Study Guide

Dune Religion

By Frank Herbert


Yueh watched Paul work the page adjustment, thought: I salve my own conscience. I give him the surcease of religion before betraying him. Thus may I say to myself that he has gone where I cannot go. (5.36)

Karl Marx once called religion the "opium of the people" (source). Whether or not this is true, Yueh is sure tapping into religion to feel better. But instead of giving religion to himself, he gives it to the boy he will betray, so there's an extra little twist on Marx's idea.

With the Lady Jessica and Arrakis, the Bene Gesserit system of sowing implant-legends through the Missionaria Protectiva came to its full fruition. The wisdom of seeding the known universe with a prophecy pattern for the protection of B.G. personnel has long been appreciated, but never have we seen a condition-ut-extremis with more ideal mating of person and preparation. (7.Intro)

The Bene Gesserit use myth, legend, and religion to retain power over the people. We have to ask, though: who plans far enough ahead to create a religious mythology just in case they need to use it? The Bene Gesserit. That's who.

"Yes, my Lord. They've a legend here, a prophecy, that a leader will come to them, child of a Bene Gesserit, to lead them to true freedom. It follows the familiar messiah pattern."
"They think Paul is this… this…"
"They only hope, my Lord." (13.59-61)

Note the words "follows the familiar messiah pattern." Here, we really see Dune's concern for a comparative study of religion. Dune isn't trying to single out any one religion; it's trying to get at the core of religion as a whole.

They were all caught up in the need of their race to renew its scattered inheritance, to cross and mingle and infuse their bloodlines in a great new pooling of genes. And the race knew only one sure way for this—the ancient way, the tried and certain way that rolled over everything in its path: jihad. (22.198)

Dune connects religion and evolution in a way that we've never heard before. Basically, it's saying that the selfish gene and jihad are one and the same. One urge; two different outlets.

Paul said: "You have a legend of the Lisan al-Gaib here, the Voice from the Outer World, the one who will lead the Fremen to paradise. Your men have—"

"Superstition!" Kynes said.

"Perhaps," Paul agreed. "Yet perhaps not. Superstitions sometimes have strange roots and stranger branchings." (25.84-86)

Paul's plans to make superstition a reality are revealed here. But is it still a superstition if someone consciously makes it a reality? We'll leave that one to you.

"Religion and law among our masses must be one and the same," [Kynes's] father said. "An act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties. This will have the dual benefit of bringing both greater obedience and greater bravery. We must depend not so much on the bravery of individuals, you see, as upon the bravery of a whole population." (30.63)

Wow, Kynes's ghost-father just went to a seriously dark place. The idea is that the population will only obey a mere law because it's enforced by people like you and me. But if disobedience is a sin, then the law is enforced by God—and, buddy, you don't mess with a deity. So, if you want people to obey—well, you get the idea. Like we said: dark place.

Now… I must play the part of Auliya, the Friend of God… Sayyadina to rogue peoples who've been so heavily imprinted with our Bene Gesserit soothsay they even call their chief priestesses Reverend Mothers. (32.94)

Jessica consciously assumes a role required by religious myth. This is Dune's way of giving the reader behind-the-scenes access. Like VH1's Behind the Music, only with a religion.

And Paul, walking behind Chani, felt that a vital moment had passed him, that he had missed an essential decision and was now caught up in his own myth. […] Through it all, the wild jihad still loomed ahead of him, the violence and the slaughter. It was like a promontory above the surf. (34.165-166)

Dune goes to great lengths to separate Paul the man from Paul the religious myth. Whether or not you feel this idea of man vs. myth will be important beyond the novel is up to you. Still, to fully understand the character of Paul, you'll need to keep your eyes open for passages like these and notice how they change as the novel progresses.

Perhaps I should not have told the Baron to let this religion flourish where it will, even among the folk of pan and graben, [Hawat] told himself. But it's well known that repression makes a religion flourish. (39.108)

We don't really know what to add to this quote. Repression makes a religion flourish. Let's just check our history books here… one moment more… yep, seems pretty accurate.

"The Fremen have a simple, practical religion," [Paul] said.
"Nothing about religion is simple," [Jessica] warned.
[…] "Religion unifies our forces. It's our mystique."
"You deliberately cultivated this air, this bravura," she charged. "You never cease indoctrinating." (40.39-42)

Religion complicates itself in this quote. On the one hand, Jessica and Paul openly admit to using religion to indoctrinate others. On the other hand, the true depths of the religion they supposedly "use" seem to escape them. Jeez, religion isn't simple. So, wait, maybe religion is something other than what all these people say it is? Okay, if you'll excuse us, our brains are starting to sizzle.