Herausgegeben von Alois Payer (email@example.com)
Zitierweise / cite as:
Menken, Henry Louis <1880 - 1956>: : Damn! <Auswahl>. -- Fassung vom 2007-11-16. -- URL: http://www.payer.de/religionskritik/mencken01.htm
Ursprünglich erschienen als:
Menken, Henry Louis <1880 - 1956>: Damn! : a book of calumny. -- New York : Goodman, 1918. -- 103 S. -- Online: http://www.openlibrary.org/details/damnbookcal00mencrich. -- Zugriff am 2007-11-15
Erstmals publiziert: 2007-11-16
Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Religionskritik von Tüpfli's Global Village Library
"Henry Louis Mencken (* 12. September 1880 in Baltimore, Maryland; † 29. Januar 1956 ebenda) war ein US-amerikanischer Publizist und Schriftsteller.
Mencken war der Sohn eines amerikanischen Zigarrenfabrikanten deutscher Herkunft. Er entwickelte als Autodidakt außerordentliche schriftstellerische Fähigkeiten und gehörte, neben Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker und Walter Lippmann, zu den bedeutendsten Journalisten der USA der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts.
Er arbeitete zunächst widerwillig im väterlichen Betrieb und begann 1899, sofort nach dem Tod seines Vaters, eine Laufbahn als Journalist und Schriftsteller. 1906 ging er als politischer Kolumnist zur Baltimore Sun. 1908 war er Mitherausgeber und Autor der Zeitschrift The Smart Set, die bis 1923 erschien. 1924 gründete er mit George Jean Nathan das Magazin The American Mercury, das bald landesweite Bedeutung erlangte. Mencken verleugnete nie seine deutsche Abkunft und wurde wegen seiner Sympathien, die er in beiden Weltkriegen für Deutschland äußerte, heftig angegriffen.
1948 erlitt er einen Schlaganfall, der ihn bis zu seinem Tod 1956 verstummen ließ. Am bekanntesten sind heute das Werk Die amerikanische Sprache und seine satirischen Reportagen vom Affenprozess, der 1925 in Dayton/Tennessee stattfand.Werk
Mencken war vehementer Verteidiger der Freiheit und der Bürgerrechte und ein heftiger Gegner des angelsächsischem Puritanismus. Seine Grundansichten – stark von Friedrich Nietzsche beeinflusst, über den er 1907 ein Buch geschrieben hat – galten als libertär, bisweilen auch als elitär, sozialdarwinistisch und antisemitisch.
Aufgrund der auf den Hurra-Patriotismus des Ersten Weltkrieges und die ausgeweiteten staatlichen Repressionen (Palmer Raids) folgenden Proteste in den USA, erlangte seine Satire in den 20er Jahren ihren publizistischen Höhepunkt. Der kritische Blick, mit dem Mencken die amerikanischen Lebensumstände betrachtete, war stark durch seine familiären deutschen Wurzeln beeinflusst. Mencken kritisierte in seinen in die Tausende gehenden Zeitungskolumnen und in zahlreichen Büchern mit scharfer Zunge die Wertvorstellungen der US-amerikanischen Bourgeoisie (die er booboisie nannte), die Kirchen und die staatlichen Einrichtungen und war dennoch über Jahrzehnte einer der meistgelesenen Autoren der USA. Die beiden Weltkriege des 20. Jahrhunderts gaben ihm nach eigenem Bekunden einzig zwischen 1925 und 1940 relativ unbehinderte Publikationsmöglichkeiten (Tagebucheintrag 1. April 1945).
