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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain
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What is Twain's attitude toward religion in Huckleberry Finn ?

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Mark Twain had an interesting religious background. Before he was married, he had little regard for Christianity. However, when he met Olivia Langdon, who later became his wife, she encouraged him to reevaluate his beliefs and behaviors. According to Professor Stephen Railton,

During this courtship, Clemens made some remarkable reformations....

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Mark Twain had an interesting religious background. Before he was married, he had little regard for Christianity. However, when he met Olivia Langdon, who later became his wife, she encouraged him to reevaluate his beliefs and behaviors. According to Professor Stephen Railton,

During this courtship, Clemens made some remarkable reformations. . . . For a while, he came close to religious orthodoxy, prayed, and went to church.

Mark Twain got married in 1870 and published Huckleberry Finn in 1884. Though he had periods of religious interest, as in the case of pursuing his wife and his early marriage, his religious faith wavered throughout his life. Knowing this, it is not surprising that his portrayal of Christianity in Huckleberry Finn is negative and even mocking.

One clear example of Twain's negative views toward Christianity is seen when Huck is staying with the Grangerford family. While there, Huck shows the hypocrisy of the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, two rival families. These families go to the same church and leave their guns "between their knees or stood them handy along the wall" during the service (chapter 18). After, he listens to the Grangerfords as they discuss the preacher's "good sermon" about "brotherly love," which had so many valuable thoughts about "faith and good works" (chapter 18). They praise the teachings of the sermons even though they are enemies committed to brutally killing one another's family members (chapter 18). Huck associates Christianity with their hypocritical behavior.

A while later, Miss Sophia asks Huck to go back to the church and find the Bible she left behind. He agrees to her request. When he arrives at the church, he explains:

There warn't anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn't any lock on the door, and hogs like puncheon floor in summer-time because it's cool. If you notice, most folks don't go to church only when they've got to; but a hog is different (113).

In other words, Huck believes that only pigs would want to be inside of a church because of the cool ground beneath. People, he insists, rarely want to be in church. Huck's negative attitude toward church is seen throughout the novel. This likely reflects Mark Twain's attitude toward the Christian church.

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Twain criticizes Christianity in Huckleberry Finn for its advocacy of slavery. Huck, for example, has learned through the church that slavery is a moral and beneficial institution. The novel satirizes, or pokes fun at, a church theology that approves a social order in which one person can own another. We can see this satire played out most clearly in Huck himself, who continuously battles a sense of guilt for his perceived wrongdoing in helping Jim escape. In one instance, after he protects Jim from capture, he says he is  "feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong." 

Eventually, Huck has such a crisis of conscience over his part in aiding someone else's "property" to flee that he writes a letter exposing Jim's location. However, he doesn't send it, valuing his relationship with Jim more than the morality the church has taught him. However, in this inverted moral universe, humor emerges from Huck's deeply held beleive that he has, in protecting Jim, committed a sin that will send him to hell.

Twain wrote the novel after the Civil War, when it was easy to see the moral confusion in a church that had supported an evil institution. However, Huckleberry Finn and Twain raise deeper questions about religious morality, criticizing religion and making a strong case for individuals to follow their hearts rather than the dictates of organized faith groups. 

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