1

This is one paragraph from a news article:

Politics is for decision makers and risk takers, not scholars and wimps, and I don’t think he has what it takes – the ethics of a hungry shark married to the confidence of Twain’s “Christian with four aces.”

I'm not sure what the Christian with four aces means. I read some English dictionaries but in vain.

I assume that 'four aces' refer to the aces of diamonds (♦), clubs (♣), hearts (♥) and spades (♠). But I'm not sure why this expression is related to confidence and why it has something to do with any religious faith.

3

The full quote attribute to Twain is :

I admire the serene assurance of those who have religious faith. It is wonderful to observe the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces.

The intended meaning is that a Christian is as confident in the correctness of their faith as a poker player holding four aces is confindent of winning.

  • And multiply the two together and you have an extraordinary amount of (over)confidence. – Hot Licks Jun 13 '17 at 1:30
  • 2
    Twain may have used multiple formulations of the line over his lifetime, but this is a paraphrasing from a later author; the original is not so grandiose. – choster Jun 13 '17 at 2:15
  • @choster Thanks for the link to Twain. He's such a delight. – Al Maki Jun 13 '17 at 2:32
2

It looks like the answers here come close to the point of the phrase, but they're missing a bit.

Yes, the two parts of the phrase, "a Christian" and "four aces" both refer to having confidence; yet, the deeper level has to do with the fact that, in theory, if a Christian did not have a strong hand, they would be in a tough spot, because poker would require them to "bluff", which is a form of lying or deception, actions which are considered sinful within the context of Christianity.

Therefore, the high level of confidence of a "Christian with four aces" is due to the facts that:

  1. the Christian has a very strong hand (obviously they know that no one else has an ace)

  2. they don't have to bluff (i.e. lie)

2

I suspect this is a wicked example of Twain's wit and an ironic reference to Canada Bill Jones. The latter was an infamous riverboat and train gambler and thief who famously said "a Smith and Wesson beats four aces". He was also a famous antagonist of preachers and, shall we say, conspicuously pious folk, and a contemporary of Twain.

Canada Bill took to the railroads, and so successfully that once he offered the president of a southern railway company $25,000 a year for the gambling franchise on his trains, allowing that he would not molest the good customers, only those natural enemies of mankind the preachers.

The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page 46 June 2 1946. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/108397305/

Thus, Bill's typical victims were usually pretty darn happy about their state of affairs, no doubt attributing their seeming good fortune to the just deserts of the righteous, right up until they got had. It's far easier to rob someone after they put all their valuables on the table than before they do.

So I think Twain was actually saying this with a knowing wink to his audience, eg. "I admire the serene assurance of those who have religious faith. It is wonderful to observe the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces - right before they get taken to the cleaners".

Now whether or not this implication was understood by the person who wrote your news article is open to debate. But to me, a "Christian with four aces" can only be someone who is about to receive their comeuppance in a spectacular fashion. And Twain's tone is just dripping with schadenfreude. Note that playing poker is not generally a passtime of the pious. There is quite a lot going on here.

In the news article, the description ' [...] the ethics of a hungry shark married to the confidence of Twain’s “Christian with four aces” ' is equally ironic. And it still reads to me as a naive confidence borne by an unreasonable faith in the idea that the righteous will triumph because they are righteous.

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