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H.L. Mencken on Religion Kindle Edition

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Length: 348 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews


"...Joshi's introduction is superb, and his skill as an organizer is top-notch." -- Free Inquiry, February/March 2004

" invigorating collection..." -- The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2003

"...raucous... It's hard to believe such a collection appeared only this year." -- Newsday, December 29, 2002

"...unadulterated, mostly entertaining Mencken." -- Dallas Morning News, March 22, 2003

"Anyone who has read some of Mencken and would like to read more would probably enjoy this book." -- What You Need to Know About

"The wit and erudition displayed in these essays is a real treasure and [should] be for believers and infidels alike." -- The Skeptic, Spring, 2003

"a provocative harvest of vitriol...rewarding...readers will welcome this collection..." -- Menckeniana: A Quarterly Review, Summer 2003

...[this book]...will likely fuel the fire, because Mencken's writings on religion are among his most controversial." -- Baltimore Magazine, February 2003

From the Author

"Most of the sorrows of man, I incline to think, are caused by . . . repining. Alone among the animals, he is dowered with the capacity to invent imaginary worlds, and he is always making himself unhappy by trying to move into them. Thus he underrates the world in which he actually lives, and so misses most of the fun that is in it. . . .

As for me, I roll out of my couch every morning with the most agreeable expectations. In the morning paper there is always massive and exhilarating evidence that the human race, despite its ages-long effort to imitate the seraphim, is still doomed to be irrevocably human, and in my morning mail I always get soothing proof that there are men left who are even worse asses than I am." -- H.L. Mencken

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 97 people found the following review helpful By John Rush on April 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Skip the introduction; editor Joshi strays from the topic by questioning Mencken's "fanatical loathing" of Roosevelt, while ignoring similar diatribes he wrote against Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Page 133 of Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work provides Mencken's rebuttal: " all my life I don't recall ever writing in praise of a sitting President. Finding virtues in successful politicians seemed to me to be the function of their swarms of willing pediculae; it was the business of a journalist, as I conceived it, to stand in a permanent Opposition."
Joshi also states that the Baptists aren't behind the Ku Klux Klan. Well, of course not. Nor does the Mormon Church support polygamists, nor the Catholic hierarchy condone killing abortion doctors. But Klan members, polygamists, and doctor-killers are far more pious than their mainstream counterparts. Such activities are where extreme devotion eventually leads.
Besides, the book's title accurately describes its contents. Any additional information can be squeezed onto the dust jacket. Mencken needs no stinking introduction.
Nor does he need my analysis. Despite the introduction, this is now my favorite posthumous Mencken collection. The following quotes are some of the reasons why:
" become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt."
"That medicine saves to-day thousands who must have died yesterday is a fact of small significance, for most of them will leave no more marks upon the history of the race than so many June bugs; but that all of us have been persuaded thereby to turn from priests and magicians when we are ill to doctors and nurses -- that is a fact of massive and permanent importance.
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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
H. L. Mencken was not on a campaign against religion: "I have never consciously tried to convert anyone to anything," he wrote. Perhaps not, but conversions must have happened as readers sought his columns in the _Baltimore Evening Sun_, the _Smart Set_, and the _American Mercury_. He didn't write mostly on religion, of course, excoriating Americans for their general stupidity in many spheres. But his critiques of religion have been collected in _H. L. Mencken on Religion_ (Prometheus Books), edited by S. T. Joshi, and they are a stimulating, wide-ranging attack on various aspects of a particular foe. Fundamentalist Christians especially will find much offensive here, for they are Mencken's particular game, although Catholics, Methodists, Christian Scientists, spiritualists, and other more moderate sects come into scorn in their turn. If Mencken were alive today, how he would spring into attacks upon the Raelians, the TV spiritualists, the New Agers, and of course the fundamentalist Christians who are still thriving. To read these essays is to be reminded of how relatively mild such criticism has now become.
Of course Mencken was misanthropic, and of course he was bigoted. He was careful to express disdain of his own character, often saying that in studying religious ideas, he found "soothing proof that there are men left who are even worse asses than I am." One of his essays is even called "Confessions of a Theological Moron," in which he admits that unlike most of the people on the planet, he has no religious feeling whatsoever and that no sense of any divine personality enters into his thinking. "As for the impulse to worship, it is as foreign to my nature as the impulse to run for Congress." But he also made clear that he was "...
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80 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Mike Fontanelli on October 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What can I say? The brilliant editorialist H. L. Mencken, gone for almost half a century, shines again in vintage newspaper columns that are just as relevant now as ever. In this day and age, almost 80 years after Scopes, when it's barely legal to teach actual science in Kansas classrooms, Mencken shows what intelligent folks have known about him all along: that he was decades ahead of his time.

What would he have had to say about extremist militant theocracies like the Taliban? Or about so-called "Intelligent Design" creationist theories? Or about science textbook "disclaimers" in Mississippi schools, Trinity Broadcasting, the "Left Behind" series, the Moral Majority, and the Psychic Network? We'll never know, but we can guess! Buy this indispensable collection for your neighborhood Fundamentalist. He could use it! I'd give it 6 stars if they'd let me. Henry, where are you now that we really need you?
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Owen Hatteras on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Even a cursory reading of this collection reveals interesting nuances to Mencken's views on religion that both fans and foes may have missed. It is soon evident that Mencken was more of a religious skeptic or agnostic than the atheist he was frequently taken to be. He certainly did not believe in a personal god, and believed that positive evidence for the existance of a god is unlikely to appear. Nontheless, he was willing to grant the bare possibility of a god. It would seem that like Sartre's grandmother, Mencken's scepticism kept him from being a thoroughgoing atheist.

What really stirred Mencken's bile was the behavior of much of God's fan club here on Earth, many of whom he experenced as being at least intellectually dishonest (if not worse) and dishonorable. Mixed with this was a kind of bemused wonderment at the gullibility of the bulk of his fellow Americans, who seemed ever eager "to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale, or vice-versa." His early career as a Baltimore newspaper reporter observing the Christian nuisances pestering the skid-row bums (see his "Christmas Story"), 'working girls', saloon habitues, and all-around plain folk seems to have ground his rapier to a permanent sharp edge. Was he fair? I don't think he ever pretended he was. His mission, as he saw it, was to apply the lash of verifiable truth to the backs of pious frauds and their dupes. They were perfectly free to reply (and they did) using whatever sort of arguments or language they pleased.

Still, he was not an "anthopophagous atheist of the sort who goes around scaring old ladies", as he once put it.
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