Study Guide

The Poisonwood Bible Religion

By Barbara Kingsolver


Book 1, Prologue

We aimed for no more than to have dominion over every creature that moved upon the earth. (1.Prologue.16)

Dominion isn't just an addictive card game. In Genesis, it seems to mean something like "ruling" but also "being responsible for taking care of." (That's a nod to all of you lovely Tree Huggers out there.) Of course, Nathan Price seems to ignore the "taking care of" part and focuses on the ruling instead.

Book 1, Chapter 1

My father [...] was bringing the Word of God — which fortunately weighs nothing at all. (1.1.21)

Out of everything the Prices brought to the Congo, where does the Word of God rank on a scale of usefulness? Just asking.

Book 1, Chapter 5

"How did this curse come to me, when it's God's own will to cultivate the soil!" (1.5.30)

Sure—except by "cultivate," maybe God didn't mean "impose your own will upon." Nathan seems to conveniently forget the parts of the Bible that don't allow him to be a total control freak.

Book 2, Chapter 3
Nathan Price

"Tata Ndu feels that bringing the Christian word to these people is leading them to corrupt ways." (2.3.21)

News flash: Not everyone thinks that Christianity is a shining beacon to a glorious new way of life. Especially when Nathan Price takes the "convert first, ask questions never" method.

Book 2, Chapter 4

I wonder that religion can live or die on the strength of a faint, stirring breeze. [...] One god draws in the breath of life and rises; another god expires. (2.4.23)

The way Leah sees it, religion is a zero-sum game: if one comes to life, another dies. There's no such thing as syncretism.

Book 3, Chapter 1
Leah Price

I added "Baka veh." This means, "We don't pay for that," which is how you say that you don't believe. (3.1.12)

Guess what? We have an almost identical idiom: "We don't buy that," as in: "People landing on the moon? Yeah, I so don't buy that." So, what's the relationship between belief and money?

Book 3, Chapter 4

God works, as is very well known, in mysterious ways. There is just nothing you can name that He won't do, now and then. (3.4.1)

As Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction." So, does that mean that some of the stranger stories in the Bible—a flood, people turning into salt—could actually be true? Or could be more true than made-up parts?

Book 3, Chapter 7

For Father, the Kingdom of the Lord is an uncomplicated place, where tall, handsome boys fight on the side that always wins. (3.7.21)

Note the word "boys." The boys are on the side that always wins. Does that mean that women always lose? Nathan Price sure thinks so.

Book 3, Chapter 8

"[The Bible is] God's word, brought to you by a crew of romantic idealists in a harsh desert culture eons ago, followed by a chain of translators two thousand years ago." (3.8.18)

This is important, and goes in line with Adah's discussion of mistranslated Bibles at the end of Book Six. In her view, the Bible isn't God's word straight to our ears but more like a game of telephone that's lasted for centuries.

Brother Fowles

"There are Christians and then there are Christians." (3.8.80)

Here we go: this is probably the main point of The Poisonwood Bible when it comes to religion. There are wonderful people who adhere to the good tenets of Christianity: tolerance, patience, charity, world without end, amen. Then there are those that use religion as a means to power. (See: the Crusades, Nathan Price.)

Book 6, Chapter 3

In organic chemistry, invertebrate zoology, and the inspired symmetry of Mendelian genetics, I [Adah] have found a religion that serves. (6.3.12)

Adah falls out of Christianity—and stops believing in God—because her Sunday School teacher tells us that people born in the Congo do not go to heaven. Presto. As simple as that. Perhaps Adah considers science her religion because science is fair. It treats everyone and everything equally, from the smallest creature to the largest.

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