from: Treatise on the Gods, H.L. Mencken [1880 - 1956], Knopf, MCMXXX.
'Thus it was not the Reformation that liberated the soul of modern man. Such moderate intellectual decencies as prevail in the world today owe nothing to Luther, and no more to his colleagues and successors. Some of them were men of a certain learning, but they offered little evidence of it in their expositions of the divine mysteries. As for Luther [Martin Luther 1483 - 1546] himself, he was the theologian par excellence--cocksure, dictatorial, grasping, self-indulgent, vulgar and ignorant. "Demons," he [Luther] once wrote, "live everywhere, but are especially common in Germany. On a high mountain called the Polterberg there is a pool full of them: they are held captive there by Satan. If a stone is thrown in a great storm arises and the whole countryside is overwhelmed. Many deaf persons and cripples were made so by the Devil's malice. Plagues, fevers and all sorts of other evils come from him. As for the demented, I believe it to be certain that all of them were afflicted by him." Much more of the same general tenor is to be found in Luther's writings. His followers of today, forgetting everything of the sort, remember only his sonorous declarations for a freedom of conscience that, in truth, he never believed in. "Reason," he said in his old age, "is the Devil's harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does." His greatest successor, John Calvin [1509 - 1564], was even worse. Forced to flee from his native France, he took refuge at Geneva in Switzerland, and there set up an Asiatic despotism of his own, modelled upon that of the pope. His rule was so harsh that the oppressed citizens soon chased him out, but presently he returned again, and this time he stayed. The high point of his career was the brutal burning of Servetus [Michael Servetus c. 1511 - 1553], one of the most brilliant men of the time. He was the Paul of early Protestantism, and the most influencial of all the Protestant theologians. To this day his gloomy and nonsensical ideas remain in high esteem among the faithful, especially in Scotland, Holland and the United States. He [Calvin] was the true father of Puritanism.' [289-290].
"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. Their ordinary dealing with such refractory puzzles as the concept of the Trinity and the problem of evil forcibly recalls the explanations that impatient adults offer to inquisitive children.
I do not suggest, of course, that this proves them stupid themselves: far from it! They are actually very adept psychologists ["Catholic clergy"]-perhaps the best ever seen in the world. Their Protestant brethren are scarcely to be mentioned in the same breath. Protestantism, in fact, started out upon its career nursing two massive errors, each of them sufficient to ruin it. One was the error of assuming that all Christians were really Christians, and the other was the error of assuming that they were intelligent enough to ascertain and embrace the truth. Both were found out very quickly, but not soon enough to get rid of them. Their collision with the veriest elements of human nature has produced an immense proliferation of fantastic sects and a long series of anti-papal popes, beginning with Luther and Calvin. Today Protestantism is either a banal imitation of Catholicism or a cruel burlesque upon it. It
is almost too incoherent to be discussed seriously. I could invent new forms of it almost ad infinitum, as a mathematician invents new algebras, and all of them would be ten times as plausible as Swedenborgianism, Seventh Day Adventism, Christian Science, Holy Rollerism, or the imbecile cults of the Mormons, the Doukhobors, the Shakers, the Mennonites, the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, The Dunkards or the Salvation Army. In such regions bibliolatry turns upon and devours itself. Any half-wit, searching Holy Writ, is free to found a sect of his own-and if not upon the actual text, then upon the interpolations, mistranslations and typographical errors. Thousands of such half-wits, as everyone knows, have made use of that franchise, and the result is chaos. The Roman church has escaped the same disaster by keeping the Bible in its place. What the Bible says, however it may clash with common knowledge and common sense, is inspired and infallibleCbut Holy Church reserves the right to determine precisely what it says. In that reservation there is a wisdom beyond the highest flight of philosophers. Without it Jansenism might have developed into a formidable theological carcinoma, comparable almost to Methodism...." [337-339].
"Every religion of any consequence, indeed, teaches that all the rest are insane, immoral and against God. Usually it is not hard to prove it." .
