Catch-22: The God We Believe In #TBT

by Tom Lester, Contributing Writer

A very unlikely movie to review from a faith perspective for a vast variety of reasons is Catch-22. Directed by Mike Nichols, it is based on the book written by Joseph Heller. I actually read the book after seeing the movie and have found the book much more to my liking due to the fuller character development and additional passages that flesh out the theme of absurdity that is life.

The scene that might come immediately to mind is where Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam), squadron commander, is conversing with the chaplain (Tony Perkins). The scorn, derision and disrespect by the colonel and his second in command, Colonel Korn (Buck Henry), is obvious. Colonel Korn continually refers to the chaplain as ?Father? in a thinly-veiled, sarcastic tone though the chaplain continually and meekly reminds him that he?s an Anabaptist. Finally, the colonel is asked if the chaplain can pray for him and, after some thought, is told to prepare a prayer for ?tight bombing patterns.? The colonel wants to make the cover of Life magazine and thinks this accomplishment will make it finally happen. He also requires that it doesn?t follow any religious format and that the chaplain should avoid the topic of God altogether if possible.

But the scene that has always stuck in my mind is where Captain Yossarian (Alan Arkin), a pilot in the squadron, argues with a prostitute about God. Yossarian, very much the skeptic and irreverent person, says he doesn?t believe in God. The prostitute agrees with him. Then he talks about sneaking up behind God in which he does not believe (referred to as ?that SOB?) and choking him with his bare hands. He has seen too much blood and death and hopelessness in the air raid missions he has flown. The prostitute is horrified and laments, ?No, no, the God I don?t believe in is kind and loving [paraphrased].?

This scene has always stood out as a microcosm of many persons? thoughts and attitudes toward God. We note the memorable exchange from Inherit the Wind where the teacher Cates (Dick York), on trial for teaching evolution, is quoted as quipping, ?God created man in his own image and, man, being a gentleman, did the same.? So we, also, tend to ?create? God in our image or in an morphological image that diminishes God?s transcendence and trivializes God?s immanence. For many, God is the proverbial ?old man with a white beard and robe,? hurling lightning bolts of judgment on humankind, or is a netherworld being creating the universe in the manner of winding a clock and leaving it unattended with no care or attention; notably no involvement or control. Or, as the memorable scene in the book and movie where two people argue about a diametrically different God in which neither believes.

Leave a Reply