Mark Twain: The Character of God As Represented in the Old and New Testaments

Mark Twain: The Character of God as Represented in the Old and New Testaments, Dictated June, 19, 1906. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume II, page 128:
Our bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactitude. The portrait is substantially that of a man -- if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one would desire to associate with, now that Nero and Caligula are dead.

In the Old Testament His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless, and thousand-fold severity; punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers; even descending to wreak bloody vengeance upon harmless calves and lambs and sheep and bullocks, as punishment for inconsequential trespasses committed by their proprietors.

It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere; it makes Nero an angel of light and leading, by contrast.

It begins in inexcusable treachery, and that is the keynote to the entire biography. That beginning must have been invented in a pirate's nursery, it is so malign and so childish.

To Adam is forbidden the fruit of a certain tree -- and he is gravely informed that if he disobeys he shall die, How could that be expected to impress Adam? Adam was merely a man in stature; in knowledge and experience he was in no way the superior of a baby of two tears of age; he could have no idea of what death meant. He had never seen a dead thing; he had never heard of a dead thing before. The word meant nothing to him. If the Adam child had been warned that if he ate of the apples he would have been transformed into a meridian of longitude, that threat would have been the equivalent of the other, since neither of them could mean anything to him.

The watery intellect that invented the memorable threat could be depended on to supplement it with other banalities and low-grade notions of justice and fairness, and that is what happened. It was decreed that all of Adam's descendents, to the latest day should be punished for the baby's trespass against a law of his nursery fulminated against him before he was out of his diapers.

For thousands and thousands of years his posterity, individual by individual, has been unceasingly hunted and harried with afflictions in punishment of the juvenile misdemeanor which is grandiloquently called Adam's Sin.

And during all that vast lapse of time, there have been no lack of rabbis and popes and bishops and priests and parsons and lay slaves eager to applaud this infamy, maintain the unassailable justice and righteousness of it, and praise its Author in terms of flattery so gross and extravagant that none but a God could listen to it and not hide His face in disgust and embarrassment.

Hardened as our Oriental potentates are, through long experience, not even they would be able to endure the rank quality of it which our God endures with complacency and satisfaction from our pulpits every Sunday.

We brazenly call our God the source of mercy, while we are aware, all the time, there is not an authentic instance in history of His ever having exercised that virtue. We call Him the source of morals, while we know by His history and His daily conduct, as lived with our own senses, that he is totally destitute of anything resembling morals.

We call him Father and not in derision, although we would detest and denounce any earthly father who would inflict upon his child a thousandth part of the pains and miseries and cruelties which our God deals out to His children every day, and has dealt out to them daily during all the centuries since the crime of creating Adam was committed.

We divide him in two, bring half of Him down to an obscure and infinitesimal corner of the world to confer salvation upon a little colony of Jews -- and only Jews, no one else -- and leave the other half of Him enthroned in heaven and looking down and eagerly and anxiously watching for results.

We reverently study the history of the earthly half, and deduce from it the conviction that the earthly half has reformed, is equipped with morals and virtues and in no way resembles the abandoned, malignant half that abides upon the throne. We conceive that the earthly half is just, merciful, charitable, benevolent, forgiving and full of sympathy for the sufferings of mankind and anxious to remove them. Apparently we deduce this character not by examining the facts but by diligently declining to search them, measure them and weigh them.

The earthly half requires us to be merciful and sets an example by inventing a lake of fire and brimstone in which all of us who fail to recognize and worship Him as God are to be burned through all eternity. And not only we are offered these terms, are to be thus burned if we neglect them, but also the earlier billions of human beings are to suffer this awful fate, although they all lived and died without ever having heard of Him or the terms at all.

This exhibition of mercifulness may be called gorgeous. We have nothing approaching it among human savages, nor among the wild beasts of the jungle. We are required to forgive our brother seventy times seven and be satisfied and content, if at our death bed, after a pious life, our soul escape from our body before the hurrying priest can get to us and furnish a pass with his mumblings and candles and incantations. This example of the forgiving spirit may be called gorgeous.

We are told that the two halves of our God are only seemingly disconnected by their separation; that in fact the two haves remain one, and equally powerful notwithstanding the separation. This being the case, the earthly half who mourns over the sufferings of mankind and would like to remove them, and is quite competent to remove them at any moment He may choose -- satisfies Himself with restoring sight to a blind person here and there instead of restoring to all blind; cures a cripple here and there instead of curing all the cripples; furnishes to five thousand famishing persons a meal, and lets the millions that are now hungry remain hungry -- and all the time He admonishes inefficient man to cure these ills which God Himself inflicted upon them and which He could extinguish with a word if he chose to do it, and thus do a plain duty which He had neglected from the beginning and always will neglect while time shall last.

He raised several dead persons to life. He manifestly regarded this as a kindness. If it was kindness it was not just to confine it to a half dozen persons. He should have raised the rest of the dead. I would not do it myself, for I think the dead are the only human beings really well off -- but I merely mention it in passing, as one of those incongruities with which our Bible history is overcharged.

Whereas the God of the Old Testament is a fearful and repulsive character, He is at least consistent. He is frank and outspoken. He makes no pretense to the possession of a moral virtue of any kind except with His mouth. No such thing is anywhere discoverable in His conduct. I think He comes infinitely nearer to being respectworthy than does His reformed Self, as guilelessly exposed in the New Testament.

Nothing in all history -- nor even in His massed history combined -- remotely approaches in atrocity the invention of hell.

His heavenly self, His Old Testament self, is sweetness and gentleness and respectability compared to His reformed earthly self. In heaven He claims not a single merit, and hasn't one -- outside those claimed with His mouth -- whereas in the earth He claimed every merit in the entire catalogue of merits, yet practiced them only now and then, penuriously, and finished by conferring hell upon us, which abolished all his fictitious merits in a body.