Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 12

Irreverence

One of the most trying defects which I find in these--these--what
shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them,
the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant
to my nature and my dignity. The furthest I can go in that
direction is to call them by names of limited reverence--names
merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never tainted by
harsh feeling. If THEY would do like this, they would feel better
in their hearts. Very well, then--to proceed. One of the most
trying defects which I find in these Stratfordolaters, these
Shakesperoids, these thugs, these bangalores, these troglodytes,
these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these buccaneers, these
bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in
every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I am
thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing
is sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it.
I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been
irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other
people. Am I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take
my unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary
decide. Here is the definition:


Irreverence. The quality or condition of irreverence toward God
and sacred things.


What does the Hindu say? He says it is correct. He says
irreverence is lack of respect for Vishnu, and Brahma, and
Chrishna, and his other gods, and for his sacred cattle, and for
his temples and the things within them. He endorses the
definition, you see; and there are 300,000,000 Hindus or their
equivalents back of him.

The dictionary had the acute idea that by using the capital G it
could restrict irreverence to lack of reverence for OUR Deity and
our sacred things, but that ingenious and rather sly idea
miscarried: for by the simple process of spelling HIS deities with
capitals the Hindu confiscates the definition and restricts it to
his own sects, thus making it clearly compulsory upon us to revere
HIS gods and HIS sacred things, and nobody's else. We can't say a
word, for he has our own dictionary at his back, and its decision
is final.

This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this: 1. Whatever is
sacred to the Christian must be held in reverence by everybody
else; 2, whatever is sacred to the Hindu must be held in reverence
by everybody else; 3, therefore, by consequence, logically, and
indisputably, whatever is sacred to ME must be held in reverence by
everybody else.

Now then, what aggravates me is, that these troglodytes and
muscovites and bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd
in and share the benefit of the law, and compel everybody to revere
their Shakespeare and hold him sacred. We can't have that:
there's enough of us already. If you go on widening and spreading
and inflating the privilege, it will presently come to be conceded
that each man's sacred things are the ONLY ones, and the rest of
the human race will have to be humbly reverent toward them or
suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it happens, the
word Irreverence will be regarded as the most meaningless, and
foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and impudent and
dictatorial word in the language. And people will say, "Whose
business is it, what gods I worship and what things hold sacred?
Who has the right to dictate to my conscience, and where did he get
that right?"

We cannot afford to let that calamity come upon us. We must save
the word from this destruction. There is but one way to do it, and
that is, to stop the spread of the privilege, and strictly confine
it to its present limits: that is, to all the Christian sects, to
all the Hindu sects, and me. We do not need any more, the stock is
watered enough, just as it is.

It would be better if the privilege were limited to me alone. I
think so because I am the only sect that knows how to employ it
gently, kindly, charitably, dispassionately. The other sects lack
the quality of self-restraint. The Catholic Church says the most
irreverent things about matters which are sacred to the
Protestants, and the Protestant Church retorts in kind about the
confessional and other matters which Catholics hold sacred; then
both of these irreverencers turn upon Thomas Paine and charge HIM
with irreverence. This is all unfortunate, because it makes it
difficult for students equipped with only a low grade of mentality
to find out what Irreverence really IS.

It will surely be much better all around if the privilege of
regulating the irreverent and keeping them in order shall
eventually be withdrawn from all the sects but me. Then there will
be no more quarrelling, no more bandying of disrespectful epithets,
no more heart burnings.

There will then be nothing sacred involved in this Bacon-
Shakespeare controversy except what is sacred to me. That will
simplify the whole matter, and trouble will cease. There will be
irreverence no longer, because I will not allow it. The first time
those criminals charge me with irreverence for calling their
Stratford myth an Arthur-Orton-Mary-Baker-Thompson-Eddy-Louis-the-
Seventeenth-Veiled-Prophet-of-Khorassan will be the last. Taught
by the methods found effective in extinguishing earlier offenders
by the Inquisition, of holy memory, I shall know how to quiet them.

Mark Twain

Sorry, no summary available yet.