Positive Atheism’s Big List of
H L Mencken
Quotations

     • No-Frames Quotes Index
     • Load This File With Frames Index
     • 
Home to Positive Atheism

PAMBLOQ Rules! Yesss!!

Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)
American editor and critic

H. L. MenckenThe urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.
H L Mencken, quoted in the table of contents for Impact Press (October-November 2000)

People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.
H L Mencken, quoted in Jim Versluys, “The Right-Wing Case Against Religionism” (May, 2001)

The most curious social convention of the great age in which we live is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected.
H L Mencken, in American Mercury (March, 1930)

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Insulting Quotations

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.
     
True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge. Did Darrow, in the course of his dreadful bombardment of Bryan, drop a few shells, incidentally, into measurably cleaner camps? Then let the garrisons of those camps look to their defenses. They are free to shoot back. But they can’t disarm their enemy.
H L Mencken, “Aftermath” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, (September 14, 1925)

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.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)

The priest, realistically considered, is the most immoral of men, for he is always willing to sacrifice every other sort of good to the one good of his arcanum — the vague body of mysteries that he calls the truth.
H L Mencken, Treatise on the Gods (1949)

Deep within the heart of every evangelist lies the wreck of a car salesman.
H L Mencken, quoted by atheist spokesman Ron Barrier in describing the Christian antiatheist author Ray Comfort

The curse of man, and cause of nearly all of his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949), quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth — that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
H L Mencken, thanks to Laird Wilcox, editor, “The Degeneration of Belief

For it is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false.
H L Mencken (attributed: source unknown)

The men that American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest the most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
H L Mencken (attributed: source unknown)

H. L. MenckenThe essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge, and only a Holy Roller in the mountains of Tennessee would dare to preach today what the popes preached in the thirteenth century.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The notion that science does not concern itself with first causes — that it leaves the field to theology or metaphysics, and confines itself to mere effects — this notion has no support in the plain facts. If it could, science would explain the origin of life on earth at once — and there is every reason to believe that it will do so on some not too remote tomorrow. To argue that gaps in knowledge which will confront the seeker must be filled, not by patient inquiry, but by intuition or revelation, is simply to give ignorance a gratuitous and preposterous dignity.
H L Mencken (1930)

The effort to reconcile science and religion is almost always made, not by theologians, but by scientists unable to shake off altogether the piety absorbed with their mother’s milk.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The scent of frying astronomers long ago ceased to ascend to Yahweh.
H L Mencken, from Ira D Cardiff, editor, What Great Men Think of Religion, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The truth is that Christian theology, like every other theology, is not only opposed to the scientific spirit; it is also opposed to all other attempts at rational thinking. Not by accident does Genesis 3 make the father of knowledge a serpent — slimy, sneaking and abominable. Since the earliest days the church, as an organization, has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. It has been, at all times and everywhere, the habitual and incorrigible defender of bad governments, bad laws, bad social theories, bad institutions. It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was the apologist for the divine right of kings.
H L Mencken, Treatise on the Gods

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
H L Mencken, from George Seldes, editor, The Great Quotations, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Metaphysics is almost always an attempt to prove the incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.... A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill.
H L Mencken, Prejudices, ch. 14, “The Believer” Third Series (1922), also New York Times Magazine, September 11, 1955, per James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief, contained at least the first sentence of the above, quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos: He will set them above their betters.
H L Mencken, Minority Report: H L Mencken’s Notebooks, no. 35 (1956), quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it?
H L Mencken (attributed: source unknown)

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
H L Mencken, quoted by Gore Vidal in the the Foreword to The Impossible H L Mencken, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, ed.

Whenever a reporter is assigned to cover a Methodist conference, he comes home an atheist.
H L Mencken, newspaper proverb quoted by Mencken (and probably invented by him), from HL Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters.
H L Mencken, “Homo Neanderthalensis” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, June 29, 1925 (posted in Positive Atheism’s Historical section)

Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.
H L Mencken, “Bryan” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 27, 1925 (posted in Positive Atheism’s Historical section)

Say what you like about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
H L Mencken, Senrentiae (1916), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations

H. L. MenckenHere the only genuine conflict is between true believers. Of a given text in Holy Writ one faction may say this thing and another that, but both agree unreservedly that the text itself is impeccable, and neither in the midst of the most violent disputation would venture to accuse the other of doubt. To call a man a doubter in these parts is equal to accusing him of cannibalism. Even the infidel Scopes himself is not charged with any such infamy.
H L Mencken, “Mencken Likens Trial to a Religious Orgy, with Defendant a Beelzebub” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 11, 1925 (posted in Positive Atheism’s Historical section)

The Book of Revelation has all the authority, in these theological uplands, of military orders in time of war. The people turn to it for light upon all their problems, spiritual and secular.
H L Mencken, “Yearning Mountaineers’ Souls Need Reconversion Nightly, Mencken Finds” (coverage of the Scopes Trial) The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 13, 1925 (posted in Positive Atheism’s Historical section)

The difference between the smartest dog and the stupidest man — say a Tennessee Holy Roller — is really very small.
H L Mencken, Minority Report, 1956, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
H L Mencken, quoted from The Gist Of It

The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches. What they mistake for thought is simply a repetition of what they have heard. My guess is that well over 80 percent of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought.
H L Mencken, Minority Report

Progress: The process whereby the human race has got rid of whiskers, the vermiform appendix, and God.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Sunday school: A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
H L Mencken, A Book of Burlesques, “Sententiæ” (1920), quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Archbishop: A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, “Sententiæ: Arcana Clestia” (1949), quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

