11-19-2004, 12:27 AM #1
Another dose of H.L. Mencken . . .
A little inspiration for the uninspirable; a few words for the wordless; some thoughts for the thoughtless . . .
It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and
omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of
gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the
board of a corporation that is losing money.
...The only really respectable Protestants are the
Fundamentalists. Unfortunately, they are also palpable idiots...
The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most
that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one
delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked...
What is the function that a clergyman performs in the world?
Answer: he gets his living by assuring idiots that he can save them
from an imaginary hell. It is a business almost indistinguishable from
that of a seller of snake-oil for rheumatism.
I am one of the few _Goyim_ who have ever actually tackled the
Talmud. I suppose you now expect me to add that it is a profound and
noble work, worthy of hard study by all other _Goyim._ Unhappily, my
report must differ from this expectation. It seems to me, save for a few
bright spots, to be quite indistinguishable from rubbish. If, at its
highest, it is genuinely worth reading, then at its lowest it is on all
fours with the Koran, "Science and Health" and the Book of Mormon.
Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the
universe is still running it? It is certainly perfectly conceivable
that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods to
operate. In the same way many human institutions are turned over to
grossly inferior men. This is true, for example, of most universities,
and of all great newspapers.
The time must come inevitably when mankind shall surmount the
imbecility of religion, as it has surmounted the imbecility of religion's
ally, magic. It is impossible to imagine this world being really
civilized so long as so much nonsense survives. In even its highest
forms religion embraces concepts that run counter to all common sense.
It can be defended only by making assumptions and adopting rules of
logic that are never heard of in any other field of human thinking.
The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its
massive proof that God is a bore.
The Christian church, in its attitude toward science, shows the
mind of a more or less enlightened man of the Thirteenth Century. It no
longer believes that the earth is flat, but it is still convinced that
prayer can cure after medicine fails.
The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics
is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there
is no limit to oppression.
Every contribution to human progress on record has been made by
some individual who differed sharply from the general, and was thus,
almost _ipso facto,_ superior to the general. Perhaps the palpably
insane must be excepted here, but I can think of no others. Such
exceptional individuals should be permitted, it sees to me, to enjoy
every advantage that goes with their superiority, even when enjoying
it deprives the general. They alone are of any significance to history.
The rest are as negligible as the race of cockroaches, who have gone
unchanged for a million years...
It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men
good, but even if this were true it would not be a proof that religion
is true. That would be an extension of pragmatism beyond endurance.
Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no
one would argue seriously that the fact proves his existence. The
defense of religion is full of such logical imbecilities. The
theologians, taking one with another, are adept logicians, but every
now and then they have to resort to sophistries so obvious that their
whole case takes on an air of the ridiculous. Even the most logical
religion starts out with patently false assumptions. It is often argued
in support of this or that one that men are so devoted to it that they
are willing to die for it. That, of course, is as silly as the Santa Claus
proof. Other men are just as devoted to manifestly false religions, and
just as willing to die for them. Every theologian spends a large part
of his time and energy trying to prove that religions for which
multitudes of honest men have fought and died are false, wicked, and
One of the most irrational of all the conventions of modern
society is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be
respected. ...[This] convention protects them, and so they proceed with
their blather unwhipped and almost unmolested, to the great damage of
common sense and common decency. that they should have this immunity
is an outrage. There is nothing in religious ideas, as a class, to lift
them above other ideas. On the contrary, they are always dubious and
often quite silly. Nor is there any visible intellectual dignity in
theologians. Few of them know anything that is worth knowing, and not
many of them are even honest.
Man's limitations are also visible in his gods. Yahveh seems to
have had His hands full with the Devil from the start. His plans for
Adam and Eve went to pot, and He failed again with Noah. His worst
failure came when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to
rescue man from sin. It would be hard to imagine any scheme falling
further from success.
Christianity, for all its wounds, is not likely to die; even its
forms will not die; the forms, indeed will preserve what remains of the
substance. Of all religions ever devised by man, it is the one that
offers the most for the least money to the average man of our time.
This man may be very briefly described. He had enough education to
make him view all religions somewhat critically, to make him competent
to weight and estimate them, particularly in terms of their capacity to
meet his own problems--but not enough to analyze the concepts
underlying them. Such an analysis leads inevitably to agnosticism; a
man who once reaches the point of examining religions as psychological
phenomena, without regard to the ostensible authority, always ends by
rejecting all of them. But the average man is incapable of any such
examination, and his incapacity not only safeguards his religion but
also emphasizes his need of it. He must have _some_ answer to the
maddening riddle of existence, and, being unable to work out a logical
or evidential answer, he is thrown back upon a mystical answer.
This mystical answer is religion. It is a transcendental solace in the
presence of the intolerable. It is a stupendous begging of questions
that nevertheless disposes of them. Of all such answers Christianity
is at once the simplest and the most reassuring. It is protean and
elastic; it has infinite varieties; it has comfort both for the man
revolting despairingly against reason or congenitally incapable of
reason, and for the man whose capacity for reason stops just short of
intelligence. It is, at its best, a profound inner experience, a kind of
poetry that is lived--call it Catholicism. It is, at its worst, a game of
supernatural politics--call it Methodism. But in either case it
organizes and gives a meaning to life. In either case it soothes the
man who is too weak to stand up single-handed against the eternal and
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more
uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is
right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been
the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men
who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly
civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all
others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."
Sunday: A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves
were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in
Sunday School: A prison in which children do penance for the evil
conscience of their parents.
What I got in Sunday-School... was simply a firm conviction that the
Christian faith was full of palpable absurdities, and the Christian God
preposterous... The act of worship, as carried on by Christians, seems
to me to be debasing rather than ennobling. It involves groveling
before a Being, who, if He really exists, deserves to be denounced
rather than respected.
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