Mark Twain Would Have Been an Excellent New Atheist

Mark Twain instructed that his uncensored, complete autobiography not be published for 100 years after his death.

He died in 1910. You can do the math.

The book doesn’t come out until November but Newsweek has a wonderful excerpt:

About once a year some pious public library banishes Huck Finn from its children’s department, and on the same plea always — that Huck, the neglected and untaught son of a town drunkard, is given to lying, when in difficulty and hard pressed, and is therefore a bad example for young people, and a damager of their morals.

Two or three years ago I was near by when one of these banishments was decreed and advertised, and I went over and asked the librarian about it, and he said yes, Huck was banished for lying. I asked,

“Is there nothing else against him?”

“No, I think not.”

“Do you banish all books that are likely to defile young morals, or do you stop with Huck?”

“We do not discriminate; we banish all that are hurtful to young morals.”

I picked up a book, and said—-

“I see several copies of this book lying around. Are the young forbidden to read it?”

“The Bible? Of course not.”

You know where this is going and it’s full of win.

(Thanks to Carole for the link!)

  • Lisa

    I love it.

  • http://deviatehulk.blogspot.com Keith

    Twain has always been one of my favorites. As I get older and, presumably, wiser, this becomes more and more the case. I can’t wait to read his autobiography.

  • http://bestlittlestudio.com James

    Ah, if only we could bring him back, I think perhaps he was smart to request a 100 year ban there, give people enough time to start thinking.
    But then again, perhaps he should have given it a couple of hundred more.

  • Hitch

    I have used the fact that Twain was a brilliant atheistic polemicist in many a debate that claims that the “rudeness” is new. Not at all, outspoken atheism is as old as people not being afraid to say what they think.

    David Hume wasn’t scared either. Huxley would say what is on his mind. Ingersoll sadly largely forgotten but he was the Hitchens of the 19th century.

  • http://twitter.com/achura Rooker

    I’ve always been fond of this response he sent to a librarian after being informed the Brooklyn Library wanted to ban his books.

    Dear Sir:

    I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave. Ask that young lady – she will tell you so.

    Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck’s character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than God’s (in the Ahab & 97 others), & the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

    If there is an Unexpurgated [Bible] in the Children’s Department, won’t you please help that young woman remove Tom & Huck from that questionable companionship?

    Sincerely yours,
    S. L. Clemens

  • Kirk59

    May I post my favorite Mark Twain quote?-

    “I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/UnderINK Ava Germaine

      He never actually said this. Richard Dawkins attributed it to him, but there’s no source prior to like 2002 where it’s associated with him at all. It’s not found in any of his writings or anyone else’s writings from his time that credibly attributes it to him either. It’s far more likely to be a quote that should be attributed to ‘Anonymous’.

  • Trace

    cute.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    Hitch said was I was going to say.

    If we set up the general rubric for what we understand a new atheist to be, we find that many great figures, like Twain, basically fit the bill. Mencken, Paine, Sartre, Vonnegut—it’s a long list.

    Some arguments, even if you stated them in the nicest possible way, will still get you called names. The new atheist argument happens to be one of those arguments. “So it goes,” as Vonnegut would say.

  • http://insidemyhead.blogspot.com SeanG

    I love Twain. I just reread Letters From The Earth. He demolishes christianity within the first 20 pages.

  • Dan W

    I’ve always loved Twain. The books of his I’ve read were great, and the various little excerpts from other things he wrote or said that I come across every so often are usually pretty good too.

  • Beijingrrl

    I will be purchasing this!

  • Sarah

    *runs off to add to her amazon wishlist*

  • jcm

    More here: Mark Twain’s Autobiography Set for Unveiling, a Century After His Death. Fast forward to the 4:45 mark for more juicy quotes.

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    That is a great excerpt. Reminds me of Christian criticism I’ve read of The Golden Compass, that the books are bad for kids bcs. of the main character’s poor character, illustrated by her lying.

  • Richard Wade

    I’m glad that so-called “librarian” is long dead and turned to dust. He would not even come close to ever holding a position in a public library today.

