Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Religion

By David Mitchell


No organist played a Magnificat but the wind in the flue chimney, no choir sang a Nunc Dimittis but the withering gulls, yet I fancy the Creator was not displeazed. (1.4.7)

It seems that Adam Ewing is saying that even when stripped of all the pomp and circumstance and the unnecessary ceremony and brought back to its roots, religion can still do some good. Although Cloud Atlas shows the dark side to religion, it also shows how religion can benefit people. For Adam Ewing, it's on of his only solaces in Ocean Bay, a town full of debauchery.

People knelt in prayer, some moving their lips. Envy 'em, really, I do. I envy God, too, privy to their secrets. Faith, the least exclusive club on Earth, has the craftiest doorman. (2.6.6)

This echoes a later sentiment of Sonmi's. She says she envies her ignorant sisters who have not ascended like she has. Frobisher seems to see people who believe in God as ignorant of a larger machination at work. And, since ignorance is bliss, sometimes being ignorant looks like a comfortable position to a very troubled person. Is ignorance bliss in Cloud Atlas? Or does it just lead to manipulation and slavery?

"[Megan's mother] buys into feng shui or I Ching or whatever instant-enlightenment mumbo jumbo is top of the charts." (3.6.3)

Rufus Sixsmith is a man of science who doesn't believe in this spiritual hullabaloo. Of course, this is before he meets someone who could be his former lover reincarnated. Too bad he dies before he really have an opportunity to think about it.

How could Papa Song stand on His Plinth in Chongmyo Plaza Servery and stroll Xultation's beaches with our Souled sisters simultaneously? (5.1.55)

Papa Song is cast as a God to Sonmi and her fellow fabricants. However, she starts to question things, making the existence of her God about as logical as the existence of—spoilers ahead—Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. (Sorry, kids.)

A Yoona had kidnapped a boy, no, a baby; no, a pureblood had kidnapped a Yoona; an enforcer had shot a boy; no, a fabricant had hit the seer whose nose was bleeding. All the while, Papa Song surfed noodle waves on His Plinth. (5.1.71)

Papa Song is a God-like figure for fabricants, yet, when all hell breaks loose in the restaurant, he stands idly by and does nothing. Either he does not exist, or he doesn't care. Is there a difference when it comes to gods?

"A Soul's value is the dollars therein." (7.1.95) (5.1.312)

Consumerism has so replaced religion in Sonmi's culture that another word for wallet is "Soul." People worship the dollar. How else is money like a religion in this book? What is the difference between, say, capitalism and belief in a God here?

Papa Song was just a trick of lites. How had an inane hologram once inspired such awe in me? (5.1.328)

Sonmi experiences an epiphany that her god is not real. Once she realizes this, it's almost embarrassing for her to think she ever believed in it. From this point on, she no longer has the comfort of belief; she has the burden of truth to bear.

Valleysman only had one god an' her name it was Sonmi. [...] Down in Hilo they prayed to Sonmi if they'd the moddin' but they'd got other gods too, shark gods, volcano gods, corn gods, sneeze gods, hairy-wart gods, oh, you name it, the Hilo's birth a god for it. The Kona'd got a hole tribe o'war gods an' horse gods'n'all. (6.1.28)

The Big I is like a little microcosm of the entire world. There are single-deity faiths, and there are faiths with entire pantheons of gods, even though all of these people live on the same island.

[Hae-Joo] said [Buddha] was a deity that offered salvation from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth. (7.1.127)

Hae-Joo is talking about nirvana. This provides a counterpoint in a book that seems to be all about the "meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth." Is there a point to Cloud Atlas? Is there a point to life? Jeez, Cloud Atlas just got real.

Once the Indians saw how God protects its flock, why, even the Spartans were begging us to send preachers. (11.1.16)

And we close this section with the dark side of religion. Whites in the South Pacific used their religion as a weapon to instill fear in the natives and convince them (well, the ones who were still alive) to come over to their side. It's like: You're all dead; we're not. Why? God, of course. Now come worship him. And clean our houses.