Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth, Letter 2

Science blogger PZ Myers and author Mark Twain would get along like a house afire.

Excerpt from Letter 2:

There is nothing about man that is not strange to an immortal. … For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race—and of ours—sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer that he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!

His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists—utterly and entirely—of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet he is quite sure he will like in heaven….

All nations look down upon all other nations.

All nations dislike all other nations.

All white nations despise all colored nations…

Further. All sane people detest noise.

All people, sane or insane, like to have variety in their life….

Every man, according to the mental equipment that has fallen to his share, exercises his intellect constantly, ceaselessly, and this exercise makes up a vast and valued and essential part of his life. The lowest intellect, like the highest, possesses a skill of some kind and takes a keen pleasure in testing it, proving it, perfecting it. The urchin who is his comrade’s superior in games is as diligent and as enthusiastic in his practice ass are the sculptor, the painter, the pianist, the mathematician and the rest. Not one of them could be happy if his talent were put under an interdict.

Now then, you have the facts. You know what the human race enjoys, and what it doesn’t enjoy. It has invented a heaven…: guess what it is like!

  1. First of all, I recall to your attention that extraordinary fact with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys—yet he has left it out of his heaven! …
  2. In man’s heaven, everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there… It goes on all day long, and every day…
  3. Meantime, every person is playing a harp…. Consider the deafening hurricane of sound… It is a service of praise…. Do you ask who it is that is willing to endure this strange compliment, this insane compliment?… It is God! … It is easy to see that the originator of the heaven… copied it from the show-ceremonies of some sorry little State up in the back settlements of the Orient somewhere.
  4. The inventor of their heaven empties into it all the nations of the earth, in one common jumble…. They have to be brothers…. Here in the earth all nations hate each other…. Yet every pious person adores that heaven and wants to get into it.
  5. Every man in the earth possess some share of intellect … and takes pride in it. And then he contrives a heaven that hasn’t a rag of intellect in it anywhere.

The way Twain puts it, you can see why some people have said they’d take “Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”

See also:
Letters from the Earth: Naked and unashamed
Letters from the Earth: Mark Twain and PZ Myers


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