But in one respect, at least, Christianity is vastly superior to every other religion in being today, and, indeed, to all that we have any record of in the past: it is full of a lush and lovely poetry. The Bible is unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world [Mencken, "preaching"; prelude to lambasting]. Allow everything you please for the barbaric history in the Old Testament and the decadent Little Bethel theology in the New, and there remains a series of poems so overwhelmingly voluptuous and disarming that no other literature, old or new, can offer a match for it. Nearly all of it comes from the Jews, and their making of it constitutes one of the most astounding phenomena in human history. For there is little in their character, as the modern world knows them, to suggest a talent for noble thinking. Even Renan [Ernest Renan 1823 - 1892], who was very friendly to them, once sneered at the espirit sémitique [semitic mind-set, etc.] as sans étendue [without understanding, etc.], sans diversité [narrow-mindedness, etc.], and sans philosophie [without a philosophical tradition, etc.]. One might go still further. The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of [this sentence (see Fred Hobson, Mencken A Life, 477 (also, more criticisms)) deleted in the "Second edition"]. As commonly encountered, they lack many of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude, such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly only a form of display. Yet these same Jews, from time immemorial, have been the chief dreamers of the human race, and beyond all comparison its greatest poets. It was Jews who wrote the magnificent poems called the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and the Books of Job and Ruth; it was Jews who set platitudes to deathless music in Proverbs; and it was Jews who gave us the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the incomparable ballad of the Christ Child, and the twelfth chapter of Romans. I incline to believe that the scene recounted in John VIII, 3-11, is the most poignant drama ever written in the world, as the Song of Solomon is unquestionably the most moving love song, and the Twenty-third Psalm the greatest of hymns. All these transcendent riches Christianity inherits from a little tribe of sedentary Bedouins, so obscure and unimportant that secular history scarcely knows them. No heritage of modern man is richer and none has made a more brilliant mark upon human thought, not even the legacy of the Greeks.
All this, of course, may prove either one of two things: that the Jews, in their heyday, were actually superior to all the great peoples who disdained them, or that poetry is only a minor art. My private inclination is to embrace the latter hypothesis, but I do not pause to argue the point...." [345-347].
_____ _____ _____
from: Treatise on The Gods, H.L. Mencken [1880 - 1956 ("massive stroke", 11/23/48 (Hobson, 502))], Second edition: corrected and rewritten, Knopf, 1959 (c1946). [Ending of the "Preface to the Revised Edition": "H.L.M. Baltimore, January 1, 1946"].
"THE OLD TESTAMENT, as everyone who has looked into it is aware, DRIPS WITH BLOOD; THERE IS, indeed, NO MORE BLOODY CHRONICLE IN ALL THE LITERATURE OF THE WORLD. Half of the hemorrhage is supplied by the goyim [see 966] who angered Yahweh by flouting His Chosen People, and the other half issues from living creatures who went down to death that He might be suitably nourished and kept in good humor...." . [See: Appendix #1, 681].
[Note: underlinings indicate changes from the 1930 edition (see 1008)]
But in one respect, at least, Christianity is vastly superior to every other religion in being today, and, indeed, to all save one of the past [which?]: it is full of a lush and lovely poetry. The Bible is unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world. Allow everything you please for the barbaric history in the Old Testament and the silly Little Bethel theology in the New, and there remains a series of poems so overwhelmingly voluptuous and disarming that no other literature, old or new, can offer a match for it. Nearly all of it comes from the Jews, and their making of it constitutes one of the most astounding phenomena in human history. Save for a small minority of superior individuals, nearly unanimously agnostic, there is not much in their character, as the modern world knows them, to suggest a genius for exalted thinking. Even Ernest Renan [1823 - 1892], who was very friendly to them, once sneered at the espirit sémitique as sans étendue, sans diversité, and sans philosophie. As commonly encountered, they strike other peoples as predominantly unpleasant, and everywhere on earth they seem to be disliked. This dislike, despite their own belief to the contrary, has nothing to do with their religion: it is founded, rather, on their bad manners, their curious lack of tact. They have an extraordinary capacity for offending and alarming the Goyim [see 966], and not infrequently, from the earliest days down to our own time, it has engendered brutal wars upon them. Yet these same rude, unpopular and often unintelligent folk, from time almost immemorial, have been the chief dreamers of the Western world, and beyond all comparison its greatest poets. It was Jews who wrote the magnificent poems called the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and the Books of Job and Ruth; it was Jews who set platitudes to deathless music in Proverbs; and it was Jews who gave us the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the incomparable ballad of the Christ Child, and the twelfth chapter of Romans. I incline to believe the scene recounted in John VIII, 3-11, is the most poignant drama ever written in the world, as the Song of Solomon is unquestionably the most moving love song, and the Twenty-third Psalm the greatest of hymns. All these transcendent riches Christianity inherits from a little tribe of sedentary Bedouins, so obscure and unimportant that secular history scarcely knows them. No heritage of modern man is richer and none has made a more brilliant mark upon human thought, not even the legacy of the Greeks.
