more important philosophical debate: why are we here? Firstly. Atwood remarks that “[science is] great as long as it’s used to improve certain kinds of things” (“Revealed”). “Blood and Roses” (Atwood 94) and “Extinctathon” (Atwood 97) that endow the player with a sense of omnipotence (games that Jimmy also enjoyed) shows that not even Crake could escape his own self-apotheosis. This is precisely what Crake does.

guide-posts to provinciality. of who we are. the Crakers need statements that cannot be proven but must be unquestionably accepted in order to allow them to further their studies. it is through their accumulated “stock of lore” (Atwood 11) regarding Snowman that they are able to differentiate themselves from him. and no idea more scarifying than the leveling notion of our kinship with those whose taboos are otherwise. All of us hold such taboos dear because they inform us. uniting them in socio-economic turmoil through their shared. Furthermore. Cultures need the schism of religion to identify themselves within their community. whether through inclusion or else through exclusion. even though the Crakers are “starting more or less from scratch” (Atwood 371). even science-focused academic institutions with fervent atheists like Crake utilize religious symbols to create an identity. Like any system for the acquisition of knowledge. Similarly. behaving as a sort of tabula rasa. . Consequently. Atwood proposes that doctrinal segregation is the byproduct of a need to belong. Every person. It is not surprising that Crake envisions himself as divine” (9). (x) The implementation of a shared faith provides the Crakers with a slight notion of unity and belonging. the Watson-Crick Institute exalts its elite status through “Roman-look fountains with nymphs and sea gods” (Atwood 352). they require a set of axioms from which to build their interpretations of the world. Instead. there are “quite a few … religious groups” with shirts showing “smiley-faced angels flying with birds or Jesus holding hands with a peasant or God Is Green on the front” (Atwood 219). Therefore no taboo is more sacrosanct than that which ensures our difference. the greater their feeling of accomplishment. This is analogous to Robert Fraser’s conception of taboos: Taboos are fences around cultures. providing a foundation for the exploration and interpretation of universal phenomena. The figures of these ancient deities are a symbol of the exclusivity of the university. unshakable beliefs. argues Atwood. “they’re demanding dogma” (Atwood 126). During the Happicuppa protests. Crake misinterprets belief systems as consequences of “territoriality” (Atwood 367). a self-imposed division that bonds the members of that community. The second function of a creed is its ability to explain many things. definitions of belonging and of place. Their credence serves as a dogmatic backbone for their political inclinations. thereby providing them with a lifelong objective. In fact. As Snowman mentions. Thus. aspires to simulate their creator’s characteristics because the more they liken him or her. This is an ineluctable consequence from the establishment of any logical system.Mendoza     3   man.

The world is founded on cause and effect. therefore. and his place within it … If an aborigine stood on a hill in central Australia greeting the dawn with a lighted candle. Rules are held to be sacrosanct. where he claims that “[t]he mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause. but because the beliefs they embody are essential to a society’s conception of man.Mendoza     4   as proved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Tarski’s elaboration on it (“History of Logic”). does not inhibit us from acting on assumptions based on the most sanguine form of determinism. . They believe that through the construction of an effigy and musical incantations. All actions based on calculation are. Their ritual serves as the link between the cause and effect they witnessed and it is the result of trial-and-error testing of hypotheses. Snowman’s return only provides evidence for the confirmation of their beliefs. Their “conjectures about [Snowman]” (Atwood 11) offer an explanation to why his physical appearance differs from their own. However. the example Fraser illustrates is similar to the Crakers’ attempt to bring back Snowman through “chanting” (Atwood 428). Additionally. not because people are stuffy. and you would hear us and come back” (Atwood 430). as Fraser explains. As a new group of people exploring a new world after leaving Paradice. not a priori genetic information. namely. acts of faith. Our short-sightedness. When a given cause arises. (xiv. by the most accurate scrutiny and examination [f]or the effect is totally different from the cause” (18). Moreover. their friend will return safely from his journey: “We knew we could call you. my italics) Crake is oblivious to the fact that everyday living is based on faith and that creed is simply an extension of commonplace cause-and-effect relationships. And while we might think his concern naïve or absurd. [R]ules are founded on rituals which in turn enshrine magical beliefs. In addition. none of us can at that moment discern its consequences. our no-less ardent attachment to other such customs obliges us at least to understand him. rituals evoke a sense of belonging that comforts people and protects them from too much uncertainty. this was because he was assured that the sun would more effectively rise as a consequence. however. This is further supported by David Hume in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Snowman sarcastically quotes that “[i]t is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity” (Atwood 7). the universe. the Crakers develop their own belief system from their limited empirical experience to aid them in their understanding of their present situation. the discovery of a new environment and the establishment of an independent society.

