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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. 1

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

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the technological advances that enabled human beings to progress would have existed; the Crakers

would not have been created.

Whilst Oryx and Crake might seem like a critique of the destructive power of scientific endeavors, this

is not entirely true.

Atwood remarks that “[science is] great as long as it’s used to improve certain

kinds of things” (“Revealed”).

This idea is in harmony with Juan Enriquez’s theory of the homo

evolutis, “[h]ominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species… and

others” (“Mindboggling science”).

This is precisely what Crake does, and the Crakers are, therefore,

“improved” people (Atwood, “Revealed”).

It is the hubristic use of technology, not the advances per

se, that the author berates. Hence, Crake’s project is, according to Atwood, a betterment of humanity.

Regardless of the modifications made to these creatures, Crake has failed to efface their hunger for

answers.

He assures Jimmy that “[t]hat stuff’s been edited out,” yet Oryx corrects him by clarifying

that “they asked who made them” (Atwood 374).

This question is one of the main bases of any

theology. Atwood even parodies a famous verse from William Blake’s “The Lamb”: “Little spoat/gider,

who made thee?” (253).

Meditations of such nature have profound theological implications and the

quest for an answer leads to the creation of deities.

Crake’s plan ironically backfires through the

process of “his own gradual deification” (Atwood 126).

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 as a step towards a more important philosophical debate: why are

we here?

Firstly, the implementation of a God-like figure provides a cultural role model.

Humans strive to be

like their revered idols, and such aspirations provide both a common social goal that unites its

members, as well as an asymptotical challenge for the individual. Atwood explicitly shows that people

inherently try to assimilate their deities.

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). Crake’s creation of his Children, the image of

him “[s]itting in judgment on the world” (Atwood 406), and his fixation with games like “Barbarian

Stomp” (Atwood 93), “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.

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

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man.

It is not surprising that Crake envisions himself as divine” (9).

Every person, argues Atwood,

aspires to simulate their creator’s characteristics because the more they liken him or her, the greater

their feeling of accomplishment, thereby providing them with a lifelong objective.

Furthermore, Crake misinterprets belief systems as consequences of “territoriality” (Atwood 367).

Instead, Atwood proposes that doctrinal segregation is the byproduct of a need to belong. During the

Happicuppa protests, 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).

Their credence serves as a dogmatic backbone for their political inclinations, uniting them in

socio-economic turmoil through their shared, unshakable beliefs. Similarly, the Watson-Crick Institute

exalts its elite status through “Roman-look fountains with nymphs and sea gods” (Atwood 352).

The

figures of these ancient deities are a symbol of the exclusivity of the university, a self-imposed division

that bonds the members of that community.

Thus, even science-focused academic institutions with

fervent atheists like Crake utilize religious symbols to create an identity. This is analogous to Robert

Fraser’s conception of taboos:

Taboos are fences around cultures, guide-posts to provinciality, definitions of belonging and of

place.

All of us hold such taboos dear because they inform us, whether through inclusion or

else through exclusion, of who we are. Therefore no taboo is more sacrosanct than that which

ensures our difference, and no idea more scarifying than the leveling notion of our kinship with

those whose taboos are otherwise. (x)

The implementation of a shared faith provides the Crakers with a slight notion of unity and belonging.

In fact, it is through their accumulated “stock of lore” (Atwood 11) regarding Snowman that they are

able to differentiate themselves from him. Cultures need the schism of religion to identify themselves

within their community.

The second function of a creed is its ability to explain many things, providing a foundation for the

exploration and interpretation of universal phenomena.

Consequently, even though the Crakers are

“starting more or less from scratch” (Atwood 371), behaving as a sort of tabula rasa, they require a set

of axioms from which to build their interpretations of the world.

As Snowman mentions, “they’re

demanding dogma” (Atwood 126).

Like any system for the acquisition of knowledge, the Crakers

need statements that cannot be proven but must be unquestionably accepted in order to allow them to

further their studies. This is an ineluctable consequence from the establishment of any logical system,

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as proved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Tarski’s elaboration on it (“History of Logic”).

Moreover, as Fraser explains,

[R]ules are founded on rituals which in turn enshrine magical beliefs.

Rules are held to be

sacrosanct, not because people are stuffy, but because the beliefs they embody are essential

to a society’s conception of man, the universe, and his place within it … If an aborigine stood

on a hill in central Australia greeting the dawn with a lighted candle, this was because he was

assured that the sun would more effectively rise as a consequence. And while we might think

his concern naïve or absurd, our no-less ardent attachment to other such customs obliges us

at least to understand him.

The world is founded on cause and effect.

When a given cause

arises, none of us can at that moment discern its consequences.

Our short-sightedness,

however, does not inhibit us from acting on assumptions based on the most sanguine form of

determinism. All actions based on calculation are, therefore, acts of faith. (xiv, 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. This is further supported by David Hume in

his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, where he claims that “[t]he mind can never possibly

find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination [f]or the effect is

totally different from the cause” (18).

