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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 Atwoods 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 Crakes 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 whats
and whys 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 Crakes 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.

Snowmans

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 Snowmans
rough platform on top of a tree (Atwood 45) and, more practically, by Crakes genetic manipulations.
If it werent for other scientists previous prying, or Crakes own trial-and-error experiments, none of

See, for example, Snowmans musings on page 409 or Jimmys 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 its used to improve certain
kinds of things (Revealed).

This idea is in harmony with Juan Enriquezs 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, Crakes 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 stuffs 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 Blakes 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. Crakes 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 Paynes art is the
desire to feel like [shes] watching God thinking (296). Crakes 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 creators 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
Frasers 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, theyre

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 Gdels Incompleteness Theorem and Tarskis 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 societys 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 nave 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). Snowmans 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 Snowmans 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 hed
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 Frazers view on another function of belief systems.
Fraser explains that Frazers 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 Crakes remark that [w]ere 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 Humes 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.

The firm credence then provides a raison dtre for the

established rituals.
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 Crakes compound Paradice resonates with Miltonian echoes, reviving the complex
issues of morality from his Paradise Lost and transposing it to Oryx and Crakes own human
conundrum[s] (Atwood 343).

Snowmans journey (Atwood 195) to Paradice is analogous to a

pilgrimage. Our previous understanding of the pilgrims motivations help us understand Snowmans
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 fathers 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
uncles death. The invocation of the Orestes myth allows the readers to more easily discover Crakes
actions and motivations, even though they are not explicitly mentioned in the book.
Also, Atwood utilizes Aesops fable of the grasshopper and the ant to shed light on the relationship
between Jimmy and Crake. Crake tells Jimmy: Youre the grasshopper, Im the ant (Atwood 251).
This image is also recurrently used to symbolize the consequences of humanitys short-term vision of
the future: just like the grasshopper perishes due to his arrogant dismissal of future events, human
beings will share the orthopterons fate.
Thusly, Atwood employs mythical and religious frameworks to illustrate her characters 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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Works Cited
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Toronto: Seal, 2004. Print.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake Revealed. MIT World. n. pag. April 4, 2004. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
Cooke, Grayson.'Technics and the human at zero-hour: Margaret Atwoods Oryx and Crake. Studies in
Canadian Literature, 31.2. (2006). 63-83. ePublications@SCU. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
DiMarco, Danette. Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in
Oryx and Crake. Papers on Language and Literature 41.2. (2005). 170-95. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.
Enriquez, Juan. Juan Enriquez shares mindboggling science. TED.com. n. pag. Feb. 2009. Web. Accessed
30 Oct. 2011.
Fraser, Robert. Introduction and explanatory notes. The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion : a
New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions. By James George Frazer. Oxford: Oxford
UP, 2009. Print.
"History of Logic: Godel's Incompleteness Theorems -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia
Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 02 Nov. 2011.
Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Google Books. Forgotten Books, 2008. Web. 02
Nov. 2011
Storey, Fanoise, and Jeff Storey. "History and Allegory in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake." Cycnos
22.2. (2006). n. pag. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.