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World Religions Book Project: Dune

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Jacob Polack

on 20 March 2011

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Transcript of World Religions Book Project: Dune

World Religions Book Project:
Dune by Frank Herbert
Jacob Polack The concept of terraforming, changing the environment of an entire planet, is one that Frank Herbert does not approve of. Herbert conceived the idea for Dune after studying a governmental project designed to halt the spread of sand dunes along the Oregon coastline. He wrote Dune so that he could portray some of his beliefs about such a monumental task. He was appalled that humans were trying harder and harder to play the role of God. The Tower of Babel is story where men tried to equal themselves with God. I thought this related because there are two characters in Dune that the Fremen revere as gods. Liet and Paul Atreides are these characters and they both attempt to do the work of a God. They try to terraform an entire planet. Eventually though, Paul realizes that it would be a fruitless effort. The Native people of Arrakis, the Fremen, have survived the harsh living conditions of their planet for thousands of years. Obviously they are a very strong society of people. However, it is these very people that become victims to religious control. Liet, their religious leader in the beginning of the novel, uses his religious authorities to convince these natives to terraform their planet from a desert to a lush paradise. This process is continued when Paul Atreides becomes the religious leader of the Fremen. The Bene Gesserit and the Missionaria Protectiva are two related organizations that are shrouded by mystery throughout the book. The reader comes to find that the Bene Gesserit use the Missionaria Protectiva to spread contrived legends and prophecies to developing worlds. Bene Gesserit can exploit these legends to earn the respect of the native inhabitants, who believe in the contrived legends. I found this concept very appalling because of its implications on the Fremen. The natives of Arrakis were literally given a false religion to believe in. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1)
The main character, Paul Atreides, is seen by the Fremen as their savior or messiah. This is due to the fact that the Missionaria Protectiva spread legends that foretold their savior as someone that fit Paul’s description. While he goes on to fulfill such a role within the unknowing Fremen, the reader is aware that Paul is only able to fill that role because of the contrived legends that were spread many generations before he arrived.
The idea in this comic is not lost to Frank Herbert. Throughout the novel, the main character realizes that his rise to power would ignite a jihad across the universe. While Paul Atreides searches for a way around such mass suffering, he finds out that such a war is inevitable. Religion and war often do come hand in hand. While the sandworms of Arrakis do not have a direct connection to religion in Dune, it does posses some of the deeper messages that the author tried to portray. To many people on Arrakis, the sandworm is a monstrous pest to the harvesting of the spice drug, mélange. What those people do not realize is the ecological connections that the desert planet, the sandworms and the spice have. Without the desert there is no sandworm; without the sandworm there is no spice. Since the economy of the universe and space travel is dependent on mélange, the religious efforts to terraform the planet will unknowingly destroy the sandworms and ignite a chain reaction that would tear apart the universe. Context and Summary: Dune was one of the first science-fiction novels to address issues of religion. Many science-fiction authors considered religion an outdated institution that would eventually lose its direct control over society. Many writers assumed that the separation of church and state would only widen in the future. Frank Herbert had a different conception of the future. Dune’s universe employs a feudal government system that includes dukes and barons and in which religion has a very strong presence in everyday life and politics. Religion’s most obvious presence in Dune is in the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit are familiar with numerous religious texts, from the Orange Catholic Bible to more cryptic texts such as the Great Mysteries. These texts play a significant role in defining the Bene Gesserit conception of the world. The Missionaria Protectiva reveals that the Bene Gesserit frequently exploit religion to protect their own members. The other important presence of religion in Dune involves control of the Fremen. Liet’s father is the first person to exploit religion as a method of rallying the Fremen to his cause—turning Arrakis from a desert planet to a lush, green world. Liet and his father hope to bring paradise back to Arrakis through religion. Although Liet wants to bring nature to Arrakis by making it a lush, green planet, his endeavor is contrary to nature because Arrakis is a naturally dry planet. Altering Arrakis into a lush garden planet is performing the work of a higher power, reshaping the land to conform to the preference and needs of the Fremen. Yet no character in Dune ever questions whether it is morally right to change the climate of Arrakis. Changing the planet might kill the sandworms, which have an integral role in creating melange, an addictive drug used throughout the universe. The Fremen are strong and powerful soldiers because they have trained in a harsh desert climate. The Fremen would not have the power to fight the Emperor’s soldiers or change the climate of Arrakis if the environment were different. Religion represents a source of comfort and power throughout the novel. Paul pursues the same goals as Kynes, but he uses his religious power over the Fremen as their messiah to gain control of the entire Imperium. Paul possesses mystical abilities that go above and beyond a simple heightened awareness or intelligence, but his clever exploitation of religion is his most powerful advantage. Paul’s adept manipulation of religion and the calculated use of legends contrived by the Bene Gesserit allow him to rise to the position of Emperor. Dune raises the question of whether humans should exercise their power to manipulate the environment, but lack of opposition from any character in the novel leaves no firm conclusion. Melange, the spice drug, is found in limited quantities on the planet Arrakis and mined by the Fremen. As a symbol, melange represents the untapped potential of human perception and brainpower. Melange allows Paul to achieve the greatest heights of his power and awareness. Melange is a costly crutch, however. Melange is highly addictive in large quantities, and Paul cannot survive without great quantities of it. The more he takes, the less the drug affects his awareness, and so he requires greater and more concentrated doses. Melange may open the “doors of perception,” but its addictive force binds its users to the drug . The End
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