John Lilburne's journal about Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.



About John Lilburne







2211 L Sun 27 Jan 2002

I wanted something to read on the train so I took Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, with me. I read it in about 1985 and I don't think I liked it much. I think I preferred a more heroic view of the military, rather than the depiction of maniacs creating and following crazy regulations that Catch 22 tends to present.

But today I get a better sense of the tendency towards self deception and hypocrisy. A couple of extracts:

Major Major's father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a long limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His speciality was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him ... (page 94).

Here is another extract which is more directed against religious issues:

Whatever his elders told him to do, he did. ... He was told that he should not kill, and he did not kill, until he got into the Army. Then he was told to kill, and he killed. ... He never once took the name of the Lord in vain, committed adultery or coveted he neighbor's ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness against him. Major Major's elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant nonconformist. (pages 96 - 97).

Entertaining and exaggerated, but with a ring of truth. Regarding killing in the army, I will present a short extract from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2321. The prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defense is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.

Regarding the problem of Christians failing, the concern is shared in the Catechism:

2125 ... 'Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.'[GS 19 # 3.]

The impression reinforced on me from the book is that people do tend to conform to instructions and regulations. When they are poor and/or disobeyed, it leads to complications and problems.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 27 January 2002.