Something Good – Mark Twain
Browsing the Internet this morning looking for topics to write about, I found a few nuggets coming from the Australian Christian Lobby and Catch The Fire Ministries that I could have addressed. But this morning, rather than write about Wallace or Nalliah and their cronies of denial and filth-peddling, I thought it would be nice to go back in time and investigate one of the great thinkers of that past few centuries. He was not a philosopher nor a scientist, or even a real person as such, but the legendary pen-name of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), or as most people knew him, Mark Twain.
image via Wikipedia
Mark Twain was an unique voice in America, and while he was mostly known for his fanciful stories of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, he had a rapier-like political wit, a rational scathing voice of social conscience, and a candid philosophy that leaves many of the “great thinkers” of today in the dust. His life took on almost legendary status, and he traveled the world regaling us with his stories and observations about humanity and its follies. As he matured he became a powerful voice in the civil rights movement in America, the Suffrage movement for the vote for women in America, and various other causes for the betterment of society. (It is worthwhile noting that these notions of “equality” did not extent to the native American Indians of whom he thought less than kindly. But then we all have our shortfalls.)
He is also one of the most quotable sources of rational thought that we have at our disposal. Rather than burden you with a history of his life (there is a great biography at Wikipedia), I thought I’d share with you some of the more memorable quotes from him so you can see for yourself what I mean.
He was highly critical of religion, even though he was himself a Presbyterian. Here are some of his views on Christianity.
“There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory as it is–in our country particularly and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree–it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime–the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.” – from his posthumously released autobiography.
“So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: ‘Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor’s religion is.’ Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.” – Mark Twain, a Biography
“Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.” - Notebook, 1879
“I have a religion–but you will call it blasphemy. It is that there is a God for the rich man but none for the poor…..Perhaps your religion will sustain you,will feed you–I place no dependence in mine. Our religions are alike, though, in one respect–neither can make a man happy when he is out of luck.” - Letter to Orion Clemens, 10/19-20/1865
His writings were often scathingly sarcastic in nature, and could sometimes be misconstrued, but the sarcasm cuts through the veil of ignorance like a master-swordsman in battle. On women and the Suffrage movement.
“Women, go your ways! Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges. Content yourself with your little feminine trifles — your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting–and let your natural bosses do the voting. Stand back — you will be wanting to go to war next. We will let you teach school as much as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware! we don’t want you to crowd us too much.” - Letter to St. Louis Missouri Democrat, March 1867
“What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.” - Speech, January 11, 1868
“There is nothing comparable to the endurance of a woman. In military life she would tire out an army of men, either in camp or on the march.” - Mark Twain’s Autobiography
“I know that since the women started out on their crusade they have scored in every project they undertook against unjust laws. I would like to see them help make the laws and those who are to enforce them. I would like to see the whiplash in women’s hands.” - quoted in The New York Times, January 21, 1901
He was a fierce political agitator, and often spoke out against the follies of the political system of the USA.
“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.” – Autobiography of Mark Twain
“To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.” - Mark Twain’s Autobiography
Twain was often philosophical in his dealings with life, and made some succinct observations about the human condition. Here are some more notable quotes.
“It is the epitome of life. The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.” - Letter to Edward Dimmit, 19 July 1901
“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained.” - Notebook, 1898
There are hundreds more quotes I could add, but these are just a few gems I found while scouring the web. Notice I didn’t add the quote made famous in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” as its origins are dubious (still a great quote though).
Mark Twain is, and will always be a source of great inspiration. I enjoyed his writings as a child, and I now enjoy is wit, sarcasm and intelligence in the many writings and journals he produced in his lifetime. A voice like this is sorely needed in today’s world. Maybe someone like Charles P Pierce will step up and fill these enormous shoes?