A simple passage from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain:

WidowDouglas

The old Welshman came home toward daylight, spattered with candle-grease, smeared with clay, and almost worn out. He found Huck still in the bed that had been provided for him, and delirious with fever. The physicians were all at the cave, so the Widow Douglas came and took charge of the patient. She said she would do her best by him, because, whether he was good, bad, or indifferent, he was the Lord’s, and nothing that was the Lord’s was a thing to be neglected. The Welshman said Huck had good spots in him, and the widow said:

“You can depend on it. That’s the Lord’s mark. He don’t leave it off. He never does. Puts it somewhere on every creature that comes from his hands.”

Now, I’m not an evangelical by any means. I get uncomfortable, all these years away from my Southern Baptist upbringing, when people ask questions like “Have you invited Jesus into your heart?” or “Have you been saved from your sins?” It’s not that I look down on their faith, it’s just that I know that a lot of those phrases are used by people who, while preaching love and redemption, would condemn my friends and family members who are gay or bisexual, would suggest that all Muslims are going to hell, or would believe with all their heart that the soul of a dead infant would be cast into everlasting fire because she didn’t say the words, “I accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior” before she died when only days old.

(My niece, Elizabeth, died at 12 days of age. Tell me her soul is in Hell, and you and I are going to have problems.)

And yet… this simple passage from Mark Twain reminds me that, for all the intolerance which has been heaped onto it like bags of manure on a farm truck, the basic message of Christianity is still that every human being (not just every Christian) is a child of God. If you don’t believe in God, that’s okay. For this purpose, God is a metaphor, a symbol. The message is still that there’s a special spark in everyone, that it deserves to be nurtured, and that there will be rewards for those doing the nurturing.

Maybe you’ll get burned. Even children of God are prone to bite the hand that feeds them. But maybe it doesn’t hurt to remember that, whatever bad you think religion has done, it has also tried to promote the message that all of us are worth saving, even if, like Huck Finn, we’re illiterate, live on the wrong side of the tracks, smoke, drink, swear and didn’t get enrolled in the right pre-Ivy League preschool.

Just a thought.

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