I just started reading H.L. Mencken’s In Defense of Women. For those who don’t know, Mencken was a terribly witty journalist in the early 20th century. He was witty, and he was terrible. He was enamoured of Nietzshe’s philosophy and hated Christianity. Oddly enough, he could praise a theological stalwart like J. Gresham Machen because Machen was a stalwart. Mencken hated hypocrisy, but he respected a man who could defend what he believed, even if Mencken could not accept that defense. All that to say–Mencken was a clever pagan and a talented wordsmith. We who would defend Christianity can, and should, learn a lesson or two from him.
In the Introduction, Mencken writes, “in the United States, alone among the great nations of history, there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think in everything–not only in theology, or politics, or economics, but in the most trivial matters of everyday life” (xix).
Mencken was writing in the 1930s, and so he is railing against “traditional morality,” but his words apply equally today–in the realm of political correctness and the holy dogmas of Tolerance. “For an American to question any of the articles of fundamental faith cherished by the majority is for him to run grave risks of social disaster” (xx). The difference now is which “articles of fundamental faith” the majority hold to. Back then it was the veneer of Christian morality–now it is the veneer of Toleration for every belief and moral practice … except for Intolerance and believing that one belief means that others are wrong!
And Mencken had no illusions about the redemptive value of democracy: “All such toyings with illicit ideas are construed as attentats against democracy, which, in a sense, perhaps they are. For democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even half-wits would argue it to pieces. Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas” (xxi).
When was the last time we really had a debate in American politics, rather than slogan-tossing festival?
Mencken could sound like a Calvinist with no Cross and no Christ. That is, he understood human depravity, but did not have the hope of Resurrection: “In truth, I am very suspicious of all remedies for the major ills of life, and believe that most of them are incurable” (xxiv).
The book promises to entertain and infuriate. I’ll try to post his best observations here (mostly to help me study how he writes!).