Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Devil and Mr. Twain

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. ~Mahatma Gandhi
We interrupt our fascinating radio memoir to step back into the more-or-less real world.
The Montgomery Advertiser published an article yesterday concerning an historic church and some problems it was facing. The Associated Press article, written by Martin Griffith talks about a church built in the 1860's in Carson City, Nevada. The church is serious need of renovation, and there is talk of tearing it down. This is a common problem, expensive renovation or destruction of a venerable old edifice. But this church has a little more cachet than many others that have been razed to make room for modern structures. It seems that Mark Twain contributed money to help complete the original building. Preservationists point that the church is both a link to Nevada's wild territorial times and one of four buildings still standing with an association with Mark Twain.
One would think the church members and officials would make hay about this link to help raise funds to preserve the church. One would think, but one would be wrong. It seems that the righteous congregation is not especially happy about being associated with America's greatest humorist. According to the chairman of the building fund, “It's only by his association with his brother that he raised money for the church.” In other words, Twain was not a member of the church, but he was willing to do a favor for his brother. Twain himself may never have set foot in the completed structure.
But it gets better. It seems that some of these fine people are upset with Twain's “anti-Christian” beliefs. “I have read where he was an atheist,” said one woman. “And I'm sorry he was ever mentioned [in connection with the church].” She doesn't exactly say Twain should have been burned at the stake, but I'd bet with a little prodding we could get it out of her.
Let's examine the “atheism” of Mark Twain. The article has a quote from “What is Man? And Other Philosophical Writings” by Mr. Twain:
“I believe in God the Almighty. I do not believe He has ever sent a message to man by anybody, or delivered one to him by word of mouth, or made Himself visible to mortal eyes at any time or in any place.”
Compare that thought to this one:
“I feel most ministers who claim they've heard God's voice are eating too much pizza before they go to bed at night, and it's really an intestinal disorder, not a revelation.”
So says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who is (however you may feel about him) a bona fide Christian, but he isn't so far from Twain's philosophy. The main difference is that Rev. Falwell believes that God did talk to people a long time ago. Twain doesn't think He ever did so. Twain is certainly no Christian, nor is he a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon, or believer in virtually any other monotheistic organized religion. But, Twain is certainly no atheist.
Twain had a great deal of respect for churches and for people's faith. He skewered the hypocrisies of organized religion, but he never belittled anyone's belief. Twain's writing shows an abiding respect for the Creator, albeit with occasional whimsy. Now, I've never actually gotten a message from God on this (despite having eaten lots of pizza over the years), but it's always seemed impossible to me to believe that God doesn't have a sense of humor.
Which is more than I can say for the members of The First Presbyterian Church in Carson City, NV.
Tell you what, folks. Think of Twain as the Good Samaritan. The point of the parable is not that Samaritans were nice folks. There was antagonism between Jews and Samaritans, so the fact that one would help an injured Judean when two of his countrymen passed him by emphasizes the idea the Golden Rule. So Mark Twain was a Samaritan, not belonging to your religion, but willing to help out when you were in need. And, he may be able to help you again, if you let him.
So cast no stones, people. In fact, you would do well to follow Twain's example of helping others in need. After all, it would be the Christian thing to do.

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