Octavia Butler on the Meaning of God

The measure of intelligence is our ability to accept responsibility for our actions.

Octavia Butler on the Meaning of God

“He is the only God. And so am I and so are you,” William Blake said of Jesus in one of his prophetic koan-like pronouncements.

A century after him, Hermann Hesse leaned on his reverence for nature as he considered the value of hardship, urging the dispirited to listen to our inner voice: “If you are now wondering where to look for consolation, where to seek a new and better God… he does not come to us from books, he lives within us… This God is in you too. He is most particularly in you, the dejected and despairing.”

A century later, another prophet of the age saw and named the truth underneath these truths. Please enter your email addressThis. MeThe universe of possibility is an ever-changing constellation of cells and ideas. These thoughts, feelings, perceptions and emotions are constantly changing and creating selfhood. God then is the name of change and chance, in this flickering constellation. God is the name we — “atoms with consciousness,” who know that one day we shall become “one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust” but wish it to be otherwise with every atomic fiber of our being — is the name we give to our touching longing for permanence in a universe of change.

Octavia Butler by Katy Horan from Literary Witches — an illustrated celebration of women writers who have enchanted and transformed our world.

In the opening pages of her 1993 masterwork Parable of the Sower (public library) — the first part of her oracular Earthseed allegory — Octavia Butler (June 22, 1947–February 24, 2006) writes:

You can touch everything
You Change.

You can change everything
Changes you.

This is the only truth that will last forever
What is Change?

What is Change?

This, of course, is the only appropriate conception of “God” — which is also another word for “nature” — if we are lucid about what actually happens when we die: that is, when we return our borrowed stardust to nature. Butler intimates as much, insisting again and again that “God” is the vessel we create to hold the blooming buzzing chaos of the ever-changing self. “To shape God, shape Self,” she would write five years later, in the sequel to The Parable of the Sower.

Dorothy Lathrop (1922) art This print is also available as stationery cards.

Defining intelligence as “ongoing, individual adaptability” and reminding us that “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals,” she considers our orientation to “God” — to change — as a vital adaptation that shapes the outcome of any individual human life. Butler’s words are an excellent antidote against our culture which abdicates responsibility for ourselves and encourages us to be complacent victims.

God might make you a victim.
By learning adaptation
Be a friend of God.
God might make you a victim.
By planning and having forethought, you can make a difference.
Be a God-shaped person.
A victim of God might,
By fear and blindness,
Remain God’s victim,
God’s plaything,
God’s prey.

Complement with Borges on what makes us who we are and John Burroughs’s superb century-old manifesto for the spirituality of nature, then revisit Butler on how we become ourselves and how (not) to choose our leaders.

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