Throughout the novel. the damaged membranes where he’d whanged up against the Great Indifference of the Universe” (314-5). Atwood seems to support Sir James George Frazer’s view on another function of belief systems. verdant” (128). Atwood writes of “[t]he pain of the raw torn places. We are reminded. Accordingly. In a similar fashion. language itself is a system of symbols and idols are mental abstractions. which in turn acted on philosophical assumptions deeply embedded within the mind” (810 n. then. Hence. The firm credence then provides a raison d’être for the established rituals. it is not surprising that they begin to develop religious symbols. It has been argued that “the novel sound[s] at times like a biblical allegory” (Storey n. Atwood constantly stresses that besides providing an axiomatic foundation for the discovery of our environment. Atwood utilizes numerous biblical references to explain the behavior of her characters. “[t]heir singing is unlike he ever heard … something old. of Crake’s remark that “[w]e’re hard-wired for dreams [and] for singing” (Atwood 419). and their unusual harmonies during the journey that Snowman likens to a “religious procession” (420).Mendoza     5   despite Snowman’s mocking tone. creeds serve as personal sanctuaries that provide people with a level of certainty and exclusivity that nurtures mental stability. carboniferous. These symbols enhance the cultural division provided by their faith.). Storey and Storey offer the possibility that “Adam and Eve could be Crake . pag. Just as Hume’s “articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence of some person” (18). fragrant. myths and religions also serve as fundamental tools for the understanding of human nature. Atwood demonstrates how the Crakers perform numerous rituals before the development of a full religion: their response to the creation story Snowman repeats to them is “becoming a liturgy” (126). Given the fact that they have the ability to create mental abstractions and to communicate through spoken and musical language. Atwood thereby sustains that the capacity for imagination and artistic expression is a crucial characteristic in hominid species. Atwood describes “how in an emergency a lot of people would head to the bathroom [because] [b]athrooms were the closest things to sanctuaries in these houses” (277). ponderous directive” (Atwood 7) has considerable validity. Rituals serve as a philosophical cushion that guard the individual from overwhelming existential angst. but at the same time newborn. that “obsolete. Fraser explains that “Frazer’s theory is that myth developed as a way of justifying ritual. as well as strengthen the belief in their myths. their entirely original invocation of Snowman (430).15). those symbolic representations reassure us of the existence of our fantastical creations.

Atwood employs mythical and religious frameworks to illustrate her character’s motivations and relationships. reviving the complex issues of morality from his Paradise Lost and transposing it to Oryx and Crake’s own “human conundrum[s]” (Atwood 343). Our previous understanding of the pilgrims’ motivations help us understand Snowman’s decision to embark on his perilous excursion and to be able to comprehend the pilgrims. pag. Snowman’s “journey” (Atwood 195) to Paradice is analogous to a pilgrimage. As an example he highlights that “[w]ith the depiction of cloned and genetically engineered life-forms and viruses comes the Frankensteinian myth of ex-uthero creation coupled with its Promethean twin of forbidden knowledge and technology out of control” (1). who so passionately criticizes creed. Furthermore. This image is also recurrently used to symbolize the consequences of humanity’s short-term vision of the future: just like the grasshopper perishes due to his arrogant dismissal of future events. The decision to name Crake’s compound “Paradice” resonates with Miltonian echoes. Even Crake. . Consequently. Simple Darwinian principles demand the invention of doctrine because it favors the hominid species that follow it. as if their symbolic value superseded their importance as characters” (n. creating a stronger species. I’m the ant” (Atwood 251). one must analyze their beliefs. Crake explains to Jimmy that his father’s assassination “could have been [due to] both [his mother and Uncle Pete]” (Atwood 257) and that “[i]n a manner of speaking” (Atwood 306) he was “there” for his uncle’s death. The invocation of the Orestes myth allows the readers to more easily discover Crake’s actions and motivations.). as a novel species with no previous belief system. human beings will share the orthopteron’s fate. even though they are not explicitly mentioned in the book. Crake could not eradicate the “deeply embedded pattern of belief” (xxi) Fraser talks about simply because of the titanic advantages it provides for social relations. uses fables to clarify ideas. Also. The novel suggests that Crake kills his mother and his uncle as revenge for the death of his father. Grayson Cooke points out that “[t]he novel turns on a number of myths or archetypes” (1). Thusly. as well as physical phenomena. Crake tells Jimmy: “You’re the grasshopper. Atwood utilizes Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant to shed light on the relationship between Jimmy and Crake. the Crakers begin to create myths and religious stories to comprehend social interactions. The power of myth and religion as methods for gaining insight into human behavior is such that both the author and Crake require and utilize them.Mendoza     6   … and Oryx” which “would explain why Oryx and Crake as characters seem to be devoid of personality.

Atwood argues that myths and religious systems are developed by hominids for the purpose of understanding their surroundings. their kin. Since humans have the capacity for language and abstract thought – quintessential traits of humanness. according to Atwood – credence is a concomitant product in any human-like species. . and themselves. whilst Crake is able to create an anthropoid species that is similar to us in many fundamental aspects.Mendoza     7   In conclusion. therefore. Creed. it is this affinity that prevents him from eliminating the need for religion. cannot be eliminated a priori through genetic manipulations because it is created a posteriori from experience as means to ensure the survival of the species. In addition. as well as to protect them from existential angst.

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