I am in the process of reading one of the great works of literature (for about the 12th time) and it occurred to me that the central theme is remarkably similar to another favourite that I have read even more times. I am referring, as if you have not already guessed, to “Catch 22” and “The Bhagavad Gita”.
The central theme is, of course, the reluctance of the main character to take part in warfare. The narrative unfolds in very different ways, and, as far as I am aware, there are not many comparisons between the two texts, so, again, the opportunity arises for me to help you to gain some understanding.
I have chosen four aspects of these works to see which one is of greater value. These aspects are chosen entirely at random, and many important comparisons are discarded in making these choices, but the outcome will always be the same.
These aspects are in no particular order.
Catch 22 is a very funny book. The Gita isn’t. There are about as many jokes in the Gita as there are in most of the scriptures. Not many people wet themselves laughing reading the Koran, Buddha was hardly the Ken Dodd of his day, and only the most perspicacious scholar of Aramaic can find the subtle political satire hidden in the Sermon on the Mount. Those of you with agnostic proclivities will probably say that this is evidence of God lacking a sense of humour. This may be the case, but I would suggest that the scribes who compiled these great works were rather in awe of the Creator’s wit, and decided to leave the funny bits to him. After all would you take on the maker of Princess Anne, the pomegranate and the human penis in a competition to determine who was the wackiest?
2) Resolution of the conflict.
The Gita wins hands down on this one. Yossarian never manages to outwit all of the people who try to kill him, even though he survives, whereas Arjuna is given very explicit instructions about the nature of human existence and the path to impartiality and liberation. Unfortunately, over the years, this advice has been mucked about with and a few religious loonies have stuck their oar in and thrown in the usual crap that comes with religion, about duty and being aware of one’s station. You just have to sift through the dross to find the jewels.
3) Historical accuracy.
There was a 2nd world war, and part of it did take place in Italy, although the characters are entirely fictional.
There may have been a battle at Kurukshetra, and Krishna and Arjuna may have been there, but there is no independent corroboration of this.
There are certainly more of them in Catch 22, and many are described in such detail that the reader feels that he knows them very well, this is even true of some of the characters who only get a few lines of description. The author even goes so far as to tell us that Major Major looks like Henry Fonda.
I have not read the rest of the Mahabharata, and some scholars suggest that the Gita is a later addition to this work by a different author, but in the Gita we learn little about Arjuna other than his general mental malaise. Similarly, we can only make deductions about Krishna, but it is very difficult to argue that the text leads us to accept that this is God in human form. Thus I think that he pretty much outranks the myriad of personalities in Catch 22, even if they are all added together, and few would be able to convince me that he is not more interesting.
So, there we have it. A victory for the Gita, Unless you prefer a good laugh to enlightenment. Whichever you choose, and I will certainly not judge you on your choice, I suggest you give them both a try. Certainly read them before you read this tripe.