by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name.
I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan; – but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending. (17.1-2)
Here, Ishmael’s attitude toward religious observances once again presents a problem. On the one hand, Ishmael seems aware of the limitations of all types of fanaticism when he says "we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head."
He’s also strikingly modern when he suggests that all religions should be respected. And yet, the fact that he still refers to "pagans and what not" as "half-crazy" shows that he can’t quite kick his prejudices. The fact that he’s as willing to respect the beliefs of ants as he is of other people is a little bit insulting to other people.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him. (17.25)
Ishmael’s willing to go along with any reasonable behavior based on a faith—as long as it doesn’t become inconvenient or uncomfortable. Faithful people probably think he’s missing the point.
After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion made much impression upon Queequeg. Because, in the first place, he somehow seemed dull of hearing on that important subject, unless considered from his own point of view; and, in the second place, he did not more than one third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would; and, finally, he no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did. He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety. (17.29)
Turning the missionary dynamic around and making the pagan tribesman into the one frustrated because the other guy doesn’t understand his religious customs makes us see proselytizing in a whole new way.