Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents provide readers with often radical re-visions and critiques of biblical texts. This article asks how the principal characters’ affective engagements with Scripture vary, and considers the extent to which fiction may “play” with the Bible, despite its authoritative distance. It employs Alicia Suskin Ostriker’s approaches from her 1993 monograph Feminist Revision and the Bible: a hermeneutics of suspicion, a hermeneutics of desire, and a hermeneutics of indeterminacy. Aligning these modes with the affect theory of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, this research finds that the position of a character’s ego (paranoiac versus depressive) affects how they may approach the “lost object” of religious authority. The more the reader is awakened to these different positions, the more they may eventually become comfortable with indeterminacy. Such freedom from a sense of the monologic permits creative engagement with the Bible that reflects recent aims of feminist and womanist theologies.
Octavia E. Butler; Alicia Suskin Ostriker; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick; biblical hermeneutics; feminist re-vision; Parable of the Sower; Parable of the Talents
Award-winning author of speculative fiction, Octavia E. Butler, is often quoted describing herself as a combination of many things: “I’m […] comfortably asocial […] a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” Critics have noted the author’s tendency to explore these elements within her fictional characters, and indeed while the speaker and the author are never explicitly connected in text, Butler has called Lauren Olamina, the protagonist of her Parables series, her “best self.” Along with Butler’s other work, the two published novels in this series, Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), form an integral part of the Afrofuturism movement within science fiction or the broader termed speculative fiction. Exploring aspects of her experience within fiction, Butler’s work offers a vital counterpart not only to science fiction/speculative fiction’s historically white perspective but also to its largely white feminist branch. And while Butler has described her works as feminist, this paper also explores womanist scholarship, which studies more closely the effects of race, class and gender together in systems of power and oppression.
Butler published Sower and Talents as part of a series that was cut short by her death in 2006. Her archives in Huntington, California, contain notes for a continuation of the series, however this article only explores the published texts. Sower and Talents are set in the early to mid-twenty-first century, and follow the life of Lauren, later known by her surname Olamina, through journal entries from her mid-teens to her eighties. In Sower, Olamina lives with her father (a Baptist minister and academic), stepmother (also an academic) and brothers in a walled community called Robledo. Under siege from starving citizens and violent addicts, disenchanted with Baptist Christianity, Olamina develops a new religion called Earthseed, which views God as “Change.” Earthseed has its foundations in Christianity but contains “a pragmatic naturalist theology that is paradoxically motivated by an ‘other-worldly,’ extra-solar eschatological hope.” After the presumed death of her family, Olamina journeys north and discusses Earthseed with her growing group, which includes her future partner Bankole. Olamina’s “hyperempathy” is also explored—a perceived disability that forces some to share the pain and pleasure of others. Eventually settling on Bankole’s land, they found a community called Acorn, where Olamina preaches about a futuristic “Destiny”—to “take root among the stars.”
In Talents, Acorn has grown to almost sixty members. Olamina and Bankole have a baby daughter, Larkin, and rescue one of Olamina’s brothers, Marcus (now Marcos) from sexual slavery. Marcos cannot accept Earthseed over his conservative Christian views and decides to leave, but Acorn otherwise thrives until a group of Christian fundamentalists (President Jarret’s “Crusaders”) imprison its members. Acorn’s children are sent for adoption by these radicals of “Christian America” and the adults are enslaved using electronic collars. Crucially, this sequel also shifts its perspective towards Olamina’s now-adult daughter Larkin (using her adoptive name Asha Vere), who has editorial control of her mother’s diaries. Larkin, now Asha, provides commentary and includes extracts from Marcos and Bankole, which significantly alters readers’ earlier perceptions of Olamina. Through Asha, readers learn that, imprisoned and bereaved after Bankole’s death, Olamina urges her community to disband when a landslide allows them to escape their captors. Following a brief disillusionment, Olamina begins door-to-door evangelising and searching for her daughter. In the meantime, Marcos becomes a “Christian America” preacher and takes Asha under his wing, keeping the mother and daughter in ignorance of each other’s proximity. Decades later, mother and daughter reconnect, but—disappointingly for both of them—Olamina’s outrage at Marcos’s betrayal prevents them from bonding. The novel ends with Earthseed a successful religion, launching its first rocket into space, but with an elderly and solitary Olamina watching dispassionately from a distance.
When considering the complex task facing Olamina as she develops a new religion within a dystopian America led by the conservative Christian right, one is reminded of Audre Lorde’s assertion that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Such a process must involve Adrienne Rich’s concept of “re-vision,” which she describes as “entering an old text from a new critical direction”—a process that, for many, constitutes “an act of survival.” This becomes particularly complex and necessary when the text in question is one as authoritative and ubiquitous as the Bible, and a powerful tool for a corrupt society in Olamina’s so-called “Christian America.” This article examines one such approach to biblical revisionism which Alicia Suskin Ostriker outlines as having “three sometimes overlapping forms: a hermeneutics of suspicion, a hermeneutics of desire, and a hermeneutics of indeterminacy.” This method attempts to define how people marginalised by a supposedly Bible-based environment may approach a text they find paradoxically both enriching and restrictive. In order to explore the affective dynamics behind these hermeneutic strategies, this article incorporates the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedwick on paranoid and reparative reading, which others such as Jennifer Knust have also recently discussed in relation to biblical studies.
Ostriker and Sedgwick draw their initial terms from Paul Ricoeur’s work on Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, whom he describes as “masters of suspicion,” belonging to a school of interpretation that practises a sceptical reading of texts to search for their “hidden” meaning. This involves not only a Cartesian “doubt about things,” but also in a doubt of objective truth wherein the writer’s meaning can never convey its proper sense to the reader. The reader must therefore decode the text to uncover what they suspect lies beneath it: Ricoeur explains, “the man [sic] of suspicion carries out in reverse the work of falsification of the man [sic] of guile.” This tradition, which in Sedgwick’s mind rewards paranoid thinking, has dominated academic thought for decades, proving particularly useful in the disciplines that aim to uncover systems of oppression, e.g. queer theory or feminist biblical studies. Like others such as Rita Felski, Sedgwick does not question suspicion’s efficacy as a critical strategy, but our increasing dependence upon it at the expense of other, sometimes more productive ways of thinking alongside suspicion. Drawing on Sylvan Tomkins and Melanie Klein, Sedgwick argues that the “schizoid/paranoid position” we occupy in order to adopt a hermeneutics of suspicion is brought about by a melancholia that is “marked by hatred, envy and anxiety.” The term originally describes the loss felt by an infant separated from its mother’s breast: a psychological state adults may revisit in other painful or fearful moments later in life. This focus on the role of the mother has been debated at length across various schools of feminism, and while unfortunately it is not within the scope of this article to address this in depth, I would highlight here that Klein broadens the role of mother to “whoever looks after [the child]”—which in Olamina’s case is principally her father. I address instead the tendency in the field to conceptualise the individual (i.e. the child in question) as white, middle-class, and typically male, and thus shielded from certain other types of trauma. For example, in their study on the experience of Asian-American men, Eng and Han argue that (in various ways) all minority groups (e.g. LGBTQI folks and/or people of colour) in the USA experience a sense of loss of the enforced mainstream “ideal,” resulting in ongoing mourning and melancholia. In this study, I address both individual and collective social losses such as these as they apply to Olamina’s life, with particular focus on the Bible as a symbol of her disappointment with her Baptist father’s ministry and the use of it by a corrupt government to justify, among other things, slavery and sexual violence. The first section of this paper therefore reveals how, by relating to the lost object through multiple sceptical strategies, Olamina (and others) ensure that they can avoid further painful experiences and surprises.
