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For many people religion represents a commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. Within this commitment encompasses a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, practices or system of beliefs held to with ardor and reliance. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut introduces a religion known as Bokononism, which epitomizes a standard foundation built upon nothing more than “foma! Lies!” (Vonnegut 191). Bokononism focuses on man’s need for a God, even though Vonnegut believes there is no such thing.
He expresses his beliefs of Divine Province, while making fun of Christianity, satirizing the notion that all religions are nothing more than lies. Religion gives many people a feeling of security because they believe that a divine power watches over them and promises them salvation and either happiness or the chance to improve themselves in a life after death. Bokononism is a religion based on lies, while Christianity is a based around the life and teachings of Christ and the sacred scripture of the Bible. Hence, the question is whether or not society bases religion, mainly Christianity, upon nothing more than “foma” itself.
Bokononism breathed life when first founded by a Negro man named Lionel Boyd Johnson. The name Bokonon surfaced due to the fact that it rendered to be the “pronunciation given the name Johnson in the island’s English dialect” (Vonnegut 108). Bokonon creates the religion for the people of a small Caribbean island called San Lorenzo; he then makes it a point that “he and his
religion be outlawed, and that those caught practicing it [are] to be killed” (Lundquist 37) by punishment of being hanged on the dreaded hook. Such an atrocity becomes enacted so the people will be happy and totally content, for by taking part in the religion that all people on the island practice, they partake in a rebellious action and can take the focus from their horribly useless lives. The idea is for that the religion and the government to constantly oppose each other, with Bokonon the virtuous prohibit, hiding from it all.
The doctrines that make up Bokononism consist of a “language itself [that] is amusing, [yet] serves to outline an approach to life that has considerable appeal” (Lundquist 37) in which assists in capturing the true essence behind the religion. Coincidentally resembling Jesus and the bible, Bokonon relies on his vast variety of language, and his Books of Bokonon.
His language consists of several significant key concepts such as a karass, which is a “team [of people] that do[es] God’s will without ever discovering what they are doing” (Vonnegut 2), thus revealing that “if you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons”, writes Bokonon, “that person may be a member of your karass” (Simons 45). In The Books of Bokonon, Bokonon mainly comprises them of calypsos and such on religion, life, and perceptions. More importantly however exists the theory of Dynamic Tension. Such a theory embodies the belief of good versus evil, and maintaining the ongoing tension between the two. To draw a parallel, is the incident of the Garden of Good and Evil within Christianity.
Christianity happened to be instituted on the existence and philosophy of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s life began after he was baptized by Saint John when he thirty years old. He set out with a certain ambition, being that he sought to announce that “the Kingdom of God was coming, and that it had begun to arrive even as He announced it” (Callan 2). Jesus established this ambition both verbally and physically by utilizing His phenomenon and philosophies. In addition, Jesus also preformed many miracles, in which he made reputable as to the benefit of other people not Himself. Among such miracles include: changing water into wine, walking on the sea, healing sick people, alleviating the pain of the suffering, restoring sight to the blind, and restoring to the disabled people the ability to use their limbs again (Callan 2). Overall, most Christians of society believe that Jesus portrays the bona fide savior that will, in the end, resuscitate humanity.
Bokononism starts with a creation event, which mocks the Christian creation account. In Bokonon’s tale of creation God creates man and woman out of mud, rather than dust, and he concludes by allowing them to define their own purpose. While the difference between dust and mud seem insignificant, the purpose for humanity may be quite different. Bokonon tells man that his purpose in life is defined by himself, and not by God. Here on the opposite end of this, Christianity holds that every person’s purpose in life bestows to bring honor and glory to God, whether provided by preaching the good news (Gospel) or by practicing good works toward man, and letting the glory of God shine outward through them (Callan 1).
