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Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel 
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Post Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0007

A rather sombre chapter, reminding us of the many men killed in whaling, including the whale boat of the Essex, dragged down to Davy Jones' Locker, and part of the inspiration for Moby Dick.

The line about those lost at sea - "What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave" - made me think of Osama Bin Laden, denied a grave that would become a shrine.

People have strange views about death. Melville observes "we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss"

And Adam, dead sixty centuries, is "in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance."

"Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs." The jackal Anubis is Egyptian God of embalmment. And yet, the jackal reminds us of the vulture, a disgusting animal scavenging among corpses.

Whaling is dangerous and deadly. "Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine."

"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."


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
The chapter and your comments sent me back to our long recent debate about certainty and faith. One point we missed was that faith does not at all give believers an easy composure about the afterlife. It's a struggle and strain to keep up the belief, and it threatens to desert them when someone close dies. Loss is too powerful to be covered by a myth of everlasting life that should supposedly overjoy us on behalf on the dead one. Deep down, I suspect there's a part that never believes, even in the most faithful.

Ishmael reveals himself as quite a spiritual sort at the end of the chapter. This is prelude to the sermon that Mapple will deliver in the next chapter. Will this be fire and brimstone or a Calvinist harangue, or something different?



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
I'm having a heck of a time trying to figure out what Melville is trying to say in this chapter. Our shadow is our true self?

"Methinks we have hugely mistaken his matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.



Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:44 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
I haven't sorted out this business with the 'stoves' and 'staves' or the perspective of the oysters. I just get the message that Ishmael is saying that the non-corporeal part of himself is the real part. Maybe it's true that Ishmael roughly voices Melville's own feelings. Melville is supposed by some to be something of a mystic.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
There are obscure chapters in Moby Dick, such as this one where Melville engages with the theology of his day. It is okay to skip through these sort of discussions if that is not your interest, as there are enough big themes in the main plot of Moby Dick without worrying about theology and philosophy. I think the point about the shadow is that religion says we will live eternally with Christ, so our mortal coil is just a short preparation for the blissful reality of heaven.

As DWill pointed out, the discussion on faith picks up on some points about philosophy. People say someone has 'gone to a better place' as a way of dealing with the emotional pain of grief and loss. In reality they don't mean it, they just use such statements as a comforting form of language. This is a good example of how faith language uses poetry that gradually solidifies in the minds of believers. Melville is pointing out that people really know this life is the only real one, and are just engaging in imaginative fantasy when they talk about life after death.

Death was far closer to people in the 1800s. There were no antibiotics or anaesthetics, and many problems that are now curable were deadly. So language about heaven and afterlife was far more present. (Two centuries ago the average life expectancy was less than forrty, largely due to high infant mortality.)

Whalers and soldires took risks that people would not dream of today. A stove boat, rammed by a whale, meant death by drowning. Many sailors could not swim.

The oyster line is another reference to Paul's line 'through a glass darkly. An oyster sees the sun through the ocean water. We imagine we see the sun clearly, but our vision is not necessarily much clearer than an oysters'.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Off topic a bit, but today we're also likely not to see any heroism in the whaling profession, not to be affected by the bravery of men going up against the mighty whale. They could have just let the whales alone and saved their skins at the same time. But this of course is revisionist. In the context of the history of commerce and technology, whaling had to happen, I suppose.

I once saw a segment of 60 Minutes about brave Spanish matadors. I wanted to puke because they clearly deserved every injury they received, and none are heroes.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Using these chapter threads as prompts for associated questions is fine. In this case the question of heroism in whaling is something that I think is there as an ambiguous point in Moby Dick, with the sense that the dignity of the whale and the tawdriness of boiling down such a magnificent animal for candles illustrates an industrial utility which is far from heroic. Melville is suggesting an environmental awareness, that even animals have rights and do not deserve to be treated as soulless brutes.

Was whaling inevitable? There seems to be a tendency in history that if people can do something they will try it, until it produces a reaction that makes them stop. Christianity had not provided any sense of the sanctity of nature, quite the reverse in fact, and this alienated morality allowed the rampant destruction of the new world, extending to the far oceans, as part of European colonization of the world.