“While such a defensive posture may ward off further damage,” warns Knust, “it does a poor job at finding a way forward.” This paper will therefore also ask, as Sedgwick, Felski, Schüssler Fiorenza and Ostriker do, how suspicion can be self-destructive, trapping Butler’s character(s) in a cycle of negative affect. To combat this, Sedgwick introduces the concept of reparative reading, which I relate to Ostriker’s “hermeneutics of desire” because of their mutual commitment to the rather naive-seeming (at least in some academic circles) concept of love. Ostriker describes one such approach as “eroticizing” the Scripture in question; for, as Audre Lorde notes, the erotic does not only refer to sexuality but can also mean a spiritual seeking that works against the passive “world of flattened affect.” Using Klein’s terminology again, Sedgwick outlines how desire comes from the “depressive position”—which describes a psychological inclination towards healing and restoration of ego. Ellis Hanson clarifies that this involves accepting the “depressing realization” about the way things are, and then using that knowledge to build new ways out of it. A hermeneutics of desire thus involves “promoting virtuous cycles rather than vicious cycles” through the act of reparative reading (in this case, of Scripture). Thus suspicion and desire exist in acknowledgement of a relationship of powerlessness compared to a lost object—but one is a reductive process for the ego and the other a productive one.
Ostriker’s third approach asks how else characters might approach Scripture, and whether it is possible to relate to it in ways that open up greater rather than fewer potential interpretations of that text. Sedgwick notes that Klein’s use of the word “positions” implies the ability to move from one to the other—and this third hermeneutical method outlined by Ostriker reminds the reader that they are not trapped on a see-saw between suspicion and desire but free to keep moving, keep playing. Such a strategy may toy with the idea of truth, but “never makes what the philosophers call ‘truth claims.’” This openness to plurality allows for a more liberating kind of playfulness with Scripture, because,
scripture has at no single moment in its history been a unified, monolithic text, has always been a radically layered, plurally authored, multiply motivated composite, full of fascinating mysteries, gaps, and inconsistencies, a garden of delight to the exegete. Contemporary critics find in scripture a kind of paradise of polysemy.
If those who have historically been oppressed because of certain interpretations of the Bible have sufficient freedom to approach it as above, the possibility for multiple simultaneously cogent and even paradoxical interpretations becomes available to the creative work—and to the reader engaged in that work.
The ensuing discussion shall demonstrate how, for Olamina, these hermeneutical stances largely function as follows: suspicion of biblical (mis)readings by those in power as a woman of colour in a white patriarchal world; desire to connect with people, Scripture and the world as a sensing, seeking individual; and an openness to indeterminacy through multiple, coexisting, creative acts of interpretation. But crucially, this article also addresses how Butler turns these strategies back on Olamina—and the reader.
Throughout the Parable novels, Olamina’s father and brother illustrate two branches of Christianity she deems ineffectual: her father’s well-intentioned Baptist church; and so-called “Christian America.” At home, she notices her father’s God letting pious neighbours down, as some are killed in the riots or end their own lives in despair. Kimberly Ruffin considers this an illustration (in Olamina’s mind) of the dangers of relying on religion that ignores science and logic. But importantly for Olamina, her father does still privately encourage his children to learn survivalist skills, quoting Nehemiah 4:14 from his King James Bible: “fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Instead, his downfall lies in his refusal to frighten his flock with the same information. “I think suspicion is more likely to keep you alive than trust,” Olamina says to her stepmother before a raid, and it is this “anticipatory” paranoia, that saves her life. Interestingly, despite her disappointment, Olamina still calls her father “the best person I know”—and Butler too defends him as “neither a fool nor a hypocrite,” but an honest, hardworking and educated man “who can’t cope with the situation he’s in.” Instead Olamina’s main critique of her own church leader is his lack of willingness to convey his fears to his flock, despite the clear threats surrounding their community. As such, Michael Brandon McCormack extends this to a wider criticism, arguing that it questions “not so much the integrity of Black Christianity, but its efficacy” in times of extreme struggle. Olamina, in her position of tremendous danger and sensitivity to pain, seems to anticipate Sedgwick’s memorable refrain: “guess what, you can never be paranoid enough.”
As a result, Olamina not only doubts her father, but she also doubts the idea of a “big-daddy-God” too. She avoids any sort of dependency on a supernatural father in favour of self-reliance, and fills her Earthseed scripture with lines like these:
God is neither good
Nor hating. […]
We must find the rest of what we need
Her criticism of “big-daddy-God” is not unusual among feminist and womanist theologians. Mary Rose D’Angelo explains, “using the name ‘father,’ even to challenge imperial and paternal authority, draws upon the assumptions of patriarchy and therefore cannot be said to be nonpatriarchal.” While some find Jesus’s use of informal abba comforting (alongside formal “Father”, as in Mark 14:36), James Barr argues strenuously against abba’s translation as an equivalent to “daddy.” Instead Barr argues that the word implies a more adult, i.e. equal, expression of familiarity for which we have no exact analogue in English. But to Olamina, neither option is satisfying; nor would a simple switch to a mother God be enough for her vision of self-reliance. Such familial ties would still imply that the worshipper is in some way dependant on that God. In Kleinian terms, Olamina’s aversion to a parent-figured God feels understandably linked to the initial early loss of her birth mother and the fear of, and subsequent loss of, her father and stepmother upon the collapse of their community. But Olamina goes further than this: she also eschews the idea of “big-king-God,” “big-cop-God” and “big kid”—anything that uses anthropocentric terms. Perhaps giving a human shape to God means engaging with that being on an interpersonal level, generating impossibly painful affective ties, and keeping Olamina in the paranoid position batting such potential losses away.
