The Catcher in the Rye

by: J. D. Salinger

Religion

1

He told us we should always pray to God—talk to Him and all—wherever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all.

This passage, which contains the first reference to religion in the novel, occurs in Chapter 3. Holden is remembering when “ole Ossenburger,” the rich Pencey alum after whom Holden’s dormitory is named, came to address the school during chapel. Ossenburger’s words introduce the idea of having an intimate and personal relationship with God and Jesus outside the institution of the church. Throughout the novel, despite resisting the church and its ideology, Holden still yearns for a relationship with God, and particularly with Jesus. The final sentence of the second to last chapter, “God, I wish you could’ve been there,” can be read as Holden directly addressing God, expressing his desire for God’s presence in his life.

2

If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones.

This quotation occurs in Chapter 14, after Sunny leaves Holden’s hotel room. Holden wants to pray but “couldn’t do it,” so he ends up thinking about the Bible instead. By “that lunatic,” Holden refers to a man Jesus meets in Mark 5: 1–20. Although people tried to restrain the man in chains, he broke free. Only Jesus was able to cure the lunatic of his madness. Holden, who is also a self-destructive outcast, clearly identifies with the lunatic. Like this man from the Bible, Holden has broken free of society’s chains and now feels the need to be saved.

3

Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re Catholic.

Holden makes this generalization in Chapter 15, just after parting ways with the nuns he meets over breakfast. This comment once again exhibits Holden’s bias against organized religion, and in particular this quote reveals his discomfort with being categorized according to faith. Classification on the basis of religion, much like other forms of social categorization (e.g., race, class), is another form of phoniness to Holden. Importantly, Holden’s comment also proves ironic here, since the nuns did not, in fact, ask him about his religious affiliation. He is just as guilty of generalizing Catholics as the Catholics he perceives generalizing about others.

4

I said old Jesus probably would’ve puked if He could see it—all those fancy costumes and all.

In this quotation from Chapter 18, Holden recalls watching the Christmas Show at Radio City with “old Sally Hayes” the year before. Sally kept saying how beautiful the show was, which provoked this comment from Holden. Holden’s assertion that Jesus “would’ve puked” at the sight of the “fancy costumes and all” indicates that he associates Jesus with a lack of pretension and affectation; in other words, Jesus was not a phony. Even though Holden has nothing but distaste for the Church and for the commercialization of the Christmas holiday, he retains his respect for Jesus.