While Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle both fall under the genre of science fiction, their pages contain so much more than that. When reading these stories, we are able to see how the authors weave in pressing matters and issues of science, religion, and morality that are very real and present in our own society. Some of the major themes in A Canticle for Leibowitz are power, science, religion, and morality. Cat’s Cradle has similar major themes of power, science, religion, and morality. As Christians, by comparing and contrasting these two stories’ central themes, main ideas, images, and conflicts that can be seen through what they present about power, science, religion, and morality, we are able to view these issues through a Christian lens and observe them through a biblical worldview.
Power and Science
A Canticle for Leibowitz evidences how much power the Catholic church had over its people. In this book, Brother Francis really wants Leibowitz to be accepted as a Saint, and he gives great effort in copying the blueprints he finds and insists to the church leaders what he finds and its discovery are of great importance. However, the church leaders continued to scold him and tried to get him to recant everything he insisted upon. The church punishes Brother Francis several times for proclaiming what he believes about his discovery, and it continues to shut him down and strives to control him. In Cat’s Cradle, the sense of power looks a little different. The main thing that holds great power in this book is “ice-nine” and the people who have possession of it. What “ice-nine” does is when it comes into contact with a substance that contains water, it freezes and locks the substance, which then crystalizes into “ice-nine” itself. In this book, the three people who control “ice-nine” are the three children of Felix, the man who created it (and who was also one of the creators of the atomic bomb dropped to end World War II). “Ice-nine” eventually gets out from the people and into the world, which results in the intentional and unintentional deaths of many.
In The Canticle for Leibowitz, science, more specifically, scientific knowledge, is a big aspect of the book. Science is viewed as a very important and valuable resource to mankind, and it is used to fight evil forces in human nature. In our own world, we also use science as a good and important tool to fight evil. For example, we use science to better our weapons, to create vaccinations and medicines in order to fight sicknesses and diseases, and to improve our sources of entertainment such as movies, video games, and smartphones. Even now during this crazy and uncertain time of the spreading of COVID-19, we can be certain that science is being used both to look for a cure and to assist those who are working from home and engaging in online learning. However, while science is definitely a good thing that has brought many benefits to our society; when misused, science can also become a bad thing. In Cat’s Cradle, “ice-nine” was a powerful substance that could have served as a great aid in war, but it became out of hand before it could be used for good, and as many people died, and it created a lot of chaos and heartache. From these two books, we can see that science is very invaluable to our society but when the use of it is abused, it can result in great destruction.
Religion and Morality
Religion plays a huge role in these two books in both similar and different ways. When reflecting back to earlier in A Canticle for Leibowitz, we see how much power the Catholic church held and how important their religious beliefs and rituals were to them. While this book is futuristic, we are able to see the Catholic faith is very similar in this book to what the Catholic beliefs are today, and this goes to show that, in this book at least, the beliefs of the religion do not tend to change because of the time or situation that the world and its people are in. In Cat’s Cradle, the two main religions are Christianity and Bokononism, which is a religion invented by the author for the writing of his book. While Bokononism is not a real religion, it is mostly made up of the philosophy of humanism, which is very present in our society. One of the Boknonists’ beliefs is humanity is organized into teams that do God’s will without ever discovering what they are actually doing.
Going off of this, it is very evident that those who hold to the Bokononist faith live their lives the way they want to and create meaning out of what they are doing to justify it, whether what they are doing is right or wrong. However, as Christians who hold to Christianity: we can know that this idea and way of thinking is both false and harmful. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” From this verse, we are able to see that we can know what God’s will for our lives is and that we should strive to live out our lives in this way. In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” From these verses, we can see that God never meant for us to live our lives the way we want to, but instead, to follow and obey Him. Because of our sinful natures, if we were to continually live life however we wanted and try to justify our wrongs by saying they did not really matter, then we would all be in for a long and hard life full of hurt, anger, frustration, and no purpose, and for an even longer and harder life in hell as we would be eternally separated from God. Because God loves us so much, He wants us to have a relationship with Him and to strive to live a purposeful life that honors and glorifies Him instead of living for ourselves and doing what sinfully pleases us.
In Cat’s Cradle, it is very evident that the characters live how they want without much conviction and with the absence of a high sense of morality, and we are also able to detect issues of morality in A Canticle for Leibowitz that are also present in our society.
In A Canticle for Leibowitz, two of the biggest issues of morality presented are abortion and euthanasia. For example, in chapter 28, Zerchi, one of the characters, has a conversation with a mother who is bringing her hurting child to the Mercy Camp so her child could be killed and put out of its misery. Zerchi pleads with the conflicted mother and tries to convince her not to allow her baby to be euthanized even though it is in pain. Euthanasia is present in our society, and many try to justify is by claiming that it is a humane way to put someone out of their misery who will either deal with a tragic injury for the rest of their life, is certain to die from a disease, or something else. However, we know that God is both the giver and taker of life, and that He is the one who decides the number of our days, and we are not to take that power into our own hands; more specifically, through euthanasia or abortion.
In Cat’s Cradle, an issue of morality that is very apparent is several of the characters having promiscuous sexual relations with others. One of the main characters, Mona, engages in sexual relations with various men and views it as being okay, even within her religion of Bokononism. Newt, another main character, talks with John about a woman dancer he had a casual affair with: he says that while their relationship did not last or result in marriage, at least he “had a honeymoon.” When talking about his relationship later on, Newt states that while the woman had broken his heart and that it had been very hard for him, it was “the price and in this world, you get what you pay for.” In today’s society, many unbelievers live a sexually promiscuous life and oftentimes do not see anything wrong with it. However, we know that God created sex to be solely between a married couple because He knew that living outside of this would be damaging and hurtful to mankind, and that it would also have a negative impact not only on the current specific relationship, but on other relationships, too.
Another Point of View, but Truth is still Truth
In these stories, Miller and Vonnegut do a great job of weaving in the various pressing matters of power, science, religion, and morality that are very present in our society. We all live in a world that craves power, and science is constantly advancing, both for good and for evil. Many religions in our world hold to various and conflicting beliefs, and as Christians, we are certain to cross paths with people who hold to false religions and believe that moral issues of abortion, euthanasia, promiscuity, etc., are really not wrong or serious issues at all, but are just a “way of life.” Therefore, it can be very helpful for Christians to read books such as A Canticle for Leibowitz and Cat’s Cradle to help us be more aware and better understand how many unbelieving people think and to remind us that it is so important to be mindful of the lost who are around us and to use the opportunities God gives us to be lights and examples to them through the sharing of the hope and truth in His everlasting Word.
Lexi Taylor is a current student at Emmaus Bible College. Having completed her Associate of Arts in General Studies in 2020, Lexi is furthering her studies in the Counseling Psychology department.