Bokononism is the idea that human beings need to believe in lies in order to be happy. However, what makes Bokononism unique is that its followers are aware that their beliefs are based on lies. Ironically, this means that a Bokononist is actually quite rational, even if they engage in mythic fictions for the sake of psychological well-being.
Bokononism made its first appearance in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle. In the story, the founder of Bokononism, Lionel Boyd Johnson is an economics student who is shipwrecked on an island during World War I. After he fails to improve the lives of the island’s poverty-stricken natives using academic means, he decides instead to start a religion to help them psychologically. Bokononism takes its name from is the way the natives pronounced Boyd Johnson.
With Johnson’s teachings disseminated amongst them in the form of calypso songs, they adopt the attitude that the machinery of life is too complicated to understand and therefore useful lies are preferable to complex truths. Ironically, however, underneath the self-consciously untrue Bokononist canon are actually hidden truths about what matters in life and how to connect with others.
Though Bokononism has been occasionally referenced in various items of pop culture, no actual movement has yet grown up around Vonnegut’s religion. Until now?
Bokononists engage in rituals both fanciful and profound. One of the most noteworthy is the practice of boko-maru, considered the primary means of worship. Boko-maru consists of putting the soles of the feet against those of another person, leading to a “mingling of awareness.”
The most important Bokononist practice, however, is play in general. The title of the book which contains the Books of Bokonon, Cat’s Cradle, is symbolic for the very notion of human culture and awareness — the simple game of cat’s cradle involves two people creating a pattern of a thing which is not actually there. In this way, the practicing Bokononist sees reality as a plaything, one which can be enjoyed and controlled through Creativist play
Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.
Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world