Sunday, October 07, 2012

I thought we could start our day with a little Mark Twain.

Well, my book is written—let it go. But if it were only to write over again there wouldn’t be so many things left out. They burn in me; and they keep multiplying; but now they can’t ever be said. And besides, they would require a library—and a pen warmed-up in hell.— Letter from Mark Twain to William Dean Howells, 22 Sept 1889

Below are a few excerpts that came to my attention recently from a  collection of Twain's writings titled "Europe and Elsewhere," which he wrote sometime between 1872 and 1908. It was published in 1923, thirteen years after his passing.

The portions below are taken from the part of the collection called "Bible Teaching and religious Practice."  

The Christian Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes. 

The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession - and take the credit of the correction. 

Christian England supported slavery and encouraged it for two hundred and fifty years, and her church’s consecrated ministers looked on, sometimes taking an active hand, the rest of the time indifferent. England’s interest in the business may be called a Christian interest, a Christian industry. She had her full share in its revival after a long period of inactivity, and his revival was a Christian monopoly; that is to say, it was in the hands of Christian countries exclusively. English parliaments aided the slave traffic and protected it; two English kings held stock in slave-catching companies. 

Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one - the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession - at the tail end. 

Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all. 

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. 

Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch - the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from the statute book, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand. 

There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

"The texts that authorized them remain."

Today we are dealing with the growing acceptance of homosexuality. And of course, as every time throughout human history, the church is fighting social change. Ultimately we know it will gain acceptance, and will no longer be the subject of persecution, despite the best attempts of the church to hold progress at bay.

The practice of fearing homosexuality and punishing those in the gay community will change. But the text will remain the same.

The text always remains the same.


  1. Anonymous3:59 AM

    I'm not really 'anonymous': I'm grammy97, but there's no disqus option here.
    Gryphen, none of your posts about being an atheist have troubled me because you're very articulate; sometimes funny, and always interesting. This one troubles me. I expected better from Mark Twain. "The text remains" is a good line, and the repetition is effective. But this is my entire beef with the visible, public "church". They never give you the references for the texts. Just bellowing bullies who yell "The Bible says . . . ." and never say exactly WHERE it says that. Book, chapter and verse, guys!

    I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. I do not believe that the Lord God of the Bible expects me, or anyone else, to be bound by the Levitical laws for the Old Testament Jews. Paul plainly said that these things were examples. The text can remain, and do no harm. "Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" never killed anyone. The bullies who pass the offering plate have perverted the words, and they're the ones who insist on the torturing and killing.

    1. AJ Billings5:37 AM

      I have a big issue with Paul, and his collected writings, which have been widely accepted as gospel. Acceptance of even his casual letters have imposed a very oppressive view on millions of people for saying things like

      Women should be silent
      Women should not teach
      Women should not have authority
      Women should be modest
      Gays are going to hell
      Alcoholics are doomed to hell
      Effeminate people are going to hell
      (That last statement is pretty outrageous, considering that some men are born with very effeminate traits that they can't help, and are often beaten up and killed for their looks in spite of NOT being gay)

      These statements are now used to oppress, demean, and mentally torture millions of people all over the world.

    2. Anonymous11:57 AM

      I'm not really 'anonymous': I'm grammy97, but there's no disqus option here.

      Just as one can be good without God, one can be grammy97 without Disqus. In the Select Profile menu, select "Name/URL" and enter grammy97 in the Name field. You can leave the URL field blank or—if there is such a thing—enter your Disqus profile URL.

  2. Anonymous5:03 AM

    Back at you Gryphen - here's a good one to curl up by the fire with on a cold Alaska day, it's called Letters from Earth (also Twain). I love the part where Satan visits earth.

  3. Anonymous5:38 AM

    Grammy 97---it's nice of you to believe that, and so kind to exempt me. I have to ask, though, at what point does one look in the mirror?

  4. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Thanks for sharing this Gryphen. It is so spot on true.

  5. Anonymous7:34 AM

    The problem is Bibliolatry. It's one thing to be guided by the good advice and teachings in a book. It's another to worship the book, insist every word is absolute truth and can never be wrong. That attitude worships the book instead of the deity/power behind it. The Bible, like all books, was written by humans and is chock full of human bias and points of view, and human imperfection. The Old Testament, in particular, portrays the kind of deity -- vengeful & angry, or merciful & beneficent -- that the people writing it wanted to believe in to justify their actions and desires of the moment.

    And to justify its veracity by claiming its every word is true because they're directly inspired by God -- what a stroke of fear-inducing advertising genius!

    Book worship is ludicrous. And if you will notice, the current crop of Religious-Political right-wingers are approaching the Constitution the same way as they do the bible---as the divinely inspired word of God that must be reverenced/interpreted literally, and never changed---except for eliminating the parts they don't like. ;)

  6. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Homosexuals are with us to stay. As parents become less and less attached to their marriages, so will children be brought up in single parent homes. That means that we will have more and more homosexuals amongst us. Homosexuality is all about nurture and very little about nature. Deny it all you want jesse and keep on posting about the queer because that's your mechanism you're using to make yourself feel better about the mess you and your wife made of your dotter.

    1. Anonymous8:06 AM
      Whoever you are...get some help. You sound like you are wrestling with some...umm..."feelings" there and you come here and post your pathetic thoughts...hoping that Gryphen can help you.

      Sounds like you need to see a professional about's a tip...don't look up Marcus Bachmann's program...he can't help you either! LOL!!!

      PS...another tip..."dotter" is spelled "daughter"...maybe you should get an education too! LOL!!!

    2. Anonymous10:18 AM

      Anonymous8:06 AM

      Nice try - thanks for playing.

      Now go get an education Maybe someday you can get out of third grade.

    3. Anonymous10:35 AM

      Can you please cite the scientific study from which your information regarding homosexuality is from? Oh, wait, I forgot, you're just trolling!

      Also, to GinaM, this cretin likes to bait Gryphen regarding homosexuality, and he/she always does it with a very creepy undertone and always misspells daughter. Individual seems mentally disturbed and shows signs of having been abused and strongly suggests possible homosexual tendencies through his/her rabid denial and denouncement of homosexuality. I've always hoped that this person lives far, far away from Alaska because he/she seems like the type that might not just be all talk.

    4. Anonymous11:53 AM

      Another repressed wingnut who can't get laid...

    5. Anita Winecooler5:29 PM

      Anonymous 10:35
      I totally agree with your assessment, and add that there's something seriously lacking in this poster's life that makes them feel inadequate to Gryphen, a bully wannabe that never gets the satisfaction of bothering Gryphen, and never will.

    6. Anonymous10:35 AM

      Excellent analysis! I agree with your diagnosis doctor!

      See 8:06AM...we are here to HELP! LOL!!!

  7. deebee8:08 AM

    One of his books published under another nom du plume (his handlers didn't want controversies to cloud his sales) "What is Man" begins:
    "Man is a museum of diseases which begins as dirt, departs as stench, and is created for no other apparent purpose than the nourishment and entertainment of microbes."
    Another same faux nom "1601 a Fireside Chat in Tudor Times" by Clemens is a bawdry essay depicting the after dinner conversation of Her Majesty the Queene and guests whose sole topic was a recently passed fart.

    1. Anonymous10:39 AM

      That's not the quote.

      "Man is made of dirt--I saw him made. I am not made of dirt. Man is a museum of diseases, a home of impurities; he comes to-day and is gone to-morrow; he begins as dirt and departs as stench; I am of the aristocracy of the Imperishables. And man has the Moral Sense. You understand? He has the Moral Sense. That would seem to be difference enough between us, all by itself."


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