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My own Bible

Thank God for Mark Twain

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I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy to be in the middle of a discussion and all of a sudden the other person jerks up ramrod straight with a triumphant look in his or her eye, and proclaims, "But the Bible says ..." as if the argument is officially, now and for all time, over. I've heard that phrase, "the Bible says," used as an argument-ender all my life and I'm sick of it. Once, I was discussing some issue or another with a Jehovah's Witness co-worker, and when he thought he'd ended our set-to by decreeing something "the Bible says," I replied, "So what? The Sears Roebuck catalog says just the opposite." He looked at me as if I had grown horns and a tail, but at least after that, he didn't bother me with his Bible thumping anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a trendy atheist like Christopher Hitchens. Far from it. I find the Bible full of profound insights, not to mention great stories. So are Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, and though I'm not very familiar with it, I imagine the Koran is, too. But do I think they are literally true? Please. Do I look like an idiot?

It may be hard for fundamentalists to believe, but a book doesn't have to be literally true to inspire. Heck, it doesn't even have to be overtly religious.

In terms of wisdom, the Bible's one thing, but thanks be to God for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. What follows are quotes from the book, along with what I get out of them.

"We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed -- only a little kind of a low chuckle." (Chapter 12)

Some of life's finest moments are the simplest and are to be enjoyed, going with the flow without overanalyzing everything.

"All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised. All kings is mostly rapscallions." (Chapter 23)

Rulers and politicians may be necessary, but don't ever think they're all honest, or even always mean well.

"I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on, s'pose you'd a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I'd feel bad -- I'd feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?" (Chapter 16)

It pays to think things through, especially when your instincts conflict with what you've been taught in the past.

"H'aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?" (Chapter 26)

The idea of "communal wisdom" is too often an exercise in delusion.

[Huck agonizes over whether to tell his benefactor, Miss Watson, where to find her former slave Jim (as he believes society and God expect him to), or follow his conscience and help Jim escape from his new owners] "I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, 'All right, then, I'll GO to hell.'" (Chapter 31)

At times, it's better to follow your own moral compass than to blindly obey societal rules you feel are cruel and hypocritical.

"Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks." (Chapter 3)

What passes for mainstream religious truth is often a lie, or at least very disappointing.

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." (Chapter 1)

Get all you can out of a great book, but don't think you're going to find everything you need in it.

Amen.

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