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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 29 Apr 1996 19:01:01 -0500
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For those of you who've looked over my _Cradle Skeptic_ or are
interested in the influence of Tom Paine on Our Author, I offer the
following new pages added to Chap. IV of my book.   Again, I hope
for response, criticism, suggestions, etc.

After giving background about Twain's reading of Paine, critical
agreement on his general influence, and noting where Twain referred
to Paine in his writings, I added:

    There should be no doubt that Twain felt a strong affinity for
Paine, and one reason for this is that young Sam Clemens saw a
reflection of his own early religious doubts in Paine's
rememberances.  In the Age of Reason, Paine recalled "From the time
I was capable of concieving an idea, and acting upon it by
reflection, I either douted the truth of the christian system or
thought it to be a strange affair" (Reason 64).  After recalling a
childhood event that sparked his questioning of the church, Paine
wrote an observation closely paralleling Twain's own thoughts on
religion and children (quoted earlier).  After debunking the power
of prayer (Reason 45), Paine said "I moreover believe that any
system of religion that has any thing in it that shocks the mind of
a child, cannot be a true system," and that Christian parents are
ashamed to tell their children of the true nature of their religion
(65).  Pointing to the Christian Bible, Mark Twain not only made
much the same claim in his own adult years, but often virtually
made Paine's words his own, particularlly in his anti-Biblical
     To demonstrate this, it is worth comparing a number of
passages from The Age of Reason with similar quotations by Mark
Twain that clearly reflect Twain's own post-Hannibal views in
Letters From the Earth, The Mysterious Stranger, and elsewhere.
For example, in Chapters IV-VI of Age of Reason, Paine attacks
Christian mythology, satirizes the characterization of Satan, and
says believers in such myths are "credulous" (28-31).  Succeeding
chapters are detailed if jaundiced critiques of Biblical stories
laced with literary analyses of Old Testament and New Testament
structure and organization preceding Twain's techniques in such
pieces as "James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."  In his
concluding pages, Paine wrote:
          Of all the systems of religion that were ever invented,
          there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more
          unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more
          contradictory in itself, than this thing called
          Christianity.  Too absurd for belief, too impossible to
          concieve, and too inconsistant for practice, it renders
          the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and
          fanaticts (Reason 189-190)
Later, Paine writes:
           . . .    The Bible represents God to be a
          changeable, passionate, vindictive Being, making a
          world and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of
          what he had done, and promising not to do so again.
          Setting one nation to cut the throats of another,
          and stopping the course of the sun, till the
          butchery should be done (197).
     The "cutting of throats" image was developed in Twain's "The
Lowest Animal" essay (1897) saying of man: "He has made a grave-
yard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's
path to happiness and heaven" (DeVoto, Letters 176).  Paine's
characterization of God is  repeated when Twain writes:
          The best minds will tell you that when a man has
          begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly
          care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from
          disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its way-
          wardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and
          for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon
          it a wanton cruelty.  God's treatment of his earthly
          children, every day and every night, is the exact
          opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly
          justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and
          indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all,
          when he commits them. (What is Man? 418)
     The similarities between the Paine passage and Young Satan's
final words in The Mysterious Stranger are even more obvious:
          . . . a God who could make good children as easily as
          bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have
          made every one of them happy, yet never made a single
          happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet
          stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal
          happiness unearned, yet required his other children
          to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet
          cursed his other children with biting miseries and
          maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and
          invented hell--mouths mercy and invented hell--mouths
          Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy
          times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to
          other people and has none himself; who frowns upon
          crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without
          invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility
          for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing
          it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with
          altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused
          slave to worship him! (Great Short Works 365).
     In  Letters from the Earth, Twain says of the Bible:
           It is full of interest.  It has noble poetry in it;
          and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched
          history; and some good morals; and a wealth of
          obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies. (What is
          Man? 412)
     This paragraph summarizes Chapter VII of Age of Reason in
which Paine describes the Bible as a chronicle of "cruel and
tortourous" history," "a history of wickedness that has served to
corrupt and brutalize man kind" mixed with "poetry, anecdote, and
devotion together" as well as morals akin to other philosophies and
"paltry tales, all of which Paine repeatadly calls frauds (34-35).
In Paine's questioning of Jesus's intentions to establish a new
religion, Paine exclaims,  "The New Testament! That is, the new
Will, as if there could be two wills of the Creator" (38-9).  This
idea can be compared to Twain's observation:
          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. (What is Man? 442)
     It would clearly be a tremendous oversimplification to say the
writings now collected in The Bible According to Mark Twain are
merely Twain's reworkings of Paine's Age of Reason.  Still, the
content, rhetorical style, and the angry denunciations of scripture
are all remarkably similar in example after example in the
religious essays of both writers with one notable difference in
emphasis: Paine's targets are primarily scripture and the church he
feels fabricated both the Bible and the subsequent mythology based
on it; Twain goes further by denouncing the character of God along
with human hypocrisy and credulity.  It is also worth noting that
Paine continually refers to the Deity in the same manner as Sam
Clemens--a subject of derision, not faith or belief.  For both
writers, the Judeo-Christian God is a figure of dubious mythology,
and without belief in these scriptures, belief in the God central
to this mythos becomes unprovable and doubtful.
    And, while Thomas Paine has never enjoyed a reputation as a
humorist, there is much evidence in the Age of Reason to suggest
Paine's rhetorical twists and turns of phrase influenced Mark
Twain's comic sense and use of humorous comparisons to make
philosophic points.   For example, lampooning the story of Jonah
and the whale, Paine claims "it would have approached nearer to the
idea of a miracle, if Jonah had swallowed the whale"  (80).   Again
with a Twainian voice, Paine finds it odd that Satan flies Jesus
off to a mountain, "a whale of a miracle" itself, and offers Jesus
all the kingdoms of the world without discovering America (80).
Elaborating on this incident, Paine observed
          The book called the book of Matthew, says, (3.16) that
          the Holy Ghost descended in the shape of a dove.  It
          might as well have said a goose; the creatures are
          equally harmless, and the one is as much
          a nonsensical lie as the other. (Paine, "Author's
          Note,"         190).
     Later, Paine returns to this image, claiming the
Holy Ghost is represented "by a  flying pigeon," which makes it
"impossible that belief can attach itself to such wild conceits,"
an image and perspective preceeding Twain's similar mix of satire
and polemic in his anti-Biblical pieces (Reason 190).  Paine's
version of the story of Samson reads like a passage from Letters
from the Earth in style, tone, and point-of-view if not in the
          When Samson ran off with the gateposts of Gaza, if he
          ever did, (and whether he did or not is nothing to us)
          or when he visited his Delilah, or caught his foxes, or
          did anything else, what has revalation to do with these
          things?  If they were facts, he could tell them
          himself; or his secratary, if he kept one, could write
          them, if they were worth either telling or writing
           . . . we are neither the better or the wiser for
     knowing them (Paine 33).
     And the influence of Tom Paine upon Samuel Clemens went beyond
their common religious sensibilities . . .

And here I go into Paine's influence on Twain's political essays,
already part of _CS_.

So let me know where I should do more, less . . .

wes britton
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