“The most curious social convention of the great age in which we live is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected.” That was H. L. Mencken, the iconic iconoclast, writing in 1930. (Mencken died 60 years ago today, on January 29, 1956.)
“We must respect the other fellow’s religion,” Mencken wrote on another occasion, “but only to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
Mencken’s observations are apropos to this political season in Iowa, where Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are courting, in their respective ways, evangelical voters. For Trump, this means being unapologetically ignorant of evangelical culture and principles, while assuring crowds that evangelicals love him anyway.
He’s half right, at least, which is above his average. A Pew Research Center report released this week said that half of white evangelicals think Trump would be a “good” or “great” president. The survey’s release followed on the heels of Trump’s endorsement by Jerry Falwell Jr. While the younger Falwell is nowhere near the grand poobah his father was, his official approval was still a significant coup for Trump.
Trump’s “religion” is Presbyterian, and his knowledge of its tenets is apparently equal to his grasp of most other issues. When asked last year to cite his favorite Bible verse, Trump couldn’t come up with one, and he referred to his Communion wafer as “my little cracker,” saying that it and the wine (he never drinks wine, he wanted everyone to know) made him feel “refreshed.”
So why the outpouring of support for Trump from the evangelical sector? Here is what Mencken had to say on the subject:
“The men that the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars.”
And this: “Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.”
On another note, there’s a new puppy in our household. The dog (a male) is devoted to my wife, as all our previous dogs (females) have been devoted to me. Mencken once compared the religiosity of dogs with that of human beings.
“A dog is very religious and its religion is free from superstition. The god it believes in is its master, and that god actually exists, and is actually concerned about its welfare, and actually rewards and punishes it, on a plan comprehensible to dogs and meeting with their approval, for its virtues and vices. Dogs need not waste any time over insoluble theological problems. Their god is plainly visible and wholly understandable—they have no need of clergy to guess for them.
“…Yet a dog has none of the great rights that men esteem, glory in and die for. It cannot vote…It cannot get converted…it cannot be a Presbyterian.”
The dog probably doesn’t worry over its prospects for Heaven or Hell, either. In this regard Mencken was similarly unperturbed.
“When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness,” he wrote. “No show, no matter how good, can conceivably last forever.”