Mencken on the Eternal Christian Mob
In 1926, H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) wrote Notes on Democracy in which he expressed his views on democracy and related issues. He was a journalist, satirist, and critic and a libertarian and one of the leaders of the Old Right. In his book, he describes the eternal Christian mob, pages 74-76. Below is an overview of his discussion on the eternal Christian mob; my comments are in brackets.
Mencken notes that in the past two thousand years, the inferior man has moved “from the obscenities of the Saturnalia to the obscenities of the Methodist revival. So he lives out his life in the image of Jahveh.”
Mencken questions the inferior man’s “simple piety, his touching fidelity to the faith.” He continues, “Is it argued by any rational man that the debased Christianity cherished by the mob in all the Christian countries of to-day has any colourable likeness to the body of ideas preached by Christ? . . . The plain fact is that this bogus Christianity has no more relation to the system of Christ than it has to the system of Aristotle. It is the invention of Paul and his attendant rabble-rousers — a body of men exactly comparable to the corps of evangelical pastors of to-day, which is to say, a body devoid of sense and lamentably indifferent to common honesty.” [Paul did not change the teachings of Christ; he merely explained and applied them.] Then he adds, “The mob, having heard Christ, turned against Him, and applauded His crucifixion.” The mob turned against Christ because “His theological ideas were too logical and too plausible for it, and his ethical ideas were enormously too austere.” [The mob did not turn against Jesus because his theological ideas were too logical and too plausible. It turned against him because the Pharisees and the Sadducees excited it to demand the execution of Jesus. These two groups and, to a lesser extent, the Herodians were the aristocrats and superior men of their society. Thus, the superior men were behind Jesus’ execution. They turned the mob against Jesus because his logical, plausible theology condemned them.]
What the mob “yearned for was the old comfortable balderdash under a new and gaudy name, and that is precisely what Paul offered it. He borrowed from all the wandering dervishes and soul-snatchers of Asia Minor, and flavoured the stew with remnants of the Greek demonology. The result was a code of doctrines so discordant and so nonsensical that no two men since, examining it at length, have ever agreed upon its precise meaning.” [Paul’s teachings are no more confusing than Jesus’. What makes Paul’s writings seem confusing are theologians reading into his writings what is not there and reading out of his writings what is there. Moreover, if his writings are so confusing and, thus, difficult to understand, why does the ignorant, uneducable inferior man seems to grasp them, for as Mencken notes, the inferior man tries to destroy what he does not understand. Nevertheless, Paul’s writings, which are usually fairly straightforward, are easier to comprehend than most of the Prophets and Revelations with their flowery, allegorical, and metaphorical language. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching may not be as logical and plausible and as clear and simple as Mencken asserts. If they were, theologians agree about what Jesus taught. For example, in Matthew 24:36, Christ says that he does not possess the divine trait of omniscience. Antitrinitarians use this statement to prove that the Trinity Doctrine is wrong. Trinitarians ignore it or try to explain it away. Another is Matthew 24:1-31. Some claim that this prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled in 70 A.D. Others claim that only part of it was fulfilled in 70 A.D.; the remainder is yet to come. Thus, Jesus’ teachings are at least as confusing as Paul’s.] Nonetheless, “Paul knew his mob: he had been a travelling labour leader. He knew that nonsense was its natural provender — that the unintelligible soothed it like sweet music.” Moreover, Paul was the progenitor “of all the Christian mob-masters of to-day, terrorizing and enchanting the mob with their insane damnations, eating their seven fried chickens a week, passing the diligent plate, busy among the women.” [Many ministers in Mencken’s day, and even today, were charlatans, hustlers, and scoundrels, who manipulated Christians for their own benefit. That Paul was such a person is highly doubtful, and such a notion is certainly not supported by the Scriptures. No such person would have endured what Paul endured.]
Continuing, Mencken writes, “Once the early church emerged from the Roman catacombs and began to yield to that reorganization of society which was forced upon the ancient world by the barbarian invasions, Paul was thrown overboard, as Methodists throw Wesley overboard when they acquire the means and leisure for golf, and Peter was put in his place. Peter was a blackguard, but he was at least free from any taint of Little Bethel. The Roman Church, in the aristocratic feudal age, promoted him post mortem to the Papacy, and then raised him to the mystical dignity of Rock, a rank obviously quasi-celestial.” [The theology of the Catholic Church fits much closer the animadversions that Mencken pours on Paul than Paul’s theology.]
Nevertheless, “Paul remained the prophet of the sewers. He was to emerge centuries later in many incarnations — Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and so on. He remains to-day the arch-theologian of the mob. His turgid and witless metaphysics make Christianity bearable to men who would be repelled by Christ’s simple and magnificent reduction of the duties of man to the duties of a gentleman.” [Mencken is not the only one who believes that Paul corrupted the teachings of Jesus. Some have accused Paul of Judaizing the teachings of Christ, which he did not.]
[As can be seen from the above, Mencken has a low opinion of Christianity. On that point, he agrees with Marx. Moreover, Mencken seems to believe that only inferior men, scoundrels, and demagogues are religious, and the scoundrels and demagogues are fakers, who use religion to manipulate the inferior man. He seems to believe that one cannot be both religious and of the better sort simultaneously.]
Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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