The More Things Change…

Browsing through S. T. Joshi’s book Atheism: A Reader (Prometheus Books, 2000) I came across an excerpt from H. L. Mencken’s writing from the Scopes’ trial. It contained the following quote:

Once more, alas, I find myself unable to follow the best Liberal thought. What the World‘s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should no better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

That, mind you, was written in 1925. Sound familiar? Guess there really is nothing new under the Sun.

And as for Mencken, well said! Mencken had his blind spots on a number of political issues, but no one ever accused him of being a bad writer.


  1. #1 abb3w
    April 23, 2009

    s/no better/know better/ perhaps?

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    April 23, 2009

    Forget Mencken — have you seen what John Stuart Mill has to say about Richard Dawkins?

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    April 23, 2009

    There’s also the anonymous Plain Commentary on the First Gospel by an Agnostic (1891), which makes for fascinating reading.

  4. #4 Coriolis
    April 23, 2009

    Damn Blake, JS Mill really nailed it there.

  5. #5 anon
    April 24, 2009

    “…no one ever accused him of being a bad writer.”

    Sure they did; during the 1920s Mencken collected and published a short book of the silliest, most vicious, most Christian attacks on him, mostly from the hundred-percent American types, small-town editors, pompous clergy, and so forth. See if your library has his “Schimpflexikon” — German for “dictionary of verbal abuse,” or something in that ballpark — on hand; it’s occasionally hilarious.

  6. #6 Jaime A. Headden
    April 26, 2009

    Jason, would you take a person whose views you regard as superstition and force him to a state of abject shame and fear to make him change his mind, or would you convince that man in a rational manner of any sort of truth you espouse? This being an explicit situation, and not the metaphor through which Mencken was talking, despite the the legal recourse in the mock-trial of Scopes requiring a certain sense of dramatisation on either side.

    I am frankly interested in the practical approach of transforming a belief into a nonbelief, and how you’d go about doing that sans brainwashing or torture.

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