Twain on Christianity

Mark Twain was one of America’s greatest writers, both as a novelist and an essayist, I say with a good deal of understatement. Andrew Sullivan quotes a section from Autobiography Of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 that offers a scathing assessment of the belief system of Christianity.

We deal in a curious and laughable confusion of notions concerning God. We divide Him in two, bring half of Him down to an obscure and infinitesimal corner of the world to confer salvation upon a little colony of Jews—and only Jews, no one else—and leave the other half of Him throned in heaven and looking down and eagerly and anxiously watching for results. We reverently study the history of the earthly half, and deduce from it the conviction that the earthly half has reformed, is equipped with morals and virtues, and in no way resembles the abandoned, malignant half that abides upon the throne. We conceive that the earthly half is just, merciful, charitable, benevolent, forgiving, and full of sympathy for the sufferings of mankind and anxious to remove them.

Apparently we deduce this character not by examining facts, but by diligently declining to search them, measure them, and weigh them. The earthly half requires us to be merciful, and sets us an example by inventing a lake of fire and brimstone in which all of us who fail to recognize and worship Him as God are to be burned through all eternity. And not only we, who are offered these terms, are to be thus burned if we neglect them, but also the earlier billions of human beings are to suffer this awful fate, although they all lived and died without ever having heard of Him or the terms at all. This exhibition of mercifulness may be called gorgeous. We have nothing approaching it among human savages, nor among the wild beasts of the jungle.

That is the thing that, more than anything else, prompted me to leave Christianity behind. The more I read the Bible, the more obvious it was that the constant talk of God as a loving, merciful being was false. When Thomas Jefferson called this conception of God “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust” he was exactly right. A being that drowns the entire world and threatens to burn the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived in hell for eternity for the “crime” of not sufficiently worshiping him is not loving and merciful, it is unimaginably cruel and barbaric.

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  • Damn, but Twain could write.

  • Anyone who hasn’t read Twain’s “Extract from Capt Stormfield’s visit to heaven” – it’s the same kind of wicked hatchet-job Twain performed on arthurian legends and Fenimore Cooper, applied to the christian idea of the afterlife.

    And thanks to the wonderful internet, you can get it free from Project Gutenberg:

  • By the way – this is slightly irrelevant and off topic, but I feel I must mention it – 1st editions of Twain are fairly easy to find on Ebay, at surprisingly reasonable prices. If you ever want to make someone you love sob uncontrollably, I highly recommend giving them a 1st edition of Eve’s Diary by Twain. That’s the edition with the beautiful illustrations that got it burned by christians because the illustrator didn’t hide Eve’s breasts behind her hair (which, if you think about it, is irony compounded!) …

  • Oh, and the better biography of Twain to read is his own “burlesque biography” – best read aloud by a slightly tipsy professor:

  • I’ll shut up now.

    I’m quite the Twain fanboy. Did you notice? I bet you did!

  • sinned34

    I’m sorry Marcus, I’m not quite clear about what you’re talking about. Something about TWAIN drivers for flatbed scanners? Are you having computer problems? Happens all the time. Ask Jason Thibeault about Linux, he’ll love you for it.

  • tubi

    Damn, but Twain could write.

    This. For anyone who aspires to write anything that others might want to read, it is both exhilarating and maddening to read Twain.

  • sbh

    The Mark Twain Project has made the second volume of his autobiography available online at;style=work;brand=mtp.

  • I recently finished “The Innocents Abroad” and except for the modes of conveyance and communications cited it could have happened in a much more recent time.

    I’m currently reading “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley (“Flags of our Fathers”). It’s sobering.

  • How can anyone talk about Twain on Christianity and not mention Letters from The Earth? If you’re an USAian, and haven’t read it, you’ve been culturally deprived. If you’re from somewhere else, and haven’t read it, you’re missing one of the best written take-downs of religion since… well, forever.

  • Michael Heath

    Hell-believing Christians still don’t have a response to Clemens/Twain’s point about the evil of inflicting suffering on others for eternity. Nor have met even one Hell-believing Christian who has confronted their celebration of such evil. This avoid/deny behavior is just like they do on so many other topics that reveals the foundation of their beliefs is, “built on sand” to use one of their own metaphors. Still, I think this one’s the clincher when it comes to validating their their hypocrisy and the illogic of their dogma.

  • Given the things we’ve learned about the Universe since he died I’m sure Twain would be appalled that people still believe the same crap they did when he was around, even though they have even less reason to do so.

  • brucecoppola

    #10: Ah, Letters from the Earth. Somehow I got my hands on it in middle school (or maybe 1st year in high school) and, along with A Modest Proposal it was one of the most wickedly funny things I’d read. I was gently but firmly dissuaded from sharing it with my peers during our usual read-aloud time in English class.

    I think I’ve told this story on FtB before. Hey, I’m old. Deal.

  • “I think I’ve told this story on FtB before. Hey, I’m old. Deal.”

    That’s okay. I’m pretty sure that I’ve delurked and commented here before, too, also.