"Totally coup, yo."

Kurt Vonnegut vs. the Bible

Jul

29

by

“Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”
-Psalms 137:9

The high school board of education for the city of Republic, Missouri last week voted unanimously (4-0) to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s classic antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five from the school’s library. The board was responding to public complaints by one Wesley Scroggins, who was outraged that the city would use his tax dollars to store books which teach “principles contrary to the Bible” for children to read.

Wesley Scroggins, seen here taking some time off from
goose-stepping to the local book burning for a publicity photo

Scroggins is right about one thing. Slaughterhouse-Five, like pretty much every other work of modern literature, does teach principles contrary to the Bible. The Bible tells us we should be happy to smash babies against rocks during war with our enemies (Psalms 137:9). Vonnegut’s novel teaches the opposite; that such acts of senseless slaughter dehumanize us all, even the ones who are doing the smashing. This moral lesson is stated pretty explicitly in Chapter 8:

“There are no characters in this story and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

Vonnegut, seen here relaxing after a long day
of smashing babies against rocks.

Another problem Scroggins has with Slaughterhouse-Five is that it has lots of cursing in it. In an op-ed for the Springfield News-Leader which has apparently since been taken down from the internets, Scoggins says the book “contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame.” We should remember that we’re talking about a high school library here, not all public school libraries. Nobody’s teaching any of Vonnegut’s racier passages to 8-year-olds. And no competent high school English teacher is going to teach them devoid of any context.

If a student assigned to read Slaughterhouse-Five comes away from the class learning that this limerick from the book encompasses what Vonnegut was saying:

“In my prison cell I sit,/ With my britches full of shit,/ And my balls are bouncing gently on the floor./ And I see the bloody snag/ When she bit me in the bag./ Oh I’ll never fuck a Polack any more.”

… Then the student failed, and the teacher failed the student. If you teach literature that way, then you suck as a teacher and should find another line of work. That’s where the blame lies, not on the book itself.

Figure 1.1: An incompetent teacher

Besides, this guy who is so concerned about “Biblical principles” can’t be seriously offended by this. Here are just a few passages from the Bible just off the top of my head which are also so profane that “it would make a sailor blush with shame,” to borrow a phrase from Scroggins:

“Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.”
-Malachi 2:3

Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
-Ezekiel 23:19-20

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
-1 Timothy 2:12

We’ve also got a guy sacrificing his daughter for God in exchange for good luck in (what else?) war, some incestuous date rape, and countless other atrocities celebrated as good for the sole reason that it pleases this God character. I propose that the sum total of profanity contained in the Bible easily exceeds the same in Slaughterhouse-Five.

But unlike Scroggins, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that even a book as morally inept as the Bible should be banned from high school libraries and English teachers’ curriculum. Like Vonnegut’s work, it is an important part of the canon of Western literature. If a student graduates from high school without at least a little understanding of the Bible as literature – vulgar passages and all – then the teachers and administrators of that student’s school failed to do their jobs in giving them an adequate education.

And there’s just one more thing. I saved this for last. Wesley Scroggins does indeed have children, but they don’t even attend the public school he’s attacking. He home-schools his children. Apparently he can give his own kids an education which is consistent with “Biblical principles,” but that’s not quite good enough for him. He would like more power, please, and apparently the cowardly school board is willing to oblige, embarrassing themselves and their city in the process.

  • Anthony

    When did the American public become completely silent and impotent about shit like this? How IN THE FUCK does shit like this keep happening!? Are we really this far gone!?

  • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

    @Anthony
    1. Maybe when Kurt Vonnegut died?
    2. People can be incredibly stupid and short-sighted.
    3. YES.

  • http://youtu.be/xQMwjmwQb28 joe Dixon

    Josh, you seem to imply that Scroggins would be aware of what’s in the Bible. You do realize that like all good Christians he has almost certainly never read the book? I’ll even venture to guess he’s unaware of even the most basic tenets of his religion. Religious folk make it a point to be the least informed about the God they love so much. It’s like a rule or something.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    Having nothing around to read conceals illiteracy.

    Now how do we get in contact with this hick?

  • Cor

    Can we make home-schooling illegal? I realize that some non-insane people do it for non-insane reasons, but overwhelmingly it seems to be the least qualified shit-for-brains rejects who do it. I mean shit – it’s illegal to not feed your child, right? What about leaving them outside during a rain storm? So why is it legal to skull-fuck kids into being creationists?
    Also, it would be just the excuse we need to start throwing all the right people into those privatized prisons they’re so fond of. . . Who’s with me?

  • Anthony

    WHy Daddy whyyyyyyy!? Waaaaaaah! I wanna go to Scandinaviaaaaaaaa!

