Kurt Vonnegut was right about Christianity? In many ways, yes.
Don’t misread me here. To call Vonnegut a purveyor of Christian truth would be grossly misstated. He was a notable atheist, and served as president of the American Humanist Association, and was skeptical of religious faith, and even more skeptical of its adherents. Vonnegut was quick to remind Christians of their bloody history during the Crusades, and had a remarkable disdain for televangelists. There can be no doubt that Vonnegut was not a Christian, and that what he had to say about the church was mostly negative.
But just because he said mean things, it doesn’t mean that he was wrong. At least, not entirely.
When somebody is critical, often times they just have an axe to grind. Maybe they nitpick the little things, and just want to make issues out of nothing. But other times, people are critical because something is actually worthy of criticism. Surprisingly enough, Vonnegut had a deep respect for the teachings of Jesus, as evidenced by much of what he said concerning Him. Most especially, it seems that what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount spoke volumes to Vonnegut. He was quoted as saying the following:
The Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade.
If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.
It wasn’t just in such obvious statements like these where Vonnegut shows a knowledge of Christianity. Much of what he wrote has hints of faith laced throughout it, though not necessarily an experiential faith. There was never a time that Vonnegut claimed to be a Christian, but his understanding of its tenets are intriguing to say the least. Consider this quote, which sounds like a loose paraphrase of Romans 7:15-19;
My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat just keeps right on doing bad, dumb things.
It’s a shame that Vonnegut was so turned off to Christianity. But our religion did not interest him. Why? How can one so exposed to the faith be loathsome to it?
I would contend that it was largely due to the behavior of Christians. Whether you like it or not, there is much truth in it. We already know how he felt about televangelists, but I wonder how he felt about their followers. Did he feel pity for them? Or was it more disdain for those following a doctrine so far removed from the obvious teachings of Christ?
Regrettably, we’ve abandoned much of what Jesus taught, whether out of intent or neglect. If you doubt that, read the Sermon on the Mount and see how you line up. I know that I fall short. I will not discount the value of grace, but neither will I hide behind it and absolve myself of guilt just because Jesus loves me. That’s ridiculous, and really, that’s part of the problem. Nowhere in Scripture does the unconditional love of God translate into an unconditional approval of our sin.
It’s a shame how little Christianity looks like Christ. Our complacency is costing people their souls, and not just Kurt Vonnegut. We’re also leading our children to the slaughter (or… the Slaughterhouse-5… sorry… moving on). Recently, we’ve begun to see that a large majority of teenagers claim a type of Christianity, but cannot articulate what that means. Christianity has been reduced to weekly meeting with a loosely-spiritual pep talk, and because the adults are not placing a high value on the life of Christ, neither are their children. (You can read more about the study here.)
Christianity is in a bad way. It’s high time we heed the advice of another nonChristian that we turned away from Christ by our bad behavior: Mahatma Gandhi—
I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.
Let’s get after it, church. It’s past the time for us to coast through this life and wait for things to change. Instead, it is time for us to change. Jesus doesn’t offer us a new life that we may live out our faith in mediocrity.
I’ll leave you with the following poem, written by Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932). I suspect that the quote of Christian’s being the only Bible some will ever read was adapted from these stanzas, and it’s a valid point. We might be somebody’s only exposure to Christ. Let’s represent Him correctly.
Christ has no hands but our hands
To do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in His way;
He has no tongues but our tongues
To tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help
To bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible
The careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s gospel,
We are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message,
Given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy
With work other than His?
What if our feet are walking
Where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking
Of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him
And hasten His return?