Pastor Claims Mark Twain Was Demonically Possessed

Pop quiz. Was Mark Twain

1. an atheist,
2. an agnostic, or
3. a deist?

Well, the author’s name is on Wikipedia’s list of agnostics.

Also, on its list of deists. Hmm.

Now go looking for a list of famous atheists, and yup.

So what did Twain believe? Depends on whom you ask. In other words, it’s complicated — but not to Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson. Swanson has gotten it into his head that Twain was one of the wickedest men who ever lived, on account of the fact that America’s greatest humorist frequently made fun of religious phonies with observations like this one:

“In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

Twain also loved shocking the citizenry of his day with witty inversions of their orthodoxy:

“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?”

Stuff like that gives Kevin Swanson the vapors, so to him, the answer to my lead-in question is

4. a Satanist.

True story.

You see, the other day,

Swanson appeared on TruNews with host Rick Wiles. There, he discussed his theory about how Twain was possessed by the devil. Swanson theorizes that Huckleberry Finn was an “attack on the Christian church” because it exposed Christian hypocrisy regarding slavery. He states that “Mark Twain was probably the strongest apologist against the Christian faith that America’s ever seen. … He mocks Christianity throughout and Huckleberry Finn is an atheist himself.”

The horror!

Swanson argues that “Huckleberry Finn” “is extremely, powerfully, cynically against the Christian faith.  … Mark Twain himself I believe turned out to be demon-possessed.” For that, Swanson cites Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.” Swanson called [it] “one of the most acidic, horrific, evil books I think ever, ever written by any human being in the history of mankind.”

I would love to mock the good reverend here, but I don’t want to open myself up to charges that I’m in league with my Lord and Master Satan. I will say, though, that I’d rather spend an eternity in hell with Mark Twain, than a year in heaven with billions of Ned Flanders-wannabes like Kevin Swanson.


P.S.  Letters From the Earth is out in a brand new edition. offers this brief description:

Letters From the Earth is a somber collection of essays and stories written by Mark Twain after the death of his wife and one of his daughters. Satan writes a probing letter to his fellow archangels Michael and Gabriel about the inconsistencies of human religious faith, in the title story. In this posthumously published book, Twain uses his characteristic acerbity and lucid powers of observation to investigate the nature of existence.

You can order your copy here.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • GabyYYZ

    So where’s the outrage over C.S. Lewis and the Screwtape Letters?

    • MineApostasy

      The outrage comes from having to /read/ that abysmal tripe. Ugh, apologetics at their most saccharine and infuriating.

  • ShoeUnited

    I always found Twain’s writings to get more acerbic and atheistic as time goes on. After the death of his daughter, he never seemed to handle that well, he becomes more crotchety. Whether that’s what he true feelings are, it is never certain. But he certainly gave up on the traditional God notion after that happened.

    • Regina Carol Moore

      He probably had a lot of ministers telling him that he’d see her in heaven, or that she’s in a better place. That’s enough to piss off any atheist.

  • Glasofruix

    one of the most acidic, horrific, evil books I think ever, ever written by any human being in the history of mankind

    Um, the bible?

    • abb3w

      Quoth Twain:

      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.

    • Jasper

      Beat me to it

    • Lori F

      Oh but the bible wasn’t written by humans. It was written by god. The bible says so.

    • Mark W.

      Exactly like the Bible, only good, and well written.

  • abb3w

    “A sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience”.

    It seems pretty solidly opposed to the sort of people calling themselves Christians in the South before the Civil War, and nearly as opposed to their institutional Christianity, but perhaps less opposed to at least some of the moral principles.

    So, not so much “Satanist”, as “humanist”. A pastor’s color blindness in that part of the religious spectrum doesn’t seem that astonishing, however.

    • Buckley

      Anything not Xian is “Satanic”…their illogical positions knows no bounds. I asked a group of my students what “Atheist” meant. One kid said: “someone who worships Satan.” I said, “But if they don’t believe in God, why would they worship some they equally don’t believe in?”…he just sat there and stared at me in silence.

      • Jasper

        My previous employer was like that – anything not emphatically Christian was “Devil worship”

        I’m glad I don’t work for him anymore.

  • corps_suk

    What a interesting thought…i mean for the christers,
    What if the only way to get into heavan was to actually pray for Satan? A true enemy…love thy enemy right?

    Also, what if god is really Satan and his greatest trick was to actually get everyone to think this vengeful, jealous, petty, hateful, and violent devil was actually a god, and the person trading wishes for souls was the devil?

    • trj

      I’ve thought this as well. If Satan is masquerading as God throughout the Bible it neatly resolves a major theological dilemma, the Problem of Evil. Turns out God is just evil. Problem solved.

