What is Mark Twain's view of religion in his novel The Gilded Age? 

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Twain, as a satirist, is known for peeling away the layers of polite society and examining the flaws underneath. In The Gilded Age, Twain uses his deep understanding of the human condition to show how Modern Times had changed the meaning and purpose of religion. No longer a means to salvation, religion had become a path to material wealth, playing on the fears and hopes of the then-generally undereducated  -- but highly religious -- masses. As Twain himself struggled with his own understanding of religion and its meaning both to the individual and society at large, he cast religion as a tool to be used, rather than an ideal to be lived. One character explains:

"Your religious paper is by far the best vehicle ... they'll 'lead' your article and put it right in the midst of the reading matter; and if it's got a few Scripture quotations in it, and some temperance platitudes and a bit of gush here and there about Sunday Schools, and a sentimental snuffle now and then about 'God's precious ones, the honest hard-handed poor,' it works the nation like a charm, my dear sir, and never a man suspects that it is an advertisement."
(Twain, The Gilded Age, gutenberg.org)

The people implementing these schemes are not religious themselves, but they have learned through social indoctrination of religion that it is an easy and relatively harmless way to manipulate people. In fact, by dressing their products in religious garb, they in a sense associate it with the "moral" causes of religion. Despite this, Twain also shows the truly religious characters -- those who actually believe instead of paying lip service -- to be of a higher moral worth, associating the lessons of religion rather than the religion itself as a tool for social good.

Read the study guide:
The Gilded Age

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