Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

78. Ring of Steel

“When Bokonon and McCabe took over this miserable country years ago,” said Julian Castle, “they threw out the priests. And then Bokonon, cynically and playfully, invented a new religion.”

“I know,” I said.

“Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.”

“How did he come to be an outlaw?”

“It was his own idea. He asked McCabe to outlaw him and his religion, too, in order to give the religious life of the people more zest, more tang. He wrote a little poem about it, incidentally.”

Castle quoted this poem, which does not appear in The Books of Bokonon:

So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason.

“Bokonon suggested the hook, too, as the proper punishment for Bokononists,” he said. “It was something he’d seen in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s.” He winked ghoulishly. “That was for zest, too.”

“Did many people die on the hook?”

“Not at first, not at first. At first it was all make-believe. Rumors were cunningly circulated about executions, but no one really knew anyone who had died that way. McCabe had a good old time making bloodthirsty threats against the Bokononists—which was everybody.

“And Bokonon went into cozy hiding in the jungle,” Castle continued, “where he wrote and preached all day long and ate good things his disciples brought him.

“McCabe would organize the unemployed, which was practically everybody, into great Bokonon hunts.

“About every six months McCabe would announce triumphantly that Bokonon was surrounded by a ring of steel, which was remorselessly closing in.

“And then the leaders of the remorseless ring would have to report to McCabe, full of chagrin and apoplexy, that Bokonon had done the impossible.

“He had escaped, had evaporated, had lived to preach another day. Miracle!”

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