falling asleep to vonnegut on a beautiful summer day

Just fell asleep beneath a tree, reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Armageddon in Retrospect,” which Linette and Clementine got me for Father’s Day this year… There’s nothing like falling asleep outside while reading a good book.

Here, for those who are interested, is the last thing I remember reading before dropping off to sleep:

…If Jesus were alive today, we’d kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have to kill him for the same reason he was killed the first time. His ideas were just too liberal…

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  1. egpenet
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Every curch would have a huge hypodermic on top of the steeple … and all believers would be wearing little needles around their necks … or would have needles with suction cups on their dashboards.

    Yelling, “Christ!” when you got a vaccination would be considered a prayer.

  2. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Christ’s ideas were radical, but essentially apolitical. The Jewish Zealots were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule, and when they realized Christ wasn’t primarily interested with earthly rulers they got angry and had him crucified. He was crucified according to the plan God set in motion at the beginning of time. He was crucified for my sins, and your sins, so that we could be reconciled to God.

    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
    1 Corinthians 1:17-19

    Because of the Cross…

    There is hope for the future.
    There is a light in the darkness.
    All things are possible.
    You can be forgiven.
    Friends can be forever.
    Your future can be secure.
    Heaven can be your home.
    You don’t have to be left behind.

  3. egpenet
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 11:43 pm | Permalink


    … and so Christian believers believe in the cross. It’s a given.

    All Vonnegut wondered was: What if Jesus had lived in our times and was executed by lethal injection?

    How would the apostolic marketing team “brand” the message?

    I said what I said, because it sounds so preposterous.

    I’m utterly confident the guys at the Vatican would come up with something … but then … if Jesus were recently condemned, tortured by water boarding and then murdered by lethal injection … the Vatican wouldn’t exist for hundreds of years.

    What would today’s believers use as a symbol until the Vatican was invented? The means of death? Something more poetical?

    I’m not scandalized by the question, personally. It is, of course, an irrelevant question on one hand.

    But on the other hand, as Tevye would mince, the question brings up a lot of other issues about what remains truly relevant in our culture.


    Still thinking.

    You, too?

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Wow EoS, it is good to know that Jesus came and died and arose so that we no longer have to pay more than our “fair share” of taxes to Cesar, can live a lifestyle that consumes and lays waste the creation that sprang from His being and is reported to declare His glory, and obsessively calculate our self-interest in any expenditure.

    Apparently, the last thing Jesus would ever ask of us is self-sacrifice. Apparently, our hope for the future is that we will never have to give more than we receive.

    To quoth William Blake:

    The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
    Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy

    While I don’t think, in today’s world, Jesus could be neatly labeled “conservative” or “liberal,” I don’t think someone who brazenly confronted the religious/political powers of his day can be termed nonpolitical. I like to think that Jesus couldn’t be described as “non” anything. I like to think the opposite, that he was “all,” that he challenged everything from political powers to how we treat our mommas.

    Perhaps, this is something we need to work through.

    Hopefully, for the time being, we can agree that falling asleep while reading a good book is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

  5. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Oh, and on EgP’s observations, yes, the whole question is interesting as it makes you wonder without Jesus would we have “progressed” to lethal injection, and how much progress is that really, and how would different current cultures respond to Jesus (as I’m not sure that he would even land in the USA, how would North Korea or Gaza or Denmark react) and who would his message most challenge and such.

    I realize this Vonnegut quote is pulled without full context, but it does make for interesting thought. I like to think Jesus would challenge everyone who abused power, and they’d all be gunning for him, and those who were abused, would feel empowered (including, but far beyond, the political arena).

    More than that, I wonder what Mark drifting off to those words in the warm sun and light breeze, dreamt.

  6. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    The cross isn’t a marketing scam thought up by the Vatican. The Vatican is not the authority of all Christians. While Luther posted 96 reasons where he thought the Vatican strayed from scripture, modern day Evangelicals and Fundamentals can come up with thousands more.

    The real danger in Vonnegut’s quote, imho, wasn’t his speculation on the method of killing Christ today, but his speculation that Christ was killed because he was too liberal. Many today, including some well meaning people who sit in church every week, think Christ was all about love, and that we’re all (or at least most of us) going to heaven. They think of God as a Santa Claus, who’s making a list of who’s naughty or nice, and if at the end of your life your good deeds outnumber the bad – you’re in. They believe that it doesn’t matter who or what you believe in, just that you’re kind to all people, feed the poor, care for the sick…

    Christ ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn’t condemn them for things they did in the past, but he did tell them to go and sin no more. He reserved his harshest criticisms for the religious leaders of the time. He spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. But he wasn’t killed because he was “too liberal”. He was killed because he claimed to be the Son of God and the religious leaders of the time considered that to be blasphemy.

