The Chrysalids: Religion Controlling a Society and its Effects

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

The idea of a celestial and infinite force brings out a certain fear and respect out of humans, and this is translated into honouring the spirit and conceiving it as the virtuous. As mortal beings, we often feel helpless from the fates that we believe direct our paths, and during difficult situations, turn to an intangible and superior power. Applying the concept of religion for power distorts the spiritual connection as well as our grasp of the divine and good. When an aspect of religion is misrepresented by authorities, unwavering reverence can become a weakness and turn into ignorance. The theme of using faith as a source of control is found in history, literature, and more specifically, in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

Religion has been always been a part of our history as a foundation for both culture and security. It is engrained in our knowledge that a god portrays the good and this attitude makes religion a universal answer that in a way is untouchable. For example, in the Middle Ages when the feudal system was developed, God was the highest in the hierarchy and life was so because it was what He intended it to be. When the Black Plague appeared, it was religion that would save them from the baffling spread of the evil disease. In the community of Waknuk, where a massive disaster had destroyed all history and their surrounding world was brimming with the alien and questionable, fear caused the people to resort to faith as it was the sole substance within their grasp. In the book Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, the primitive civilization too, like Waknuk, had lost much past knowledge with the exception of a song and a robe. These were showcased in a spiritual gathering that explained the people’s role in the world. In these cases, religion builds a lost culture and provides a comforting reason for the mysterious and unexplainable. Such reliance magnifies change and control that can be achieved when officials manipulate a spiritual subject.

Religion when used to create an inflexible environment leads to isolation. In a society where it is imperative to follow a certain belief, such as Waknuk, the whole population thinks in one perspective. The uniformity in opinion in essence results in thought control and also expels the possibility of accepting difference and change.

In Richard Adams’ book, Watership Down, we meet a warren of rabbits that were routinely fed and trapped by a nearby farmer. Their fear caused them to avoid the obvious and retreat into a state of denial and worship. All rabbits born in this warren were raised with a philosophy of defeated reverence to accept their deaths, and any strayed thinkers were ignored or extinguished. The statement “Beware the mutant” was a variation of a passage in the Bible but was declared so forcefully that it persuaded the Waknukians to believe it was the good. In this situation, religion was used as an outlet to prove the credibility of the mutated statement by playing on the people’s trust and loyalty. Only one way of thinking creates a static society that rejects change and the unfamiliar. A community that believes in only one judgment is easier to manage and the Holy Word once again provides a reason for obedience.

Consequently, by controlling mindsets it is possible to control actions of a population and isolation causes insecurity towards anything that is not understood. Waknuk became a society that was absolutely intolerable towards the individual and unique; the culture revolved around beliefs such as “The Devil is the Father of Deviation” and this mentality transfers to actions such as the killing of the Dakers’ tailless cat. David’s ability to generate thought shapes was incomparable to the usual physical deformations that were easily spotted. A combination of both the undeniable understanding that “Blessed is the norm” and fear of the unordinary caused a panic that revealed the isolation of such a traditional and strict society.

In conclusion, religion protects the mind from the scary and bewildering, but in a cycle its manipulation indirectly causes more fear towards the unknown. Really it is mankind’s hunger for the good and power that allows religion to be used as a tool of control.

Throwback Thursday essay written on January 10, 2011.
Thanks for reading,


Filed under Academia, Poems, Essays, and Things

18 responses to “The Chrysalids: Religion Controlling a Society and its Effects

  1. This is deep, insightful & true – thx for posting

  2. John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors. The concept of otherworldly forces controlling the masses can be found in another of his books, The Midwich Cuckoos. Like HG Wells’ exploration of the subject, Wyndham explores the idea of decay being as likely as progress in an increasingly Godless world; one that is increasingly fragile and unstable, where enemies can come from within or from beyond…

    • Thank you for stopping by and leaving me your thoughts. Have you read Day of the Triffids – does it have similar running themes?

      • Absolutely, another dystopian version of the future; in this case man’s genetic experiments gone awry and a blinding meteor shower creating the perfect storm of destruction. Man leads man astray; and the creatures feed…. Brilliant John Wyndham!

  3. Your summation puts together nicely. Always felt uncomfortable with the “control” part of organized religion.

  4. Wow, this is so true, all religions are founded on fear, fuelled by fear and used to control the masses. Not too sure about the good though, or is that subjective? After all the Greeks and Romans worshipped sex gods and indulged in massive orgies at certain times of the year. Modern religions tell us that sex outside of marriage, sex with same sex partners and other different practices, are wrong sinful or downright evil. You only have to look at the recent scandals to discover that modern religion is not practicing what they are preaching. Atrocities performed in the name of Allah by Muslim extremists and sexual deviation performed by Christians in positions of authority and power.

    Power corrupts as we all know, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

    • Yes, the idea of the ‘good’ is very subjective here. My point was that humans are constantly searching for ‘the good’, or a level of enlightenment, and in many cases it is used to justify certain actions/customs as you mentioned. Faith comes out of a want to be good, unfortunately is manipulated and used as a means of power. Thanks for the comment, gave me a bit to think about.

  5. Oops – behind the times here, but I just finished this book earlier this spring! I love what you have to say on this subject, and it definitely made me have another think about the book (:

  6. An interesting and deep discussion. The quote from Seneca kept dragging me back and begging me to examine what he said. Is it really our experience that the common people regard religion ( and I define religion not as a means of achieving power, all kinds of strategies do that, but as an individual’s relationship to God ) as true? My experience tells me that many so called common people don’t regard religion or many other ideas as true. I also know of many very wise, and highly educated people who regard a faith in God as true and even self-evident. The man considered the wisest man who ever lived said, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” Many renowned scientists agree that the complexity of living things and the workings of the earth and universe point to an intelligence we cannot fully comprehend. And finally, if rulers consider religion as useful, why have communist leaders and many others throughout history outlawed it?

  7. To think one must perform certain deeds to earn the love of God is religion. To accept His love and grace by faith is not religion it is Truth and as Jesus said “The Truth will set you free”

  8. Nice review. Religion to control the masses…its about time to move on to another era with freedom and humanity for all.

  9. Thanks for liking my blog. I read The Chrysalids when I was twelve for the first time and for me it was just a great Science Fiction yarn. When I re-read it as an adult the religious aspect gave it a whole new light. Your essay is compelling and thoughtful. Thank you for that too! I think as a society we are still too immature to grasp the concept of individual thought, even though it is given lip-service. That will change in time, hopefully without the government’s help.

    • The Chrysalids is a deeper novel than it seems, and I look forward to the day when faith and individuality can truly freely exist in society without the influence of corruption and power. Thanks for dropping a thought! Cheers

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