To H*L with Mencken by James L. Sauer

Feature

To H*L with Mencken

“If I hate a class of men in this world, it is evangelical Christians. . . .”

Mencken is best known as the Monkey Man who made an Ass out of William Jennings Bryan. He used the Scopes trial to sucker punch the dullard Fundamentalists and opened their unexercised leadership to a public humiliation. An ornery, self-satisfied curmudgeon, Mencken spit his willful poison at do-gooders of every stripe. Progressives, vice crusaders, rotarians, Methodists—you name it; just find a proper noun, and Mencken mocked it. He judiciously bestowed his witty prejudices and put-downs for the public admiration of lesser men: for the unter-mencken, so to speak, who fill the world.

Of those folk Mencken did not have a very high opinion. Mencken’s In Defense of Women describes the male of our species as being peasantlike, a mountebank, a puerile ego, doltish, a booby, a petty rogue, an ignoramus, a poltroon, a popinjay, a blackguard, a knave, shoddy and preposterous, full of loathsome clumsiness in l’amour, a cock on a dunghill. He didn’t think much of women either. But for the grace of Evolution, he was Mencken; and for him that made all the difference.

Henry Louis Mencken was born in 1880. He lived a life of splenetic journalistic outbursts. He wrote for the Baltimore Herald and the Sun papers; edited with George Nathan The Smart Set and The American Mercury; suffered a silencing stroke in 1948 and met his Maker in January of 1956. He was neither a pleasant nor an admirable man, but he was a man gifted with an extremely sharp wit. Annoyed at a world he did not create, he railed against much.

Of especial import to the Christian reader was Mencken’s blasphemy; a minor point to modernists, it is an essential peg by which the orthodox nail Mencken into the critical place reserved for fallen journalists. Mencken delighted in iconoclasm, blasphemy, irreverence, and irritating the pious with his tweek-nose arrogance. As a child he probably made coarse noises during Reverend Bauer’s sermons. As a grown man he loosed equally infantile comments like these:

• “The more, indeed, the theologian seeks to prove the wisdom of God by His works, the more he is dashed by the evidences of divine incompetence and stupidity.”1

• “The essential feminine machine is no better than the essential masculine machine; both are monuments to the maladroitness of a much over-praised creator.”2

• “The first-rate man is an admirable creature; his qualities are appreciated by every intelligent woman; as I have just said, it may be reasonably argued he is actually superior to God.”3

• “Show me a Puritan and I’ll show you a son-of-a-_____.”4

• “If I hate a class of men in this world, it is evangelical Christians, with their bellicose stupidity, their childish belief in devils, their barbarous hoofing of all beauty, dignity and decency.”5


James L. Sauer is the Director of Warner Memorial Library at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Paula, live in Coatesville, Pennsylvania with their seven children.

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