    I’ve been married to a librarian for 38 years and I’ve never encountered anyone more passionate, more courageous and more fierce at opposing censorship in any form than the dozens of librarians I have personally known, and the dozens of others whose stalwart defense of freedom of speech and the press I have read about.

    Librarians resist book banning to their last breath, facing down prudish preachers, moronic mayors and pious principals. They have gone to jail rather than violate the privacy of their patrons, defying the contempt of fascist pig judges. Book banners, watch out! You might as well be poking a tiger with a stick while you’re both inside the cage.

    The American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 through Oct. 2, 2010) and encourages everyone to read anything on the ever-growing list of books that freedom haters have requested or demanded be banned, but in most cases have never been removed from the shelves of public libraries. Each year they feature a new set of favorite targets of self-appointed thought police, and Huck Finn is often on that list.

    Long live liberty! Long live librarians!

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Tizzle
  • Richard Wade

    Thanks, Tizzle! That looks like a great read. :)

  • muggle

    That’s why I hate the term “new” Atheists. There ain’t anything new about either us or speaking out in the name of Atheism. Twain’s (as others have pointed out) only one of many.

    I have to give a shout out to women since they don’t seem to have been mentioned by anyone else: Sanger, Stanton and, yes, Emily Dickinson all criticized god belief. Butterfly McQueen was publishing her own freethought magazine when she was 10 years old.

    I can’t wait to read this! I’ve loved Mark Twain since I was a child. (I’m kind of disappointed to read that he doesn’t think I should have read Tom and Huck that young.) I hope it’s available on Kindle and doesn’t cost two much. I retire in two weeks!

  • http://ramenneedles.etsy.com Kelley

    I took a class this year called Curmudgeons (we read Twain, Vonnegut, Bierce and HL Mencken), and Twain would not have been – Twain WAS. He kept it to himself because he didn’t like to upset his wife.

    You should read Letters From The Earth! It was published posthumously, but it’s really very interesting.

    You could also read The Mysterious Stranger (I think that’s what it’s called) but it’s a sympathetic view of Satan (If I recall correctly)… [shrug] Twain was an interesting man.

  • Beverly Johnson

    Kelley said it: Twain WAS…will read letters from the earth next..THANKS

    the saw War Prayer on you tube…several different versions…I won’t forget it.

    I, too, will love the autobiography.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’ll look forward to reading that.

    I remember reading “Letters from the Earth” for personal pleasure back in High School.

    I’m about to leave with the family for a long car trip for our summer vacation and guess what I will be listening to on the car-drive? Free Twain audio books. If you have an iPhone/iPod/iPad, you can buy a cheap audio book app ($2) that has access to thousands of free audio books (all from about 100 years ago or older) including most of the Twain collection. They are free because these books are now in the public domain and volunteers have read them aloud. So if you are diving, doing house work, or just prefer to hear a book every now and then, you can hear authors like Twain for free. You won’t be able to get anything current, though, for free. There is probably something equivalent with other smart-phones/PDAs besides the apple product line.

  • fritzy

    Mark Twain WAS an excellent old atheist. There is no such thing as “new” atheists–Just atheists. Theists made-up “new atheists” because they need a boogey man. The mainstream media obliged in spreading the word because they need a story that sells advertisement space.

    I can’t wait to read this autobiography!

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Hitch:

    I have used the fact that Twain was a brilliant atheistic polemicist in many a debate that claims that the “rudeness” is new.

    Hitch, let’s not sweep under the rug the fact that atheists sometimes have behaved badly, including some of our present-day big names. There is a big difference between pointing out the hypocrisy of banning Huck Finn and not the Bible and, oh, aiming a thinly-veiled argumentum ad Naziium at people like Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller.

  • Tastybrain

    Wait. Soon you’ll see how many fundies jump out of the woodwork declaring Mark Twain “unamerican.”

