Why Christians Should Read Mencken

If only the Jerry Falwell’s had considered this:

Preachers, of course, have a right to their political views, but it does not follow that they have a right to become politicians. When they dedicate their lives to religion they give over many of the common rights of ordinary men, the while they take on rare and valuable privileges one of those forfeited rights, I believe, is that of playing politics. Politics is a dirty business. It is inevitably and eternally contaminating. No man can touch it and not carry away his smear. As a profession it ranks with saloon-keeping and bookmaking. As a diversion it ranks with poker and cornet playing.

Preachers had better keep out of it. Let them vote as they please. Let them even, as private citizens, solicit the votes of their friends. But let them beware of going into active politics, as preachers. The public does not want to hear their political views in that capacity. Their training does not give them any appreciable fitness for judging politicians. Their opinions about the tariff, public expenditures and the trusts are no weightier than the opinions of other men. All the more danger, then, when they seek to give those opinions the false force of their ecclesiastical authority. All the more peril when they try to capitalize their good repute.

6 thoughts on “Why Christians Should Read Mencken

  1. But will the new Religious Right learn this lesson? Today’s Gospel Centered Religious Right believes that “the Gospel” can be loosed on the world to solve all sorts of problems: race relations, police brutality, income inequality, refugees, illegal immigration, poverty, climate change, gun violence, etc. Social Justice, Racial Reconciliation, Economic Justice, Criminal Justice Reform, Mass Incarceration – these are all “Gospel issues” and “Gospel implications.” Can’t wait to see how all that fits on a gospel tract to hand out in the subways and street corners.

    But this is all good. The old Christian Right focus on abortion, pornography, and gays has given way to the earthly concerns of expensively educated, cosmopolitan, urban big city Christians who want to be part of “the national conversation.” They want Cultural Engagement with their superiors in The Secular City. Goodbye CBN, hello NPR; goodbye TBN, hello Huffington Post. Whatever it takes to be part of “the national dialogue.”

    The Gospel Centered Religious Right’s search for cultural influence and acceptance is really no different that the old Religious Right’s desire for political power.

    Power. It’s a helluva drug.

    Give me back my Ol’ Timey Religion, please!


  2. Well, not every preacher kept out of politics: John Witherspoon, aka “The War President”.

    In fact, some were key figures in the formation of the newly Independent United States of America… .
    Elected to the Continental Congress, NJ Signer, Dec. of Independence.

    “Dominion of Providence Over The Passions Of Men”

    Opting out was not on their “Bucket List”.


  3. “The public does not want to hear their political views in that capacity. Their training does not give them any appreciable fitness for judging politicians.”

    This is how I feel about musicians.


  4. Russell, so predictable. Read Witherspoon’s sermon and tell me how the text supports American independence:

    That all the disorderly passions of men, whether exposing the innocent to private injury, or whether they are the arrows of divine judgment in public calamity, shall, in the end, be to the praise of God: Or, to apply it more particularly to the present state of the American colonies, and the plague of war, The ambition of mistaken princes, the cunning and cruelty of oppressive and corrupt ministers, and even the inhumanity of brutal soldiers, however dreadful, shall finally promote the glory of God, and in the mean time, while the storm continues, his mercy and kindness shall appear in prescribing bounds to their rage and fury.

    All the disorderly passions of men includes the Stamp Act. And if Parliament brings glory to God, why rebel?


  5. Mencken—“Woodrow Wilson accomplished with a great deal more skill than they did themselves the great task of reducing all the difficulties of the hour to a few sonorous and unintelligible phrases, often with theological overtones – that he knew better than they did how to arrest and enchant the boobery with words that were simply words, and nothing else. The vulgar like and respect that sort of balderdash. A discourse packed with valid ideas, accurately expressed, is quite incomprehensible to them. What they want is the sough of vague and comforting words – words cast into phrases made familiar to them by the whooping of their customary political and ecclesiastical rabble-rousers, and by the highfalutin style of the newspapers that they read. Woodrow knew how to conjure up such words. He knew how to make them glow, and weep. He wasted no time upon the heads of his dupes, but aimed directly at their ears, diaphragms and hearts.” http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/7344/damning-words.aspx


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