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Friday, March 24, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut: A Man W/o a Country

I am currently reading the book Mr. Vonnegut wrote after swearing never to write another book. "Wait right there," you say. "Why is a Christian, conservative, hawk reading an atheist, liberal, pacifist?" Quite frankly, I enjoy Vonnegut's dark sense of humor. He's a pessimist about human nature and so am I. I seldom agree with him on the big stuff: Religion, politics, morals. But I often agree with him on the small stuff, much of which is really big stuff.

My favorite line so far: We are here on earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different. And to that I say, "Amen." I do think that he's got a point here. People who are always "on a mission" scare me. God put us here to live our lives, not to revolutionize the world. I don't say this to celebrate mediocrity, but to hallow the mundane. 9 times out 10, the ordinary is more important than the extraordinary.

I suppose I probably miss Vonnegut's point and am just reading him through lenses of my own, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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Grams said...

That's a classic line worth remembering for sure! If you get at least one thing out of a book it was worth it, right? That would make a good opening line in a homily!

John said...

The line from the book (with out knowing the context) strikes me as saying there is no purpose in our existence, which I would strongly disagree with. (This also would contradict an intelligent design theory; where things are created for a purpose.)

God made us, therefore He created us for a purpose and He summarized His commands to us as - love one another as He has loved us. Therefore we have a reason for being here, to love each other, which as you point out 9 time out of 10 is done by doing our job no matter how mundane the task. Whether changing your child’s diaper, doing your job at work or saving someone’s life, each is a form of loving one another.

Also telling someone the good news about the Gospel, so they will not be lost, is another form of loving each other.

The question as we go through life is do we have our own sinful mission as heart, turning inward on ourselves, or are we looking towards God's purpose for us, loving each other by serving each other?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

John, you're thinking too hard. It's meant to be satire. And in that frame of mind, I think it's brilliant. Don't be so serious.

It's more along the lines of the common wisdom of "Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten," or "Don't worry; be happy." From a certain point of view, these statements are quite elegant because of their simplicity.

"We are here on earth to fart around," means that God did not put you here to do big stuff. Mainly, I think the meaning of life is just to hang out. Live your vocations. In other words, be a good dad, kiss your wife, vote, shovel the neighbor's driveway, smile at the coffee shop cashier, obey the speed limit, etc.

In general, I think people "try too hard." That's why so many people are so unhappy. They keep thinking they'll find the pot o' gold at the end of some other rainbow. So they push, push, push. The activist mentality - it strikes me - is counter to grace.

I don't agree with you that we are here to love each other. That's raw law. God did not create us SO THAT we could be obedient to His laws. Sounds like Islam to me. "Islam" means submit.

As a Christian, I think we need to say that God created us so that He can show love to us. Our loving Him and one another is secondary.

I share the viewpoint of someone like St. Irenaus of Lyon who summarized true religion this way: God creates. Man is created. Or God gives. Man receives.

Ah, how refreshing that is.

Not that Vonnegut theologizes this way. Not at all. But his humanism certainly seems to rub up against my understanding of the doctrine of vocation, at least in the quote I selected.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hey there Pastor Grams. Glad you liked the quote. As I wrote to John above, something of Vonnegut's disappointed humanism resounds both with Christian understanding of human corruption and the doctrine of vocation. Luther, on vocation, said something like "do whatever your hand finds to do." Sounds like the "fart around" quip. Vonnegut is not talking about loafing or sloth. He's talking about hallowing the routines of day-to-day living. At least, that's how I'm summarizing him.

On the other hand, this book really shows the pessimism of an octogenarian atheist, disenfranchised socialist. Even in the midst of his bitterness, however, specks of sunshine show through.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Well I'm glad he still writes better than he speaks. :)

Jason said...

Since High School, I have probably read half of his stuff at one time or another. The first book I read was "Slaughterhouse Five". The odd sense of humer and the stream of consciousness writing style really grabbed me at the time. My favorite is and will probably always be "Welcome to the Monkey House"

I have to admit that it's been a while. The last book I read was "Timequake" and I wasn't too impressed there. I'll be interested in reading a few review when you are done.

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