The renowned American novelist Herman Melville is best known for literary classics like Moby Dick. Yet throughout his life, Melville privately wrestled with profound questions of faith, belief and doubt.
As his friend and contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne observed, Melville relentlessly grappled with matters of “Providence and futurity” that extend beyond human understanding. Melville doubted divine providence, frankly acknowledging to Hawthorne that he “had ‘pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated’” upon death.
Yet Melville found little comfort in this bleak prospect. As Hawthorne noted, Melville “does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief.” Melville was too philosophically honest and courageous to simply accept agnosticism. His inquisitive mind could not stop searching for definitive answers, however elusive.
This struggle between belief and doubt, faith and reason, became a running theme in Melville’s writing. In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab wrestles with forces larger than himself, raging against the limitations of human knowledge and perception. Like his creator, Ahab is unable to find peace in resigned agnosticism.
Over a century later, Melville’s restless struggle still resonates. The human impulse to understand the unfathomable mysteries of our existence persists. Between confident faith and resigned disbelief lies a vast ocean calling for exploration. Melville invites us to embrace that journey with courage and honesty. Though certainty may remain elusive, the quest itself gives light.
“Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had ‘pretty much made up his mind to be aimihilated’ ; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists — ^and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before — ^in wandering to-and-fro over these deserts . . . He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief ; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.”https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.187055/2015.187055.Journal-Of-A-Visit-To-Europe-And-The-Levant-1856–1857_djvu.txt