I miss Kurt Vonnegut.
Lived through the Great Depression. Fought in WWII. A POW and a social critic.
Truly a leading voice for the twentieth century. Fifty years of writing – 14 novels, 3 short story collections, 5 plays, and 5 works of nonfiction. Slaughterhouse Five is a must read for anyone (and on my suggested list of works for my daughter to read) and “Harrison Bergeron” was a staple of mine in freshmen English classes.
And probably the best cameo performance ever in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School.
He also was one of the most recognizable authors to ever walk the earth, sporting a mustache about as well as Mark Twain and Magnum P.I.
He also has a quote about religion and politics that a recent post by my Auntie Sherry reminded me of. It reads,
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
There’s a lot of truth to that in this political climate, especially here in this election year. For me it is more applicable to the elections in North Carolina.
I am not a Biblical Scholar. After being christened in the Roman Catholic Church, I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition where services ended right at noon and softball season brought about a higher attendance in church for eligibility. I do not attend a regular church now, and I do consider religion and spirituality as being separate. My study of his words and deeds do not lead me to believe that he would endorse many of the people in office today who claim to follow his teachings. And I am very adamant that Jesus not be used as a political endorsement.
I do look to the teachings of Christ for guidance and inspiration, and the Sermon on the Mount where the Beatitudes are found are very dear to me.
They are as follows from Matthew 5: 3-10.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
- Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Many believe that the word “blessed” here means “happy” and that serves well for me. I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, but I will trust what linguistic experts say here.
Terms like “poor in spirit”, “mourn”, “the meek”, “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, “merciful”, “clean of heart”, “peacemakers”, and “persecuted” are not simply literal references. It seems to me that what Jesus was saying was that he was going to help those (and charge his followers to do the same) who had lost faith, who suffer any form of sorrow, who put others needs ahead of theirs, who show mercy to others, who strive not to be polluted by the world, who seek peace rather than confusion, and who do right even when others disagree to find happiness.
And if we are going to follow Christ’s example, then we should as well.
I wrote a post last April after the Network for Public Education convention on Raleigh entitled “Legivangelists and Others Who Praise the Lard.” In June I wrote a post entitled “Politics and the God Complex- Putting Jesus on the Ticket.” I believe that I had Vonnegut’s words streaming in my mind when I wrote them. And both pieces deal with the use of Jesus and God as validation for what has been enacted here in North Carolina under the present leadership.
If anyone on West Jones Street can convince me that suppressing the vote through a racially motivated Voter ID bill, discriminating against the LGBTQ community, cutting unemployment benefits for many who were still reeling from the great recession, denying the expansion of healthcare through Medicaid, and allowing for people to drink polluted water, drawing election districts to deny people’s democratic voices, and allowing for over 20% of our kids to live in poverty fits in with the Beatitudes, then I will gladly withdraw this post.
It seems that in those instances it was more about the “Me”atitudes rather than the Beatitudes.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Is that still true? I am not asking it as a rhetorical question.
If I had a picture of every lawmaker in Raleigh who championed, sponsored, and voted for the aforementioned pieces of legislature, I think I might have the most homogenous looking group of lawmakers I have seen in a while.
I wonder what Billy Pilgrim would have said about that. Actually, I think I do.
RIP Kurt Vonnegut. Rather, please keep talking to us.