Lazy (but Nevertheless Mildly Enriching) Pleasures

By Krause, Kenneth W. | The Humanist, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview

Lazy (but Nevertheless Mildly Enriching) Pleasures

Krause, Kenneth W., The Humanist

THE ABUNDANTLY celebrated authors featured in this edition of "The Good Book" are well past their prime. Indeed, two of the three are dead. The essays collected in each text respond to no contemporary crisis, break no new intellectual ground, and rely upon no cutting-edge research. One might dismiss such publications as literary frippery--of little more value, perhaps, than fictive masturbation.

In fact, I can't enthusiastically recommend any title by itself. Enjoyed as a group, however, the latest from Mark Twain (1835-1910), William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008), and Steven Weinberg (1933-) can illuminate in a way no single text--no matter how avant-garde--could. Each man, after all, was intensely engaged with the social movements, intellectual and technological achievements, and, of course, the politics of his respective era. And in quite distinctive ways, all three were obsessed with religion. They were, in other words, not so different from frequent patrons of this column.

For reasons unclear to me--perhaps only for his self-effacing if somewhat passive-aggressive wit, or perhaps only for his audacity to say what countless others were surely thinking--various and sundry pundits of religion continue to war over Twain's memory. Was he really America's Voltaire? An atheist restrained by ninteenth-century mores? Or, as a true believer to the bitter end, were Twain's piercing criticisms of religion aimed more toward individual and institutional hypocrisies than at the Christian faith itself?

Does his faith or lack thereof really matter? As S.T. Joshi observed, Twain's denouncements of religion were "harsher than those of many atheists who would follow in his wake," and that, as a consequence of "Twain's tender mercies, religion has few garments left untorn" Whatever he believed, Twain's intensely personal writings betrayed a religious preoccupation that, at times, could penetrate as deeply as it could entertain.

In volume one of editor Harriet Elinor Smith's Autobiography of Mark Twain (University of California, 2010), we find a mature intellect who, nonetheless, continued to struggle mightily with his contemporaries' ever-present religious expressions.

Twain's distaste for popular Christianity is well-represented by his 1906 recollection of John D. Rockefeller junior's "adventures in theology" A famous Bible-school preacher like his wealthy father, young Rockefeller instructed and apparently amused thousands of listeners across the nation every Monday morning. But when the nation laughed, Twain said, it was "laughing at itself." Young Rockefeller "never studied a doctrine for himself," Twain groused, and "never examined a doctrine upon its real merits." His sermons, in fact, were indistinguishable from those heard in church pulpits across the country every week, and his arguments were "already worn threadbare by the theologians of all the ages before [they] came in rags to him."

The author's scorn for the Christian ministry was as plain as a lion's fangs. But here, perhaps, his choice of critical conduits betrayed a more intense appetite for carnage. Whatever his objections to the Rockefellers' faith, the author utterly detested their money. Indeed, he seemed to resent young John's sermons concerning the elimination of all obstructions to personal salvation precisely because he judged his father's vast riches to epitomize such obstructions.

Also in 1906, Twain seized the opportunity to comment on a recent battle--10 "slaughter," as he stamped it--initiated by U.S. troops against the Moros of the Philippines. After a day and a half, the Americans had completely annihilated the tribe, "leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother." Apparently, General Leonard Wood had given his soldiers the option to capture or kill, and, in the immoderate custom of "Christian butchers," the soldiers chose the latter.

All of which prompted Theodore Roosevelt to pen a nippy letter of congratulations to Wood, who had lost only fifteen men during the affair, for their "brilliant feat of arms. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Lazy (but Nevertheless Mildly Enriching) Pleasures


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.