Monday, July 20, 2015

H. L. Mencken on Religious Beliefs

H. L. Mencken’s Religious Beliefs As for religion, I am quite devoid of it. Never, in my adult life, have I experienced anything that could be plausibly called a religious impulse. My father and grandfather were agnostics before me and, although I was sent to Sunday School as a boy and exposed to the Christian theology, I was never taught to believe it. My father thought that I should learn what it was, but it apparently never occurred to him that I would accept it. He was a good psychologist. What I got in Sunday School – beside a wide acquaintance with Christian hymnology – was, simply, a firm conviction that the Christian faith was full of palpable absurdities, and the Christian god preposterous. Since that time, I have read a great deal in theology – perhaps much more than the average clergyman – but I have never discovered any reason to change my mind. The act of worship, as carried on by Christians, seems, to me, to be debasing rather than ennobling. It involves grovelling before a Deity who, if He really exists, deserves to be denounced instead of respected. I see little evidence, in this world, of the so-called goodness of God. On the contrary, it seems to me that, on the strength of His daily acts, He must be set down a most cruel, stupid, and villainous fellow. I can say this with a clear conscience, for He has treated me very well – in fact, with vast politeness. But, I can’t help thinking of His barbaric torture of most of the rest of humanity. I simply can’t imagine revering the God of war and politics, theology and cancer. I do not believe in immortality and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form, it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be, I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing, while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most – courage, and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die, I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good forever. – an extract from a letter H. L. Mencken wrote to Will Durant in 1931. The letter was published in On the Meaning of Life, edited by Will Durant (New York: Ray Long and Richard R. Smith, 1932). In 1931, Will Durant asked various public figures to contribute their opinions on the meaning of life, as they understood it. Their responses were published in the volume documented above. H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was a journalist, literary and social critic, and author. Will Durant (1885-1981) was a historian of Western Civilization and author... Poch Suzara

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