Christianity & Patriotism: What’s the Catch-22? No matriotism?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Christianity & Patriotism

Joseph Heller Catch 22 coverFrom Dr. Wayne Baker:
This week, Duncan Newcomer’s columns are especially suited to sharing with your friends because he is raising so many great questions. Here is the fourth part of Duncan’s series …


Joseph Heller’s famous iconoclastic novel set in World War II, Catch-22, raises a whole host of questions about patriotism, faith—and many, many other values, as well. Today, Catch-22 is championed as one of the defining novels of the 20th century but, when it first appeared in 1961 the reviews were mixed. As many reviewers hated the wild jumble of storytelling as loved it. The New Yorker famously declared it “doesn’t even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper.”

So, today, let me recall one scene from the novel in which Heller identifies a crucial flaw in our common ideas about patriotism.

The setting is a hospital for recovering soldiers. The main character of this novel and a sequel is Capt. Yossarian, a bombadier as Heller was during WWII. His friend is Dunbar, another airman who fakes injuries to spend time recouping in the hospital. In this scene they meet a “patriotic” Texan who touches off an argument with his very strong views about American society. Heller introduces him this way:

Then there was the educated Texan from Texas who looked like someone in Technicolor and felt, patriotically, that people of means—decent folk—should be given more votes than drifters, whores, criminals, degenerates, atheists and indecent folk—people without means.

Dunbar and Yossarian try to spend their time “cultivating boredom”—basically trying to survive the war. But, this loud and opinionated Texan soon begins “donating his views.” Heller writes:

Dunbar sat up like a shot. “That’s it,” he cried excitedly. “There was something missing—all the time I knew there was something missing—and now I know what it is.” He banged his fist down into his palm. “No patriotism,” he declared.

“You’re right,” Yossarian shouted back. “You’re right, youre, right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, either.”

What do you think? Is there something missing from patriotism? Could it be matriotism?
What is the mother-side of patriotism?

In emerging African nations women are more and more taking leadership in government. In Liberia women were instrumental in ending the long civil war. If you’re not aware of that story, learn about Leymah Gbowee and check out the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. She’s not alone. Out of Pakistan, the courageous Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. From Colombia, Mayerly Sanchez inspired young people around the world.

Do you see women redefining American patriotism? What does “matriotism” look like today?

Care to read more?

Duncan Newcomer is a scholar with wide-ranging interests in history, literature and religion. He is the leading writer in this online collection of Lincoln resources. You also may want to visit Duncan’s own website where he outlines his many projects.

Dig deeper into American values by learning about Wayne Baker’s United America book—as well as the related research and the many ways groups are using his book to start healthy conversations.

The work of these two scholars converged in this earlier column: What would Lincoln say about the 10 values in United America?

Care to know more about shifting shape of religious affiliation in the U.S.? Wayne Baker published a five-part series on American Religious Trends.

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