Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February 27: Senseless and Insane, Being a Good Person, Action

I wonder, thought I, if this can possibly be a part of his Ramadan; do they fast on their hams that way in his native land. It must be so; yes, it's a part of his creed, I suppose; well, then, let him rest; he'll get up sooner or later, no doubt. It can't last for ever, thank God, and his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very punctual then.
I went down to supper. After sitting a long time listening to the long stories of some sailors who had just come from a plum-pudding voyage, as they called it (that is, a short whaling-voyage in a schooner or brig, confined to the north of the line, in the Atlantic Ocean only); after listening to these plum-puddingers till nearly eleven o'clock, I went up stairs to go to bed, feeling quite sure by this time Queequeg must certainly have brought his Ramadan to a termination. But no; there he was just where I had left him; he had not stirred an inch. I began to grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright senseless and insane to be sitting there all day and half the night on his hams in a cold room, holding a piece of wood on his head.
"For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." But not a word did he reply.
Despairing of him, therefore, I determined to go to bed and to sleep; and no doubt, before a great while, he would follow me. But previous to turning in, I took my heavy bearskin jacket, and threw it over him, as it promised to be a very cold night; and he had nothing but his ordinary round jacket on. For some time, do all I would, I could not get into the faintest doze. I had blown out the candle; and the mere thought of Queequeg- not four feet off- sitting there in that uneasy position, stark alone in the cold and dark; this made me really wretched. Think of it; sleeping all night in the same room with a wide awake pagan on his hams in this dreary, unaccountable Ramadan!
But somehow I dropped off at last, and knew nothing more till break of day; when, looking over the bedside, there squatted Queequeg, as if he had been screwed down to the floor. But as soon as the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got, with stiff grating joints, but with a cheerful look; limped towards me where I lay; pressed his forehead again against mine; and said his Ramadan was over.
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 inn 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 Queequeg. "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 time I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark 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 such 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, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.
I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great feast given by his father the king on the gaining of a great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening.
"No more, Queequeg," said I, shuddering; "that will do;" for I knew the inferences without his further hinting them. I had seen a sailor who had visited that very island, and he told me that it was the custom, when a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the slain in the yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they were placed in great wooden trenchers, and garnished round like a pilau, with breadfruit and cocoanuts; and with some parsley in their mouths, were sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just as though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys.
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.
At last we rose and dressed; and Queequeg, taking a prodigiously hearty breakfast of chowders of all sorts, so that the landlady should not make much profit by reason of his Ramadan, we sallied out to board the Pequod, sauntering along, and picking our teeth with halibut bones.

I think Queequeg is probably the most sensible person in Moby-Dick.  He knows who he is.  He's comfortable with his beliefs and doesn't really care about other people's opinions, including his newly-found best friend, Ishmael, who claims to care not one bit what religion a person practices.  Yet, Ishmael tries to evangelize Queequeg because of his pagan friend's Ramadan.  Of course, Ishmael's reasoned arguments fall on deaf ears, because Queequeg has no interest in being anything but himself.  Queequeg the pagan and cannibal and harpooner and friend.  For me, that makes him a pretty honorable man.

I have met very few persons in my lifetime who are as comfortable with themselves as Queequeg.  I think it has much to do with strong self-esteem (which I, for the most part, lack) and a clear faith in something (be it science or religion or philosophy or ice cream).  Those two qualities provide a solid sense of self and the universe.

While I am Christian, some of my best friends are atheists or agnostics.  Those friends practice a certain kind of faith.  They believe in helping the poor, feeding the hungry, protecting the vulnerable.  In short, they are highly moral and ethical.  Truth be told, they are probably more spiritual, in their own ways, than a lot of lifelong Christians whom I know.

These so-called Christians harbor beliefs that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  They're anti-immigrant.  Anti-Muslim.  Pro-gun.  Pro-capital punishment.  They want to end welfare and healthcare for the poor.  They somehow believe that the wealthy give a damn about what happens to the underemployed and unemployed.

I'm not going to name names here.  Point fingers.  That's not what this post is about.  This post is about accepting people for who they are.  Queequeg accepts Ishmael and his beliefs without question.  Ishmael, the more "civilized" of the pair, can't seem to extend the same courtesy to his companion because Queequeg's practices are so other to him.

In my experience, trying to talk to somebody about religion is about as effective as telling a starving person he should eat more and then not providing any food.  It doesn't work.  A good person is good because s/he does good things.  That's pretty much the basis for most world religions.  It's not the talk.  It's the practice.

I try to be a good Christian.  Put my faith into action.  I'm certainly no Billy Graham.  Yet, in my own small ways, I try to make a difference in the world.  It's not hard to be kind.  It simply requires an open heart and an open mind.  Sometimes an open wallet, too.  I don't always succeed in following in the footsteps of Christ, but I haven't yet given up trying.  It's not about perfection.

It's about sharing your last handful of M&Ms with a friend.  Buying a burger and fries for a homeless person begging outside of Walmart.  Loving a stranger, no matter the color of her skin or the God he worships.  Accepting Trump supporters, regardless of how stupid, prejudiced, or blind they seem.

That's the sign of a truly good person.

Saint Marty ain't there yet.

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