How to make a Christian grumpy

grumpyCoffee cup fresh in hand, this morning I settled in to start reading Treatise on the Gods, by the incomparable H.L. Mencken. The book’s first chapter, “The Nature and Origin of Religion,” begins with this:

The ancient and curious thing called religion, as it shows itself in the modern world, is often so overladen with excrescences [gross outgrowth, disfigurement] and irrelevancies that its fundamental nature tends to be obscured. When we hear of it in everyday life, it is usually in connection with some grandiose pretension by its priests or practitioners or some unseemly row or scandal among them, religious only by courtesy. It is employed by such pretenders as a sanction for moral theories, for political and economic dogmas, for reforms (or the opposition to them) in laws and manners, for social protests and revolutions, and even for purely private enterprises, including the commercial and the amorous. … In America it is used as a club and a cloak by both politicians and moralists, all of them lusting for power and most of them palpable frauds. Some of the most bitter religious controversies of this age of hatreds … have had little to do with religion, properly so called. But it serves so conveniently to give a high dignity and authority to this or that faction, otherwise plainly in want of a respectable case, that it is constantly lugged in by the heels, to its own grave damage and discredit and the complete destruction of common sense and common decency. The fact, no doubt, accounts at least partly for the slowness with which some of the capital problems of mankind approach solution, especially in the fields of morals and government: their discussion is often so contaminated by pseudo-religious considerations that a rational and realistic dealing with them becomes impossible.

Gah, man. What a total Donny Downer.

I’m so going back to bed now.

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  • Bob Rogers


  • mike moore

    I’m surprised this sent you back to bed.

    I think it’s brilliant, underscoring and affirming so much of your writing. While written over 80 years ago, in the hazy frightening world between WWI and WWII, this piece could, however, have been an Op-Ed in yesterday’s NY Times.

  • (I was just being funny. Except … you know: how I apparently wasn’t.)

  • anakin mcfly

    Here you go – a fly swatter! It’s slightly old and has bits of flies on it, but it should do.

  • Elizabeth

    You don’t write in bed? Interesting.

  • Pretty much never. I find it hard to pace in bed.

  • Elizabeth

    Yeah, that’s what the smoking’s for.

  • Brian

    Mencken still incomparable?

  • Elizabeth

    “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

  • Only if you … enjoy English. (And yes, I’m also aware of his profound character flaws.)

  • textjunkie

    oh… I always get HL Mencken and Alan Menken mixed up…

  • mike moore

    my bad … it’s Monday, feels like Friday, and my sense of humour is awol

  • LN

    hahahaha, yes, Alan Menken is also incomparable!

  • n.

    i thought you were ironically trying to say that he was trying to say the same kind of stuff you’re trying to say except with bigger words.

    so i guess i got it.

    for once.

  • Hi n. Got your email note. Good to hear from you.

  • robert

    It kind of hits the nail on the head…. I would say it simply as… power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Let’s face it… organized religions main purpose is to perpetuate itself and to protect its power base… spirituality left the church a long long time ago. What is left is… flawed texts, mindless ritual, some pockets of excellence and many many egotistical ministers more interested in increasing their (1) wealth, (2) political influence and (3) sense of self importance. Most religions have very little to do with spirituality… and only seem to offer… belonging to “THE” special in-group.