    Jesus didn’t challenge the political authorities of his time; he ignored them. The people who followed him did not receive wealth and prosperity; they were the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and they remained so. It’s not about who has the most toys in this lifetime. It’s about a God, who came to earth, to be killed on the cross and rise from the dead so that our sins could be forgiven. It’s not about what we can do for God, but about what he has done for us.

  7. Paw
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I should have known you were a good Christian, EoS.

    My favorite Bible story is the one where Jesus says, “Community be damned, it’s my money, and you people are idiots”.

  8. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    OEC and Paw,

    What chapter is the Bible story where Jesus gets a job so that he can pay more taxes for Bethany to build riverfront condos or Capernaum to put a 250K elevator in their temple? Or was it in the Old Testament – Thou shalt increase thy taxes so that thy neighbor enjoys the fruit of thy labors?

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    EoS. Asking “what we can do for God” should be our response to “what God has done for us.” Works should follow grace, am I right?

    The answer to “we can do,” through all 66 books, is to put aside our self-interest for the good of others. The cross is the ultimate demonstration of love and love is to be our ultimate response.

    What does this have to do with taxes? Maybe nothing. For me, it means self-interest should be of little concern when evaluating public spending. If we’re anti-tax, we should be so because we’re genuinely concerned with how an increased tax burden will impact others, not because we want to keep what’s ours.

    It means asking what’s best for my collective neighbors and voting for a school millage even if I don’t have kids or AATA funding even if I don’t need a bus.

  10. Gretchen
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    EoS, what do you tell the poor in the Township when you suggest cutting bus service? Do you tell them to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”? Is that what Jesus would have done?

  11. Brackache
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    OEC: higher taxes and increased spending are bad for everyone in the long run. They create dependancy on the fruits of other people’s labor, they bankrupt governments (hey, maybe that’s not so bad), give your tax base a hell of a good reason to live somewhere else, and their promised benefits are delivered poorly if at all. The assertion that increased funding for schools equals better schools is retarded and has proven to be wishful thinking repeatedly.

    There’s nothing wrong with retaining your own private property. It is our right to do so. Peter said as much before Ananias and Saphira were struck dead for lying. Coerced taxation by threat of force in no way is comparable to Christian charity freely given (of your own wealth, not someone else’s). To guilt someone into thinking otherwise just so you can redistribute his wealth against his will is a most reprehensible low-down manipulation.

    You deplore using force to take other countries’ resources to fuel our run away consumption, but you don’t see the parallel in wanting to annex the township to take their tax revenue because the city spent more than it had. Mind boggling.

    Also, we’re even too liberal for Jesus to get lethal injection in many places. He’d probably just end up being thrown into a cage, forgotten, and ass raped for the rest of his life. Which is more humane somehow.

  12. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink


    Jesus would have walked. I never said to cut bus service. I just said the township shouldn’t pay for the buses between the two cities (Ypsi and Ann Arbor). We do pay for our own service in the small areas of the township that have routes.

  13. Glen S.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    “Jesus would have walked.”

    FINALLY, we have the answer to the age-old question: “WWJD?”

  14. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    BA. We can debate whether government, private corporations or charity serves citizens best and whether regulations increase or decrease the public health.

    My point is, the question that guides us, at least from a xtian ethic, shouldn’t be “what’s in it for me” but “what’s best for my neighbors.” If limited government turns out to be what’s best for all, especially the least of these, so be it.

    On my mind boggling position on the Township, sure, that’s the way EoS frames it. But, as I’ve said, I don’t want their money. I want more efficient boundaries. The zig-zag borders just don’t make sense to me.

  15. E
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink


    I don’t know about your God, but my God is omnipotent and there’s absolutely nothing that He requires that I can do for Him. I can do all things with God and absolutely nothing of value without Him. If I accomplish any works, it is only through the additional grace of God that I am able to do so and any works I might accomplish in this matter further increases my sense of indebtedness to a God no one can ever repay. You cannot work off your debt to God – you don’t pay for grace with works.

    Additionally, paying my neighbors debts is not works. It has no eternal value. The money I save in taxes is donated to causes that have an eternal value. However, if you think you can work your way to heaven by paying for services in another community, then I’d be happy to let you pay my tax bill and I will donate the money I would have paid in taxes to my church.

  16. Mark H.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Kurt Vonnegut was not a believing Christian, but I believe that he was familiar with the text of the Bible. And I think his point in the lines mark quotes is that Jesus, in the Gospels, is depicted as a kind and lovely person — certainly not an advocate of capital punishment.

