Monday, February 11, 2008

A Holy Cause for Clemens?: The War Prayer

Mark Twain, in addition to writing about Huck Finn and other adventures, also wrote a fascinating short story called "The War Prayer." Twain penned this story in response to America's imperial adventures in the Spanish-American War, but it wasn't published until after his death--ironically in November 1916--the month Woodrow Wilson was elected with a campaign slogan about keeping the U.S. out of World War I. Timely indeed.

Twain is his usual satirical self here, and perhaps even a bit prophetic. This story provides ways to think about the religious dimensions of nationalism and patriotism, the spiritual fervor with which it is was and is often communicated--particularly in times of war, and the power of criticism.

Read "The War Prayer" and the view the short story animated and illustrated. (Read more about the illustrated version here.)

On a related note, evangelical theologian Charles Marsh recently published a book titled Wayward Christian Soliders, a study that addresses the kind of religious patriotism Twain criticized in "The War Prayer." Marsh's book is not satire, but a theological plea for Christian ideals of hospitality, peace, and loving one's enemy (and neighbor).

Given your knowledge of Twain from your American Literature class, your study and understading of WWI from your favorite history teacher, and living in our own day of war and conflict, what do you think Twain wish to communicate through the story? What might one learn from Twain's story? Is it still relevant for the 21st century? What are your thougths about the illustrated "The War Prayer"?

[Photo credit here.]

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