Compared to Christianity, Bokononism does not specifically talk of man’s fall into sin, however, it does somewhat infer that Bokonon first preached on the folly of understanding and the hollowness of truth and human stupidity, which he ultimately won the people of San Lorenzo over with. Bokonon preached on man’s sin right from the beginning, similar to what may be depicted through the garden of Good and Evil in Christianity. “As helpful as Bokononism [was], as devoid of false pieties as it [was], as concerned as it [was] with human decency and the necessity of having a sense of purpose” (Lundquist 39) it, in the end, is nothing more then the notion of living “life by the foma that make[s] you brave and kind and healthy and happy” (Simons 39).
Christianity often refers to good works as the doctrine of Sanctification (Knight 5). This doctrine begins with the understanding that man is sinful, and will be sinful until the day he dies. Regardless of what man does or tries to accomplish on earth, he will always be sinful, and will continue to fall into sin lurching ever so quickly toward eternal death and damnation (Knight 5-6). Vonnegut seems to perceive, like many, that Christians feel because they are spotless before the eyes of the Lord, that they can thus do what they please. The Holy Spirit corroborates work in a Christian’s life, and may even be responsible for the faith which breeds within a Christian. The basic principle behind sanctification is that the death of Christ, which the Holy Spirit has given faith in, is the inspiration and the power which pushes a Christian to do good works. Hence, this encompasses the doctrine of daily life, one which a Christian yearns to practice every day, and yet may be constantly faced with a road block, the road block of sin.
“Bokononism is a philosophy of flow, resisting entropy and harrowing the fixities that reduce societies to monomaniacal obsessions” (Simons 47) of harmless untruths. Bokonon “worships the human above all other values,” (Simons 45); however, at the same time relishes in the fact that the joke of “maintaining order” through the religion of Bokononism, serves as a joke being played on humanity thus revealing human stupidity. Bokononism denotes the joke on Christianity, every characteristic of Bokononism can be designed to mock Christianity in some manner or another. Bokonon insists that his own religion, which he created, is filled with lies and based on nothing else, yet all of the Island of San Lorenzo believes in Bokonon (Lundquist 135).
Ultimately, “Bokononism refuses to blink at the hard truth of a reality it cannot alter, it nevertheless fictionalizes that reality” (Simons 40). Bokononists have to hide their religion, because the world hates and despises them for their beliefs. Much akin to the Bokononists, who are condemned to an oath of silence, Christians have to hide their voices and beliefs as well. Christians over time have been forced into hiding, because they are not considered “politically correct” and Bokononists have been shoved into hiding so as not to touch the “souls” of their feet, known as the art of Boko-Maru (Vonnegut 135). Simultaneously, they all enter a hiding, a hiding from the world which hates what it does not know, and what it does not know is good, and love.
On the whole, Christian faith portrays the notion about seeking and knowing Jesus Christ with all facets of the human character. It corresponds to loving Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; therefore, certain individualistic and legitimate fallacies are flip sides of an error to the concept of Christianity. Underlying the error of the individualistic fallacy is the presumption that Jesus demands on societies lives in which can be satisfied by societies own efforts. The legitimate fallacy holds that there are possibly some set of rules of behavior which can be kept to earn a way into Jesus’ favor.
Then, the next step of the fallacy can be established by insisting that, as long as society keeps Jesus’ rules and, thus, please Him, they are free in all other things to live their lives in their own way, entirely for their benefit, without further considering Him. We all look for ways to please Jesus, and avoid eternal punishment by simply keeping rules, with minimal actual contact with Him and without ever giving ourselves to Him. Nevertheless, this does not work that way, and the result of society pursuing religion in this way is usually horrendous, and furthermore is not a religion based on “foma”, or a certain principle, but based on a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Callan, Terrance D. “Jesus Christ.” 31 May 2003. <http://www.aolsvc.worldbook.aol.com/ar?/na/ar/co/ar288000.htm>.
Knight, Kevin. “Catholic Encyclopedia: Character of Jesus Chris.” May 31 200. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/083829.htm>.
Lundquist, James. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1977.
Simons, John L. “Tangled Up in You: A Playful Reading of Cat’s Cradle.” Kurt Vonnegut.
Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1963.