Sunday, January 22, 2006

MarkTwain -- "Closet" Atheist

Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings by Mark Twain is a series of highly inflammatory anti-religious essays written by Twain in his later years. These writings were withheld by the humorist's daughter, Claire Clemens Samossoud until 1939 when she surmised that public opinion had become more tolerant to viewpoints outside the "norm." If people had known Twain's opinion of god and religion while he was still alive, it would have harmed his reputation as a writer, and though as outspoken as he was, he had to "tone it down" so as not to offend the general reading public.

Even though the collection of essays may be humorous in style, they are extremely and intentionally venemous in viewpoint even in today's society. The subject of his atheism is still avoided and his "controversial" and satirical books such as Letters from the Earth are pushed aside in favor of the usual Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. In the writings found in Letters from the Earth, Twain forces the reader to confront the contradictions, cruelty, bigotry, and all out hatred perpetuated in the name of God. He has a real problem with God and christianity, and "quarrels" with God with humor, but the humor which invited itself into his sermons was darker in color. Although religious hypocrisies and inconsistencies of biblical doctrine are addressed and satirized throughout these essays, more importantly, the question that ties the essays together is "what is man's place in the universe?"

When one stops to actually think about the issues Twain brings to light, most of us have to wonder about the truths that can be found in his brave messages. His writings contained in Letters from the Earth were not mere musings of a disgruntled old man who took issue with God for all the bad things that happened in his life. Twain saw the reality of human nature and how religion has been created and recreated to the point of absurdity in order to justify the injustice committed by humans in this world throughout time. Twain was not merely pessimistic concerning human nature, he was a realist. History has proven his theories about the nature of humans time and time again. We still are not as "evolved" as we would like to think ourselves to be.


freethoughtmom said...

I hadn't read this (I've only heard about it), thanks for the link and nice summary you wrote!

Stardust said...

Mark Twain is hilarious. I had a seminar class on Twain while working on my Masters and read stuff of his that most people will never know about! I think there are a lot of "closet" atheists in the world...and they are coming out now, more and more. Like I said in another comment, I think many atheists are hiding in theism, going through the motions for fear of being persecuted if they profess their true, non-beliefs.

JDHURF said...

I absolutely love Mark Twain, one of my favorite’s is “The mysterious stranger”

Stardust said...

Mysterious Stranger is a powerful piece of fiction. The ending just stumped the class and you should have heard THAT discussion! LOL! I had never heard of Twain's atheistic works till I was doing my Masters. If any teacher I had before knew anything about these later writings,they sure kept them a big secret!

I find the last lines particularly thought-provoking and proved for some "lively" debate. (And before any christian should read this and jump to conclusions...NO I don't agree with Twain that life is meaningless...we all make our own meaning out of our individual lives in and how we interact in the world around us.)

Last lines of Mysterious Stranger:
"You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks - in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream - a grotesque and foolish dream..."

"He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true."