What is religion?There is no one correct answer, however, one definition that seems to cover every aspect of most established religions is, “…the most comprehensive and intensive manner of valuing known to human beings” (Pecorino).In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut takes this definition and creates his own religion in order to satirize all others.Bokononism, Vonnegut’s contrived religion, is built on foma, or harmless untruths.Bokononists believe that good societies can only be built by keeping a high tension between good and evil at all times, and that there is no such thing as absolute evil (Schatt 64).They have created their own language with words such as karass, a group of people organized by God to do his work for him (Vonnegut 2), and granfalloon, a false karass (91).Kurt Vonnegut uses the Bokononist’s religious scripture, The Books of Bokonon, to satirize all other holy scriptures.He also uses a Bokononist ritual, boko-maru, to mock other spiritual rituals and ceremonies.Finally, Vonnegut uses the apocalyptic ending of Cat’s Cradle to scoff at many religions’ beliefs in what will happen when the world ends.In Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction novel Cat’s Cradle, the author uses satire to target religious themes.
The Books of Bokonon are the religious texts of Bokononism.They were originally created by two men, Lionel B. Johnson and Earl McCabe.The two men wash up on the shore of San Lorenzo, a small, corrupt, poverty-stricken island.The people, desperate for money and happiness, let the two men rule their island.However, as McCabe becomes a tyrant, the townspeople start to consider rebellion.In order to quell the people’s anger, Johnson creates the religion Bokononism and writes The Books of Bokonon.In order for the religion to gain popularity, McCabe bans the religion and makes Johnson an outlaw.The idea works and the religion spreads to almost every resident of San Lorenzo.The citizens of San Lorenzo stop their threats and are happy (Schatt 62).The Books of Bokonon are a satire of other religious texts because, as nearly everyone knows, most religions have some sort of holy text.Judaism has the Torah, Christianity has the Bible, Islam has the Koran, Hinduism has the Shrutí, etc. (Wilson).Who knows who wrote these religious scriptures and why?The Books of Bokonon was written for political gain (Schatt 62).Johnson, the author, becomes a crazy, disheveled, cynical, old man while he continues to write (Vonnegut 286-287).Maybe the Torah, Bible, Koran, and Shrutí are just some ancient man’s way to influence and control the masses.The Books of Bokonon are just one way in which Vonnegut satirizes religious themes.
In Cat’s Cradle, the ritual boko-maru is another way Kurt Vonnegut targets religious themes.Boko-maru is a ritual that all Bokononists perform on a regular basis.They rub their bare feet together with another Bokononist almost as if they are playing “footsie” (Schatt 63).Bokononists believe that everyone should be loved equally, and to help them do that, they believe they should strive to be aware of all of mankind and all of its past, present, and future.Boko-maru is supposed to help them become more aware of their surroundings and connections to other people (Bloom 75).Boko-maru is a satire of other religions because it basically mocks all other ceremonies and rituals.Ceremonies such as the Jewish Bar or Bat Mitzvah and the Christian Confirmation are both very common.The Bar or Bat Mitzvah is supposed to signify a Jewish child’s coming of age (13 years old for boys and 12 years old for girls).The teenager becomes responsible for his or her actions and is considered a Jewish adult (Rich).Confirmation is a Christian teenager’s “rite of passage into adulthood” (Robin).Teenagers are then supposed to feel an increase of Grace, be proud of their religion, and be left with a permanent spiritual mark from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Robin).As most teenagers who have gone through these or similar rituals know, most of these “requirements” do not really happen.They feel the same way they did an hour before the ceremony, except maybe a little more relaxed because all of their hard work is finally over.In Bokononism, after boko-maru, a Bokononist should feel more aware, but in reality, playing “footsie” is not likely to make anyone suddenly aware of everything in the entire world.Boko-maru is another way in which Vonnegut satirizes religion.
The final way in which Kurt Vonnegut satirizes religious themes is with the apocalyptic ending of Cat’s Cradle.In Bokononism, it is prophesied that the boat that brought Lionel B. Johnson and Earl McCabe to San Lorenzo, the Lady’s Slipper II, would sail again right before the world ended (Vonnegut 109).Ironically, that is.