    And in my estimation, if you read the Sermon on the Mount with an open mind, it’s impossible to reconcile that Jesus with any defender of the status quo of this world –be in 33 AD or 2008 AD — which allows so much injustice, so much cruelty, so much hunger. Of course, i don’t think only Christians can advocate truth and justice — but too many self described Christians embrace a version of their faith that stands in contrast — nay, outright opposition! — to the words that the Bible attribute to Christ.

    EofS has one view of what Jesus would do. There are many others. The Catholic Church, for the record, opposes capital punishment as violation of the Commandments. Vonnegut’s claim that Jesus was ‘too liberal’ is phrased ahistorically, but hey, doesn’t the Bible say Christ said that God will judge us by how we ‘treat the least of these’, the least powerful people in a land? If that’s a true account of God’s intention, woe be on to a nation that tolerates homelessness and hunger and daily violence for so many of its children.

    And isn’t the typical homeless person in America today a child?

  17. Mark H.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    in the comment above, 2nd sentence, “lovely” should be “loving.” Please forgive.

  18. Phelps
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    It terrifies me to go up against an esteemed professor, but I believe that Vonnegut was very much a practicing Christian and a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    If memory serves, he was Unitarian.

  19. Phelps
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I just checked.

    He called himself a “Christ-worshipping agnostic”, and he was a member of the Unitarian church.


  20. Mark H.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I am hardly an ‘esteemed professor’ but thanks for the compliment anyway, and for the info. Vonnegut was my hero as a kid (we both grew up in Indianapolis, him a long time before me, and he held a special place of honor for Hoosier hippie intellectuals like myself in the 1970s). Thanks for checking on his religious affiliation. But the Unitarian Church has no dogma, if I am recalling correctly, that requires either a belief in God or in the divinity of Christ. Hence, to be a Unitarian does not necessarily mean one believes in the central doctrine of Christianity: that Jesus was God. And so Kurt’s claim that he was a Christ worshipping agnostic is consistent with my idea that he embraced the morality of Jeuss from the Gospels but did not accept Christianity. Agnostics are not Christian.

    But these are quibbles.

    What i don’t know is whether vonnegut grew up in a church tradition — it might be that he was Lutheran or Catholic, as his family was a German immigrant family. I don’t know if the Indianapolis German American community he was part of was still deeply church affiliated or not by the time of his youth….i suspect he grew up in the church and carried from that youthful encounter with Christianity an enduring love of what we could call ‘Jesus the advoce of Justice’ even as Vonnegut’s religious beliefs changed or dissipated entirely.

  21. Mark H.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    one last comment from me, then i’ll shut up and get back to work: The link Phelps provides has amble quotes from Vonnegut on his agnosticism and that of his family. But I’d be more persuaded by a biographer’s take on it — i bet there was more regilgious affiliation in his youth, or at least with one parent, that Kurt admits in these quotes. Rarely is a person’s quick comment entirely revealing or comprehensive. And he so often thanked God, mentioned God, wondered about God, questioned God in his writings, it’s always been hard for me to think Vonnegut’s self-described lack of religion was the whole story. He apeared more entangled with questions of religion that a 100% agnostic or atheist would. (I think early in his career he proclaimed himself an atheist, could be wrong on that). Not that i am faulting him — nobody tells their whole story. We’re all too complicated to reveal our whole story, to ourselves let alone others. Telling the whole story of famous people is what biographers are supposed to do. Not that I want to read a biography of Vonnegut – his novels stand in my mind as unique achievements. I don’t want to confuse my memory of them with the mundane facts of the author’s life, or a biographer’s interpretation of his novels, either.

    i heard him speak once, to a huge crowd, in Washington, DC, in 1979, and his invective was inspiriing and righteous.
    it was at the national anti-nuclear power march on the Capitol organized soon after Three Mile Island nearly melted down. Joni Mitchell played, too.

  22. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Mark H.,

    If you’ve read the Bible you would know that Jesus, as part of the Trinity, is God. The Old Testament has several commands of God to inflict capitol punishment for certain offenses. It is not logical to take a passage from the Sermon on the Mount or other New Testament passage, where the topic is not specifically addressed, and infer that Jesus would not advocate capitol punishment. He did advocate it at certain times for certain purposes that don’t always make sense to us today.

    The Old Testament also prophesies that Jesus would die hung on a tree. His capitol punishment was foreknown – planned by God. Were it not for the crucifixion of Christ, our debt would not have been paid, and we would all die in our sins without hope. Therefore, even if we all might agree that capitol punishment is wrong for us today, I am eternally grateful for the cross and for the suffering Christ underwent for my benefit and for the benefit of anyone who places their trust in Christ.

