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A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial
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Mencken's A Religious Orgy in Tennessee, a collection of columns about the Scope trial written for "The Baltimore Sun," "The Nation," and "The American Mercury," is more than just entertaining, though. It offers a look at early twentieth-century Christian fundamentalism (Mencken frequently, and incorrectly, calls it "evangelicalism") that is chilling not only for its own intrinsic stupidity--at one point, Mencken cites a woman fundamentalist who boasts that she has no books in her home and that she hates all books but the Bible (p. 54)--but also because it clearly demonstrates that fundamentalism than and fundamentalism now are essentially the same. The fundamentalist hatred of learning, the dogmatic zeal to condemn any theory or opinion not authenticated by scripture, the parochial refusal to look beyond sectarian norms: everything that Mencken encountered in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 can be attributed to American fundamentalism today. The only difference is that today's fundamentalism is much more organized and media-savvy.
Three chapters in particular stand out: Chapter 2, in which Mencken profiles the fundamentalist mind (calling it "Homo neanderthalensis"); Chapter 7, in which he describes a late night revival; and Chapter 16, in which he defends freedom of thought. The first of these three is especially fine, while the second is one of the best pieces of on-the-spot reporting Mencken ever wrote.
This edition is troublesome.Read more ›
In 1925, Mencken drew the nation's attentions to a trial taking place in Dayton, Tennessee that would test the boundaries of a new law (the Butler Act) that prohibited the teaching of: "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." One enterprising individual set about testing the law by asking a local teacher (a friend sympathetic with the cause) to teach Darwin's theory of evolution. That teacher was 24-year-old John T. Scopes. Lasting eight days in the courtroom and eleven days in total, the weather was painfully hot probably irritating Mencken even more.
Writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun, Mencken's verbal energy and acute wit are stunning (no journalist, pundit, or commentator today even comes close). And much of his sarcastic eloquence comes, of course, at the expense of the key figure at the trial William Jennings Bryan. As the billing promises, these reports are by the most famous newspaperman in American history are vivid, highly intelligent, scathingly honest, and hysterically funny.
Mencken saw the transparent attempt at keeping evolution from being taught in schools contemptible, and the Scopes trial as ample opportunity to ridicule the "yokels," "half-wits," and "buffoons" who believe that man is not a mammal and the earth is less then 6,000 years old.Read more ›
In a packed 90 degree courtroom, litigants and audience alike endure 11 days of sweltering heat and blistering condemnation from both sides of the most volatile issue since the issue itself.
Mencken's daily reports from July 10 to July 21 are replete with critism and witticism. His, at times, withering commentary is clearly slanted agnostic. He makes no affectation whatsoever toward unbiased reporting. With his amazing command of the english language, he's more an elegant verbal assassin than news reporter. Mencken leaves no earth unscorched, from the "local yokels" to the "ignoramuses" who purport to govern them. His most potent venom is reserved for William Jennings Bryan. Bryan is seated as a bible expert and witness for the prosecution as he faces off against Clarence Darrow. Darrow presents compelling scientific facts refuting creationism, while Bryan defers to meaningless scripture and ridiculous superstition, advancing neither his cause nor his standing amoung the country's thinking elite.
A Religious Orgy in Tennessee is a compilation of newspaper articles. One should probably be an agnostic and Mencken fan to enjoy it. Also, have a dictionary close at hand. You'll need it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Mencken's critique of the fundamentalist Christian mindset is absolutely on point and remains as valid here in 2016 as it was when written in 1925. Read morePublished 23 days ago by Alec Beyer
In some ways Mencken repeats himself in these essays, as some have said, that's true. But they were actually intended to be stand-alone newspaper essays, so what do you expect? Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ben Dover
The is a compendium of Mencken news articles in the Baltimore Sun; as he covered the Scopes trial. All the bluster and vocabulary I learned
to enjoy as an undergrad and still... Read more
Mencken is the absolute best reporter that ever lived and this account proves it. Today's "reporters" and "journalists" cannot hold a candle to Mencken. Read morePublished 21 months ago by John P. Ahrens
If you're looking for a blow by blow of the Scopes trial, this isn't the read for you. What you'll find in this book is a no holds barred, erudite and humorously cutting account... Read morePublished 24 months ago by Terry Reifsteck
A perfectly splendid book that is every bit as valuable as entertainment as it is for information. Our society today seems more than plentifully-supplied with William Jennings... Read morePublished on December 10, 2013 by Stephen M. Kerwick