Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut’

vonnegut“Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” – Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

I guess you won’t be shocked when I write that Vonnegut, the great American writer of such renowned novels as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, was not a fan of “religion”.

At various times in his life, he described himself as an agnostic and an atheist and, according to Wikipedia, believed people were motivated to join religions out of loneliness.

Who knows, maybe that’s true for some people. But that’s a debate for another essay. What intrigued me about this quote (posted on Twitter by the Huffington Post online newspaper) is Vonnegut’s notion of behaving “decently”.

We all have ideas about what that means and I’m sure some of those ideas are the same – don’t kill anyone or set their house on fire, patiently wait while seniors cross the intersection, help someone get their car out of the snow, etc.

But — and this is a pretty big ‘but’ — do you really want to place all your hopes on these commonalities? Consider just these few examples:

  • It was only 200 years ago when behaving “decently” meant not whipping your slaves.
  • Only 50 years ago, behaving “decently” included putting aboriginal children into residential schools, where they were stripped of their culture and often abused, sexually and physically.
  • And right now, there are cultures where it’s considered decent behaviour to persecute Christians, throw homosexual people in jail and stone women who are accused of adultery.

My point? I can’t trust “humanists”, people of faith or even ME to figure out what is truly decent behaviour.

That’s just one reason why I became a Christian. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ — who serious Christians, and many others, believe is the son of God — know we can trust His ideas about decent behaviour, because we know those ideas came straight from His father.

And those ideas, however difficult some may be (I’m still working on loving my enemies, for example) are as meaningful and truthful today as they were 2,000 years ago.

What about Vonnegut’s assertion about “expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead”? Well, I’m not about to deny that this is part of my motivation for following Jesus. I want eternal life in Heaven, with Him. And I’m not the least bit shy about saying so.

But that’s definitely NOT my prime motivation for following Jesus and his ideas about decent behaviour. I do it because He knows better than I do about what’s wrong and right. And I can trust Him because like other serious Christians, I believe He died to make up for all the wrong things I’ve done and all the right things I’ve failed to do. Then he came back to life to defeat the power of death for all time.

What He’s done is a glorious gift that I’m glad to accept. That same gift is offered to you, too. Are you interested in thinking about it? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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