All this, of course, may prove either one of two things: that the Jews, in their heyday, were actually superior to all the great peoples who disdained them, or that poetry is only an inferior art. My private inclination is to embrace the latter hypothesis, but I do not pause to argue the point...." [286-287].
'....The historicity of Jesus is no longer questioned seriously by anyone, whether Christian or unbeliever. The main facts about Him seem to be beyond dispute: that He lived in Palestine during the reigns of the Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, that He was a pious Jew and a man of great personal dignity and virtue, that He believed the end of the world was at hand and sought to induce His fellow Jews to prepare for it, that He aroused thereby the enmity of the Jewish priests and was put to death at their behest, that certain of His followers after His death believed that He had arisen from the tomb, and that this belief, appealing powerfully to the imagination of the time, carried His ideas from end to end of the Roman world, and so founded what is now called Christianity. The New Testament is thus an historical document of very tolerable authority, needing only to be read with due circumspection. If there are some palpable stretchers in it, then stretchers of the same sort are to be found in most of the secular histories of its remote and innocent [sic!] age. If it is sometimes contradictory, puerile and absurd, then so are they. One might hesitate to liken it to any modern work of the first credibility, such as Boswell's "Johnson" or Eckermann's "Gespräche Mit Goethe," but it is certainly quite as sound as Parson Weems' "Life of Washington" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin."' [191-192].
[Mencken begins by "preaching", and then, evolves to iconoclasm, etc. (see following ("100" pages later))].
'....The story of Jesus is the sempiternal ["eternal", etc.] Cinderella story, lifted to cosmic dimensions. Beside it the best that you will find in the sacred literature of Moslem and Brahman, Parsee and Buddhist, seems flat, stale and unprofitable.
Moreover, it has the power, like all truly GREAT MYTHS, of throwing off lesser ones, apparently in an endless stream. The innumerable legends of the saints, many of them of great beauty, are mainly no more than variations of one detail or another of THE FABLE OF JESUS [the first edition, 1930, has: "the Christ story"], and so are many of the STORIES THAT CHRISTIANITY HAS CONCOCTED out of what were, in the first place, pagan materialsCfor example, that of SANTA CLAUS. The human appeal of all this poetry is so extraordinarily potent that it promises to survive the decay of Christianity. Everyone has observed how Jews and infidels succumb in Christendom to the spirit of Christmas. What is less noted is the fact that among Christians themselves there is a growing tendency, when they throw off Christian theology, to salvage Christian poetry. This is plainly visible in the organized lovey-dovey that began with the Rotary movement and has since proliferated so enormously in the United States, with tentacles reaching out to not a few foreign lands. Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd tell us, in "Middletown," how, in the typical American community they describe, Rotary threatens to become a substitute for Christianity, to the grave damage of churches and clergy. It is not, of course, a theological system; it is simply a poetical system. Starting out in 1905 on a you-tickle-me-and-I'll-tickle-you basis, it quickly took on overtones of aspiration, and today its main purpose seems to be to convince emulous ["ambitious or eager to emulate" ("imitate", etc.)] but unimaginative
men that it offers a way to something resembling salvation on this earth—that its puerile mumbo-jumbo can convert stock-brokers, insurance agents and used-car dealers into passable imitations of Francis Xavier [1506 - 1552 ("the greatest Roman Catholic missionary of modern times...." (Encyc. Brit.))]. The grandiose imbecility called Christian Science is tarred with the same stick. It is certainly not a science, not even in the lame sense that spiritualism and psychotherapy are, and no Christian theologian save a hopeless dipsomaniac would venture to call it Christianity. It is simply a kind of poetry--an organized and unquestioning belief in the palpably not true.
The thirst for such poetry, in the long run, may displace the old fear of the brutal and implacable gods....' [288-289].