by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"I don’t know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his meeting," said I; "all I know is, that Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is."
"Young man," said Bildad sternly, "thou art skylarking with me – explain thyself, thou young Hittite. What church dost thee mean? answer me."
Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied, "I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother’s son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in THAT we all join hands." (18.10-12)
Partly, this quote is just funny, because Ishmael is showing how he can use dubious logic in order to get around Captain Bildad’s religious scruples. But there’s also a little home truth here: to Ishmael, the bond of our common humanity is more important than going to exactly the same place together one day a week.
That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality! (26.5)
Although Ishmael is often sarcastic or impious about religion, he also has moments in which he seems to feel the transcendent power of God. At this moment, he taps into that feeling of divinity in order to explain that tragedy and democracy aren’t incompatible—an important point for an American author of a tragic novel!
[I]t cannot be much matter of surprise that some whalemen should go still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed; or if indeed he should ever be made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues away, his unsullied jet would once more be seen. (41.13)
Even though the description of Moby Dick as immortal and omnipresent is given as a summary of different sailors’ superstitions, it highlights how easy it can be to read the White Whale as an allegorical stand-in for God.