The book’s heroine, Lauren Olamina, is the daughter of a Baptist minister who founds her own religion, Earthseed, in the midst of the apocalyptic disintegration of the United States. The novel begins with Lauren’s conflicted feelings about Christianity on the eve of her baptism, and ends with a mass funeral service in which pieces of Christian and Earthseed scripture are read side by side. One of the most important aspects of the narrative arc of the novel is thus Lauren’s journey to take Earthseed seriously and reconcile her commitment to Earthseed with the experience of being raised in a Baptist family. In the latter half of the novel, Earthseed begins to attract converts, and in doing so grows organically from a set of ideas and observations within Lauren’s mind into a real religious community. Throughout this process, Earthseed is also contrasted with Christianity, and the most important aspect of this contrast emerges from the way in which each religion addresses hope and change.
Whereas Christianity is depicted as providing a (false) sense of hope against a brutal and chaotic reality, Earthseed’s central principle is simply that “God is change.” Followers of Earthseed must accept that change is inevitable, that it is often destructive, and that they have the power to “shape God.” As a result, Earthseed provides a more real, tangible sense of hope than Christianity. Rather than praying to God for mercy and justice, followers of Earthseed work to change the world themselves. Shortly after befriending Travis on the walk north, Lauren explains the principles of Earthseed to him, at which point Travis objects: “Your God doesn’t care about you at all,” to which Lauren replies: “All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together.” Within Earthseed, the source of hope does not come from God directly, but rather from people, and specifically people who accept the inevitability of change and choose to pursue a constructive, compassionate way of life.
The novel points out that one of the main reasons why people are attracted to Christianity and other mainstream religions is because they provide hope in the form of the afterlife. There is little hope left within the daily reality of the characters in the novel, and thus many characters focus on the afterlife as the only possible source of redemption from the horror of their mortal existence. However, belief in heaven is—like belief in divine intervention—shown to often be an insufficient source of hope in the face of earthly brutality. This is tragically illustrated in the case of Mrs. Sims, a devoutly Christian member of Lauren’s neighborhood who kills herself despite believing that people who commit suicide will go to hell. Lauren notes: “She believed in a literal acceptance of everything in the Bible. Yet, when things got to be too much for her, she decided to trade pain for eternal pain in the hereafter.” This observation emphasizes that even the most deeply-held religious belief (and hope) is often not enough to console people against the suffering that exists in the world.
When it comes to the matter of heaven, Earthseed is once again shown to offer a more real and substantial form of hope in comparison to other religions. While some characters (such as Travis and Bankole) object that Earthseed will not be able to gain followers because it does not provide the promise of heaven, Lauren disputes this. Belief in heaven is a central part of Earthseed’s ideology, but—in Lauren’s words—“My heaven really exists. And you don’t have to die to reach it.” Earthseed posits that “The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.” Lauren explains that humanity’s only hope of survival is to colonize space, and that this will be the equivalent of going to heaven for Earthseed followers. When Bankole asks Lauren what Earthseed offers, she replies: “A unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven for themselves and their children.” Note that in Lauren’s use of words, Earthseed does not offer the guarantee of heaven but rather the “hope” of it. At the same time, this hope is more tangible than the hope of a Christian afterlife, and is more closely tied to the hope of a better life within the post-apocalyptic earthly world.
Religion, Hope, and Change ThemeTracker
Religion, Hope, and Change Quotes in Parable of the Sower
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
To the adults, going outside to a real church was like stepping back into the good old days when there were churches all over the place and too many lights and gasoline was for fueling cars and trucks instead of for torching things. They never miss a chance to relive the good old days or to tell kids how great it's going to be when the country gets back on its feet and good times come back.
To us kids––most of us––the trip was just an adventure, an excuse to go outside the wall. We would be baptized out of duty or as a kind of insurance, but most of us aren't that much concerned with religion. I am, but then I have a different religion.
Well, today, I found the name, found it while I was weeding the back garden and thinking about the way plants seed themselves, windborne, animalborne, waterborne, far from their parent plants. They have no ability at all to travel great distances under their own power, and yet, they do travel. Even they don't have to just sit in one place and wait to be wiped out. There are islands thousands of miles from anywhere––the Hawaiian Islands, for example, and Easter Island––where plants seeded themselves and grew long before any humans arrived.
I am Earthseed. Anyone can be. Someday, I think there will be a lot of us. And I think we'll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place.
I'm trying to speak––to write––the truth. I'm trying to be clear. I'm not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them. If it happens that there are other people outside somewhere preaching my truth, I'll join them. Otherwise, I'll adapt where I must, take what opportunities I can find or make, hang on, gather students, and teach.
In order to rise
From its own ashes
"Change does scare most people."
"I know. God is frightening. Best to learn to cope."
"Your stuff isn't very comforting."
"It is after a while. I'm still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn't favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought."
"Your God doesn't care about you at all," Travis said.
"All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. 'God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.' We decide which aspect we embrace—and how to deal with the others."
“Now is a time for building foundations––Earthseed communities––focused on the Destiny. After all, my heaven really exists, and you don't have to die to reach it. ‘The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars,’ or among the ashes.” I nodded toward the burned area.
God is neither good
God is Power.
God is Change.
We must find the rest of what we need
in one another,
in our Destiny.
So today we remembered the friends and the family members we've lost. We spoke our individual memories and quoted Bible passages, Earthseed verses, and bits of songs and poems that were favorites of the living or the dead.
Then we buried our dead and we planted oak trees.
Afterward, we sat together and talked and ate a meal and decided to call this place Acorn.
A sower went out to sow his seed:
and as he sowed, some fell by the
way side; and it was trodden down,
and the fowls of the air devoured
it. And some fell upon a rock; and
as soon as it was sprung up, it
withered away because it lacked
moisture. And some fell among
thorns; and the thorns sprang up
with it, and choked it. And others
fell on good ground, and sprang up,
and bore fruit an hundredfold.