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Bene Gesserit used religious beliefs to further their goals (Missionaria Protectiva).

But did Bene Gesserit themselves hold genuine religious belief (e.g. in a supernatural power, preferably in a form of a deity as opposed to more amorphous "fate" etc...)?

I don't mean possible faith of individual sisters, I mean B.G. as organization - either in the form of genuine belief of their core leadership; or official organizational views.

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    I don't remember any concrete evidence, but I always assumed the Bene Gesserit were atheists/agnostics themselves. I simply assumed an organization with such cynical and manipulative beliefs about religion wouldn't be religious themselves... – Andres F. Nov 28 '15 at 1:20
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    @AndresF. You may be right that the BG are agnostic, but simply being cynical and manipulative is not sufficient to establish that. Some religious groups in history have done a lot worse than the relatively non-violent methods of the BG. It's plausible their manipulative tactics could coexist with a genuine religious faith. – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 28 '15 at 1:34
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    And not all religions have a God, such as Buddhism and Confucianism ( if you count Confucianism as a religion; YMMV) – Joe L. Nov 28 '15 at 2:42
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    This is a tricky one. How does one prove something that's not explicitely written? Granted the BG manipulate and exploit religions to their own ends. I cannot recall evidence to their belief (should ask the Other Memory). However given both the importance of the BG and that the religions are really a significantly aspect of Dune's setting with the belief systems fleshed out in detail, one should expect that Frank would be more explicit about the fact. Time to read Chapterhouse again. – Ghanima Nov 30 '15 at 22:34
  • @Ghanima Hee! We try to Read Between the Lines Seriously, by your name alone I can tell you are a Duneaholic (ya just coined that one!:). I'd love to get your opinion. Before or after the re-read! – Athena Widget Dec 1 '15 at 21:29
6

Neither yes nor no. The Bene Gesserit are a political organization, not a religious one.

Consider first that the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam discusses that the Bene Gesserit focus almost exclusively on politics. This happens at the beginning of the first novel just before Paul is tested with the Gom Jabbar, and no mention of religion is made at all, only the juxtaposition against the Spacing Guild who had focused exclusively on mathematics.

Then consider Jessica's words in the first novel, given while voicing her concern for Paul's quickly waxing religious significance:

When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong - faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it's too late.

Jessica all but tells us that religion and politics together is destructive. The BG, being one of the longest standing schools in the Dune universe, surely are not political and religious. They would have been crushed long ago.

Therefore, I posit that Herbert intended the BG to be a strictly political organization, where perhaps individuals may hold religious beliefs, but it is irrelevant to the goals of the BG. This further makes sense if you assume the BG legitimately believe they serve humanity through a sort of Paternalism. This would make them closest to Humanist, but without the apparent need to be Atheist.

I have little textual evidence for it, but it is fun for me to believe that the BG started as a religious organization (a Catholic order of nuns, most likely). It would be a great story in how they learned the harsh lessen that religion and politics cannot "travel in the same cart" and they were nearly undone. Something set many years before Paul Muad'dib. All of this pulls together for a more enjoyable reading experience for me.

1

No

  1. As you indicated the Missionaria Protectiva was primarily a shield of the BG sisterhood, a primary tool in furthering their plans. It has no deeply held religious belief in and of itself.
  2. They had the ability to access the Memories of long deceased people. In the strict classical sense, dying is terminal, ie. God, one would imagine, takes over after death. For people that had such access God would seem superfluous.

  3. Their society understood deep genetic engineering (Ghola), they were literally able to bring a mind and body back from the dead. It means that in the Dune universe, they never really die, so what need do they have of a God to create life?

"It felt very odd to hold that baby in my arms and think: This is my father," Odrade said.

Chapterhouse Dune

  1. A belief in deity presumably leads to restrained behavior and greater nobility, not so with the BG. They relied on scheming and subterfuge for generations.

Finally, did Mr. Herbert believe in God? I think the answer would lend some indication of the true beliefs of the greatest religious order he ever created.

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    #4 doesn't seem to make any sense to me as a reason, sorry. Belief in deity is uncorrelated to restrained behavior or "nobility". Faith-holding people were just as apt to be {insert your favorite negative} as faithless, from Aztecs whose religion demanded war and human sacrifice, to Inquisition who wholeheartedly considered the worst atrocities committed to the benefit of their victims ('s souls), to assorted Popes who put Hugh Hefner to shame. Humans are humans, and will use religion and faith to justify any behavior they wish, good or bad; and change the faith to fit their wishes too – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 30 '15 at 16:44
  • I thought about that, but I was trying to extrapolate Mr. Herbert's intention. Consider that Maud'dib tried to prevent the Jihad. I don't think bloodshed would easily fit into his persona (Paul's or Frank Herbert's) – Athena Widget Nov 30 '15 at 17:33
  • @AthenaWidget: I fail to understand what your comment has to do with anything. – Wrzlprmft Dec 1 '15 at 20:37
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    Also, regarding your third point: The Bene Gesserit obtained the knowledge of genetic engineering from the Bene Tleilax, which were deeply religious. (In fact, their religiousness made them accessible to the Bene Gesserit by means of the Missionara Protectiva.) – Wrzlprmft Dec 1 '15 at 20:39
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    but we can at least try to extrapolate Mr. Herbert's […] – I still fail to understand your reasoning. — and my answer attempts to look at BG motives, not BT – But your argument applies to the BT as well. If it were valid, they should be atheistic. — I knew I was correct – I only wrote “I cannot remember …”, which is actually pretty weak, but accurate. Also, this does not make your arguments correct. – Wrzlprmft Dec 1 '15 at 22:16
1

BG will believe whatever they need to believe to survive--and to maintain their distinct identity. Superficially, the BG do all the rote roles of a believer: professing, teaching, enforcing, proselytizing, and missions. But it's apparent they only use those tools insofar as they can manipulate and exploit others. The goal: survival and a distinct identity for BG. When Jessica encounters the Fremen, we learn a lot about Missionaria Protectiva. It seems MP was just to ensure BG get a diplomat's welcome anywhere in the Imperium in case they have to flee. One can't help but see the BG as a satire of the Catholic sisterhood, at least in an era where the sisters were more prolific in hospitals and schools.

  • So it's irrelevant whether they (as an organization, like the question asks) believe or not? Is that what you're saying? – Jenayah Jun 7 at 14:32
  • @Jenayah I'm trying to say they have the superficial aspects of "belief", but in many objective ways they are not believers. For instance, (correct me if I'm wrong) they are terrified of the Golden Path because the continuation of the BG is not certain, at least not according to the parameters they want. – AdamO Jun 7 at 14:36
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    Or perhaps their the BG's applied belief in itself is equivalent to a religion. They work hard to control events, and one of their specific projects is to create the Kwisatz Haderach, which is on par with any legendary or mythic undertaking in many religions. They just don't seem engage in mysticism themselves-- they deal in observable reality alone, but that's a position that most religious believers would claim as well (via belief that mystical things are fundamentally real, if glorious and inaccessible to ordinary people). – Upper_Case Jun 7 at 15:46
  • @Upper_Case that's where I have trouble drawing a line too. As I alluded to, because of the way I see BG (satirical), they have all the superficial seeming of a religious group. And it's more than "they don't believe in God"--they avoid professing anything because it would be disadvantageous to them. But if they were cornered, and threatened, they would profess a belief in God. Even some Christians and Muslims would disagree as to whether a belief like that would comprise a "true, genuine" belief in their God. – AdamO Jun 7 at 16:07

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