In contrast to Pastor Olamina’s well-intentioned dependence on his father God, then, are the renegade Crusaders, an extremist faction of “Christian America” who enforce a “fundamentalist, repressive, intolerant response to a world spinning out of control.” In a paranoid act of their own that Sedgwick would describe as both “reflexive and mimetic,” theCrusaders practise exactly what they condemn in others: kidnapping the children of Acorn, whom they call “devil-worshiping hill heathens who take in children.” Olamina’s aim is not only to expose their hypocritical actions, but also to uncover their own paranoiac use of Scripture to maintain their precarious dominance in the world. She recounts, for example, the reason for their particular violence against women:
A woman who expresses her opinions, ‘nags,’ disobeys her husband, or otherwise ‘tramples her womanhood’ and ‘acts like a man,’ might have her head shaved, her forehead branded, her tongue cut out, or, worst case, she might be stoned to death or burned.
In this example Olamina enacts Sedgwick’s description of the type of paranoia that “places its faith in exposure”—to uncover the sexist tactics of her enemy. To aid the reader in this paranoid reading of the Crusaders’ supposed use of the Bible, Butler’s narrative helpfully places phrases like “tramples her womanhood” in quotation marks to reveal their impostor status. It prompts the reader to notice that, though violent acts against women appear frequently in the Bible, phrases such as “tramples her womanhood” are only an imitation of the King James cadence—and are therefore evidence of an attempt by the Crusaders ironically to twist the words of the text they consider to be the inerrant word of God.
The above may be a suspicious reading of those with access to the Bible rather than the Bible itself, but it contains an imperative to learn, to remember and to think critically about both the source text and the cultural lens through which it is viewed. What follows are some further examples where Olamina notes hypocrisies and inconsistencies in Crusader behaviour, which also highlight certain tendencies of mainstream Christianity for selectiveness. In one particular scene, the Crusaders brutally torture a lesbian couple after lecturing the group on sexual sin in general. Olamina is quick to note the visiting Reverend’s own behaviour:
Benton preached a vicious and weirdly salacious sermon on the evil, depraved wickedness of bestiality, incest, pedophilia, homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, masturbation, prostitution, and adultery […] Bible stories, long quotations of Old Testament […] Sodom and Gomorrah, the life and death of Jezebel, disease, hellfire, on and on.
But there was nothing at all said about rape. The good Reverend Benton himself has, during earlier visits, made use of both Adela Ortiz and Christina Cho.
Butler’s mention of Sodom and the absence of punishment for rape here refers to a frequently visited topic in feminist and queer biblical studies. In Genesis 19, the men of Sodom appear at Lot’s door wishing to rape the angel-men staying in his house. To put them off, Lot offers his virgin daughters instead, but the men angrily decline. Because Ancient Near Eastern hospitality laws and larger patterns of God’s punishment for rape are often overlooked in mainstream understanding of the Sodom story (e.g. it is widely agreed that Lot’s ineptitude is a cautionary tale of how not to be a patriarch), historically the passage has been used to preach against same-sex desire and love, rather than against rape or violence of any kind. Sonia Waters summarises the issue thus: “as concern for women is minimized and a horror against gay men maximized, both risk objectification and greater violence of all kinds.” Therefore, by mentioning the Reverend’s hypocritical use of Genesis 19 to condemn a loving lesbian couple, Olamina exposes biases of exactly this nature. It is also vitally important to note that the women whom Benton has raped—Ortiz and Cho—are both women of colour and thus far more at risk than their fellow white prisoners of being abused by their captors. In one brief witness to a religious man’s inhumanity, then, Olamina coaches readers in detecting and exposing submerged-yet-normalised biases towards racist, sexist and homophobic selective readings of the Bible still present in contemporary Christian America as well as the fictional “Christian America.”
In yet another example of exposed hypocrisy, enslaved black character Day quotes the following back to his captors, and suffers for it:
Day quoted them Exodus 21:16—‘And he that stealeth a man and selleth him, of it he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.’ Day was lashed for his choice of scripture, of course, and he was told that the people of Christian America well knew that the devil could quote scripture.
In examples such as these, with Olamina and her community now enslaved, Butler makes no secret of her novels’ commentary on the historic use of the Bible to justify slavery. Day’s challenge to his captors mirrors how white oppressors “had little control over the ways in which blacks read the Bible,” but here we see that the master’s tools cannot bring down the house. All Day can do is demonstrate to readers how to practise a hermeneutics of suspicion and expose their captors’ hypocritical response, as they continue to attempt to shame him with an allusion to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that carries similarly racist connotations. To add insult to injury, thanks to her “extra vulnerability” (her hyperempathy) Olamina can only remain in the paranoid position and experience (in a twisted, Christ-like way) both the pain of the people being punished and the “schizoid” pleasure of the attacker. It is not until a landslide—what Olamina might call an “act of Change”—disarms their electronic collars that they can begin to rebuild what they have lost.
Butler further demonstrates a hermeneutics of suspicion in Asha Vere’s critique of Olamina’s journals in Talents. But even before this, Olamina practises it on herself, undertaking “twenty-five or thirty lumpy, incoherent rewrites” of Earthseed’s scripture—perhaps reflecting Butler’s own practice as a chronic “re-re-rewriter.” The confessional nature of Olamina’s very Butleresque journaling serves to inform readers of her current affective state, providing a clear view to her losses, anxieties and defensive strategies. Klein theorises that the individual tends to “introject” the lost object to the extent that “the patient redirects his [sic] resentment inwards towards his [sic] own ego, now identified with the resented object.” But Butler frames this as a strength rather than as a weakness: Tuire Valkeakari observes that Butler’s willingness to self-excoriate through Olamina places her within the tradition of womanist writers who “seldom avoid or suppress such deeply human issues as spiritual exhaustion, wavering, or frustration.” In this way, Olamina allows her closest companions including partner Bankole to be her loudest opponents, recording in her journals their criticisms of her zealotry, her indifferent God, and her repurposing of other concepts into Earthseed. Thus the addition of Asha’s editorial hold over her mother’s journals (along with Bankole and Marcos’ entries) in Talents only bolsters Olamina’s preference for transparent self-critique:
With this narrative multiplication, the novel embodies the kind of critical literacies Lauren’s Earthseed ministry champions. […] This intensifies the efficacy of Butler’s creation: scribally focused parables with several entry points for readers to seriously consider the developing of a religion and a religious language.
In other words, Olamina sees anything less than complete transparency in leadership as unacceptable, and welcomes dialogic intervention into her scriptures at her weekly gatherings. This radically open practice condemns “Christian America” for lacking such a critical dialogue with themselves and their own Bible and in turn appears to criticise mainstream American ministries for doing the same.