  • littlejohn

    My wife is a high school English teacher, so I think our view is worth something: “Huckleberry Finn” routinely draws objections, but modern students object primarily to Huck’s frequent use of the N-word.
    School administrators, being literal-minded people, to put it kindly, seem to think that Huck Finn is a children’s book, since the protagonist is young.
    If you’ve read it, it is clearly social and polical satire aimed at adult readers. It is, arguably, the Great American Novel, but it is ridiculous to expect any but the brightest high school student to “get it.” It should be saved for college.

  • Greg

    J.J. Ramsey – that’s a horrible piece of writing in that link. The author clearly doesn’t understand what the fallacy he is accusing people of is.

    Dawkin’s quoted argument, for example, isn’t anything near the lines of ‘Hitler/Nazis did this too therefore it is wrong’. Rather, it is (among other things) an argument against appeasement – the idea of making concessions to enemies to avoid having to fight something out. The references to Chamberlain et al have absolutely nothing to do with the argument – they are just there for comedic or illustrative purposes.

    He is not saying appeasement is bad because Chamberlain did it to the Nazis, he is saying that appeasement is bad, and using as an illustration that Chamberlain did it to the Nazis.

    I really wish people would find out what particular fallacies are (and what makes them a fallacy) before they accuse people of them.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Greg: “Dawkin’s quoted argument, for example, isn’t anything near the lines of ‘Hitler/Nazis did this too therefore it is wrong’.”

    And Orac never said it was. Rather, he said this:

    Whom are these “Neville Chamberlain” evolutionists ‘appeasing,’ in Moran’s view? Theistic evolutionists and creationists, of course! Religionists! Therefore, whether he realizes he’s doing it or not, Moran is implicitly likening ‘intelligent design’ creationists and theistic evolutionists to Hitler and explicitly likening the ‘Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists’ who don’t criticize whom he thinks they should criticize the way he thinks they should be criticized as moral cowards who are afraid to stand up to a Hitler-like menace. Indeed, argumentum ad Naziium a very important secondary aspect of the Neville Chamberlain gambit. Why do you think the neocons who wanted to invade Iraq used to like to play the Neville Chamberlain gambit so much against opponents of the war with regards to Saddam Hussein? In Moran’s hands, it is a ridiculously overblown Hitler analogy, but cleverly concealed just under the surface, so that it is not nearly as obvious as the crude Hitler analogies used by, for example, Michael Ruse or D. James Kennedy, but just obvious enough that people link the common enemy being “appeased” with Hitler at least subconsciously.

    (Yes, Orac is referring to Larry Moran in this paragraph rather than Dawkins, but he points out that Moran got the argument from Dawkins, and the underlying folly of it is the same for both.)

  • Greg

    J.J Ramsey – you know the stuff I wrote about appeasement, and using Chamberlain as an illustration rather than a reason for something being bad?

    That applies to what you quoted above too.

    Also:

    Greg: “Dawkin’s quoted argument, for example, isn’t anything near the lines of ‘Hitler/Nazis did this too therefore it is wrong’.”

    And Orac never said it was. Rather, he said this: (…)

    (Yes, Orac is referring to Larry Moran in this paragraph rather than Dawkins, but he points out that Moran got the argument from Dawkins, and the underlying folly of it is the same for both.)

    Given he accuses Moran of argumentum ad Naziium for the argument he got from Dawkins… and that the argument ad Naziium is “Hitler/Nazis did X therefore X is bad”…

    Yes Orac was saying it was.

    Some people have a knee jerk reaction about any sentence which has the word ‘Nazi’ or ‘Hitler’ (or similar) in. They run around screaming foul, and ignore whatever the argument that person was making actually was.

    I think we need a new fallacy – the Forbidden-Tyrant fallacy.

    An analogy with/reference to Hitler (or Stalin, or Genghis Khan, or the Pope) is only bad in the same way any analogy or reference is bad. Also, if it is a throw-away comment, and/or irrelevant to the truth of the argument, then it does not automatically invalidate their point of view, or even make them ‘nasty’. Dismissing something someone says merely because it refers to a ‘forbidden’ tyrant is fallacious.

