Nov 30 2011

In Honor of Mark Twain’s Birthday, Some of His Thoughts on Religion

I love Mark Twain, and since today is his 176th birthday, I thought I’d recognize the day by posting a few of his thoughts on a subject he always had quite a bit to say about — religion.

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.”

“There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him — early.”

“If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.”

“You can never find a Christian who has acquired this valuable knowledge, this saving knowledge, by any process but the everlasting and all-sufficient “‘people say.’”

“If the cholera or black plague should come to these shores, perhaps the bulk of the nation would pray to be delivered from it, but the rest would put their trust in The Health Board.”

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

“The two Testaments are interesting, each in its own way. The Old one gives us a picture of these people’s Deity as he was before he got religion, the other one gives us a picture of him as he appeared afterward.”

“Zeal and sincerity can carry a new religion further than any other missionary except fire and sword.”

“Satan hasn’t a single salaried helper; the Opposition employ a million.”

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?”

“Some years ago on the gold coins we used to trust in God. It think it was in 1863 that some genius suggested that it be put on the gold and silver coins which circulated among the rich. They didn’t put it on the nickels and coppers because they didn’t think the poor folks had any trust in God.”

“The motto stated a lie. If this nation has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by; for nearly half a century almost its entire trust has been in the Republican party and the dollar — mainly the dollar.”

“If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be — a Christian.”


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  1. 1
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I was always partial to The War Prayer.

  2. 2

    And of course, there’s The War Prayer:


  3. 3
    Chris Rodda

    Hey … these War Prayer comments reminded me that I forgot my all-time most favorite thing from Twain — his version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, written in 1901 during the Philippine-American Wa as a statement against American imperialism. I can’t believe I forgot to include this in my post!

    (Sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic)

    Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
    He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
    He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
    His lust is marching on.

    I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
    They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
    I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps –
    His night is marching on.

    I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
    “As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
    Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
    Lo, Greed is marching on!”

    We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;
    Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
    O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
    Our god is marching on!

    In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
    With a longing in his bosom — and for others’ goods an itch.
    As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich –
    Our god is marching on.

  4. 4
    nora raum

    My favorite comes from Pudd’nhead Wilson:

    “Faith is believing something you know ain’t so.”

  5. 5

    Slightly off topic: Samuel Clemens’ thoughts on masturbation:

    Thoughts on the Science of Onanism
    by Mark Twain
    [One evening in Paris in 1879, The Stomach Club, a society of American writers and artists, gathered to drink well, to eat a good dinner and hear an address by Mark Twain. He was among friends and, according to the custom of the club, he delivered a humorous talk on a subject hardly ever mentioned in public in that day and age. After the meeting, he preserved the manuscript among his papers. It was finally printed in a pamphlet limited to 50 copies 64 years later.]
    My gifted predecessor has warned you against the “social evil–adultery.” In his able paper he exhausted that subject; he left absolutely nothing more to be said on it. But I will continue his good work in the cause of morality by cautioning you against that species of recreation called self-abuse to which I perceive you are much addicted. All great writers on health and morals, both ancient and modern, have struggled with this stately subject; this shows its dignity and importance. Some of these writers have taken one side, some the other.

    Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with fine enthusiasm, “Give me masturbation or give me death.” Caesar, in his Commentaries, says, “To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor. They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion.” In another place this experienced observer has said, “There are times when I prefer it to sodomy.”

    Robinson Crusoe says, “I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art.” Queen Elizabeth said, “It is the bulwark of virginity.” Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, “A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The immortal Franklin has said, “Masturbation is the best policy.”

    Michelangelo and all of the other old masters–”old masters,” I will remark, is an abbreviation, a contraction–have used similar language. Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, “Selfnegation is noble, self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with self-abuse.” Mr. Brown, here, in one of his latest and most graceful poems, refers to it in an eloquent line which is destined to live to the end of time–”None knows it but to love it; none name it but to praise.”

