Melville on Religion

“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 in to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.

And just so I now did with Queequueg.  “Queequeg,” said I, “get into bed now, and lie and listen to me.”  I then went on, beginning with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various religions of the present time, during which I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense.  I told him, too, that he being in other things an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his.  Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved.  This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters.  In one word, Queeqeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpuated through the hereditary dyspesias nurtured by Ramadans.

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.

Moby Dick, chapter 17. “The Ramadan”

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