Such ruthless self-imposed critique is redolent of Felski’s description of suspicion, which can include “merciless excoriation of self; critique of the text, but also fascination with the text as a source of critique, or at least of contradiction.” Yet while Olamina holds very firmly to this hermeneutical suspicion, it becomes such a “strong theory” that it tends to bounce back upon not only the character but also the author. Peter Stillman summarises the work of Hoda Zaki and Tom Moylan, who note that Asha’s criticisms of Olamina are close to those levelled at Sower when it was first published: that she is “too theological, abstract, and apolitical, and so resolves dilemmas by transcending the current system, not trying to oppose and transform it by working from within through collective political action.” Knowing how Butler identifies with Olamina in her works, Talents can read as a self-censuring response to the market’s earlier criticisms of Sower. The sequel thus appears to endorse Sedgwick’s idea that a “reflexive and mimetic” paranoia tends to fulfil the threat of attack by attacking itself, as in “anything you can do (to me) I can do worse.” This is part of the pull of suspicion; though an effective self-defence, it becomes so effective that, like a black hole, it collapses in upon itself and crushes the ego. It starts by closing in on Olamina and ends up engulfing Butler with it.
We also see this in Olamina and Asha’s relationship as they progress towards their unhappy meeting with their largest lost objects: each other. Throughout Talents, Asha is demonstrably unable to remain critically distant because of her painful memories of a mother who was “there for all the world, but never there for me.” In Freudian terms as outlined by Eng and Han, Asha has internalised not only her own loss but also her mother’s losses, and thus continues to cause further damage to her own ego as her hatred towards Olamina becomes self-hatred. This makes her steadfast in her suspicion, able only to operate from the paranoiac position Klein describes as being caused by separation from the mother in infancy. “I have wanted to love her and to believe that what happened between her and me wasn’t her fault,” she writes, “But instead, I’ve hated her, feared her, needed her.” Her own novel becomes a surrogate for her mother’s diaries, as well as a critique of them, and her voice becomes subsumed by her mother’s voice. While “the internal monologue that the daughters direct toward themselves should rightly be an external dialogue between daughter and mother,” write Eng and Han, Olamina cannot respond, because the diaries Asha has in her possession are from the past. As such, the series mirrors the unresolvable dialogic relationship between Scripture and exegesis. And because Asha has no personal positive framework such as Earthseed to fill that loss (perhaps because her loss was greater than Olamina’s, and happened at a younger age), she cannot approach her mother’s diaries with anything other than negative affect. What separates Asha and her mother, therefore, is Olamina’s capacity for “radical post-secular, post-humanist stances”—the operative word being stances, so she can move between them. Sedgwick insists upon the “flexible to-and-fro movement” between such positions in Klein’s model. This, along with literal freedom from captivity, allows Olamina to move towards a hermeneutics of desire.
What is immediately striking about Sower and Talents is that they are named after two New Testament parables, and yet a (King James) version of each is referenced only in brief within each novel (Luke 8 at the close of Sower and Matthew 25 near the start of Talents). Ruffin notes how, despite their scant textual presence, “the parable as a form, as the titles suggest, is the series’ rhetorical core”—even while each novel ends with a victory of Earthseed over Christianity. Searching for a hermeneutics of desire towards the Bible even while it is critiqued in these novels, we first find radical re-visions of these parables.
“The Parable of the Sower” (or “Soils”) appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke with some variation in detail. As Mark is edited in Matthew and Luke, each author appears to place slightly different emphases on the lesson. For example, when Jesus references Isaiah 6:9, “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand,” Matthew and Mark interpret this as a distinction between “the spiritually inert crowds who do not ‘have’ and the inquiring disciples who ‘have’” the ability to understand. In contrast to their “predestinarian tone,” argues Donald Hagner, the Lukan text implies something slightly more flexible, where the meaning will be understood if listeners have an “honest and good heart.” Butler’s preference for the Lukan version, then, appears to demonstrate a desire to convey a more flexible Gospel teaching from which to create a re-vision of her own feminist, anti-racist, eco-conscious, even post-secular parable. Similarly, in Talents, on the other hand, the titular parable is taken from Matthew 25 rather than Luke 19. I think it is arguable that Butler selected Matthew this time because the author’s account of the uninvested talent is again the more sympathetic. “His action [of burying the talent] establishes him as prudent and sober,” writes William Herzog, compared to his Lukan counterpart, who only wraps his in a napkin. As we have seen, Olamina’s father is like Matthew’s prudent servant, fearful of disaster but only prepared to act defensively, which is why Olamina’s reaction to his loss is one of sympathy. Traditionally the message of the Matthean parable, so seemingly oppositional to the earlier Beatitudes, has been understood to convey (specifically to the disciples) that “faithfulness provides more blessing; unfaithfulness results in loss even of one’s initial blessing.” But for Olamina, it is less a matter of faith and more a matter of action: prepare your fields or invest your funds to “shape God” and thus shape your outcome. The urgency in her case is not to do with the parousia but with the immediate national threat of the collapse of late capitalism. Seen in this light, Olamina’s new God who is not “daddy” but “Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay” constitutes an unexpected analogue with the biblical parallel, rather than a complete rebellion from it.
Butler’s approach here is representative of Ostriker’s hermeneutics of desire, where “one finds in the text what one desires to find, one bends it to one’s wish.” While for many such as Marcos, Earthseed goes a few steps further than would be comfortable for many Christians, Olamina’s community still grows and grows. This article has already considered her dismissal of a God who is portrayed consistently as a father figure throughout the Old and New Testaments from the point of view of suspicion, but now let’s consider it from the depressive position, from which emerges a hermeneutics of desire. Olamina convinces many of her followers that, if you have the desire to look for it, the biblical God can take the form of dispassionate Change, which she spots early on in Job and Ecclesiastes 3 (as well as in scientific theories, the Tao Te Ching, and in Yoruba tradition). Like the biblical master or sower, Olamina’s God-as-Change will reward those who act, punish those who fail to act, and maybe even “reap where it had not sowed”—but it will never break their hearts like big-daddy-God can. Here we see Olamina’s transition to depressive position, as she acknowledges her many losses: parents, siblings, home, freedom; but she does not let her desire for a productive faith be one of them. God-as-Change can never be lost, because loss is just another form ofchange. For this reason, her teaching “God is Change” (which rings calculatedly close to “God is love”) is viewed by Canavan as Olamina’s “good news.”
Some of Olamina’s more direct biblical borrowings demonstrate the many techniques used by feminist theologians and biblical scholars to “wrest a blessing” from Scripture in this manner. A hermeneutics of desire (though it may exist under many names) is essential for liberation theologies such as womanist theology, which welcome adaptation and outside influence:
As a form of liberation theology, womanist theologies aim for the freedom of oppressed peoples and creatures. More specifically, womanist theologies add the goals of survival, quality of life, and wholeness to black theology’s goals of liberation and justice. […] Black religion is a syncretic movement that includes the influence of European Christianity and its adaptation by slaves and nineteenth- and twentieth-century believers. Black religion also includes significant influences from indigenous religions, particularly African traditional religions.