      I find this explanation – while ridiculous – to be fully consistent with the world we observe and the way God behaves in the Bible, and as such a better and more concrete hypothesis than the hand-waving and obfuscation we receive from apologists.

      • corps_suk

        Ok good so its not just me.
        Its almost like we are missing part of the story (literally story) like we walked out of the Sixth Sense with 5 minites left…and then worte a whole book about Bruce Willis being alive still.

  • Artor

    My favorite Twain quote on the subject;

    “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.”

  • Richard Wade

    This will boost readership of Twain’s work, so thank you, Mr. Swanson.

    “Ban Slaughterhouse Five!” –helped make it much more popular.
    “Don’t go see The Last Temptation of Christ!” –increased box office sales.
    “Don’t go see The Golden Compass!” –boosted box office and book sales.
    “Don’t publish aerial photos of my house!” –internet views of Streisand’s mansion reached half a million in just over a month.
    “Eat anything else, but don’t eat the fruit of that one tree.” — Well, duh.

    Best way to boost it is to try to ban it.

    • Librepensadora

      It’s like the story of Bluebeard. He tells his wife not to go into one room but leaves her the key. (source, the Dover edition of Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales.)

    • Michael W Busch

      Best way to boost it is to try to ban it.

      That is often true, but The Golden Compass may not be the best example. Pressure from Catholic groups was cited as one of the reasons for relatively poor US-box-office performance of the movie, although it did well in other countries, and as one of the reasons for there not having been other His Dark Materials movies by now.

      • Richard Wade

        Interesting. Hearing about the pressure from Catholic groups was the only reason I went to see it. I found it boring and stupid, so maybe that’s a more fundamental reason why it did poorly at the box-office. But my survey has a sample of only one. Was this assessment from an independent, properly-conducted survey? If it was just the studio producers blaming the Catholic groups for their movie being a flop, maybe that was just them trying to save face.

        • Michael W Busch

          I only know what was in the Wikipedia article. I didn’t dig down into all of its references.

        • islandbrewer

          The movie turned out to be nowhere near as good as the book, and they downplayed a lot of the religious (or anti-religious) overtones. One related reason I heard that the other movies in the trilogy were scrapped was that, in the next two books, you can’t really disguise the anti-religious message in the books.

          [spoilers]In the last book they kill god (well, the vice god who has usurped power from the first god, who also dies in the book), and the bad guys are a thinly veiled version of the catholic church, which is kidnapping children and removing their “souls.”[/spoilers]

          So, yeah. Some combination of religious outrage from the first movie, and predicting the outrage for the latter ones, may have been what killed the series.

          P.S. I highly recommend the books, if you haven’t read them.

        • wylekat

          Kinda makes one wonder if these ‘religious’ groups who supposedly want to ban stuff, might not be actually working for the studio/ publishing house/ etc, to boost sales.

      • The Other Weirdo

        I watched The Golden Compass. At the end, I was all, “Da faque did I just see?” A horrible movie that ends abruptly like they randomly cut it off at some arbitrary point. I had no idea what’s it’s about when I watched it, and have less of an idea now. The one time I should have listened to religious pressure, it might have saved me $12.

        • raerants

          What can I say? As often happens, the movie does the book a great disservice. Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is a great read.

    • Muggsy

      Don’t forget that a ban by the Catholic church of Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young” pretty much made his whole career.

    • Ateu, e dai?

      I only read “The Gospel according to Jesus Christ”, by Saramago, because of the critics from the Catholic Church, accusing him of possessing a “substantially anti-religious vision”.

      One of the best books I´ve read, ever.

  • A3Kr0n

    Maybe Kevin figures attacking dead people is better than attacking live ones because the live ones keep handing his ass back to him.

    • pwmay

      If that is Kevin’s strategy, it will certainly backfire. Mark Twain has handed more asshats their posteriors (even with the minor inconvenience of being deceased) than anyone else I know. And he has done it with a wit and style that remains unsurpassed.

    • Lea Tapp

      Can you imagine Twain’s scathing rebuttal were he with us today?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    …Huckleberry Finn is an atheist himself.

    Finn makes explicit that he believes he’ll suffer in Hell for following his conscience. This pudbungler Swanson never actually read the book, just like every other person who has ever screeched about it.

    • observer

      Comes with practice. (I.e. the Bible)

    • John Gills

      Thank you C.L.

      When social expectations would force Huck to betray his enslaved friend Jim, Huck chooses to protect Jim and says, “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”.

      Huck’s belief in his own damnation does rather undercut Swanson’s claim that, “Huckleberry Finn is an atheist himself.”

      • Richard Wade

        I get the sense that Swanson sees little or no difference between atheists and anybody at all who doesn’t share his crazy, hateful, homophobic and gynophobic views, or anybody who doesn’t precisely match his particular Christian beliefs.

