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In the first place, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists. If you want to know the truth, I can't even stand ministers. The ones they've had at every school I've gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don't see why the hell they can't talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk. (14.2)
Holden can't distinguish spirituality from organized religion just as he can't distinguish knowledge from formal education. Since he doesn't like sermons, he's an atheist. Since he doesn't like Oral Expression classes, he isn't into learning.
The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history and American government. Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English. Books not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them. Take old Eustacia Vye, in The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. She wasn't too sexy or anything, but even so you can't help wondering what a nun maybe thinks about when she reads about old Eustacia. I didn't say anything, though, naturally. All I said was English was my best subject.
"Oh, Romeo and Juliet! Lovely! Didn't you just love it?" She certainly didn't sound much like a nun.
"What didn't you like about it? Can you remember?" To tell you the truth, it was sort of embarrassing, in a way, to be talking about Romeo and Juliet with her. I mean that play gets pretty sexy in some parts, and she was a nun and all, but she asked me, so I discussed it with her for a while. (15.18-24)
We keep talking about how Holden sees people – not people's professions – yet here he has trouble getting past the fact that this woman is a nun. Why is it that he can immediately see Sunny as more than a prostitute, but has trouble seeing this woman as more than a nun?
I said I'd enjoyed talking to them a lot, too. I meant it, too. I'd have enjoyed it even more though, I think, if I hadn't been sort of afraid, the whole time I was talking to them, that they'd all of a sudden try to find out if I was a Catholic. Catholics are always trying to find out if you're a Catholic. […] I knew this one Catholic boy, Louis Shaney, when I was at the Whooton School. […] Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he asked me, "Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?" The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would've enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all. That kind of stuff drives me crazy. I'm not saying it ruined our conversation or anything – it didn't – but it sure as hell didn't do it any good. That's why I was glad those two nuns didn't ask me if I was a Catholic. It wouldn't have spoiled the conversation if they had, but it would've been different, probably. I'm not saying I blame Catholics. I don't. I'd be the same way, probably, if I was a Catholic. It's just like those suitcases I was telling you about, in a way. All I'm saying is that it's no good for a nice conversation. That's all I'm saying. (15.29)
We're a little bit in love with the comparison of the Catholic stuff to the suitcase business from a few paragraphs earlier. First of all, it's some structural brilliance, as Salinger ties together two otherwise distinct portions of the chapter. Second of all, it's some major insight into how Holden views religion. It creates barriers, he argues, in the same way that class differences can create barriers. This starts to explain why Holden perhaps resents the concept of religion (and maybe class as well); he's searching for personal connections, and these categories are "no good for a nice conversation."