    (Oh, and if anyone decides to jump down my throat for including the Pope in those brackets above, please, don’t bother. Instead use the time you would have spent doing it to get a sense of humour.)

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Greg: “the argument ad Naziium is “Hitler/Nazis did X therefore X is bad”…”

    The “argument ad Naziium” isn’t as narrow as you suggest, but rather is about overblown comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis in general.

    Greg: “Orac was saying it was.”

    What Orac said was quoted above. The contrast between what he said and what you claimed he said should be evident.

    Greg: “An analogy with/reference to Hitler (or Stalin, or Genghis Khan, or the Pope) is only bad in the same way any analogy or reference is bad.”

    True. Comparing, say, Obama to Hitler (as some Tea Partiers have done) is indeed bad in the same way any analogy or reference is bad. But then, so is a comparison of theistic evolutionists to Hitler–and that’s what Dawkins did.

  • Casimir

    Hitch, let’s not sweep under the rug the fact that atheists sometimes have behaved badly, including some of our present-day big names. There is a big difference between pointing out the hypocrisy of banning Huck Finn and not the Bible and, oh, aiming a thinly-veiled argumentum ad Naziium at people like Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller.

    Yes, let’s not talk about Twain, let’s talk about some other people. Look, a dog with a fluffy tail!

    Of course it’s either “rude” or “speaking truth to power” depending on who’s ox is getting gored.

  • Greg

    The “argument ad Naziium” isn’t as narrow as you suggest, but rather is about overblown comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis in general.

    Then I suggest you check the link that was supplied in the article you directed me to. (I checked it to make sure my understanding of the fallacy was correct.)

    To be brutally honest, it couldn’t be considered a logical fallacy if it was something as loose as ‘overblown comparisons’. An overblown comparison, after all, is not a logical error.

    What Orac said was quoted above. The contrast between what he said and what you claimed he said should be evident.

    I have double checked it, and it certainly is not evident. Bear in mind that I was also using your own link between Moran and Dawkins.

    (Yes, Orac is referring to Larry Moran in this paragraph rather than Dawkins, but he points out that Moran got the argument from Dawkins, and the underlying folly of it is the same for both.)

    I suspect the problem, here, however, is the point addressed at the start of this post. (About the definition of argumentum ad Naziium.)

    True. Comparing, say, Obama to Hitler (as some Tea Partiers have done) is indeed bad in the same way any analogy or reference is bad. But then, so is a comparison of theistic evolutionists to Hitler–and that’s what Dawkins did.

    No, he didn’t. Perhaps you ought to reread what he actually did say.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Casimir: “Yes, let’s not talk about Twain, let’s talk about some other people.”

    More like, let’s not lump in laudable wit from Twain with less laudable stuff. The “New Atheists” are a mixed bag, and we don’t need to use the cachet of Mark Twain to make them look better than they really are.

    Now comparing the New Atheists to Robert Ingersoll would be near perfect, as they share common flaws as well as a common brashness. :)

    Greg: “Perhaps you ought to reread what he actually did say.”

    It’s obvious that Dawkins was comparing Eugenie Scott with Neville Chamberlain and calling them both appeasers. It’s also obvious that Dawkins believes that Eugenie Scott (and the NCSE in general) is appeasing theistic evolutionists, and it’s conventional wisdom that Chamberlain appeased the Nazis. If you can’t figure out from all this that Dawkins was saying that the NCSE is appeasing theistic evolutionists like Chamberlain appeased the Nazis, then it’s not me who has a comprehension problem.

  • Hitch

    For the uninitiated J. J. Ramsey stalks me on an old topic. There is extra context that you guys don’t get. To understand this you’d have to read a number of blogs.

    But the quick summary:

    Basically he promotes the idea that the new atheists brought it upon themselves that they are negatively stereotyped. You should consider his remarks in that context.

    I do not expect him to be accessible to argument. He apologizes sexism against women and stereotyping of atheists and has over years of arguing never moved to an empathic position.

    I would basically recommend to ignore him. He’s here to troll me.

