Faith and Doubt

There is no doubt that religion is an integral part of the modern society. However, depending on the immediate circumstances, the impacts of religious teachings on the individual may vary. A number of the renowned authors such as Octavia Butler, J. D. Salinger, and Kurt Vonnegut offers their interpretations of faith and its influence on the human lives. The detailed analysis of their works indicates that religion possesses the power to inspire and destroy the whole generations. 

The mentioned texts explicitly illustrate the role of faith and doubt in the lives of the main characters. Importantly, the outstanding writers describe the destructive and miraculous power of religion, manifested in the characters’ capability to cope with the dreadful experiences. In his book, Vonnegut attempts to debunk the entire institution of religion by emphasizing the faultiness of religious convictions. The author of Cat’s Cradle introduces the readers to a fictional religion of Bokononism that was specifically invented to avert the attention of people from the pressing economic issues. The new system of beliefs is essentially an allegorical instrument of manipulation. While being based on lies Bokononism cultivates the spiritual detachment in people of the small island from such harsh realities as life’s shortness and low living standards. Other two texts, by contrast, exemplify the peace-loving nature of religion. Salinger advocates the Christian doctrine of kindness and love to all human beings. According to the author of Franny and Zooye, the key to understanding the Biblical wisdom is embracing the idea of the inestimable value of human life. The process of spiritual enlightenment does not stop with learning the prayers, but rather culminates in the conscious and absolute adherence to God’s exhortations. Octavia Butler, in her turn, argues that religion is highly susceptible to human spiritual needs. The writer of Parable of Sower aims at emphasizing religion’s ability to change and evolve in accordance with the contemporary situation, whereas the true believers have a chance at shaping their own perception of the universe. All three points of view make it worth exploring the implemented approaches to illustrating the phenomenon of religious faith.

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To reach the target audience, the mentioned authors resort to a variety of strategies that ranges from the very realistic images to sarcasm. Notably, the crucial role in capturing the attention of the readers belongs to the masterful usage of words. For example, Salinger deliberately overuses the short responses to describe the obvious nervous tension in his main character Franny Glass, caused by scattered emotions (Franny and Zooye). In an unusual manner, Franny describes the transformative nature of the prayer by conferring the “peculiar, self-active power” to the name of God and bestowing the features of the living entity upon it. Butler, by contrast, heavily relies on the realistic depictions of events from the narrative’s perspective. In plain and neutral words, the main heroine Lauren Olamina explains her vision of the church: “A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape". 

Meanwhile, Vonnegut masterfully implements ironic remarks, aimed at illustrating the author’s resentment towards religion. In a strongly pessimistic manner, the writer warns the audience from the start: “Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either”. The unflattering characteristic of the longstanding institution prepares the readers for the following criticism of religion. On one occasion, Vonnegut points out that Bokononism refers to destiny as the “complicated and unpredictable… machinery of life” and “miraculously intricate chain of events”. The elaborated descriptions reveal the main function of faith, i.e. the way to justify the lack of control over one’s life and give it some meaningfulness. Every example provided above underscores the importance of the accurate choice of words for creating the appropriate atmosphere that allows the authors to influence the audience’s opinion.

The discussed works partially derive their emotional richness from the images of the main characters that are the direct byproducts of the surrounding environment. In this view, the family tradition of taking part in the child show was the primary reason for choosing the future career of an actor by the main characters of Salinger’s novel (Franny and Zooye). The main conflict starts developing as soon as Franny, a young actress and student of the English Department, becomes acquainted with the religious books of her deceased brother and lasts a few weeks. Cat’s Cradle is a first-person narrative by a freelance writer Jonah. In a detailed manner, the main hero recounts the events that preceded his conversion to Bokononism including his acquaintance with the family of the deceased physicist Dr. Hoenikker and the ill-fated trip to San Lorenzo. Numerous external factors such as the death of the San Lorenzo President, an unexpected offer of the presidency, introduction to local religion and technological catastrophe shaped Jonah’s destiny. At the same time, Parable of Sower covers the longest period and dozens of the chronologically organized events. Lauren, a teenager daughter of a reverend, begins her story with describing her burden of hyperempathy and the harsh life in the confined neighborhood in 2024. By the end of the book, the readers are fully aware of the magnitude of the political instability in the country and Lauren’s experiences during her trip until the arrival to the permanent place of residence three years later. Surely, the difference in settings of time and place, and the characters’ background points to the lack of any distinguishing set of criteria that would spare a certain group or an individual from facing the spiritual dilemmas.     

The authors clearly intend to maintain the readers’ interests by designing the intriguing plot. Evidently, the preferred method of fueling the tension is an entirely individual choice. Salinger intentionally delays the culmination of the story and incorporates the long emotional monolog of Zooye Glass that praises Jesus Christ as the central figure of the Bible and embodiment of sacred spirituality (Franny and Zooye). Similarly, Vonnegut fully reveals the treacherous nature of all religions by presenting the image of a collective grave whose new residents committed suicide on the cynical whim of Bokonon. The incredibly ghastly first-person narrative Parable of the Sower, on the other hand, offers the subjective interpretation and gradual evolvement of the teenager’s religious views. Lauren sullenly argues about the scarce comfort offered by praying at the beginning of the novel and declares her intention to start a new church with the self-esteem of the grown woman by the end of her journey to the safe place. The different development of the storylines helps to emphasize the uniqueness of every book as well as allows grasping the multilayer role of faith in the lives of characters.   

Throughout the narrations, the theme of religion is intertwined with a number of other moral, economic and political issues. Vonnegut explores the close relation between religion and science, and discovery of the ultimate truth. In one particular case, the dying President of San Lorenzo gravely states that “science is the strongest thing there is”. The laconic declaration signifies the supremacy of scientific approach among the other ways of achieving the economic prosperity and social well-being. Ironically, the trust vested in the technological progress proved to be misplaced. Thousands of people died from the greatest and most destructive invention on the planet in the final scene due to the human error. The simultaneous deconstruction of both institutions of science and religion reveals the misguided and neglectful attitude of the ignorant population to the potentially dangerous technological advances and religious propaganda. 

Meanwhile, the detailed analysis of a novel Franny and Zooye indicates the direct connection between religion and fame. In the dialogue with her boyfriend, Franny admonishes her longing to be in the center of attention while admiring the incredible effect of praying on people. The main heroine reveals her genuine fear of becoming nobody and leaving the career of an actress; in a somewhat feverish state of mind, the young girl expresses her deep embarrassment and guilt because of the seemingly wrong choice of profession. At the same time, the futuristic plot of Parable of the Sower explicitly exemplifies the causal relations between the social, economic and political turmoil and the moral degradation. The book contains the sorrowful episode of robbery and rape, inflicted upon an old woman Mrs. Sims. In another case, the seekers of the better life admit being scared of the corrupt police. Butler vividly illustrates the magnitude of victimization and moral decomposition caused by poverty and high level of crime, whereas the high standards of Christianity may be easily forgotten. The evidence strongly suggests the close relation between faith or its absence and other numerous issues. 

In conclusion, the enormous potential of religion may hardly be underestimated. The close look at three novels, written by Octavia Butler, J. D. Salinger, and Kurt Vonnegut, reveals the immense scale of faith’s influence on the individual as well as the whole society. Since there is a strong connection between religion and economy and politics, this institution may become the mechanism of control and manipulation. Conversely, the genuine adherent to the Cristian moral values will exploit the benefits of its unifying and changeable features to meet the spiritual needs of the society.


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