Catch-22

by: Joseph Heller

The Chaplain

The horrors of war cause the chaplain to have his doubts about God, and he struggles to maintain his faith amid the senseless violence around him. One of the hardest things for the chaplain to deal with is the way that religion is constantly being co-opted for reasons having nothing to do with God or even with the comfort of the men. For example, the chaplain’s atheistic assistant, Corporal Whitcomb, wants to send form letters home to the families of men killed and wounded in combat. The chaplain objects because the letters are insincere, but Colonel Cathcart insists on the form letters because he believes that they will bring him recognition. Such events force the chaplain to realize that religion is not valued on its own terms, but only as a tool that the officers can use to further their own causes.

When three men drag the chaplain into an isolated cellar and accuse him of unspecified crimes, he realizes that, because they have the power to beat him to death, his innocence has become irrelevant. Shortly afterward, the chaplain fakes an ailment and checks into the hospital. He has realized that trying to exist within the rules is impossible; having justified sin to himself, he feels much better.

The chaplain’s character reminds us of one more way in which war upsets moral and ethical codes. Just as Doc Daneeka is confused about the role of a doctor in a world where man’s primary goal is to cause injury and death, the chaplain is disoriented by a world where killing has become a virtue.