In this same way, Olamina uses her Bible—along with writings from other cultures—as a desk upon which to write her desires. She does not write over it but makes re-visions that serve a more immediate, socially informed purpose which reflects Patricia Hill Collins’ research into women’s roles in black American churches. Olamina’s ministry aims to do the same, and sets its sights not just on immediate survival and wholeness, but on human survival on an interplanetary scale. McCormack concurs that “post-Baptist” Butler thus portrays a more radical “black/feminist/youth” drive that has its roots in the churches of Butler’s early years, but goes much further in terms of impact and activism. Faced with the collapse of American society in the Parables’ twenty-first century timeline, Olamina dreams up this vision from her depressive position: taking and improving upon the positives from the experiences in which she has been hurt, rather than only identifying how she was hurt.
Some of these routes out involve a divergence from traditional womanist strategies also. Madhu Dubey notes that where typically Southern folk culture seeks an “anti-textual model” in the form of a more community-based orality, Olamina instead holds the printed word as crucially important. But while doing so, she still ensures that her scriptures are accessible to followers who may be illiterate: much of it appears in verse form with easily memorisable repeated iambic and anapaestic alternating metres. Therefore while Earthseed’s ethos strongly emphasises literacy, it also makes its verses accessible to everyone, thereby “synthesizing the spoken and written word, text and interpretation, author and community.” A by-product of its easily memorable form also reveals a very Olamina-esque act of self-protection, in that in times of hardship (such as imprisonment) its members can still recite scripture even without access to the written word. She also later releases her scriptures online without copyright to ensure their unfettered proliferation—which in turn makes them vulnerable to change themselves. Thus are acts of desire and suspicion never very distant from one another, since both involve a recognition that something has been, or may be, lost again. This is perhaps why Knust reminds her readers “reparation offers nourishment, comfort and a renewed internal object of identification, but only for a time.” Nevertheless, Olamina keeps returning to a hermeneutics of desire to make practical plans for coping with such changes as they come.
The next few examples see Olamina borrowing imagery and language from the Bible and re-visioning them for Earthseed. I begin with the symbol of the acorn for Olamina’s community, which has its practical uses (making bread and keeping soil firm), but its biblical significance will not have gone unnoticed by Butler. In Genesis 35:1–15, Jacob buries the false gods of his community under an oak tree at Shechem, he is renamed “Israel,” and is promised that “a nation and a company of nations shall come from you.” Later Joshua, returning to Shechem, compels his followers to “put away the gods that your ancestors served,” deliberately echoing Jacob and commemorating the law with a stone under an oak tree (Josh 24:14, 26). Then, when Jesus refers to Isaiah after delivering the Parable of the Sower, the passage he speaks of also contains an image of an oak (Isa 6:13). Olamina thus participates in this tradition by performing the symbolic act of shedding the belief system of her father, as well as referencing the messianic tradition as Jesus does when he quotes from Isaiah.
Next we come to several biblical rewordings in Earthseed’s scriptures, the first of which reads “We are flesh—self-aware, questing, problem-solving flesh.” This can easily be seen as a reparative inversion of “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” which Olamina not only reimagines with a “questing” body as strong as hers, but also unites with the spirit rather than dividing them. By unifying and strengthening spirit and flesh in this act of desire, Olamina builds up rather than breaks down the ego. Another similar inversion is Olamina’s idea of God as “Chaos/Clay” and people the “Shapers” of that clay. This can clearly be contrasted with Isaiah 64:8b: “we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Here Olamina characteristically upends a biblical concept in order to empower her followers to “Shape God” rather than be its helpless plaything. Last but theologically not least, Butler experiments with the name of God given in Exodus 3:14 usually translated as “I am that/who I am” (and sometimes expanded to encompass a past imperfect being and a future becoming), which is echoed in Revelation 1:8b “who is and who was and who is to come.” These descriptions of an eternal unchanging God are knowingly overturned in Earthseed’s scriptures as “What was / Cannot / Come again.” As Esther Jones notes, Butler “radically revises” aspects of the Bible to dramatically rework her followers’ understanding of the biblical God, as well as the relationship between God and themselves.
McCormack explains the implications of these creative acts for a writer of colour:
This prerogative of a young Black girl to dissent from the theology of her father’s church and ‘name God’ for herself positions Lauren as an Afrofuturist (fifth-wave) womanist theologian who only embraces notions of God that can be corroborated with her own experience and ultimately can be beneficial to her community.
Naming something, understanding its meaning, experimenting with it; all are reparative actions brought about by Olamina’s desire to survive in the unpredictable world around her. “Naming plus purpose equals focus for me,” she writes, with the knowledge that the radical act wrests the divine right from Adam. And if we look at the names of characters within these novels, we find evidence of Butler subtly doing the same. Though it is not explicitly stated in Sower, Olamina’s middle name, Oya, is “the Yoruba òrì¸sà [minor god] of change” known for her “sense of justice and intolerance for the abuse and oppression of women.” Citing Judith Gleason, Monica Coleman explains that O-ya literally means “she tore,”  which Butler could be using to suggest the tearing of the veil in the temple at the moment of Jesus’s death. In this subtle way, Butler identifies Olamina not only with a rich African cultural heritage but also with God-as-Change and with Christ. Bankole’s name also carries both Christian and Yoruban significance, which is hinted when Olamina’s observes its meaning, “help me build a house.” This echoes Jesus’s renaming of Simon: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18), and as well as identifying Bankole with Peter in his founding role at the start of Earthseed, it once again aligns Olamina with Christ. This is reemphasised when Olamina asks Bankole “Am I like that?” in the same conversation, echoing Jesus’s “who do you say that I am?” These references are heavily submerged in Butler’s novels, yet they reveal a clear desire to play with the playfulness in naming already present in the Bible (as in the pun on Peter/rock).
As we have seen in this section, Olamina’s hermeneutics of desire is borne of the Kleinian depressive position, where reparative steps may be taken, but only in constant recognition of the potential for progress to be lost. Just because this desire is watchful and earnest, however, it does not prevent Olamina from being playful herself, developing powerful strategies and extracting practical help from her father’s religion. By placing a powerfully persuasive, young mixed-race woman at the forefront of this transformative new religion, Butler champions a society where “God not only is ‘Change’ but humans, and especially women (and young, Black women to boot!), can change God, themselves, and the world.” Well might the proponents of such hopeful change be equally anxious to guard against its loss and be in danger of slipping back into suspicion.
“Multiplicity abounds,” writes Coleman, where religious themes occur in black women’s science fiction. This particular intersection of theology and social commentary often generates a requirement for “polydoxy,” which “suggests that theology and life are both more complex and nuanced than to affirm one ‘right teaching’ and there may in fact be many helpful teachings or many teachings that can be equally, though differently, ‘right.’” The following Earthseed funeral scene reflects this approach:
The girls sang their songs [in Polish]. […] a few members of the community stood up to quote from Earthseed verses, the Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, the Bhagavad-Gita, John Donne. […]
Then I said the words of the Earthseed verses that we’ve come to associate with funerals.
