An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

In Praise of Mark Twain

Yesterday’s First Unitarian service commemorated the centennial year of Mark Twain’s death—and the publication of his autobiography.Twain who famously said, “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true,” is not an author one expects to hear quoted in church—but Unitarians do not attend church to hear the kinds of authors quoted in more conservative denominations.

George, who doesn’t usually follow my excursions from Mormon chapels, was offended by quotes from Twain’s critique of the Book of Mormon—“chloroform in print” and “Whenever he [Joseph Smith] found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such scriptural phrases as ‘exceeding sore,’ ‘and it came to pass,’ etc., and made things satisfactory again.  ‘And it came to pass’ was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.”

Mormons unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon prior to the 1979 edition, will not appreciate the validity of Twain’s quip about “And it came to pass.” While Mormons might not enjoy Twain’s satire on a book they consider sacred, most will have to admit they find it less than a fascinating read. Church leaders continually admonish the faithful to read the book, something I’m sure would be unnecessary if said book were a real page turner.

Mark Twain was an equal opportunity satirist. In Letters from the Earth, Satan (writing to the archangels Michael and Gabriel) describes the curious human creatures who inhabit the earth—the only creatures God created which possess malice and nasty minds. Twain satirizes the traditional Christian view of heaven as a place lacking the most important activity for human males—sexual intercourse—and full of activities men dislike on earth: singing, playing the harp, praying, and church meetings that go on forever.

Twain would have loved the Mormon concept of sex in heaven and eternal procreation. He could have gone to his grave with greater hope if only he had studied Mormonism more thoroughly.

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Comments on: "In Praise of Mark Twain" (2)

  1. Of all the talk out there about JS I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything about his sense of humor. Something tells me he’d not have been a fan of Clemens. In fact, he might have been the anti-Clemens.

    And thanks for reminding me that I’d really like to checkout the UUs.

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