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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Religion Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

But somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems – aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling – a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot. (7.7)

Very early in Moby-Dick, Ishmael calls our attention to two very different kinds of peril: dangers to the body and dangers to the soul. He thinks that risking his life on a whaling voyage is okay because even if something destroys his ship, it can’t destroy his immortal soul. Seems like we’re being set up here for someone or something else in the novel to say, "Oh yeah? That’s what you think."

Quote #2

"But WHAT is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God – never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed – which he found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do – remember that – and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists." (9.6)

Father Mapple reminds the reader of a seldom-remembered fact about the Biblical prophet Jonah. Jonah gets swallowed by the whale not just for his sins, but specifically because he refused to do God’s bidding. Father Mapple reminds us that obeying God isn’t just difficult; sometimes it will actually rub us the wrong way. We’ll have to be on the lookout in this novel for someone who chooses to obey himself instead of God...

Quote #3

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? – to do the will of God – that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. (10.9)

It’s hard to say whether Ishmael’s reasoning here is laughable or laudable. His open-mindedness is great, but he reasons himself around to doing something that’s specifically prohibited in his religion. And he does it in just a paragraph or so. This may be taking religious tolerance to an absurd extreme— but it might also be an example of how every religion gets the job done in the end.

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