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Date: 4/1/2003 11:03:43 AM
Name or Pseudonym: DA
Subject: Before you embrace Mark Twain and his prayer, please read

Mark Twain’s Covert War with His Maker
The revered creator of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn had a vendetta against the Almighty.
By: Gary Sloan | 13July2001
An excerpt follows:

He had no wish to emulate the fate of Thomas Paine, whose The Age of Reason he had read in his cub pilot days. Because Paine openly denigrated the Bible and religion, he was skewered in pulpits across the land. Overnight, he went from national hero to national varmint. Since Twain liked to be liked, he opted for the better part of valor. At seventy-two, he wrote: "I expose to the world only my trimmed and perfumed and carefully barbered public opinions and conceal carefully, cautiously, wisely, my private ones."

His private opinions had never been arrestingly pious. His father, who died when Mark was twelve, was an easygoing Hannibal lawyer and storekeeper, whom the son would later suspect of having had an agnostic bone or two. His Presbyterian mother showed flashes of heterodoxy. In his autobiography, Twain recalls her sympathy for Satan because he never got to tell his side of the story. Like Tom and Huck, his alter egos, young Twain preferred smoking, cussing, spelunking, and lollygagging to sermons, Sunday school, and other heavy-duty moral cleansers. When he did attend to religion, his empirical proclivities threatened orthodoxy. After his Bible teacher had explicated the verse "Ask and ye shall receive," Twain spent three days praying for gingerbread. When none materialized, he filched a convenient piece. He concluded that prayer is an inferior mode of acquisition.
As an adult, he adopted the Christianity of enlightened liberalism, congenial with his deism. He discarded heaven and hell, the immortality of the soul, and the divinity of Jesus Christ. From Paine, he had imbibed the idea that religions derive their authority from spurious claims by their founders that they had received revelations from god, transmitted to posterity as incontrovertible holy writ. Bibles diminished the grandeur of the "real" god by straitening "him" to the narrow confines of parochial imaginations. The true revelation was Nature, best apprehended through science.
As late as the 1880s, Twain could still view with equanimity an aloof, impersonal Creator: "I do not believe in special providences. I believe that the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws. If one man’s family is swept away by a pestilence and another man’s spared, it is only the law working: God is not interfering in that small matter, either against the one man or in favor of the other." Though severe, this Olympian impartiality was without caprice.

Twain was quick to embrace Darwinism. Descent of Man became one of his favorite books. Like Darwin, Twain was skeptical of the theological bromide that evolution is god’s way of producing humans. At various stages, the oyster, the pterodactyl, and the kangaroo, Twain impishly surmised, had made similar assumptions about themselves. For a time, he believed evolution operated on a teleological principle- design, not chance. Later, he decided evolution is "a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill." The direction of movement is "unpremeditated, unforeseen, blind."
Twain touted science, reason, and logic as antidotes to ignorance, superstition, and humbuggery of every ilk. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the mumbo jumbo of the enchanter Merlin is no match for the "hard unsentimental common sense" of Hank Morgan, an enlightened technocrat pitted against medieval obscurantism. From Andrew White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Twain gleaned many facts that found their way into his own writing. Adducing evidence from geology and paleontology, White demolished the Genesis account(s) of creation. The book reinforced Twain’s conviction that god doesn’t meddle in human affairs. When Dr. Jacques Loeb proposed that life could be created from a mixture of chemical agencies, Twain publicly defended him against widespread skepticism in the scientific community. Historically, Twain noted, the cognoscenti had often scoffed at major breakthroughs. Privately, Twain hailed Robert Ingersoll, an outspoken agnostic, as "an angelic orator and evangel of a new gospel-the gospel of free thought."
(end of excerpt)

As for me and my house I will embrace the Lord’s prayer, not Mark Twain’s.

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