Mencken week: Day 2

The Mencken quotes this week will all, of course, deal with religion and theology.  Here’s your Sunday lesson, from Mencken’s Notebooks, p. 373:

It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good, but even if this were true it would not be a proof that religion is true. That would be an extension of pragmatism beyond endurance. Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no one would argue seriously that the fact proves his existence. The defense of religion is full of such logical imbecilities. The theologians, taking one with another, are adept logicians, but every now and then they have to resort to sophistries so obvious that their whole case takes on an air of the ridiculous. Even the most logical religion starts out with patently false assumptions. It is often argued in support of this or that one that men are so devoted to it that they are willing to die for it. That, of course, is as silly as the Santa Claus proof. Other men are just as devoted to manifestly false religions, and just as willing to die for them. Every theologian spends a large part of his time and energy trying to prove that religions for which multitudes of honest men have fought and died are false, wicked, and against God.

And here is a ten-minute clip of what is said to be the only record of Mencken’s voice.  This was made on June 30, 1948.  On Nov. 30 of that year, he suffered a stroke that rendered him unable to read or write (and barely able to speak) for the last eight years until he died—especially horrible for someone like Mencken.  The thing that surprised me was that he sounds like a normal guy: I guess I expected some booming, portentous voice.

He never spent a day in college; he was an autodidact.


  1. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I love the comments in the video about the American love-affair of ugliness in the landscape. Why isn’t this noticed more often?

    Mencken’s lack of formal education may be why is language is so forthright. I was always fond of his remark “”Perhaps the most revolting character that the United States ever produced was the Christian businessman.”

    • Tige Gibson
      Posted May 20, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I thought the ugliness was merely the result of wanting to keep taxes unreasonably low so there is no money for the maintaining the commons, public property. Isn’t it the same reason the roads are so crappy unless they are toll roads and every other road is a toll road?

      • MadScientist
        Posted May 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        It sounds like you’ve spent far too much time in New Jersey – the global capital of ugliness and toll roads. Unfortunately the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on ugly things.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        Not sure were the roads thing comes from. The road system in the US is considered pretty fabulous overall and most roads are not toll roads. There are of course some really awful exceptions. Miami, for one example, has many absolutely horrid roads. As in driver beware.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Sheesh … Skip to 2:00 (not quite a Wadsworth constant)

    +1 for Mencken week

  3. Zugswang
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Am I the only one who thinks he sounds a little like an old Jimmy Stewart?

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking Jimmy Carter.

  4. Stevie
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the Mencken posts. I’ve been really curious about him ever since I first read Richard Wright’s Black Boy.

  5. Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I bet there were lots of children who convinced themselves that Mensken’s affliction was akin to receiving a lump of coal from Santa Clause while their parents naturally assumed it was inflicted by their god.

  6. Terry McCarthy
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Posted May 20, 2012 at 11:35 am. Your right he does sound Jimmy Stewart.

  7. MKray
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Alistair Cook met Mencken, who gave him advice for a journalist (as AC was then):
    ‘Never accept a free ticket from a theatre manager, a free ride from the chamber of commerce, or a favour from a politician’.
    See Letter from America, pp 78 to 84 for appreciation by AC of HLM at his death.
    Can you imagine Rupert M’s minions following that?

  8. kansaskitty
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    He does sound like just a regular guy. I love how he says Baltimore as ‘Baltimer’. Is that the common pronunciation in Maryland?

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