Grace In The Arts: Mark Twain: A Bitter Battle With God -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 17:33 (Autumn 2004)
Article: Grace In The Arts: Mark Twain: A Bitter Battle With God
Author: James A. Townsend

Grace In The Arts:
Mark Twain: A Bitter
Battle With God

James A. Townsend

Elgin, Illinois

I. Introduction

“If the 19th-century American dream has any single literary laureate, it is Samuel Clemens, known…by his pen name, Mark Twain,” announced the Family Encyclopedia of American History.1 With that assessment literary critic Edward Wagenknecht concurred when he penned: “Mark Twain is…incomparably the dominating personality in American literature, the mightiest figure in our American mythology…”2 James M. Cox observed that in The Green Hills of Africa Ernest Hemingway asserted that “Huckleberry Finn was both the first and best book in American literature” so that “Mark Twain began to be viewed as the writer’s writer.”3 Likewise, William Faulkner told Japanese students that “Mark Twain was really the father of American literature…”4

Probably no one said it better than Twain’s long-time friend and contemporary critic William Dean Howells. At Twain’s funeral Howells acknowledged that he’d known America’s sages, poets, critics and humorists, “…but Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature.”5

Most likely few general readers, Christian or otherwise, are aware that the “Lincoln of our literature” was not merely mischievous but also

malevolent. America’s foremost humorist was one of God’s most stringent critics. As time went on, his venom and vitriol grew against the biblical God. Especially in some of his later works (which were only published posthumously—by his decision) did his anti-God acerbity arrive at its acme.

II. A Brief Biography

Mark Twain, born in 1835, was raised in Hannibal, Missouri. He “once claimed that at the age of two weeks [old] he knew the Bible well enough to protest being named Samuel after a boy whom the Lord ‘had to call…a couple of times before he would come!’”6 (Twain is referring to 1 Sam 3:1–10.) While the statement reeks of typical Twain exaggeration, it does put its finger on an important issue—namely, that the Bible was ineradicably ingrained in Twain’s system at an early age. Of his two parents, Mark’s mother was the one who gravitated more toward ...

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