As a new group of people exploring a new world after leaving

Paradice, the Crakers develop their own belief system from their limited empirical experience to aid

them in their understanding of their present situation; namely, the discovery of a new environment and

the establishment of an independent society. Their “conjectures about [Snowman]” (Atwood 11) offer

an explanation to why his physical appearance differs from their own. In addition, the example Fraser

illustrates is similar to the Crakers’ attempt to bring back Snowman through “chanting” (Atwood 428).

They believe that through the construction of an effigy and musical incantations, their friend will return

safely from his journey: “We knew we could call you, and you would hear us and come back” (Atwood

430).

Snowman’s return only provides evidence for the confirmation of their beliefs.

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, not a priori genetic information.

Additionally, rituals evoke a sense of belonging that comforts people and protects them from too

much uncertainty.

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). However,

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despite Snowman’s mocking tone, that “obsolete, ponderous directive” (Atwood 7) has considerable

validity.

Atwood writes of “[t]he pain of the raw torn places, the damaged membranes where he’d

whanged up against the Great Indifference of the Universe” (314-5). Rituals serve as a philosophical

cushion that guard the individual from overwhelming existential angst.

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). In a similar fashion, creeds serve as personal sanctuaries that

provide people with a level of certainty and exclusivity that nurtures mental stability.

Atwood seems to support Sir James George Frazer’s view on another function of belief systems.

Fraser explains that “Frazer’s theory is that myth developed as a way of justifying ritual, which in turn

acted on philosophical assumptions deeply embedded within the mind” (810 n.15).

Accordingly,

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),

“[t]heir singing is unlike he ever heard … something old, carboniferous, but at the same time newborn,

fragrant, verdant” (128), their entirely original invocation of Snowman (430), and their unusual

harmonies during the journey that Snowman likens to a “religious procession” (420).

We are

reminded, then, of Crake’s remark that “[w]e’re hard-wired for dreams [and] for singing” (Atwood 419).

Atwood thereby sustains that the capacity for imagination and artistic expression is a crucial

characteristic in hominid species.

Given the

fact that they have the

ability to create mental

abstractions and to communicate through spoken and musical language, it is not surprising that they

begin to develop religious symbols; language itself is a system of symbols and idols are mental

abstractions.

These symbols enhance the cultural division provided by their faith, as well as

strengthen the belief in their myths. Just as Hume’s “articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark

assures us of the presence of some person” (18), those symbolic representations reassure us of the

existence of our fantastical creations.

established rituals.

The firm credence then provides a raison d’être for the

Throughout the novel, Atwood constantly stresses that besides providing an axiomatic foundation for

the discovery of our environment, myths and religions also serve as fundamental tools for the

understanding of human nature.

It has been argued that “the novel sound[s] at times like a biblical

allegory” (Storey n. pag.).

Hence, Atwood utilizes numerous biblical references to explain the

behavior of her characters. Storey and Storey offer the possibility that “Adam and Eve could be Crake

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… and Oryx” which “would explain why Oryx and Crake as characters seem to be devoid of

personality, as if their symbolic value superseded their importance as characters” (n. pag.).

The

decision to name Crake’s compound “Paradice” resonates with Miltonian echoes, reviving the complex

issues of morality from his Paradise Lost and transposing it to Oryx and Crake’s own “human

conundrum[s]” (Atwood 343).

Snowman’s “journey” (Atwood 195) to Paradice is analogous to a

pilgrimage.

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, one must

analyze their beliefs.

Furthermore, Grayson Cooke points out that “[t]he novel turns on a number of

myths or archetypes” (1).

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).

The novel suggests that Crake kills his mother and his uncle as revenge for the death of his father.

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, even though they are not explicitly mentioned in the book.

Also, Atwood utilizes Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant to shed light on the relationship

between Jimmy and Crake.

Crake tells Jimmy: “You’re the grasshopper, I’m the ant” (Atwood 251).

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, human

beings will share the orthopteron’s fate.

Thusly, Atwood employs mythical and religious frameworks to illustrate her character’s motivations

and relationships. Even Crake, who so passionately criticizes creed, uses fables to clarify ideas. 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. Consequently, as a novel species with no previous belief

system, the Crakers begin to create myths and religious stories to comprehend social interactions, as

well as physical phenomena. 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, creating a

stronger species. Simple Darwinian principles demand the invention of doctrine because it favors the

hominid species that follow it.

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In conclusion, whilst Crake is able to create an anthropoid species that is similar to us in many

fundamental aspects, it is this affinity that prevents him from eliminating the need for religion.

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.

In addition,

Atwood argues that myths and religious systems are developed by hominids for the purpose of

understanding their surroundings, their kin, and themselves, as well as to protect them from existential

angst.

Creed, therefore, 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.

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