Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Religion

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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Like The Legend of Zelda, A Canticle for Leibowitz has a thematic Triforce and it's composed of religion, scientific knowledge, and primitivity. Both religion and science are positioned to counter humanity's primitive, violent tendencies, but do they succeed? If you've finished the book, you'll know the answer is a big fat nope. When religion, here represented by the Catholic Church, succeeds, it does so because it's a centuries-old institution. When the Flame Deluge hits, it remains the sole vestige of civilization. It must survive to preserve both moral teachings and scientific knowledge. But its strength is its ultimate weakness. Religious ideals do not change to meet the times, which results in a church that cannot properly grasp the Memorabilia's content. If the Memorabilia will not assimilate their teachings to the new world, they will continue to be outmaneuvered by ever-evolving political forces. What a crazy game of chess. And what high stakes.

Questions About Religion

  1. Why does the Church become responsible for the Memorabilia during the Simplification? Do you think the pairing of the Memorabilia and the Church is being lauded by Miller, or is he criticizing the union of Church and State? Explain your reasoning with evidence from the text.
  2. In which of the novel's three sections does the Church have the most power? Why? In which of the novel's three sections does the Church have the least power? Compare these two sections. What do you think the novel is trying to say about the purpose of the Church in our society?
  3. What purpose do you think Mrs. Grales and Rachel serve in the novel, specifically in relation to the theme of religion?
  4. On his rubble deathbed, Zerchi gives an absentee Dr. Cors his theodicy—a.k.a. an answer to the problem of evil (29.35). Do you agree with his answer? Why or why not?

Chew on This

A Canticle has elements of magical realism, but it is careful to present possible explanations for the magical stuff it contains. The author provides these explanations in order to keep the question of religion and God's existence open for debate.

The character of Abbot Arkos represents what happens when politics and religion mix—and no, he's not a decent guy.

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