📚The Comfort of Fictional Religions: Bokononism, a useful religion founded on lies
Vonnegut's hopeful humanist fatalism
And come see me, Brad Onishi of SWAJ, and Tim Whitaker of The New Evangelicals in Philly on 2/11!
I first discovered Vonnegut’s writing while in undergrad. I attended Indiana Wesleyan, and while I graduated with a writing major, I never took any lit classes that actually assigned Vonnegut.1
I’m fairly certain that my first Vonnegut book was, predictably, Slaughterhouse Five, which I loved. There was something about his prose that was so economical, but evoked a type of emotion that other minimalist authors like Hemingway couldn’t touch. I had read A Farewell to Arms, but that pessimism was different than the fatalism I found in Vonnegut.
Many of Vonnegut’s books are about protagonists stuck in inescapable circumstances: the unstuck-in-time Billy Pilgrim, Howard Campbell, Jr. awaiting his trial for war crimes, Jonah on assignment in San Lorenzo, the entire goddam universe experiencing locked-in syndrome for 10 years in Timequake. But it’s in Cat’s Cradle where Vonnegut gives his characters a religion to cope with the circumstances they find themselves in. That religion is Bokononism.
Bokononism is a false religion. It makes no bones about that, even within the fictional text:
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