There is no more heroism in the genocide of the whale than in the genocide of the Plains Indians. Both arise from the same twisted ethical vision of racial superiority. Here in the chapel the widows mourn the murderers who died in the course of following orders. If this chapel was dedicated to Nazis who were hanged after the Nuremberg trials we would experience much stronger disassociation, but that sense of uncertainty if dead whalers should be mourned is there in the background.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Robert Tulip wrote:
Using these chapter threads as prompts for associated questions is fine. In this case the question of heroism in whaling is something that I think is there as an ambiguous point in Moby Dick, with the sense that the dignity of the whale and the tawdriness of boiling down such a magnificent animal for candles illustrates an industrial utility which is far from heroic. Melville is suggesting an environmental awareness, that even animals have rights and do not deserve to be treated as soulless brutes.

Was whaling inevitable? There seems to be a tendency in history that if people can do something they will try it, until it produces a reaction that makes them stop. Christianity had not provided any sense of the sanctity of nature, quite the reverse in fact, and this alienated morality allowed the rampant destruction of the new world, extending to the far oceans, as part of European colonization of the world.

There is no more heroism in the genocide of the whale than in the genocide of the Plains Indians. Both arise from the same twisted ethical vision of racial superiority. Here in the chapel the widows mourn the murderers who died in the course of following orders. If this chapel was dedicated to Nazis who were hanged after the Nuremberg trials we would experience much stronger disassociation, but that sense of uncertainty if dead whalers should be mourned is there in the background.

I'll have to hold back my opinion on Melville's environmental awareness or sympathy for his fellow mammals, the whales. I recall in the chapters on whaling that Melville is spectacularly wrong on the question of whether men can seriously deplete the whale population (he says we can't). That would seem to indicate his sanguineness about the whole enterprise of whaling.

I just wonder, in stacking Christianity against other religions or ideologies, whether Christianity can be said to have caused either more destruction of the environment or more destruction of indigenous peoples. If the record of the others is piss-poor, too--a case that could be made--how is Christianity the bad guy?



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Using the nineteenth century methods of sail and wooden boats, whaling was probably sustainable. It was only when modern technology in the twentieth century brought diesel engines, metal factory ships and exploding harpoons that whaling turned into an unsustainable industrial monster.

Christianity is the religion of industrial civilization. Together with its much smaller sibling Judaism, Christianity is the only religion that has aggressively promoted doctrines such as dominion, young earth creation and rapture that together justify the destruction of the earth. Other religions have a deep sense of reverence for nature, whereas Christianity introduced the alienated theory of supernaturalism, grounded in the idea that man has fallen from grace into corruption, and the weird idea that we are saved by spouting orthodoxy, that has been used to justify the wholesale destruction of the earth.

Franciscan ecology and the surprising comment in Revelation 11 that the wrath of God is directed against those who destroy the earth provide a countervailing element within Christianity, but one that is ignored by the rampant evil of dominionism. Christian destruction of nature is orders of magnitude greater than that of any other religion, because Christianity is based on flicking the depraved moral switch of regarding nature as having no moral status. Indigenous spirituality regards the Christian redskins from Europe as morally degenerate.

The two great threats to our planet, global warming and nuclear bombs, are primarily promoted by Christian civilizations. Just look at the Republican Party in the USA.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Good point about the sustainability of whaling. Melville probably couldn't have predicted the increases in efficiency.

About the anti-nature part of Christianity, just saying--the proof is in the pudding. Whatever reverence for nature we might detect in other religious traditions or political ideologies, how has that caused them to take a different path? Can we point to Russia or China as counter-examples? No. But we can point to certain small nations in northern Europe with Christian heritage. So I think this sin of Christianity's might be more "on paper" than a reality.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
I stopped reading Moby Dick for a bit. Think I will read a couple chapters over my days off. Haven't really sunk my heart into it. I find the writing a struggle. Too many words. Guess I didn't know what to expect. I was sorta hoping it would be an Old Man And The Sea sorta thing.

