Was Mark Twain
An Atheist?
Hal Bush

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Hal Bush"
Subject: Re: Mark Twain And The Patent Medicine Ad
Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2000 11:22 AM

No. (Understand that to me, an atheist is someone who simply lacks a god-belief -- for whatever reason -- and that I go along with Charles Bradlaugh and the rest who would call an infant an atheist, since a-theism means without theism).

Part of the time he sure seemed like an atheist (such as the poem "Contract with Mrs. T. K. Beecher") but other times he seemed like a theist or at least one who embraced the supernatural.

Then again, some people change, and others waver. The subject of God and the supernatural is no easy deal, and I don't blame anyone for being unsure. I try not to categorize someone as atheist or theist unless they consistently use the term (or unless I am in direct dialogue with that person).

Ingersoll called himself an agnostic and an infidel, and I'll buy that. This gives me something to work on. Paine was clearly a Deist, as was Jefferson.

But Twain was Twain, and who can really explain him? I like him because he merely described his opinions; I don't remember him attaching a label to himself (but I could be wrong).

I've certainly not been the same throughout my life. I first called myself an "atheist" in a courtroom in 1988, and the second time I called myself an "atheist" was shortly before I started putting together the predecessor to this magazine. I was, at one time, a Christian; at another time, I lived with the Hare Krishnas; at still another time, I'd have been glad to read your Tarot.

Because I've always had a passion for religion and religious beliefs, and because Twain has had such a profound influence upon me during just about every phase of my life, I'd be interested in any studies of his religious views. If you have a book or article, I'd be interested in reading it. If you could dash off a few notes laying out your case or, better yet, showing both sides of Twain, I'd be more than happy to print it (though I cannot pay other than a free year or so: disability forced me into early retirement and this is the best I can do right now; perhaps if my lady friend who just won eight figures decides that I deserve to do this right, that situation will change).

I have read the old American Atheists article that calls him "two-faced" when it comes to his religious views. (It's around somewhere; I'll find it and post it eventually, but am reluctant to post or reprint it because of its tone.) But I think this charge is unfair, considering that religious claims elicit such complex reactions in most people -- particularly complex and open-minded people such as Twain. Sure he wavered, but I cannot go so far as to describe him as being two-faced about it. Part of my goal here is to encourage compassion when confronted with others' religious beliefs, and Twain, of all people, cannot be sized up in three or four pages -- if he can be sized up at all!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule
(The response that used to live here has moved.)

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