  • Greg

    Thanks Hitch, J. J. Ramsey’s last reply meant I’d pegged him as a troll/unopen to discussion, so I’d decided to do that anyway.

    Well, that and even if I hadn’t already dealt with what he said, his failure to reply to the matter of the definition of argumentum ad Naziium meant that any further discussion would be irrelevant anyway.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Hitch: “For the uninitiated J. J. Ramsey stalks me on an old topic.”

    Um, no, Hitch. It’s about the topic, not about you, and you are certainly not the only person I’ve tangled with on the topic. You just happened to be the one who brought up “rudeness” this time around. It could have been, Aj, for example, who said what you said and I would have responded just the same.

    Hitch: “I do not expect him to be accessible to argument. He apologizes sexism against women and stereotyping of atheists and has over years of arguing never moved to an empathic position.”

    I’m tempted to accuse you of lying, but I’m afraid that you actually believe what you say. If I want to be cynical, I could accuse you of suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable to fabricate or confabulate claims of a “chorus that cheered and jeered,” but not to point out that it is a fabrication, or that it is okay to quote-mine someone to give the misleading impression that someone is agreeing that someone else is a “tw*t” instead of contradicting it. If you want to spout further falsehoods, I suggest you do it somewhere else.

  • godfree

    ” Faith is believing what you know aint so ” Mark Twain

  • Casimir

    Back to Hitch’s original comment on rudeness:

    I have used the fact that Twain was a brilliant atheistic polemicist in many a debate that claims that the “rudeness” is new. Not at all, outspoken atheism is as old as people not being afraid to say what they think.

    As long as we’re in the minority, atheists will always be considered rude. This made me think of the old story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, often referenced by atheists. Reading more about it, I had forgotten that the tailors of the “new clothes” told people that only the unfit or stupid would be unable to see them. I always assumed the people in the story were silent because they didn’t want to appear rude or disagree with the Emperor, that it was all peer pressure.

    According to Wikipedia, Hans Christian Anderson added the kid pointing out the emperor was nude at the very last minute, while the story was at the printers; it was based on his own childhood experience.

    In 1872, he recalled standing in a crowd with his mother waiting to see King Frederick VI. When the king made his appearance, Andersen cried out, “Oh, he’s nothing more than a human being!” His mother tried to silence him by crying, “Have you gone mad, child?”

    No doubt his mother thought he was being rude.

  • Hitch

    I don’t think that it is surprising at all that people have a very strong reaction to harsh and direct criticism of views they hold most dear.

    That is one component for sure, and the main component as I see it.

    A more superficial level is piety. It’s what encodes that “special” and controls language. Mocking or using foul language at that very concept is of course also rude but it’s a surface battle and it’s the one where the one offended has an easier time to brand it as rude. After all it was mocking and used foul language.

    It’s actually hard to really address the whole concept without rejection both restrictions. Piety encodes so much that criticism is hard to impossible. And mockery is one of the most direct way to show that the emperor has no cloths after all.

    So I would in a sense concede that yes, some people are rude. But it’s about the control of people’s ideas, not about maintaining a pleasant world. In a pleasant world one could say that the emperor has no cloths without that causing indignation.

  • Colin

    He died in 1910. You can do the math.

    ummm… ok … 1910 minus 2010 equals … negative 100 … so the book should have been published in 1810?

    that can’t be right

  • Cristofer Urlaub

    Mark Twain was not an atheist, he simply wasn’t Christian. He did believe in a Supreme Being though, and was a freemason (one of the requirements of being a Freemason is a profession of faith in some form of God).

    You can read Mark Twain’s Creed here, where he spells out what he does and does not believe:

    http://philosophiesofmen.blogspot.com/2012/01/mark-twain-and-god-almighty.html 

    • Liberator_9

      I believe Mr. Twain demitted from Freemasonry.

  • Liberator_9

    Mark Twain wrote a book called “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”. He spent 12 years researching this book, and two years writing it. He claimed he did not do any such research with his other books.


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