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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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What is Holden's attitude toward religion in The Catcher in the Rye?

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After Holden's prostitute leaves him in chapter 14, he is alone in his hotel room getting ready for bed. He suddenly gets the urge to pray and says the following:

"I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn't do it. I can't always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible" (99).

One can infer that Holden has had some religious influence in his life if he feels like praying; but, it must not have been habitual growing up because he doesn't say that religion is a big part of his family's life. In fact, his parents are different religions and he claims all of their children are atheists.

It's funny, though, where Holden's thoughts take him after feeling the urge to pray. He thinks about the "Disciples" and how much they annoy him. He likes Jesus, but he thinks that the twelve apostles let him down during his lifetime. He says, "they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head" (99). He does like a lunatic who lived in some tombs and was cutting himself, which is interesting. Holden likes the lunatic more than the apostles.

Then Holden discusses a religious boy he knew at the Whooton School named Arthur Childs. Arthur tells Holden that he should like the "Disciples" because Jesus chose them to represent him after he left. Next, their conversation turns to talking about Judas betraying Jesus. Arthur says Judas is surely going to Hell, but Holden says that Jesus would forgive him. Arthur tells him that his problem is that he doesn't go to church, which he concedes is true. Therefore, Holden seems to be spiritual in a sense because he believes Jesus would forgive Judas. However, he doesn't go to church, he doesn't like ministers, and he feels he is atheist--and yet, he feels the urge to pray.

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Holden lives constantly in the past. He seems to think that things were easier in the past, and he just can't face the present or the future. In chapter 14, Holden is depressed again. He is thinking of his younger brother, Allie, who had died of leukemia years ago. He admits to talking to Allie now and idolizes his lost brother. He says he sees himself as an atheist, but admits to liking Jesus. He says he doesn't like the other people in the bible, but he likes Jesus. He talks about how the world is not pure anymore, and this goes to show that he has form of knowledge of bible teaching.

Throughout the entire novel, we see Holden spiral out of reality. He struggles to stay focused on the present. He flunks out of school. He just kind of wonders through life aimlessly. He lives constantly in the past. He can't face the future. He doesn't have the...

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ability to face he responsibilities. Holden questions everything. He questions people and their actions. He doesn't trust anyone. He questions religion. He admits to liking Jesus, but also claims to be an atheist. Nothing in Holden's life is making any sense to him. I think he is angry at God for the death of Allie. It seems his life just kind of stopped when his brother died. 

It is clear that Holden is struggling with some kind of mental disorder. He just wanders throughout life at the moment. He knows deep down, that something is wrong with him, but he is unwilling to get any help. The sadness that Holden faces, is a true disorder, and only with the help of other people can he truly embrace his future with hope.

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Holden talks about his views toward religion in Chapter 14. He says that he feels like praying, but cannot because he can never pray when he feels like it. He also claims that he is "sort of an atheist," but as he continues, it does not seem that he really is an atheist. He has knowledge of the Bible, believes in Jesus, and even admires him, despite what Holden views as flawed disciples. Holden even seems to identify with Jesus, as someone who would "puke" if he saw the phoniness of people, like those wearing costumes and singing at Radio City.

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In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what is Holden’s attitude toward religion?

Holden is a self-proclaimed atheist. In fact, he claims that he and all of his siblings are atheists. He also notes that his parents are of different religions, but he doesn't say which ones. It is interesting, though, that an atheist would feel inclined to pray or even have an opinion on the life of Jesus Christ. However, Holden does feel like praying after the prostitute leaves his room in chapter 14 and he also shares his opinion of Christ. 

After the prostitute leaves Holden's hotel room, he gets himself ready for bed and his thoughts reach back to memories of his dead brother Allie. Thinking about Allie may have prompted to feel like praying, as discussed in the following passage:

"I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn't do it. I can't always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible" (99).

Thinking about the Bible then prompts Holden to think about his opinion about the Disciples, too. As stated above, Holden likes Jesus, but he says the following about the Disciples and the Bible:

"Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. 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" (99).

From this passage, the reader can infer that Holden has at least read the New Testament of the Bible because he reflects on events that happen during Christ's life and after his crucifixion when his followers take over leading his church. Holden is well read for his age, so it would make sense that he might have read the Bible for literary purposes rather than for religious ones, but these facts are not mentioned. Since Holden identifies with atheism, it is also questionable as to why he would feel like praying when his family is also not very religious. It can be inferred that maybe Holden feels scared and lonely like a little child at this point in his adventure and he unexpectedly feels the urge to pray. 

In chapter 15, Holden meets a couple of nuns who are also teachers. He likes talking to the one who teaches English about certain books or plays. He even gives her a ten dollar donation because he has such a good time with her, but he doesn't care much for Catholics, either, which he elaborates on as well. Other than that, Holden doesn't discuss any other religions or feelings towards them. This suggests that Holden probably doesn't know much about Islam, Hinduism, or any other world religion either. And what he does know about Christianity is limited; therefore, his attitude towards religion is limited and he must not think much of it because he also claims he is an atheist.

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Is Holden religious in The Catcher in the Rye?

One could argue that Holden Caulfield is not a religious individual and does not subscribe to popular Christian doctrine. At the beginning of the story, Holden offends Ackley by making rude comments about the Catholic religion and saying that he would probably join the wrong monastery—where the monks are a bunch of "stupid bastards."

Holden proceeds to use the Lord's name in vain continually and does not share the same perspective as many Catholics. Holden criticizes the Disciples and says that they were as much help to Jesus as a "hole in the head." Holden does not regularly attend church and views the ministers as phony individuals. He says:

If you want to know the truth, I can't even stand ministers. The ones they've had at every school I've gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don't see why the hell they can't talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk. (Salinger 54)

Holden is an extremely critical and jaded adolescent who rebels against popular culture and religion. While Holden's personal views regarding Jesus indicate that he genuinely understands Him, he does not subscribe to the Christian doctrine or regularly attend church. Holden is appalled by self-righteous people and does not take the Christian religious seriously.

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