“See a cat?” Newt, a midget, tries to explain his grotesque painting by saying “See the cradle.” Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle was named after this unique quote. This canon is a tongue-in – cheek canon about religion, politics, sex or anything else. Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle became the basis for the counterculture in the 1960s. This was because the novel challenged the conservative societal norms. He attacks many institutions in his novel but religion stands out. Vonnegut explores the desire of every human being to have a belief system, while questioning the validity and purpose of organized religious institutions. Vonnegut creates San Lorenzo island, which is home to a nihilistic nihilist poet as its national religion. Vonnegut uses a religion called “Bokononism”, which he refers to as the “cat’s-cradle” of religion.

Vonnegut uses a “cat’s nest” to symbolize different interpretations about life. Newt was traumatized when he saw his father holding “tangles in string” (165) up to his face as a kid. Though there’s “no damn cradle, no damn cat”, the “little kid” (166) “looks and looks and looks at all of those Xs (166). Newt uses the metaphor of a cradle to show that we see what we want to. “See that cat? Newt replies to questions about the seemingly perfect marriage of his sister and Jesus Christ. Both are not as they may be perceived by others. Vonnegut’s philosophy is reflected in the entire novel. People are prone to interpret reality according to their own preferences. This is not an exception in the case of religion.

Vonnegut created a religion as a way to question faith’s role in society and traditional religious beliefs. In a conversation with Miss Faust and Felix Hoenikker the scientist, Vonnegut questions absolutes. The latter claims that “God’s love” (55) is the truth. “What’s God?” The first responds, “What’s love?” (55). According to Books of Bokonon – the fictional religion of Vonnegut – one should believe in “harmless lies” that will make them brave, kind, healthy and happier. For this statement to make sense, it is important to understand the Bokononist claim that “all religious beliefs are lies” (219). The Christian presumption, that God is loving and without any evidence of it, is enough for Miss Faust to accept. Miss Faust is a person who believes in God’s love, and she does not need any proof to support this.

Vonnegut uses his fictional religion as a model for how religion interprets things based on assumptions. In the Books of Bokonon, he uses the cosmogony to illustrate his point. Bokonon uses it to observe the orbits of planets. Bokononism is based on the assumption that the sun and moon are both living entities, that Borasisi is the name of the sun and that Pabu is the name of the moon. Bokonon tells of Pabu having unsatisfactory babies (who later became the planetary orbits which “occur at safe distances” (191)), and Pabu being exiled from her “favorite daughter” – the earth. Bokonon says that earth is her favorite planet because people “looked at her, loved her, and sympathized with her” (191). All religions must make similar claims to those that Vonnegut makes in his cosmogony. Faith is based on this principle. Many religions claim to be true, but we cannot prove it. Bokononists admit to “foma”, which is “harmless lies”, but mainstream religions do not. Vonnegut did this deliberately to make it seem strange to us if it were our first encounter with religion. What proof can you provide that religions aren’t just “foma,” carefully crafted to make the people happy and orderly? Vonnegut’s final point is what draws many readers to his book.

Vonnegut’s Creation Story parallels the attempts of religion to explain the origins of the Earth. He writes that (referring to the Book of Genesis), “God first created the Earth and viewed it with his cosmic loneliness.” (265). God created from mud, “everything that is alive and moves today” (265). Man was among these creatures. Man asked the question, “What was the purpose for this creation?” God answers, “I don’t know what purpose you can give to all this.” (265). Vonnegut plays with the belief of humans that everything must have a reason. It is this belief that first led people to adopt religious beliefs. Over the centuries, religious leaders have elaborated on their attempts to discover “the reasons for everything” by developing elaborate answers. Bokonon claims that it’s all “foma”, meaning there is no purpose to life.

Vonnegut says that the religions have probably overstepped their authority in this world, where so much is hindered because of their creed. Assuming that all religions have the same “foma”, we can say that religion is most useful when it doesn’t go beyond its limits. Vonnegut basically says that religion should not be taken seriously. Religion is not a fact, no matter how much people believe in it. Vonnegut wants his readers to consider the possibility that religion is just a bunch of lies. Vonnegut makes you anticipate his next question. Does it matter if the religions we follow are lies, as long a they make us “brave & kind & healthy & happy”? We will never be able to solve the “cat’s cranny” as long we continue to force ourselves to see and explain what doesn’t exist.


  • kileybaxter

    I am a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. I enjoy writing about education and sharing my insights and experiences with others. I hope to use this blog as a way to share my knowledge and help others learn more about the subjects that interest me.

Organized Religion In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle


I am a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. I enjoy writing about education and sharing my insights and experiences with others. I hope to use this blog as a way to share my knowledge and help others learn more about the subjects that interest me.

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