This new set of readings and rituals incorporates many doxa that are able to coexist with Earthseed as long as they are existentially confluent with its central tenets. While this article mainly focusses on the Bible in Butler’s Parables series, an acknowledgement of these other influences on Earthseed reminds readers that the Bible itself is made up of multiple diverse texts spanning centuries. In Olamina’s mind, if the Bible incorporates multiple sources of wisdom, why shouldn’t Earthseed’s scriptures similarly gather all it can from what is available. A quotation taken from Butler’s notes on the unpublished Parable of the Trickster stands as an example of this kind of thinking: an amalgam of the biblical, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9) and the scientific, “but there are new suns,” the quotation implies both a groundedness in biblical text and a hopeful, technical expectation of more. Earthseed may be a “new sun,” but it is constructed from the universe’s ingredients in which there is “nothing new.”
In a sense, one could therefore consider a hermeneutics of indeterminacy to be an aspect of reparative reading (in other words, as part of a hermeneutics of desire): since, as Knust notes, reparative reading shares a “commitment to multiple, playful, anti-propositional, anti-foundational, and anti-foundationalist interpretations.” But with such radical openness, as with polydoxy, “the potential for creativity also contains potential for destruction.” This is where Ostriker’s hermeneutics of indeterminacy differs from desire, which seeks only interpretations that foster recovery of one’s lost objects and restoration of ego. Butler herself acknowledges the presence of indeterminacy in belief systems: “I thought that religion must be an answer, as well as, in some cases, a problem. And in, for instance Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, it’s both.” Perhaps this is why Olamina becomes harder to read in Talents, for example when Earthseed’s rocket leaves Earth and she remains “tempered and ambivalent.” Importantly, Butler “does not adjudicate the dispute” that we see between mother and daughter, but leaves it to the reader to judge (or not). Instead, like Olamina, Butler models a hermeneutics of indeterminacy to ensure that the work is resilient enough to be challenged from any direction. Here I return to the idea that Olamina and Asha’s narratives resemble the relationship between the Bible and contemporary exegesis, in that they attempt dialogue but are out of sync. Because they can never reach a consensus, they act as an example for the reader of the possibility of living with indeterminacy in their own open interpretative relationship to their lost object—perhaps the Bible, perhaps something else.
Olamina’s hyperempathy provides another factor in understanding how indeterminacy functions within the novels. Her relationship with the perceived disability begins as one of shame and secrecy—an “organic delusional syndrome” originally brought about as a result of “the particular drug my mother chose to abuse before my birth killed her.” In the Klein-Sedgwick formulations used in this study, it could be said that this hyperempathy is a manifestation of the suffering brought about by that particular cocktail of loss, blame and guilt. As she faces the various setbacks and victories of these Parables novels, we see Olamina “in the throes of ambivalence, struggling with equally forceful states of love and hate” that drive her forward. Her hyperempathy increases this ambivalence because, while she experiences a greater connection with others, and desires a cooperative and peaceful society, her greater potential for pain often pushes her either to kill, flee or be rendered incapable rather than risk a bad encounter. Doug Stark’s recent work provides such insights into the affective consequences of her hyperempathy, which Butler evidently portrays not as a tool for interpersonal connection and understanding, but often instead as an obstacle to cooperation. The issue of Olamina’s hyperempathy becomes more important when Butler draws further parallels between her and Jesus. This comparison reveals the way other characters seem to judge the persuasive tactics of a mixed-race woman preacher more harshly than they would do a man (especially given Jesus is so often portrayed as a white man). “You seduce people. My God, you’re always at it, aren’t you?” her friend Len observes. Characteristically, Olamina embraces the criticism: “I might as well use it. […] and, to be honest, it helps me manipulate that person.” Described as a “new Christ” by Donna Spalding Andréolle, Olamina echoes Jesus telling his disciples “I will make you fish for people” when she speaks of attracting followers on her journey north: “I should be fishing that river even as I follow its current.” Olamina sees her hyperempathy as an opportunity to influence others and retrieve what has been taken from her, thus her own personal power functions as a parallel to her religion’s power: when she is helpless we root for her, but once she gains a following, we begin to wonder about the abuse of power, which Asha notes when she writes, “They’ll make a god of her.”
Nevertheless, the combined efforts of Olamina (teacher) and Bankole (healer) reflect the practices that defined early Christianity, and which womanist theology seeks to reemphasise: “suggesting that it is not the person of Jesus, but rather the activities of teaching and healing […] that make Jesus a Savior.” In this respect, Butler employs a womanist reading of the Bible to declare a polydox soteriology, or unorthodox theory of salvation. Olamina and Bankole discuss these aims at length, and Olamina defends her literal rather than an eschatological salvation from the horrors of her dystopian America:
‘What’s in it for them?’ [asks Bankole.]
‘A unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven for themselves and their children. A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape.’
‘Or a hell,’ he said.
However, the doubt expressed by Bankole and others along the way permits the reader to doubt too, and in her usual style, Butler does not offer resolutions to the problems raised. This acceptance of indeterminacy within the novels draws suggestive parallels with biblical literature to imply the same complexities may exist there too, and that it may be possible to approach them with the same openness to ambiguity, even paradox. Looking through her archive, Canavan observes that her drafts and notes frequently feature the note “aop” (as opposed to), which illustrates her contradictory thinking: for example, “male aop female, white aop black, healing aop killing.” Olamina frequently incorporates this pattern into her scripture:
God is power—
And yet, God is Pliable—
This may look like binary “either/or” thinking, but by repeatedly clashing these opposites together, Butler demonstrates that the oppositional pairs are not so much conflicting as forever occurring in unison, or in dialogue. “It seemed very difficult for Butler to think of anything without immediately thinking also of its opposite(s)” remarks Canavan, “and of how all supposed opposites are dialectically intertwined.” In this way Butler emphasises the possibility for “a plurality of contingent truths” freed up by a hermeneutics of indeterminacy. What is more important than truth, to Olamina, is that these ideas can remain in conversation, resilient enough to be challenged from multiple hermeneutical positions.
Throughout her two published Parable novels, Butler expresses a deep intertextuality with the Bible and yet carves new paths out of it: criticising traditional readings, attempting earnest but watchful re-visions, and holding these in unresolved paradoxical pairings. Olamina’s theology is based on an indifferent God, yet it is situated within the frame of two of Jesus’s parables; Tananarive Due is not alone in noticing how curious it is “that a novel about the creation of a new religion ends up right back in the lap of the King James Bible.” In Earthseed, there is a spiritual hope of “partnering” God-as-Change, and yet God-as-Change does not care about partnership. But by encouraging her followers to work with God-as-Change anyway, she helps them survive and challenge the seismic effects of systemic racism, capitalism and sexism, helping readers in turn understand “the intersectionality of multiple forms of oppression.”
