Religion is a major point of reference for Ishmael. In New Bedford, before the voyage, he visits a “Whaleman’s Chapel” and hears a long and heated sermon, delivered by the stern Father Mapple, that centers on the story of Jonah and the whale. The sermon recounts Jonah’s futile attempt to flee God, and suggests that the harder Jonah tries to escape, the harsher becomes his punishment. Father Mapple emphasizes that, after being swallowed by the whale, Jonah does not pray for deliverance, but accepts his punishment. Only then does God relent and bring Jonah to safety. After being saved from the whale and the sea, Jonah goes on, in Father Mapple’s words, “[t]o preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood.” Jonah’s preaching parallels Ishmael’s eventual telling of his own whaling story, when he becomes (whether through luck, fate, or divine intervention) the lone survivor of the Pequod’s wreck.
Although heavy with references to the Bible and Christianity, the book does not espouse one religion, instead suggesting that goodness can be found in people of any faith. After striking up a friendship with Queequeg, Ishmael quickly becomes tolerant of his new friend’s religion, even going so far as to participate in Queequeg’s ritual homage to a carven idol—a practice explicitly forbidden by Christianity. Religious tolerance is also a notable part of life on board the ship, with so-called heathens and Christians working side by side.
Religion Quotes in Moby-Dick
Call me Ishmael.
The whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless procession of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
The pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt.
I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo’s judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god . . . .
Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation? . . . Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color . . . is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows . . . ?
All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.
O, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. . . . retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.
Oh, Life! Here I am, proud as a Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this block-head for a bone to stand on. Cursed be that mortal interindebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I’m down in the whole world’s books.
They asked him, then, whether to live or die was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. He answered, certainly. In a word, it was Queequeg’s conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort.
Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her tracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.