    Such are the utterances of the most illustrious of the masters of this renowned science, and apologists for it. The name of those who decry it and oppose it is legion; they have made strong arguments and uttered bitter speeches against it–but there is not room to repeat them here in much detail. Brigham Young, an expert of incontestable authority, said, “As compared with the other thing, it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Solomon said, “There is nothing to recommend it but its cheapness.” Galen said, “It is shameful to degrade to such bestial uses that grand limb, that formidable member, which we votaries of Science dub the Major Maxillary–when they dub it at all–which is seldom, It would be better to amputate the os frontis than to put it to such use.”

    The great statistician Smith, in his report to Parliament, says, “In my opinion, more children have been wasted in this way than any other.” It cannot be denied that the high antiquity of this art entitles it to our respect; but at the same time, I think its harmfulness demands our condemnation. Mr. Darwin was grieved to feel obliged to give up his theory that the monkey was the connecting link between man and the lower animals. I think he was too hasty. The monkey is the only animal, except man, that practices this science; hence, he is our brother; there is a bond of sympathy and relationship between us. Give this ingenuous animal an audience of the proper kind and he will straightway put aside his other affairs and take a whet; and you will see by his contortions and his ecstatic expression that he takes an intelligent and human interest in his performance.

    The signs of excessive indulgence in this destructive pastime are easily detectable. They are these: a disposition to eat, to drink, to smoke, to meet together convivially, to laugh, to joke and tell indelicate stories–and mainly, a yearning to paint pictures. The results of the habit are: loss of memory, loss of virility, loss of cheerfulness and loss of progeny.

    Of all the various kinds of sexual intercourse, this has the least to recommend it. As an amusement, it is too fleeting; as an occupation, it is too wearing; as a public exhibition, there is no money in it. It is unsuited to the drawing room, and in the most cultured society it has long been banished from the social board.

    It has at last, in our day of progress and improvement, been degraded to brotherhood with flatulence. Among the best bred, these two arts are now indulged in only private–though by consent of the whole company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in good society, to remove the embargo on the fundamental sigh.

    My illustrious predecessor has taught you that all forms of the “social evil” are bad. I would teach you that some of these forms are more to be avoided than others. So, in concluding, I say, “If you must gamble your lives sexually, don’t play a lone hand too much.” When you feel a revolutionary uprising in your system, get your Vendome Column down some other way–don’t jerk it down.

  6. 6
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Battle Hymn:

    I quite like that one, except it reminds me of the tune. I can deal with that since Twain’s version turns the imperial republic’s propaganda back against itself.

    I think Twain would have a field day with modern security theater.

  7. 7

    Priceless! Thanks, Chris. Thanks Rob =)

  8. 8


    Mark Twain wasn’t even a real person. He’s a character in a fucking novel called “Huckleberry Finn.”

    Here all of you are, and yet your retard asses shouldn’t have even passed the 7th grade.

    I’ve got two words for you: “Reality” and “Check”

  9. 9
  10. 10
    steve oberski

    From the Autobiography of Mark Twain (Vol. 1, page 212):

    In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind – and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.

  11. 11

    Is post #8 a Poe/joke? It’s so hard to tell these days.

  12. 12
    Socio-gen, something something...

    *delurks* (boy, I’m doing a lot of that of FTB this week!)

    Chris: Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors, and I grew up about 30 miles from where he (and his family) are buried in Elmira, NY.

    (OT, but I’d like to thank you for offering “Liars for Jesus” free — it was great reading and incredibly helpful in discussions with some Barton believers I know!)

    rtootie: I am highly amused to realize that, after three readings, I honestly can’t tell if you’re a Poe or not.

    *reads it again* Nope, still can’t tell.

    Just in case, I shall congratulate you on your creativity! And also direct you to the library nearest you.

  13. 13

    I am pretty sure that movie president, “JifK”, never existed either. And the whole 19th century seemed too melodramatic to be real.
    Homer Simpson: “Vampires do not exist. The are made up, like fairies and eskimos”.

    In regard to religion, do you recall who said “… the resurrection, when Jesus will raise the dead…to feed on the flesh of the living!” ?

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