Was not expecting this comment Robert......


Robert Tulip wrote:
The two great threats to our planet, global warming and nuclear bombs, are primarily promoted by Christian civilizations. Just look at the Republican Party in the USA.


What's up with the blame game? Man kind is what it is.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Damafino wrote:
Man kind is what it is.

Some chapters in Moby Dick are rivetting, and others are hard to read. I would recommend skipping a chapter if you find it dull. That is fairly easy since there are many digressions, such as the explanation of the different species of whale.

Melville is very critical of Christianity. A background theme in Moby Dick is Melville's critique of the assumption that western civilization is superior to primitive savagery in every respect. Melville's depiction of the humanity of Queequeq would be very confronting for those raised with strongly racist prejudices. Part of his aim in the book is to promote more humanity among those who are in a dominant position. I think there are also hints of an ecological awareness, but that is less clear.

This recognition of human similarities and differences raises a serious problem of how we assess the merits of different cultures. Just saying everyone is equally responsible for the problems of the world may seem politically correct, but it ignores reality. Some people are more responsible than others. For example, the USA is estimated to have 8613 nuclear bombs (source), while Chad has none. The USA emits about 17.5 tons of CO2 per person every year, while Chad emits about zero (source).

My personal view is that the most advanced countries have got the world into quite a dangerous situation, and bear the main responsibility for solving global problems, through a clear eyed discussion of responsibilities. That may drift the discussion a bit away from Moby Dick, but I think it remains relevant in the sense that Melville is describing the first global industrial enterprise, so we should look at how global industry has grown beyond what he could imagine, and how it has some continuity with what he describes.

Your comment that mankind is to blame reminds me of a comment from the philosopher GWF Hegel, that everyone is equal just as in the night all cows are equally black. Things only seem the same when they are not carefully analyzed.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
I agree with you both. Some groups are more blameworthy than others for specific wrongs, but in general it's not feasible to assign this blame based on some attribute you perceive. It would be a form of the genetic fallacy (ant's favorite) to claim that nuclear weapons or global warming-denial proceed from Christianity. How to then explain the existence of both in non-Christian countries? Not to mention, if you blame Christianity for nuclear weapons, you'd then have to credit it for modern science--can't have it both ways.

But getting back to the book, some authors clearly are in the social criticism mode, such as Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser. Is Melville also aiming at social criticism? I see some statements of humanism, such as defending Quegeeg as just as worthy of regard an any other person, but so far that's all I see. We'll get further into this matter of religion, I'm sure, but even if Melville was to criticize certain Christians or their actions, that would not amount to a criticism of Christianity.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
The line so far in Moby Dick that I thought was most cutting about Christianity was at the end of Chapter Two, where Melville suggests a modern Dives - the rich man who the Bible says will go to hell - would be president of a temperance society, where he "only drinks the tepid tears of orphans."

The implication for Melville's view of Christianity is that the religious teetotallers present a surface show of moralism while their actual conduct is indifferent to suffering, that Christians are hypocrites. Melville completely inverts conventional Christian images of who is good and who is evil, by suggesting the puritanical whalers - with the Quaker link to temperance well understood - are akin to Dives. Perhaps that leaves the whale anthropomorphised as poor Lazarus, who "lies stranded on the curbstone" warming his hands before the laughing cold of the aurora. This use of the term 'stranded' for Lazarus does bring the whale to mind, since stranding is a common occurrence for whales, not for humans.

The process of collecting tepid tears, quite a poetic image, rivals the difficulty of the harpooning and try works used to collect money from the blubber of the whale.

We are steadily on the march towards the dock, where the good Christian Puritan joint stock owners of the Pequod come in for some further description.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 7 The Chapel
Melville reflects and extends the same moral point the Bible made with the story of Lazarus and Dives, so his use of it seems anything but anti-Christian to me. Anyway, Melville's criticism of religion could easily be seen as standing up for a true form he believes is being abused. It's like criticizing country; it doesn't mean, except to bigoted people, that one is condemning what the country stands for.



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