  • me

    Weird this was on my summer reading list for catholic high school. Apparently educating us was more important than words written a long time ago. As one teacher put it when talking about book burning, “where in the bible does it say though shall not read inappropriate books.” We also had that atheist Ayan Rand as required reading. Lit happens!

  • admin

    We never made the claim that all atheists are perfect.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    Atheism isn’t an ideology, so it’s not especially ironic. It isn’t something — really, it’s actually defined as NOT being something else. Nothing about the absence of a magical space pony necessitates or justifies Rand’s decades-long hissy fit about her dad’s nationalized pharmacies in Stalinist Russia.

    But atheism itself is light and zero calorie. It’s like a spiritual Jello cup. Not especially fulfilling, but transparent. Tangible. I don’t know where I was going with that.

    Now what is ironic is the pious right wing latching onto her, never acknowledging the supposedly huge issue of faith when it comes to their leadership. It’s funny that they worship Orwell for that matter. About the only person able to capture the right’s dim, child-like (remember, kids are often jerks) understanding of the world is Thomas Kincaid.

  • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

    Nah, Scrilly still sounds like one.

  • Cernunnos

    jesus fucking christ, when will people quite spelling it “athiest”?

    You can’t be “athier” than someone, or merely a bit “athy”, so why the fuck are you spelling it as if non theists are the “most athy.” A–theist, not a theist. Atheist. fuck.

  • admin

    Yes, when will they quite?

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Scrilly

    “Not Perfect… Right, that’s sort of softening the mind numbing idiocy of any rand her novels and philosophy, which this site spent much time doing.”

    Who did what now? Who’s ANY Rand?

    You’re right about something… kind of: most people don’t know what they’re talking about. The world could just as easily operate on pixie farts and no one would be the wiser. Because we can only fit so much math and physics in our heads, alongside the vital “Get Smart” trivia, we eventually have to take someone’s word on most things. (AND, philosophically, our entire epistemology could be fucked. The very concept of our knowing something could be inapplicable. Everything we’ve observed or linked causally could be an elaborate set of coincidences, only apparent once it falls apart, and the sun starts talking, and the hamsters fall upward off their fucking wheels.)

    Anyway, among experts in scientific fields, we at least know they bicker amongst themselves about minute, specific shit that would bore many of us to tears. Then when they’re vindicated by the result of a three year study into the immunological responses of mole rats fed only Shasta and poutine, they can turn to their fellow scientists, and be all like, “Euuggh! Right in your motherfuckin’ face!” Whereas religious folks have been hashing out hypothetical fights between Superman and Mighty Mouse for millennia, with no resolution in sight. Has religion advanced in any regard but geographically (and sometimes in tolerability through dilution)?

    Whatever the correlation between a scientific mindset, religiosity, and atheism in people, science itself seems prejudiced against religion. It’s thus far been totally incapable of finding any use for, or proof of, space ponies.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Skippy

    I don’t know what to tell you beyond pointing to your being really, severely, dramatically, mind-bendingly wrong.

    But you’re clinging to a common misconception… if that’s any consolation.

    Theism = belief in god(s). Etymologically (though I don’t know whether it was specifically used this way; I’m just referring to the root), it originally applied to Zeus and his posse, though that would be considered polytheism now, while theism would imply monotheism. It means “I have/believe in god(s). I also play Lotto six times a week.”

    Gnosticism = mysticism, as in the direct interaction with god(s); as opposed to the vague, do-nothing god(s) of today (gods have been credited with less stuff since we learned how lightning, germs, and sperm work). This implies a direct knowledge of god(s); to say, “I know there’s a god because we hang out all the time. He’s from Canada, though — you wouldn’t know Him. Whatever — have you seen my heartogram tramp stamp?”

    So, the opposite of gnosticism, agnosticism, means you don’t directly know whether there are gods. You might still believe in them, but you’re in both-hands-and-a-flashlight territory if asked to locate them.

    The opposite of theism, atheism, means you don’t believe in god(s). You might claim to know this for sure, or not, as a/gnosticism and a/theism aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s all it means. A person could strongly believe there aren’t any gods, or they could just passively lump it in with every other unsubstantiated thought dingleberry, considering it as relevant as the physics model in Fast Five.

    By your reasoning, discounting the existence of anything forges its own dogma. Are Christians defined by believing a talky carpenter flew up into space after reanimating (celebrated with eggs and bunnies), or are they defined by not believing the symbology in the footprints of Buddha, the incestuous leanings of Brahma, or that Mohammed also absconded skyward, but on a freaky space pony?

    If the latter is true, one is defined by literally every idea one rejects. The mere introduction of an idea which isn’t instantly adopted becomes the inverse basis for one’s reality. Why should it matter which idea that is? If I propose the existence of the Time Squid — an interdimensional cephalopod that squirts universes out of its ink sack — and you don’t buy that bullshit, you’re stuck with the dogmatism of Time Squid denial.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Scrilly

    The burden of proof is on the positive claimant.

