Stretch out those brain lobes because we're in for some mental gymnastics. Right out of the gate, Cat's Cradle asks you to assume that religion is a lie. There's no God, and the whole religious enterprise really boils down to a bunch of fictional tales. (Naturally, this will be harder for some to imagine than others.) The point, though, isn't to say that religion is false. The point is to consider the ultimate purpose of religion. The novel is asking us to explore the following series of questions: What if religion is all just a heap of lies?; Is that a bad thing?; and Can religion still be useful, maybe even necessary, for human existence even if it's false? According to Cat's Cradle, the answer to the last one seems a definitive "yes!," although whether or not you agree with the novel will depend on your personal reading.
Questions About Religion
- Mona's a pretty zealous Bokononist. Do any characters in the story act as foils to Mona? If yes, then who and what does comparing these two characters suggest about the theme of religion? If no, then why do you suppose this is, and again, what does this suggest about the theme of religion?
- We see John convert to Bokononism when Mona threatens to leave him. Why do you suppose the novel had John convert to religion in this way? What's it saying about the theme? What clues can you find sprinkled throughout the novel to support your theory?
- What characters are incompatible with Bokononism? List them. Pick one and explain why you think this character doesn't mesh with the religion, and what this signifies about the theme of religion in Cat's Cradle? Alternatively, if you think no characters are incompatible with Bokononism, then explain why you think this is.
- What does the novel's last chapter suggest about religion to you?
Chew on This
Bokonon's statement at the novel's end about "You Know Who" suggests that he really believed in God the entire time, and created his foma to present people with what he saw as a better option. In a way, he lied about lying about his lies.
Dr. Asa Breed's unquestioning devotion to science and its ability to discover the meaning of life makes him more of a religious character than a scientific one.