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|Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)|
American editor and critic
The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.
People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
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.
Deep within the heart of every evangelist lies the wreck of a car salesman.
The curse of man, and cause of nearly all of his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
The scent of frying astronomers long ago ceased to ascend to Yahweh.
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.
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
Metaphysics is almost always an attempt to prove the incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.
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.
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.
Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it?
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.
Whenever a reporter is assigned to cover a Methodist conference, he comes home an atheist.
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.
Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.
Say what you like about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
Here 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.
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.
The difference between the smartest dog and the stupidest man — say a Tennessee Holy Roller — is really very small.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
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.
Progress: The process whereby the human race has got rid of whiskers, the vermiform appendix, and God.
Sunday school: A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
Archbishop: A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.
A nun, at best, is only half a woman, just as a priest is only half a man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.
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.
The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.
Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.
It takes a long while for a naturally trustful person to reconcile himself to the idea that after all God will not help him.
The Creator is a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Religion, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities.
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.
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind.
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.
Christian endeavor is notoriously hard on female pulchritude.
Why do men go to
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Subtle Fulmination of the Encircled Sea
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