I am curious whether there is an example of a 19th century historical figure who 1) did not consider himself/herself a Christian, but 2) alluded to or quoted Bible passages fluently in his/her speech or writing.

Recently I was reading a biography of a 19th century person who made extensive references to Scripture (explicit and casual) in his writings. I found myself evaluating his faith commitment on that basis, since in the 21st century I don't think a non-believer would bother to do that (except perhaps a politician, and in a stilted fashion). So in this question I am looking for a counter-example to my 21st century bias/expectation.

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    Not an answer, but in 19 C religious /scriptural education was a sine qua non, so anyone with any education would be able to quote Scripture, whether they believed it or not. And I suppose you have to be taught about "God" before you decide he/she/it doesn't exist ;-)
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 10:27
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    Can't quote any sources at this point, so posted as a comment - it is believed by some scholars that Lincoln was an atheist. It's definitely true that Samuel Clemens was an atheist. Both could (and did) quote Scripture, although most of Clemens's references were early in his career.
    – Jurp
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 12:56
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    Ben Franklin also made a lot of agnostic-friendly statements, in an era when actually coming out as an atheist would have been taboo.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 14:41
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    @TheHonRose: Yes, it was simply common culture, just as one might quote from Shakespeare or Greek & Roman writers. Today's equivalent might be citing movies & TV shows.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 17:57
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    What research have you done?
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 23:44

1 Answer 1


Well, I've found some citations, so now I have an answer: Samuel Clemens. This is an accepted Master's thesis that does a good job of explaining Clemens' lack of religion.

An excerpt:

...perhaps the incident in Huckleberry Finn where the oversized Bible, spread on the chest of the dying Boggs, crushing the life out of him, is as symbolic of Twain's religious attitude as anything he ever wrote.

And this is a collection of his quotes. Here are a few of them:

[The Bible is] a mass of fables and traditions, mere mythology.

Man is a marvelous curiosity ... he thinks he is the Creator's pet ... he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to him and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea.

There is no other life; life itself is only a vision and a dream for nothing exists but space and you. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad.

Note that the second link calls Clemens a man who believed in God but was not religious - this is patently false, as shown by many of the quotes. The issue with Clemens is that his actual, unedited Autobiography wasn't published until just recently, and even then, some material is being suppressed on his direct posthumous wishes.

EDIT - as noted in the comment, I only supply atheistic quotes and should in completeness supply Christian quotes. In fairness, I needed to find Christian and Scriptural references that Clemens did NOT use facetiously or ironically. This is difficult (without my rereading his canon), but I did find this one:

God puts something good and loveable in every man His hands create.

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    That's one half of an answer. Now you need to get some actual Bible quotes out of him.
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 11:49
  • Actually, facetious quotes would be acceptable as long as they are substantive.
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 22:22
  • In that case, pretty much anything out of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn would suffice. :) There is also a case where he was presented as a preacher when introduced to the head of the expedition that he documented in "Innocents Abroad".
    – Jurp
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 23:00

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