This week my dear Bookclub friend Lynn and I collaborate on this review for Louise Erdrich’s „Future Home of the living God“. Lynn is always insanely busy and asking her for a book review what stress her out, so I sneakily asked her opinion on the discussion we had during Bookclub discussion and this way I managed to get her wonderful writing and ideas without stressing her 😉
Here a quick glance about the book from the editor:
„The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.
There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe“
Followed by the brilliant interpretations by Lynn:
First, some general thoughts not specifically related to the Catholicism angle. I spent some time thinking about the quote from The Guardian’s review of the book: “The power of female fertility is simultaneously so mundane as to be overlooked and so significant that it remains the principle battleground in culture and gender wars, a tool or a weapon to be appropriated by those who seek to control the masses. Feminists and writers of speculative fiction have long known this. “The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet,” wrote Margaret Atwood earlier this year, on why her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is resonating so forcefully in the age of Trump.” In thinking about the Margaret Atwood quote, I wondered why this would be a common factor of repressive regimes because there doesn’t seem to be a direct link. I think it’s not so much that political regimes try to control women’s bodies, but that regimes are simply acting in the same way that men in general have acted throughout history when they try to establish power by taking control over a woman. It’s not enough to just control what a woman wears (=headscarves) or does (=the jobs they can have), but the ultimate power is to control the main thing which a woman can do that a man can’t, which is to have a baby. I think that people who oppose abortion, but at the same time accept capital punishment are not truly concerned about the moral issue of taking a life, but that they cannot accept that an individual woman could be allowed to make a moral decision herself (=is it morally okay to end a pregnancy?) and instead think this needs to be dictated by society, which is largely controlled by men.
Now to the Catholicism angle, which actually isn’t related directly to Catholicism, but the overall Judeo-Christian view of life. It was Eva who screwed things up at the very beginning by being guilty of original sin (tempting Adam to eat the apple) and who caused the fall from paradise. I’m not a bible scholar, but I believe that there are several places in the bible where women are guilty of tempting men to sin. And as far as I can tell, lust and passion are pretty high up on the list of sins. I just did a fast google search of bible quotes and here’s one example: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colassians 3:5) Here’s another one I found amusing: “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:9)
Reading the bible leaves the impression that those telling the stories were uncomfortable with passion and lust and that if somebody was experiencing passion or lust, probably it was a woman’s fault. We then have a dilemma in that a lustful Mary tempting Joseph into bed would not be the ideal parents for the Son of God. Solution: no lust or passion and no Mother of God as a temptress, hence a virgin birth. I think that Erdrich is basically retelling the story of the virgin Mary, showing how you can take a real event and twist it into something else you feel more comfortable with. Cedar’s real name is Mary and she sleeps with Phil (fun fact: the Greek meaning of “phil” is love, e.g. philosophy means love of wisdom). She calls Phil an angel because he has put on costume wings when they sleep together. But Phil is just a normal guy and when he gets tortured he even betrays Mary although he loves her. Who knows, maybe the baby Jesus also had parents just messing around in a costume trunk and the whole reason they started messing around is because Joseph whispered something sexy into Mary’s ear – which later got twisted around to saying that word made her pregnant and it was an angel whispering that word.
So in this book we’ve got a modern day Mary, but now we’ve got a quasi-government taking control over women’s bodies including Mary’s. Plus we’ve also destroyed our planet in the meantime and as a result evolution started going backwards. This means the likelihood of having a modern day Jesus born by a modern day Mary is extremely unlikely, or in other words, the chance of their being a future home (=the womb) for another Son of God (e.g. a living god) is rapidly disappearing.
Having written this, I’ve decided the book is not really criticizing Catholicism, but is retelling the story without the biblical slant, e.g. no need to get rid of the passion or sanitize Mary into becoming a virgin. It’s also showing that by screwing up the planet we put the chance for our redemption at extreme risk. Jesus is our savior, but if he isn’t born in the first place, how can he die for our sins? (I don’t think Erdrich is saying that we literally need a new Jesus, it’s just an analogy.) In the book, it could be that Mary’s baby (or a future baby) has survived and will turn out to be Jesus who will fix everything, but chances are slim. And then having a bunch of messed up men trying to take control of women’s bodies to solve the crisis is only compounding it. So probably this is the end and we’re not going to have any living god to save us because that living god’s future home was first messed up by our ruining the planet and then further messed up by men trying to get it back under control.