Mit seinem Werk The American Language hat er für das Amerikanische eine Leistung vollbracht, die der von Samuel Johnson für das Englische nicht nachsteht - er hat es als eigenständige Sprache fixiert. 1936 prognostizierte er, dass man das Englische bald als einen Dialekt des Amerikanischen ansehen würde, so wie dieses einst als englischer Dialekt galt.Schriften
- The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1907)
- In Defense of Women (1917)
- Prejudices, in six series (1919–1927)
- The American Language (1919)
- Notes on Democracy (1926)
- Happy Days 1880–1892 (1940)
- Newspaper Days 1899–1906 (1941)
- Heathen Days 1890–1936 (1943)
- Die Verteidigung der Frau (Übertr. v. Franz Blei), München: Georg Müller 1923
- Die amerikanische Sprache, Leipzig: B. G. Teubner 1927
- Demokratenspiegel, Berlin: Widerstandsverlag 1930
- Gesammelte Vorurteile, Frankfurt/Main: Insel 2000
- Ausgewählte Werke in 3 Bänden, hg. v. Helmut Winter, Waltrop: Manuscriptum 1999-2002
- Band 1: Kulturkritische Schriften 1918-1926 (Die Verteidigung der Frau / Das amerikanische Credo (Vorrede) / Demokratenspiegel)
- Band 2: Autobiographisches 1930-1948 (Autobiographisches Erzählen / Tagebuch 1930-1948 / Deutschland 1938. Ein Reisebericht)
- Band 3: Kommentare und Kolumnen 1909-1935 (Was es heisst, Amerikaner zu sein / Wie eine amerikanische Nationalliteratur aussehen könnte / Wie man Vorurteile plausibel macht / „Unheilbar deutsch“ / Irritationen)"
[Quelle: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken. -- Zugriff am 2007-11-16]
XXIV ATHEOLOGICAL MYSTERY
Themoral order of the world runs aground on hay fever. Of what use is it? Why was it invented? Cancer and hydrophobia, at least, may be defended on the ground that they kill. Killing may have some benign purpose, some esoteric significance, some cosmic use. But hay fever never kills; it merely tortures. No man ever died of it. Is the torture, then, an end in itself? Does it break the pride of strutting, snorting man, and turn his heart to the things of the spirit? Nonsense! A man with hay fever is a natural criminal. He curses the gods, and defies them to kill him. He even curses the devil. Is its use, then, to prepare him for happiness to come for the vast ease and comfort of convalescence? Nonsense again ! The one thing he is sure of, the one thing he never forgets for a moment, is that it will come back again next year.
XXXVIII THEROAD TO DOUBT
Thefirst effect of what used to be called natural philosophy is to fill its devotee with wonder at the marvels of God. This explains why the pursuit of science, so long as it remains superficial, is not incompatible with the most naive sort of religious faith. But the moment the student of the sciences passes this stage of childlike amazement and begins to investigate the inner workings of natural phenomena, he begins to see how ineptly many of them are managed, and so he tends to pass from awe of the Creator to criticism of the Creator, and once he has crossed that bridge he has ceased to be a believer. One finds plenty of neighborhood physicians, amateur botanists, highschool physics teachers and other such quasi-scientists in the pews on Sunday, but one never sees a Huxley there, or a Darwin, or an Ehrlich.
XXXIX A NEWUSE FOR CHURCHES
Theargument by design, it may be granted, establishes a reasonable ground for accepting the existence of God. It makes belief, at all events, quite as intelligible as unbelief. But when the theologians take their step from the existence of God to the goodness of God they tread upon much less firm earth. How can one see any proof of that goodness in the sense less and intolerable sufferings of man his helplessness, the brief and troubled span of his life, the inexplicable disproportion between his deserts and his rewards, the tragedy of his soaring aspiration, the worse tragedy of his dumb questioning? Granting the existence of God, a house dedicated to Him naturally follows. He is all-important; it is fit that man should take some notice of Him. But why praise and flatter him for his unspeakable cruel ties? Why forget so supinely His failures to remedy the easily remediable? Why, indeed, devote the churches exclusively to worship? Why not give them over, now and then, to justifiable indignation meetings?
Perhapsmen will incline to this idea later on. It is not inconceivable, indeed, that religion will one day cease to be a poltroonish acquiescence and become a vigorous and insistent criticism. If God can hear a petition, what ground is there for holding that He would not hear a complaint? It might, indeed, please Him to find His creatures grown so self-reliant and reflective. More, it might even help Him to get through His infinitely complex and difficult work. Theology has already moved toward such notions. It has abandoned the primitive doctrine of God s arbitrariness and indifference, and substituted the doctrine that He is willing, and even eager, to hear the desires of His creatures i. e., their private notions, born of experience, as to what would be best for them. Why assume that those notions would be any the less worth hearing and heeding if they were cast in the form of criticism, and even of denunciation? Why hold that the God who can understand and forgive even treason could not understand and forgive remonstrance?