    If I said you’re hoarding Clara Peller’s undergarments in a toolshed on one of Saturn’s moons, it’s up to me to substantiate that.

    There’s no logical justification to apply “we don’t know” = “plausible” only to things that interest you, like death and gods. Literally any claim could be defended that way: leprechauns, dragons, klingons, compassionate conservatism. If a person respects physical causality, they can either let it be the basis of their beliefs (believing what you see), or set aside some cognitive dissonance for a handful of pet idiocies.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Scrilly

    There is no semantic problem. See my definitions in the previous response to Skippy.

  • Scrilly

    Well actually that shouldn’t read two wrongs don’t make a right but two unproven theories don’t make a proven one. But I’m guessing you get the idea

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Scrilly

    “But my point is simple, so simple everyone is missing it. Atheism makes claims”

    No, it doesn’t. I covered this already. Even if an individual atheist, or a whole fucking gaggle of them, associates themselves with another idea — even a positive claim, like “x doesn’t exist at all, anywhere” — they have no bearing on the premise.

    “And sorry but your burden of proof example is of criminal nature. This debate is not. Due to the criminal nature of your argument yes, you would have to prove that due to the societal consequences. This argument has no such consequences, it is theoretical, therefore if you say something 100% isn’t you have to prove it.”

    Nice special pleading in the distinction. If you burdened atheism with having to prove an arbitrary negative, among a literally INFINITE number of possible unfounded claims, then you might have a trace of an argument. Except that that’s not the definition (just a vague association you’re imposing), so your argument is crap. And I’ve already shown the logical conclusion of such an absurd position on hypotheses in general; it’s only by baseless subjectivity that one bullshit claim takes precedent over another if evidence, consistency, logic, or any other practical determinants of reality are dismissed.

    “Why is this such a sticking point?”

    Because you’re wrong. And you’re trying to argue some shitty subjective interpretation of things over basic facts. I provided the reasons, and you just ignore them and repeat yourself so you’ll have something to say. Anyone reading can see that, which is good enough. It’s no benefit to me to convince you of anything.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    The term “atheism” ONLY exists at all because religious traditions are widespread enough that a distinction is necessary. We don’t have words for everything people DON’T do, and DON’T adhere to. Conceptually, the word is superfluous, since it refers to something specifically not being something arbitrary.

    Someone isn’t alampist for not being a light fixture; agiraffist, achimpanzeeist, apsychicist, apilotist, etc., for not being any INFINITE number of things. There is only ONE reason we have the word, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the burden of proof.

  • Cernunnos

    @ 20

    My point still stands… I don’t think it was a typo on Scrilly’s part since he spelled it that way multiple times, and I see that spelling too often.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @Scrilly

    I’m starting to think your arguments are just a tick (or some lazy trolling). You’ve introduced absolutely nothing new, restated your poor conclusions about the concepts involved, and appear to be defending them solely by your desperate insistence.

    Paring things down to the vaguely paranormal, rather than the LOL god of the Abrahamic clusterfuck, doesn’t alter with whom the burden of proof lies. Those questions you’re asking aren’t special; they’re subject to the same scrutiny as anything else, and not entitled to being entertained as possibilities forever just because someone likes them.

    To quote Christopher Hitchens (who the Beast has pre-eulogized, and who John Dolan would probably like to strap a bomb to, but I think he’s got some good quips):

    “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

    I can only put that out there. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him comprehend basic reasoning. Maybe someone will argue with me who knows what they’re walking about.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    @ Scrilly

    I didn’t miss the point. I get it. You’re wrong. I explained why. Repeatedly. you’re playing pinball with empty paddles now.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    Got it. It’s all clear now, Scrilly.

    Except for the humor.

    Or the point.

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    But besides that it was great!

  • http://www.hardleft.org/ Mike C.

    I’m typing out fake laughter, too. But on the inside.

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      Scrilly has won… the contest to be the most tedious, cliched person who’s ever lived.

  • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

    lol naturopathy

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      phony ‘healer’ con man getting his leg chopped off lol

      • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

        not knowing what words mean lol

  • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting
  • FosterBDAV1766

    I wonder if they realize that once a book is in a public school that they cannot take it out? There have been many court cases on this issue.
    http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/firstamendment/courtcases/courtcases

  • Archives


  • Warning: require_once(all_images/config.php) [function.require-once]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /nfs/c09/h03/mnt/134940/domains/buffalobeast.com/html/wp-content/themes/Beast/footer.php on line 28

    Fatal error: require_once() [function.require]: Failed opening required 'all_images/config.php' (include_path='.:/usr/local/php-5.3.29/share/pear') in /nfs/c09/h03/mnt/134940/domains/buffalobeast.com/html/wp-content/themes/Beast/footer.php on line 28