Last week I had the rare great privilege of attending Hal Holbrook’s performance of Mark Twain Tonight. It had been 19 years since the last time I heard it. I noticed that Hal has become Mark Twain, and his choice of material reflected a man who is mellow and profoundly touched by the fear and hypocrisy of a world gone mad. He was especially poignant in his jokes about religious extremism, and one 10-minute monologue addressed the press, the entertainment industry, the political world, and the religious establishment without any jokes at all. Very powerful… I wish I could reconstruct what he said. One of his memorable humorous lines: “Man is the only animal with the true religion… several of ’em.”
I find myself identifying with Mark Twain in at least 3 ways: we both were blessed with 4 wonderful daughters; we both love to write, though I’m late in getting started on my book-writing; and we both have been iconoclasts who see the humor and the hutzpah in all brands of human belief and unbelief. Religion is dangerous; lack of religion is equally dangerous*. Politics is prone to corruption; cynicism and withdrawal is the ground and fertilizer of demagoguery. And there’s a fourth way I identify with Mark, come to think of it: we both struggled with severe economic hard times in our families. Mark went bankrupt, and I’ve come close. Both of us had to dig ourselves out by reinventing ourselves, and letting go of some of our pet ideas and projects. Now if I can only write something worth reading….
* A wonderful web commentary that articulates an honest view of the pitfalls of skepticism is by Judith Hayes, the “happy heretic”, in her April 2001 post: http://www.thehappyheretic.com/04-01.htm “Humorless Humanists”. She, like Mark Twain, exemplifies the wonderful qualitiies which reveal the shameful poverty of mainstream Christianity’s notion of a hell for unbelievers….