Phil Dunphy

"I’m the cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face." - Phil Dunphy

Friday, July 27, 2012

Religion in Surprising Places

            Kurt Vonnegut, born November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, spins a tale of a journalist attempting to write a book about the day the first atom bomb went off, in his novel, Cat’s Cradle. Published in 1963, during the midst of the Cold War raging between the U.S. and Soviet Union, nuclear warfare deemed a household debate. In fact, that same year, President Kennedy signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in attempts to lessen the danger of such unstable weapons. Due to the already heavily debated topic of nuclear warfare in his book, Kurt Vonnegut surprises me by including a religious side to his novel as well. For instance, in only the second page of his piece, the narrator informs the readers that “I [the narrator] am a Bokononist” (2). After tiresome research, I came to the conclusion that Bokononism remains a fictional religion practiced only by certain characters in Vonnegut’s work. Despite its made-up core, Bokononism’s views seem to pass as a practical religion. For example, Vonnegut writes that the founder of Bokononism, Bokonon, sees anyone as a fool who “thinks he sees what God is Doing” (5). One can compare this quote to the verse in the Bible when Solomon writes, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, And lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Both excerpts mean the same thing: humans should not attempt to fathom God’s plan but instead should trust in His ways. This comparison expresses the possible validity in certain Bokononist views. Later on in Vonnegut’s novel, Bokonon makes the metaphorical claim that “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God” (63). Although seemingly silly, this Bokonon quote makes me think about the value and learning experience of travelling “off the beaten path.” One can find examples of this simply by reading a peculiar book or watching an abnormal movie. Despite Vonnegut’s interesting invention of a religion, however, what is the author’s purpose in creating this fictitious religion within his book? Although very interesting and ironically inspiring at points, I question the necessity of the writer’s hard work in developing such an abstract theology. It surprises me that Vonnegut would go through the time and hassle of creating an entirely new religion from scratch in a book that centers on the first atom bomb. By doing this however, Vonnegut captures the attention of readers interested in science as well as theology to persuade them to affirm their own views on these two worldwide debates.  


  1. My thought pattern as to why Vonnegut would take the time to develop a fictional religion was of the mentality that he tries to highlight the flaws in established religious institutions. While reading I kept feeling as though he used Bokononism to further the point that anyone can make up a religion and values to follow, however it is up to the individual and their experiences, not a established institution, to define them.

  2. I am reading this book and I agree with Shannon. Although I believe that Vonnegut tries to hilight that religions fall apart during dire situtations, such as the atomic bomb. After the first atomic bomb dropped Jonah states, "I am Bokononist now" (2). This illustrates Vonnegut's claim that organized beliefs cannot sustain dangerous situtations. The fact that Boknonism is based on lies demonstrates that people are unifying under false beliefs so they do not have to under the harsh reality, like the atomic bomb.

  3. Shannon and Julianne offer some insight into the question you pose. As you continue to read, I would like to see you delve more deeply into the emerging purposes that stem from Vonnegut's creation of this fictional religion. You do a nice job of linking his work to real-world events, which he also does in his piece.

    When you proofread, double-check that all of your subjects perform the actions of the verbs; you missed some tricky passive voice in this one.