From a young age, Olamina suffers terrible disappointments, abuses and shocks, forcing her into a self-protective paranoid position that enables her to participate (and teach her readers) in the school of suspicion. Accepting and acknowledging her losses, she manages to progress from one position to another and imagine reparative routes back to a belief system that gives her and those around her wholeness and community, which in turn makes her an expert in Ostriker’s hermeneutics of desire. Yet by undermining her protagonist throughout the novels, while at the same time drawing frequent parallels with Christ, Butler “makes Lauren a complex character for us to respond to.” Her ability to move from paranoiac to depressive, to work from suspicion to desire, reveals a flexibility in her style of thinking that allows the reader ultimately to become comfortable with a hermeneutics of indeterminacy. Butler’s fiction offers no easy answers, but by outlining different hermeneutic strategies to apply to an oppressive power, these works stress that “the change Butler calls for is an attitude and the interpretation of events around us.” Only by doing this, argues Ostriker, can we free ourselves from the Bible’s “temple of fixity,”—and also from only ever engaging with it in ways that are either harmful or healing for the ego in the short term. Ultimately then, Butler’s Parable novels recognise that while “suspicion is more likely to keep you alive than trust,” remaining alive offers small, if temporary, opportunities to build multiple creative uses out of that trust.
Andréolle, Donna Spalding. “Utopias of Old, Solutions for the New Millennium: A Comparative Study of Christian Fundamentalism in M. K. Wren’s A Gift Upon the Shore and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Utopian Studies 12 (2001): 114–123. www.jstor.org/stable/20718319.
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Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York, NY: Grand Central, 2000.
———. Parable of the Talents. London: The Women’s Press, 1998.
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Canavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 2016.
———. “‘There’s Nothing New / Under the Sun, / but there are New Suns’: Recovering Octavia E. Butler’s Lost Parables.” Los Angeles Review of Books, 9 June 2014, tinyurl.com/238ft8x5.
Coleman, Monica A. “Invoking Oya: Practicing a Polydox Soteriology Through a Postmodern Womanist Reading of Tananarive Due’s The Living Blood.” Pages 186–202 in Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation. Edited by Catherine Keller and Laurel C. Schneider. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.
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Dubey, Madhu. “Folk and Urban Communities in African-American Women’s Fiction: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Studies in American Fiction 27 (1999): 103–128. doi:10.1353/saf.1999.0017.
Due, Tananarive. “The Only Lasting Truth.” Pages 259–278 in Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown, Minneapolis: Consortium, 2015.
Eng, David L, and Han, Shinhee. “A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 10 (2000): 667–700. doi:10.1080/10481881009348576.
Felski, Rita. The Limits of Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
Hagner, Donald Alfred.Matthew 1–13. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word, 1993.
———. Matthew 14–28. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word, 1995.
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Herzog II, William R. Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.
Jones, Esther. “Africana Women’s Science Fiction and Narrative Medicine.” Pages 247–272 in Afrofuturism 2.0. Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Klein, Melanie. “Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States.” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 21 (1940): 125–153.
———. “A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States.” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 16 (1935): 145–174.
Knust, Jennifer. “Who’s Afraid of Canaan’s Curse?” Biblical Interpretation 22 (2014): 388–413. doi:10.1163/15685152-02245p02.
Likierman, Meira. Melanie Klein: Her Work in Context. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Toronto, ON: Crossing, 2007.
———. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Pages 106–112 in The Audre Lorde Compendium: Essays, Speeches and Journals. Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1996.
Lothian, Alexis. “Feminist and Queer Science Fiction in America.” Pages 70–82 in The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction. Edited by Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. doi:10.1017/CCO9781107280601.008.
McCormack, Michael Brandon. “‘Your God Is a Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, and a Misogynist… our God Is Change’: Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler and Afrofuturist Critiques of (Black) American Religion.” Black Theology 14 (2016): 6–27. doi:10.1080/14769948.2015.1131503.
Melanie Klein Trust. “Furthering the Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique of Melanie Klein.” Melanie Klein Trust. tinyurl.com/yrhrsurr.
Mitchem, Stephanie Y. Introducing Womanist Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.
Ostriker, Alicia Suskin. Feminist Revision and the Bible. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.
Peters, Donald. “Vulnerable Promise from the Land (Mark 4:3b–8): The Parable of the Sower/Soils.” Pages 69–84 in Jesus and His Parables: Interpreting the Parables of Jesus Today. Edited by V. George Shillington. London: T&T Clark, 1997.
Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.” College English 34 (1972): 18–30. doi:10.2307/375215.
Ricoeur, Paul. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. Translated by Denis Savage, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970.
Ruffin, Kimberly J. “Parable of a 21st Century Religion: Octavia Butler’s Afrofuturistic Bridge between Science and Religion.” Obsidian III 6 (2005): 87–104. www.jstor.org/stable/44511664.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1984.
———. Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.
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Stark, Doug. “‘A More Realistic View’: Reimagining Sympoietic Practice in Octavia Butler’s Parables” Extrapolation 61 (2020): 151–172. doi:10.3828/extr.2020.10.
Stillman, Peter G. “Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purposes in Octavia Butler’s Parables.” Utopian Studies 14 (2003): 15–35. www.jstor.org/stable/20718544.
Valkeakari, Tuire. Religious Idiom and the African American Novel, 1952–1998. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2007.
Waters, Sonia E. “Reading Sodom through Sexual Violence Against Women.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 71 (2017): 274–283. doi:10.1177/0020964317698763.
Womack, Ytasha L. Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2013.
Zaki, Hoda M. “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 17 (1990): 239–251. www.jstor.org/stable/4239994.
 Tananarive Due, “The Only Lasting Truth,” in Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, eds. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown (Minneapolis, MN: Consortium, 2015), 184.
 Gerry Canavan, Octavia E. Butler (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 2016), 131; Kimberley J. Ruffin, “Parable of a 21st Century Religion: Octavia Butler’s Afrofuturistic Bridge between Science and Religion,” Obsidian III 6 (2005): 88–89, www.jstor.org/stable/44511664; Due, “Lasting Truth,” 184.
 Ytasha L. Womack (citing Alondra Nelson), Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago, IL: Chicago Review, 2013), 109–110.
 Hoda Zaki, “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler,” Science Fiction Studies 17 (1990): 239, 247, www.jstor.org/stable/4239994. See also N. K. Jemisin quoted in Womack, Afrofuturism, 110.
 Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Introducing Womanist Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), 55.
 Butler, Sower, 17.