    • Miss_Beara

      Same type of people who still fight to ban Fahrenheit 451, the Perks of Being a Wallflower, and other books with swearing, sex or against “biblical principles” whatever that may be.

    • grindstone

      Up voted just for using “pudbungler”.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        *Googles it* …no hits? Really?

    • The Other Weirdo

      Atheists say they’ll burn in hell all the time, usually right before saying something religiously-offensive, and they usually don’t actually believe it. It’s an expression. In my experience, anyway.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        In the context of the book, though, Huck is a believer. He’s just an incredibly moral person who will defy God to fix what he sees as broken, even though at the same time he thinks that he is a vile sinner for doing so. He’s very sincere in his belief that he’ll burn for freeing slaves, because he was born of that culture that modern-day Christians keep claiming didn’t exist, the one where slavery had full religious sanction.

      • raerants

        It may very well just be an expression these days, but the odds are against that being the case when the book was written.


    Religious figures like Kevin Swanson are very used to speaking with every expectation their views will be deferred to. Fortunately, in the internet age, clergy people get called out on their foolish remarks, and are forced to defend their opinions, thus doing more for the advancement of free thought than they ever did for religion.

  • Randay

    My favorite quotes by Mark Twain are, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” and “Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” For a clear explanation of Twain’s anti-racist sentiments, read “Following the Equator”. It is also good to remember that he was vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League and strongly wrote against the U.S. war in the Philippines. He also wrote against the genocide of Belgian king Leopold of the people of the Congo.

  • DougI

    If it wasn’t for religion, a lot of stupid people wouldn’t have a job.

  • pagansister

    Seriously, this person has to go to Mark Twain as an example of “a demonic” person? He can’t find enough people in this century? If I believed in people being possessed by the devil—which I don’t—then I could find closer examples. I wonder if the folks he preaches to even know WHO Mark Twain was????

    • allein

      Mark Twain lives! I saw him at the fair. He appears to follow the Amish Outlaws (I went to the AO shows at two different county fairs last month and saw this guy both times…spitting image of Twain…he was awesome).

      • pagansister

        COOL! :-)

  • allein

    Already have a copy. Read it earlier this year :)

    Now I think I need to read Huck Finn again. I don’t remember any Satanism when I read it in college (twice in one semester, even!).

  • Bdole

    I postulate that Swanson is filled with thetans.

  • jeffj900

    I can’t help imagining that Twain himself would get a big kick out of this. I’m sure he would come up with a choice retort or two. Maybe he’d say “if I’m such a wicked demon, then Kevin Swanson had better do a lot of praying in the future.”

  • sk3ptik0n
  • Ani J. Sharmin

    I’ve heard that William Blake said of John Milton that he was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”) so maybe the same is true of Mark Twain? :)

    It’s nice to hear about the new edition of Letters From the Earth. I already have “The Bible According to Mark Twain”, in which it is included.

  • cipher

    Raging psychopaths, the lot of them. In allowing them to vote and reproduce, we jeopardize the future of humanity.

  • rocketdave

    I partly owe my atheism to Twain. Specifically, reading the last chapter of The Mysterious Stranger in 6th grade really helped solidify some of the misgivings I had about religion:

    “Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that
    your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction!
    Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like
    all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet
    preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy,
    yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life,
    yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned,
    yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless
    lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of
    mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and
    invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by
    seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people
    and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who
    created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility
    for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs,
    upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this
    poor, abused slave to worship him!…”

  • atheisticallyyours

    “Letters From The Earth” is the book that STARTED me on the road to atheism, 29 years ago! Mark Twain IS and REMAINS, my classic literary hero!

  • Bdole

    I’m about halfway through “Letters from the Earth.”
    So, thanks Kevin Swanson for being so batshit. And thank you Terry Firma for telling us about him.

  • ImRike

    I just bought “Letters from the Earth” a few days ago and am enjoying it tremendously. How did I ever miss it before?
    Right now you can also buy “The Complete Mark Twain” kindle edition on Amazon for $2.99!

    • Pofarmer

      Well,I splurged, thanks.

  • Pofarmer

    Letters from Earth is good reading.

  • Nikita

    This statement: “one of the most acidic, horrific, evil books I think ever, ever written by any human being in the history of mankind.” makes me want to click the purchase button so quickly! The amazon description should change to include that review. It would definitely increase sales.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Well, if one goes by his last work, “The Mysterious Stranger,” incendiary enough to be published posthumously, at least regarding the Xn god, Twain was likely an atheist. (If you’ve not read this novella-length piece, you’re missing something!)

  • Guest

    He was being sardonic. He’s pretty much known for that.