  23. Posted July 7, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    >And isn’t the typical homeless person in America today a child?

    According to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, the statistically average homeless American is a nine year old girl.

  24. egpenet
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    … quiet, you guys.

    I’m stull thinking.

  25. Robert
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    There’s no need to guess. Ghandi didn’t die in prison, or by leathal injection. Neither did Martin Luther King. Those were two individuals who conducted their lives in a manner somewhat similar to the way Jesus is said to have conducted his.

  26. Mark H.
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, KD2 for relevant facts & citations. Lincoln rather famously spoke of the bloodshed of America’s civil war being the cost inflicted by a righteous God on a sinful nation that had violated His will by practicing slavery, and so too perhaps America’s continuing wrongful treatment of ‘the least of these’ may someday be judged and punished. Depending on whose idea, if any, of what God is proves to be correct…

    And EoS: while I have read the Bible, i make no claim to expert knowledge of it; and just because I’ve read it does not mean that I agree with you or anyone on what it may mean. It’s a complex, contradictory text! Hence, the whole history of Protestantism and its many disputatious sects! But despite my lack of any qualifications as a biblical scholar, I will assert this: that for every allegedly “logical” interpretation of the Bible there exists another equally logical disputatious interpretation of it, on the identical point. Please note, EoS, that I mean not to say your interpretation is wrong, just that it is hardly the only interpretation. And some hundreds of millions of Catholics support a church that teaches all capital punishment is wrong.

    My Jesus, my personal Jesus, does not endorse capital punishment for anyone. The Sermon on the Mount suggests to me that fairness and justice are our prime values. So mine is a Christ of justice. Mr. Vonnegut and I have that in common. May Kurt Vonngut rest in peace, and long be read by the young and the old alike.

  27. Andy C
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of wearing a hypodermic around my neck. The cross is getting kind of old.

  28. Posted July 7, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Edge: “Jesus would have walked.”

    I would think that Jesus would own a car and drive to and fro his appointments. He might be able to spread the word more efficiently that way. I’m guessing he would also have his own blog. Otherwise, who would take him seriously?

  29. egpenet
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    (Next thing … they’ll be talking about Christians forced against their will and abducted to Ypsilanti. Hmmm. You’ve done it again, Kurt, this time from the grave you s-o-b!))

  30. Brackache
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    mark’s blog comments always turn into preaching about Jesus and militias and fried chickens and stuff.

    Jesus would have started the Ypsilanti Citizens’ Militia and taught us all to love each other as we gathered around buckets of fried chicken near the community gardens in Frog Island park.


  31. Posted July 7, 2008 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about Brack!

  32. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    A few thoughts/responses:

    E. -Agreed. You can’t work off you debt. Did I say that? But, isn’t trying to follow Jesus teaching part of, well, following Jesus’ teaching? On paying your neighbors debts, Jesus did offer a definition of neighbor once.

    MarkH. -I’d offer one small footnote on your points. I agree some interpretations are close in logic, but many are damn crazy and self-serving. Kind of like the multiple interpretations of that confounding Constitution.

    Andy C. -Churches have been adorned with giant hypodermics for centuries. At least on a necklace, they’d be functional.

    Robert -Agreed. Or, maybe the ATF.

    B.A. -Feeding Ypsilanti with five biscuits and two pieces of fried chicken. Mmmmmm, indeed.

  33. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Mark H.,

    I have to respectfully disagree with your last post. The Bible does not contain any contradictions. It is the infallible Word of God. If you believe two passages contradict each other, that’s a good indication that your interpretation is incorrect. I’m not an expert of the Bible either, but I trust God. While there may be many seemingly logical interpretations, there is only one truth.

    Fairness and justice are not what I desire from God. I need mercy. “We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Therefore, a just God would condemn us all to hell, but a merciful, forgiving God would provide a way to heaven for those who repent.

    By the way, I think Vonnegut is a great author and I’ve enjoyed reading many of his books. I think I even heard him speak at Hill Auditorium about 20 years ago, but my memory is hazy.

  34. egpenet
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Ahem. On the contrary …

    Who says the Bible is the “infallible” word of God. Most churches teach that the Bible is the “word” of God. “Infallible,” not. And the so-called “contradictions” are the best parts!

    Now, hush up for a while.

    Kurt still has me thinking.

  35. Robert
    Posted July 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Mark, aren’t you bothered by the thought of all those bugs crawling all over you while you slept? You might have spider eggs in your ears.

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