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.