A shocking incident happens near the end of the book Moby Dick when the Pequod meets another vessel, the Rachel, in the middle of the Pacific. The Captain of the Rachel comes onto the Pequod. Ahab, as always obsessed with the White Whale can think of nothing else and asks the other captain immediately if he has seen the White Whale. When the captain said he did, Ahab had to “throttle his joy” as that captain asked if Ahab had seen a whale-boat adrift. Ahab did not want to hear the story of the whale boat, he was intent on moving as soon as possible to pursue the white whale. But the captain begs captain Ahab for help.
It turns out that the Rachel had seen the White Whale and sent 4 whale boats in pursuit, like the 4 apostles. Unfortunately, 1 of those 4 whale boats was lost, like Pim had been lost and miraculously picked up. That lost whale boat held the captain’s 12-year old son. The same age as Jesus when he rose out of his childhood. The captain begged Ahab to join him in the search for the missing boat with his son. But Ahab “still stood like an anvil, receiving every shock, but without the least quivering of his own.” The story did not resonate with Ahab. Ahab felt no fellow feeling, no empathy. He was like an anvil.
As I have argued elsewhere in previous blogs, it is my belief that fellow feeling or empathy is the common core of all religion. Nothing else matters. With it you have religion. Without it you have nothing. And Ahab had nothing. The Rachel’s captain knows that Ahab has a young son too. He should feel fellow feeling. The captain of the Rachel begs captain Ahab: “Do to me as you would have me do to you in the like case.” He echoed the words of Christ—exactly the words that I assert are the core of all major religions. But Ahab demonstrated clearly, this core was missing in him. He was just an anvil. Ahab replies, “may I forgive myself, but I must go.” Ahab is too obsessed to give any time at all to the Rachel’s plight. He is prepared to let a 12-year old child die rather than take a little time in a 4 year voyage to help someone out. He must go.
As the Rachel left, alone, “By her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that his ship so wept with spray; still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.” The symbol of Rachel weeping for her children is drawn directly from the book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible. A deep suggestion of human compassion, entirely missing in Ahab. Ahab has no religion!