Mark Twain’s slivers of faith
How much of an atheist was Mark Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens, really?
Atheist and agnostic websites have found a treasure trove of disparaging quotes against religion by Twain. This is the man who said, “There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory…ours is a terrible religion.” This same man mocks the Catholic church in his book, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And in another book, The Mysterious Stranger, Twain strongly belittles conventional religion, Catholic News Service said.
But Catholic News Service also points out that he writes with reverence, some would say, gushes, about St. Joan of Arc in the biography that he wrote of the French maiden who liberated France from the British in the 15th century. A website on St. Joan, called Maid of Heaven quotes Twain saying of his book on the saint, “Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing—it was written for love.”
The Catholic News Service also claims that there are many facets in Twain’s life that seem to indicate he had a religious side. For example, in his memoirs, Twain “makes frequent uncritical references in his memoirs to his Presbyterian upbringing; his funeral was in a Presbyterian church (the Brick Church in New York); and he counted several clergy among his close friends.”
His own words
Twain’s own words when he wrote about St. Joan of Arc, shows overwhelming admiration. An essay he wrote about the saint is found online at catholic-forum.com. Twain wrote, “There is no blemish in that rounded and beautiful character. She was deeply religious, and believed that she had daily speech with angels; that she saw them face to face, and that they counseled her, comforted and heartened her, and brought commands to her direct from God. She had a childlike faith in the heavenly origin of her apparitions and her Voices, and not any threat of any form of death was able to frighten it out of her loyal heart. She was a beautiful and simple and lovable character.”
The Washington Times said, “[In] the life of Joan of Arc, America’s most convinced cynic found a sunbeam of hope and encouragement amid an otherwise discouraging world.”
Anthony Pucci, English department head of the Elmira Notre Dame High School told Catholic News Service that Twain was not disengaged with the core teachings of Christianity. He did, however, take issue with the hypocrisy of those who didn’t walk their talk. He was most angry about people who used religion to justify oppression of the poor, violence and other social ills.
Catholic News Service said that Twain once wrote, “If Christ were here, there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” In his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pucci noted that Huck rejects religion. Pucci says, “They [Christian families in the novel] come out of church but don’t act very Christian. That’s the basis of Huck’s repudiation of religion—you’re not a better Christian because of your religion.”
While Pucci admits that Twain didn’t believe that heaven and hell were real, and rejected the notion that the soul is immortal and that Jesus Christ is divine, Pucci told Catholic News Service that the Christian message is illustrated in other aspects, such as the way Huckleberry Finn protects a slave, even if, in Huck’s thinking, “he might be damned to hell.”
More critical of religion
Twain scholar Michael Kiskis told Catholic News Service that the pending volumes II and III of the Autobiography of Mark Twain will have even more critical remarks about religion. Kiskis observed, “The notion of compassion is one [Twain] wants to believe in, and the problem he has is sometimes the works of God are not entirely compassionate, not upfront—why do bad things happen to good people?”
The New York Times said of Twain, “The author was a cheerful promoter of himself.” When he retired, he liked to dress up all in white on Sundays and walk past Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches as people were leaving the church, so that heads would turn to look at him, and he could hear the crowd whisper his name.
Kiskis told Catholic News Service said that Twain probably kept his harshest remarks about religion secret so that it wouldn’t affect his sales. His autobiography was released last fall, exactly 100 years after his death. This was done at Twain’s personal request, and Kiskis says, the harsh, anti-religious remarks in Vol. I and the forthcoming Vols. II and III may be the reason why Twain didn’t want the books to be released in his lifetime.