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Catch-22 | Chapter 19 : Colonel Cathcart | Summary

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Summary

Colonel Cathcart is vain because he's already a full colonel and ashamed because he's not yet a general. Wondering if religion might help advance him professionally, he calls in the chaplain.

Cathcart shows the chaplain a magazine article about a bomber group that prays before missions. Would prayers work with his group? Timidly, the chaplain ventures that he thinks so. Cathcart decides to add a religious service before that afternoon's mission. So that the men will stay upbeat, he insists that the prayer include nothing about God, death, or paradise. He also demands that no atheists or enlisted men be allowed to attend the service.

When the chaplain explains that prayers made under those conditions might not work, the colonel abandons the whole idea. He insists that the chaplain help himself to a black-market tomato before he leaves. The chaplain tells Cathcart that the men (especially Yossarian) are getting desperate now that Cathcart has raised the number of missions to 60. "Tell him to trust in God," advises the colonel.

Analysis

Who or what is God? The chaplain is privately starting to grapple with that question. Colonel Cathcart cares only about how to get God on his side. He doesn't care about protecting his men. He only wants God's helps so that his men will win and he might get into the Saturday Evening Post. Heller is suggesting in this passage that God is merely a convenience to Colonel Cathcart. The colonel uses God, or his ideas of God, when he chooses to but only to achieve what he wants.

Colonel Cathcart sees God from the consumer's point of view. He wants the chaplain to keep his prayer "light and snappy" with no "Kingdom of God or Valley of Death stuff."

This is fun to read. When Colonel Cathcart realizes that there might be atheists in his squadron, his reaction is more disturbing. "Atheism is against the law, isn't it?" he asks. Seen in light of the reasons the war is being fought, Colonel Cathcart's simplistic prejudice becomes more threatening than funny.

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