A book about the end of the world, and the absurdity of it all

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

After I had first read this book I took it to the pastor of the Baptist church that I was attending and leant it to him. A week later he brought it back and told me that it was utter heresy (but then again anything that wasn't in the Bible was heresy to him) and the only reason that it was not used to stoke his fire was because it belonged to the local library and I had borrowed it myself. Mind you I was quite surprised because when I had read this book I had found that it seemed to be quite insightful of the human condition. So, my question is, why did he consider it heretical.

I guess one of the things is that it is considered to be a post-modern text, however considering that the only reason that my pastor had a college education was because he had been to bible college, and the only reason that he had been to bible college was because he had been made redundant. Okay, his statement that one should not hold any loyalty to one's employer because one's employer is unlikely to be loyal to you is probably true, but that is beside the point – rather my point is that there are two forms of eduction, one that teaches you how to think and one that effectively closes your mind to everything except for a very limited dogmatic line.

Now, one aspect that would have raised his hackles was the nature of the religion of Bokononism. One thing is that it is not Christianity, and if it is, it is a warped and twisted version of Christianity (which he pretty much considered to be any form of Christianity that was not with in his strict and narrow understanding of Christianity). However, Cat's Cradle tells us that Bokononism started out because the founder had come to the island with an American Marine to discover that the people of the island were living in abject poverty, and when their efforts to raise their standard of living failed they created a religion to distract them from it. However, to make the religion more appealing, they then proceeded to outlaw it, and make Bokono a wanted criminal (though never actually capturing him).

Look, I agree with Vonnoget that this is what, in many cases, religion is, and I suspect my pastor reacted so badly against it because he saw it to, yet did not want to believe it. In fact, that is why they murdered Jesus Christ because he came along and exposed the fraud that Judaism had become. The funny thing is that Christianity went down that road as well. Some people have suggested that Christianity was outlawed not so much because it was a religion but more because its followers refused to bow down and worship the Roman Emperor as a god. Maybe that was the case, but maybe, just maybe, it was outlawed because they wanted it to be outlawed to make it more appealing.

The funny thing is that if you stand up against religion and attempt to expose the lies that they tend to weave around you then you suddenly become an outlaw. However the difference is that unlike Bokono, they attempt to silence those who dare speak the truth. Christianity has become much like Bokonism in that it points people away from the physical reality to some spiritual hope so that not only do they forget that life sucks, they can't actually see that they are being exploited. Take the event at the end of the book when Bokono convinces all of his followers to commit suicide, and then walks away and continues to do what he does. In a way that is modern Christianity where the pastor convinces the congregation to give up their hard earned money because as Christians, we cannot be greedy, and then goes off an purchases himself a house on Sydney Harbour.

However it is not simply religion that is mocked (if you could consider this being mocked) in this book because science is mocked as well. In fact the narrator actually proclaims at the beginning of the book that he is a Bokononist, which suggests that despite its contradictions, religion is not actually a bad thing. The suggestion at the end is that the narrator actually does what Bokono suggests, and that is write a book on the history of human stupidity, climb to the top of the highest mountain on the island, lie down on his back, and thumb his finger at the creator. It also suggests that maybe we read too much into God, particularly when Adam asked God, 'what is my purpose,' to which God replies, 'were you supposed to have a purpose?' though the purpose, as suggested, was simply to admire God's creation. What is the good of creating something if there is nobody around to admire it?

Science, however, leads us to our destruction, and it is always the military that seems to be behind it. In fact pretty much all of our inventions have come out of the military where they are looking for more efficient ways of killing people. The problem that is outlined in the book is mud, and the army (or more precisely the Marines) are looking for a way of dealing with mud, so they approach a scientist who proceeds to produce a compound (called Ice-9) which would cause mud to freeze at room temperature. Thus the problem of mud has been solved. However, by solving one small problem, science creates a much bigger problem, and that is if this were used then the world would pretty much be destroyed. That ties in with the opening to the book, where the narrator goes on a quest to write a book called 'The Day the World Ended' which was about the invention of the Atomic Bomb. We are told that he never finishes the book, however as it turns out the book is actually the book that we are reading because this book is actually about the day that the world ends.

Maybe though the world has already ended by the time the book was written. It is not that we are all dead, but in a way we are all dead, not on the outside, but on this inside. Cat's Cradle, though, was written in the early sixties and now it is 2013 and things seem to have degenerated even more. The whole concept of culture is being undermined by the relentless pursuit of money. History ceases to exist as the whole world merges into one massive mono-culture and our individual identities are slowly crushed and destroyed so that we all become automatons. Read through profiles on a dating site and you will see how profile after profile is basically the same with only a few different pictures. Everybody is liberal-left wing, everybody cares about the environment, everybody rides a bike, or does Yoga, and nobody has joined  (OkCupid) simply to find somebody to have sex with.

Finally, the Cat's Cradle, and I want to mention the Cat's Cradle because twice in the book Newt, the midget son of the scientist says 'See the Cat, see the Cradle' though as it turns out that while we are told about the Cat's Cradle (which is a game played with a loop of strong) there is no cat or no cradle, though Newt sees it and tries to show it to people, despite it not being there. Maybe that is science, maybe that is religion. We can't see God, but we are told that we can see God, and they point at an innocuous and innocent event and say 'see God's hand in that'. Maybe it is true, maybe there is a cat in the cradle, but maybe it is just a random movement of string and the only reason we see the cat and the cradle (and the silver spoon) is because we want to see it. It is not just religion because it is science as well. Maybe we only see the benefit because we want to see the benefit, but blind ourselves to the reality that it is just a random loop of string.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/638681484