From The New Mencken Letters
“I realize what life must have been in Judea 1925 years ago. No wonder the Romans finally bumped off the son of Joseph. After an hour on the main street, listening to the bawling, I feel like loading a cannon with the rejecta of the adjacent hogs (Sus scrofa) and letting fly. The thing is genuinely fabulous.
I have stored up enough material to last me 20 years.”
-From a letter regarding the Scopes Trail
“So long as there are men in the world, 99 percent of them will be idiots, and so long as 99 percent of them are idiots they will thirst for religion, and so long as they thirst for religion it will remain a weapon over them. I see no way out. If you blow up one specific faith, they will embrace another. And if, by any magic, you purge them of pious credulity altogether, they will simpl[y] swallow worse nonsense in some other department.
This fact constantly forces itself upon me when I read the usual anti‑clerical literature say in Socialist tracts or in such papers as the Truth-Seeker What always emerges is this: that the stupid man, even after he has been convinced that Jonah did not actually swallow the whale, still remains a dunder‑head. Today he is on his knees; tomorrow, emancipated, he snorts with the Boisheviki. Turn to Italy. Anti-clericalism is the fashion—-but the country swarms with quacks. The mob-man must believe something, and it must be something indubitably not true. The one thing he can’t get down is a fact.
For these reasons, it seems to me a waste of time to attack the dominies.
I used to do it for the fun of it, but never seriously. In truth, I can never take religion seriously enough to get in a sweat about it. It simply doesn’t interest me. Ail I ask is to be let alone. If, as seems likely, the present mania for passing Christian legislation goes to such lengths that life in the United States becomes insupportable, I shall move out. But meanwhile what goes on in churches intrigues me no more than what goes on in lodge-rooms of the Knights of Pythias. I know no one who is religious, and hence am not privately bothered.I often read religious books, but only as a relaxation.”
-From a letter to Upton Sinclair
“The God business is really quite simple. No sane man denies that the universe presents phenomena quite beyond human understanding, and so it is a fair assumption that they are directed by some understanding that is superhuman. But that is as far as sound thought can go. All religions pretend to go further. That is, they pretend to explain the unknowable. As I said long ago, they do it in terms of the not worth knowing. La Eddy first borrows the old Jewish God and then offers to tell us exactly what He wants. Illness, it appears, is distasteful to him. He is surprised, and a bit horrified, to observe a Presbyterian doubled up with cramps. He intended no such thing; it is all due to the Presbyterian’s folly. All this, in brief, is buncombe. Anyone who pretends to say what God wants or doesn’t want, and what the whole show is about, is simply an ass.
Eddy’s guess is not even probable. She goes against the plain evidence. That is all there is to it.
In other words, the objection to religion is that it represents an effort by ignorance to account for a mystery that knowledge simply puts aside as intrinsically impenetrable. The more ignorant the man, the more firm his faith. All genuine knowledge is skeptical.”
-From a letter to Marion Bloom
“I seem to have been born a complete theological moron. I have a wide acquaintance among the clergy of all denominations and frequently discuss divinity with them, but so far I have felt no impulse whatsoever to accept their teaching. My father and grandfather were skeptics before me and that fact probably explains my general attitude. I never think of asking supernatural aid in time of trouble, and I am thoroughly convinced that there is no survival of human personality after death. Some time ago a bishop of my acquaintance asked me what I’d do if on dying I found myself at the pearly gates. I told him that I’d seek out the Twelve Apostles at once and say, “I apologize most profoundly”. This, I fear, is the best I can offer.”
– Letter to reader of an article publishedin the New Yorker, 1939
April 16, 1938.
Dear Mr. Rhode:-
I can hardly qualify as an atheist; I had better be described as an agnostic. Your first proposition seems to me to be dubious in its premiss. There is no visible reason for saying that the human mind can comprehend only the products of other minds. Its area of comprehension is, of course, very narrow, but if it encountered a phenomenon disassociated from any other mind it might conceivably comprehend it. Your second proposition is equally dubious. I can imagine a chain of causation going back into infinity, and thus having no beginning in an uncaused effect. Your third proposition may be either true or not true,but if you proceed to the corollary that you know what the purpose of the universe is, you are upon very shaky ground. Your last proposition I deny flatly.
I know hundreds of men who are quite devoid of what you call the desire to worship. You must know plenty yourself.
My view of the anthropomorphic God described in the Bible is set forth at some length in two books, “Treatise on the Gods” and “Treatise on Right and Wrong.” I should add, perhaps, that neither book denounces any of the prevailing religions, or has any propagandist purpose. I have no desire to convert anyone to my own ideas, and in fact greatly dislike all converts. The one proposition which, in my estimation, is sufficient[ly] self-evident to be fought for is that religious speculation should be completely free, and that any effort to limit it is anti-social and immoral.”
– On April 11 Rhode had written Mencken from 608 Orpington Road, Baltimore, that his Sunday School class was discussing the proofs for the existence of God. Would Mencken as an atheist kindly dispute these propositions: 1) That the human mind can comprehend only the products of the divine mind; 2) That the uncaused cause of everything is God; 3) That our world has a purpose; and 4) That God must exist because we desire to worship Him.