This is another installment of my ongoing Ghost Writer series. Originally posted on August 15, 2012, I quickly learned with this piece that nothing generates conversation faster than controversy--and this piece certainly did that! And the funny thing was, it was never my intention to create controversy--I was simply correcting an incorrect statement I heard on Bill O'Reilly.
In all the years I've been doing this, I've only ever gone back and edited a piece once (for more than minor punctuation and grammar)--and that was this one. I tried to clarify what I'd originally said, and then I got criticized for doing that. So I took it down. I found links to this piece all over, and a lot of the comments I had to translate back into English from Dutch, French, and German. It certainly got around. The strangest part of this is that few disagreed with my assertion that Mark Twain wasn't an athiest. Most of the argument was around the definition of "God" and the definition of "athiesm." Here it is again for the first time in over a year. I didn't keep the original version, this is the one I edited at the time. And it went like this:
I was recently watching Bill O'Reilly's "The Factor" on Fox News. I won't say whether I watch him because I like him, or because he ticks me off--it doesn't matter what side of the political fence I sit on. During Bill's weekly "Culture Quiz," he made a rather stunning remark. He said that Mark Twain was an athiest.
I've watched the show a number of years, and it was the first time I was motivated to write Bill O'Reilly an email--which I understand he read later that week on air. I missed it, so I don't know if he considered me a "pinhead" or a "patriot." I got a flood of emails telling me he'd read my email but not one person told me how I'd fared. Could somebody please tell me! Was I "pinhead" or a "patriot?"
Anyway, Mark Twain was not an athiest. It's an area I know a little something about. Mark Twain was a Freemason. And in order to be a Freemason, one must profess a belief in God--and that's not defined as simply the Christian God. It means you believe in God, or Diety, or a Higher Power. In other words, you must profess that you are not an athiest.
Mark Twain was one of the very first Freemasons I wrote about in the first volume of my Famous American Freemasons series--and I'm very careful in my research. He was a Freemason. There is no question about it. Back when I wrote the book, I confirmed his membership with both the Grand Lodge of Missouri, and the Missouri Lodge of Research (of which I'm now a member). His membership alone is evidence he believe in Diety. You cannot be both an athiest and a Freemason.
But I'm happy to provide a bit more evidence.
Samuel Clemens was a member of Polar Star Lodge No. 79, in St. Louis Missouri. He was raised a Master Mason on July 10, 1861. Later, during a trip around the world that became the basis for his novel Innocent's Abroad, Samuel Clemens procured a gavel which he had inscribed as a gift for the Master of his Masonic Lodge in Missouri. The inscription read: "This Mallet is of Cedar cut in the Forest of Lebanon, whence Solomon obtained the Timbers for the Temple. The handle was cut by Bro. Clemens himself from a cedar planted just outside the walls of Jerusalem by Bro. Godfrey DeBouillon, the first Christian Conqueror of that City, 19th of July, 1099. The gavel in its present form was made at Alexandria, Egypt, by order of Bro. Clemens. From Bro. Sam'l L. Clemens."
That doesn't really sound like an athiest--does it?
While I believe Bill O'Reilly wrote one of the best books in the last twenty years on Abraham Lincoln in his New York Times Bestseller Killing Lincoln, he sure got his historical facts wrong on this one.
Todd E. Creason is an author and novelist whose work includes the award-winning non-fiction historical series Famous American Freemasons and the novels One Last Shot (2011) and A Shot After Midnight (2012). He's currently working on the third novel Shot to Hell which will be released in Spring 2014.