 Michael Brandon McCormack, “‘Your God Is a Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, and a Misogynist… our God Is Change’: Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler and Afrofuturist Critiques of (Black) American Religion,” Black Theology 14 (2016): 22, doi:10.1080/14769948.2015.1131503.
 Butler, Sower, 84, 220.
 Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Toronto, ON: Crossing Press, 2007), 112.
 Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Feminist Revision and the Bible (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 57. A note on why I have selected Ostriker’s hermeneutic circle over others: Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 165–191, for example, provides a much larger framework which includes experience, social location, creative imagination, re-membering and reconstruction alongside suspicion. While this would be fascinating to explore, I believe Ostriker’s “triple model of (re)interpretative modes” is more fitting for the field of Bible and Literature.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 57.
 Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, tr. Denis Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 33.
 Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 34.
 See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 126.
 See Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1984).
 Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), 17.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 128.
 Melanie Klein, “Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States.” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 21 (1940): 126.
 Melanie Klein, “A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States.” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 16 (1935): 149.
 Eng and Han, “A Dialogue,” 670.
 Knust, “Who’s Afraid,” 390.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 126, 128.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 66.
 Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in The Audre Lorde Compendium: Essays, Speeches and Journals (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1996), 108.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 128.
 Melanie Klein Trust, “Furthering the Psychoanalytic.”
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 128.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 67.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 62.
 Ruffin, “21st Century Religion,” 94.
 Butler, Sower, 72.
 Butler, Sower, 22.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 130.
 Butler, Sower, 24.
 Butler quoted in McCormack, “Your God,” 18.
 McCormack, “Your God,” 18.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 142.
 Butler, Sower, 15.
 Butler, Sower, 245.
 Butler, Sower, 15–16.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 131.
 Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (London: The Women’s Press, 1998), 24.
 Butler, Talents, 51.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 138.
 See Psalm 91:13; Isaiah 63:3; Matthew 7:6 (KJV).
 Butler, Talents, 223.
 Waters, “Reading Sodom,” 275.
 Butler, Talents, 209.
 Ruffin, “21st Century Religion,” 96.
 Ruffin, “21st Century Religion,” 96.
 Lorde, Sister Outsider, 112.
 Butler, Talents, 184.
 As a child Olamina experiences stigmata-like bleeding in response even to her brother’s practical joke involving fake blood. See Butler, Sower, 11.
 Butler, Sower, 24; Canavan, Octavia E., 6.
 Meira Likierman, Melanie Klein: Her Work in Context. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 102.
 Tuire Valkeakari, Religious Idiom and the African American Novel, 1952–1998 (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2007), 157.
 Butler, Talents, 47–48.
 Ruffin, “21st Century Religion,” 98.
 Felski, Limits of Critique, 10.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 133.
 Stillman, “Dystopian Critiques,” 32; see also Zaki, “Utopia, Dystopia,” 242–244.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 131.
 Butler, Talents, 54.
 Eng and Han, “A Dialogue,” 683.
 Klein, “Mourning,” 126.
 Butler, Talents, 7.
 Eng and Han, “A Dialogue,” 683.
 Stillman, “Dystopian Critiques,” 31.
 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 128.
 Ruffin, “21st Century Religion,” 93.
 Donald Peters, “Vulnerable Promise from the Land (Mark 4:3b–8): The Parable of the Sower/Soils,” in Jesus and His Parables: Interpreting the Parables of Jesus Today, ed. V. George Shillington (London: T&T Clark, 1997), 70.
 While Butler’s novels typically use the KJV favoured by Olamina’s father, I use the NRSV in my own discussion throughout this article.
 Peters, “Vulnerable Promise,” 78.
 Donald Alfred Hagner, Matthew 1–13, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1993), 371; Luke 8:4–15.
 William R. Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 164.
 Donald Alfred Hagner, Matthew 14–28, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1993), 736.
 Butler, Sower, 220.
 Butler, Sower, 221.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 66.
 Butler, Sower, 15–16, 25–26.
 Gerry Canavan, “’There’s Nothing New / Under the Sun, / but there are New Suns’: Recovering Octavia E. Butler’s Lost Parables.” Los Angeles Review of Books, 9 June 2014, tinyurl.com/238ft8x5; 1 John 4:8.
 Catherine Pastore Blair and Harold Schweizer, introduction to Feminist Revision and the Bible, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 15.
 Monica A. Coleman, “Invoking Oya: Practicing a Polydox Soteriology Through a Postmodern Womanist Reading of Tananarive Due’s The Living Blood,” in Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation, eds. Catherine Keller and Laurel C. Schneider (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 188.
 Butler, Talents, 202.
 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009), 228–229.
 McCormack, “Your God,” 23.
 Dubey, “Folk and Urban,” 119–120.
 Knust, “Who’s Afraid,” 391. Emphasis my own.
 Butler, Sower, 153.
 Matthew 26:41; cf. Mark 14:38.
 Butler, Sower, 25.
 Butler, Sower, 220.
 Máire Byrne, The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: A Basis for Interfaith Dialogue (New York: Continuum, 2011), 22–24.
 Butler, Talents, 337.
 Esther Jones, “Africana Women’s Science Fiction and Narrative Medicine,” in Afrofuturism 2.0, ed. Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 261.
 McCormack, “Your God,” 19.
 Butler, Sower, 77; Genesis 2:19.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 194; Butler, Talents, 50.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 195; Matthew 27:50–51.
 Butler, Talents, 166.
 Butler, Talents 166; Matthew 16:15.
 McCormack, “Your God,” 20.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 186.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 186.
 Butler, Talents, 58.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 62.
 Canavan, “Nothing New.”
 Knust, “Who’s Afraid,” 391.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 201.
 Butler quoted in McCormack, “Your God,” 18.
 McCormack, “Your God,” 23.
 Stillman, “Dystopian Critiques,” 31.
 Butler, Sower, 12.
 Likierman, Melanie Klein, 107.
 Stark, “Realistic View,” 164.
 Butler, Talents, 334.
 Butler, Talents, 329.
 Donna Spalding Andréolle, “Utopias of Old, Solutions for the New Millennium: A Comparative Study of Christian Fundamentalism in M. K. Wren’s A Gift Upon the Shore and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” Utopian Studies 12 (2001): 120, www.jstor.org/stable/20718319.
 Butler, Sower, 223; Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17.
 Butler, Talents, 7.
 Coleman, “Invoking Oya,” 190.
 Butler, Sower, 261.
 Valkeakari, Religious Idiom, 189.
 Canavan, Octavia E., 3–4.
 Butler, Sower, 25.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 67.
 Due, “Lasting Truth,” 189.
 Alexis Lothian, “Feminist and Queer Science Fiction in America,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction, ed. Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 74, doi: 10.1017/CCO9781107280601.008.
 Valkeakari, Religious Idiom, 188.
 Due, “Lasting Truth,” 191.
 Ostriker, Feminist Revision, 62.
 Butler, Sower, 122