A nun, at best, is only half a woman, just as a priest is only half a man.
H L Mencken, Minority Report: H L Mencken’s Notebooks, no. 221

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), in the spirit of Bertrand Russell’s quip, “It is permissible with certain precautions to speak in print of coitus, but it is not permissible to employ the monosyllabic synonym for this word”; quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

The Catholic clergy seldom bother to make their arguments plausible; it is plain that they have little respect for human intelligence, and indeed little belief in its existence.
H L Mencken, from George Seldes, editor, The Great Quotations, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Of learned men, the clergy show the lowest development of professional ethics. Any pastor is free to cadge customers from the divines of rival sects, and to denounce the divines themselves as theological quacks.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations

There is no possibility whatsoever of reconciling science and theology, at least in Christendom. Either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. If he did, then Christianity becomes plausible; if he did not, then it is sheer nonsense. I defy any genuine scientist to say that he believes in the Resurrection, or indeed in any other cardinal dogma of the Christian system.
H L Mencken, Minority Report, 1956, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians — and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
H L Mencken, in The American Mercury, January, 1924

The taboos that I have mentioned are extraordinarily harsh and numerous. They stand around nearly every subject that is genuinely important to man: they hedge in free opinion and experimentation on all sides. Consider, for example, the matter of religion. It is debated freely and furiously in almost every country in the world save the United States, but here the critic is silenced. The result is that all religions are equally safeguarded against criticism, and that all of them lose vitality. We protect the status quo, and so make steady war upon revision and improvement.
H L Mencken, quoted by Gore Vidal in the the Foreword to The Impossible HL Mencken, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, ed.

Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.
H L Mencken, Autobiographical Notes, 1925, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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.
H L Mencken, quoted from Not Church

The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.
H L Mencken, Minority Report: H L Mencken’s Notebooks, no. 309 (1956), quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.
H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, “Sententiæ: Arcana Coelestia” (1949).

It takes a long while for a naturally trustful person to reconcile himself to the idea that after all God will not help him.
H L Mencken, Minority Report (1956)

The Creator is a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
H L Mencken, quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations

There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness — to bring him down to the miserable level of “good” men, i.e., of stupid, cowardly, and chronically unhappy men.
H L Mencken, Alistair Cooke, editor, The Vintage Mencken, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

If we assume that man actually does resemble God, then we are forced into the impossible theory that God is a coward, an idiot, and a bounder.
H L Mencken,”Ad Imaginem Dei Creavit Illum,” quoted from S T Joshi, Atheism: A Reader, p. 67

H. L. Mencken at the piano.The truth is, as every one knows, that the great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the YMCA sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading, and it is highly improbable that the thing has ever been done by a virtuous woman.
H L Mencken, Prejudices, “The Blushful Mystery: Art and Sex” (First Series, 1919).

The acting that one sees upon the stage does not show how human beings comport themselves in crises, but how actors think they ought to. It is thus, like poetry and religion, a device for gladdening the heart with what is palpably not true.
H L Mencken, quoted from Not Church

Religion, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities.
H L Mencken, Prejudices: Third Series, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

The Jews fastened their religion upon the Western world, not because it was more reasonable than the religions of their contemporaries — as a matter of fact, it was vastly less reasonable than many of them — but because it was far more poetical.
H L Mencken, in American Mercury, January 1924, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind.
H L Mencken, New York Times Magazine, September 11, 1955, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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 instead of respected.
H L Mencken, letter to Will Durant, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Christian endeavor is notoriously hard on female pulchritude.
H L Mencken, “The Æsthetic Recoil,” American Mercury, July, 1931

Why do men go to zoos?
H L Mencken, having been asked why, if he could find nothing to “revere” in the United States, he lived there; quoted from (and citation by) Gore Vidal, H L Mencken (1991)

There comes a day of public ceremonial, and a chance to make a speech.... A million voters with IQs below 60 have their ears glued to the radio. It takes four days’ hard work to concoct a speech without a sensible word in it. Next a dam must be opened somewhere. Four dry Senators get drunk and make a painful scene. The Presidential automobile runs over a dog. It rains.
H L Mencken, contemplated the meager lives of our dull presidents; quoted from (and citation by) Gore Vidal, H L Mencken (1991)

A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic.
H L Mencken, Notebooks “Minority Report” (1956), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

When I die, I shall be content to vanish into nothingness.... No show, however good, could conceivably be good forever. I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it.
H L Mencken, from Laurence J Peter, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, quoted from James A Haught, editor, 2000 Years of Disbelief

To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.
H L Mencken, “Coda,” in Smart Set (New York, Dec. 1920; repr. in A Mencken Chrestomathy, pt. 1, 1949).

 

Graphic Rule

 

The Subtle Fulmination of the Encircled Sea

Please Feel Free
to Grab a Quote
(or Maybe Three)

Grab some quotes to embellish your web site,
to use as filler for your group’s newsletter,
or to add force to your Letters to the Editor.

Use them to introduce the chapters of a book or
accent the index or margins of a special project.

Poster your wall!    Graffiti your (own) fence.
Sticker your car!!
Poster your wall.    Graffiti your (own) fence!!!

That’s what this list is for!
That’s why I made it!

In using this resource, however, keep in mind that
it’s someone’s life’s work, a hedge against old age.

If you decide to build your own online
collection, then find some new material!
Dig up quips that haven’t yet been posted!

 

AndCopy Graphic Rule

 
 

Biographical sketches, source citations, notes, critical editing, layout, and HTML formatting are copyright ©1995–2012, by Cliff Walker, except where noted.

 
 

AndCopy Graphic Rule

 

There’s something to be said
for doing your own work.

 

Graphic Rule