XL THEROOT OF RELIGION
Theidea of literal truth crept into religion relatively late: it is the invention of lawyers, priests and cheese-mongers. The idea of mystery long preceded it, and at the heart of that idea of mystery was an idea of beauty that is, an idea that this or that view of the celestial and infernal process presented a satisfying picture of form, rhythm and organization. Once this view was adopted as satisfying, its professional interpreters and their dupes sought to reinforce it by declaring it true. The same flow of reasoning is familiar on lower planes. The average man does not get pleasure out of an idea because he thinks it is true; he thinks it is true because he gets pleasure out of it.
Free will, it appears, is still a Christian dogma.Without it the cruelties of God would strain faith to the breaking-point. But outside the fold it is gradually falling into decay. Such men of science as George W. Crile and Jacques Loeb have dealt it staggering blows, and among laymen of inquiring mind it seems to be giving way to an apologetic sort of determinism a determinism, one may say, tempered by defective observation. The late Mark Twain, in his secret heart, was such a determinist. In his "What Is Man?" you will find him at his farewells to libertarianism. The vast majority of our acts, he argues, are determined, but there remains a residuum of free choices. Here we stand free of compulsion and face a pair or more of alternatives, and are free to go this way or that.
A pillow for free will to fallupon but one loaded with disconcerting brick-bats. Where the occupants of this last trench of libertarianism err is in their assumption that the pulls of their antagonistic impulses are exactly equal that the individual is absolutely free to choose which one he will yield to. Such freedom, in practise, is never encountered. When an individual confronts alternatives, it is not alone his volition that chooses between them, but also his environment, his inherited prejudices, his race, his color, his condition of servitude. I may kiss a girl or I may not kiss her, but surely it would be absurd to say that I am, in any true sense, a free agent in the matter. The world has even put my helplessness into a proverb. It says that my decision and act depend upon the time, the place and even to some extent, upon the girl. Examples might be multiplied ad infinitum.
I can scarcelyremember performing a wholly voluntary act. My whole life, as I look back upon it, seems to be a long series of inexplicable accidents, not only quite unavoidable, but even quite unintelligible. Its history is the history of the reactions of my personality to my environment, of my behavior before external stimuli. I have been no more responsible for that personality than I have been for that environment. To say that I can change the former by a voluntary effort is as ridiculous as to say that I can modify the curvature of the lenses of my eyes. I know, because I have often tried to change it, and always failed. Nevertheless, it has changed. I am not the same man I was in the last century. But the gratifying im provements so plainly visible are surely not to be credited to me. All of them came from without or from unplumbable and uncontrollable depths within.
The morethe matter is examined the more the residuum of free will shrinks and shrinks, until in the end it is almost impossible to find it. A great many men, of course, looking at themselves, see it as something very large; they slap their chests and call themselves free agents, and demand that God reward them for their virtue. But these fellows are simply idiotic egoists, devoid of a critical sense. They mistake the acts of God for their own acts. Of such sort are the coxcombs who boast about wooing and winning their wives. They are brothers to the fox who boasted that he had made the hounds run. . . .
Thethrowing overboard of free will is commonly denounced on the ground that it subverts morality and makes of religion a mocking. Such pious objections, of course, are foreign to logic, but nevertheless, it may be well to give a glance to this one. It is based upon the fallacious hypothesis that the determinist escapes, or hope to escape, the consequences of his acts. Nothing could be more untrue. Consequences follow acts just as relentlessly if the latter be involuntary as if they be voluntary. If I rob a bank of my free choice or in response to some unfathomable inner necessity it is all one; I will go to the same jail. Conscripts in war are killed just as often as volunteers. Men who are tracked down and shanghaied by their wives have just as hard a time of it as men who walk fatuously into the trap by formally proposing.
Evenon the ghostly side, determinism does not do much damage to theology. It is no harder to believe that a man will be damned for his involuntary acts than it is to believe that he will be damned for his voluntary acts, for even the supposition that he is wholly free does not dispose of the massive fact that God made him as he is, and that God could have made him a saint if He had so desired. To deny this is to flout omnipotence a crime at which, as I have often said, I balk. But here I begin to fear that I wade too far into the hot waters of the sacred sciences, and that I had better retire before I lose my hide. This prudent retirement is purely deterministic. I do not ascribe it to my own sagacity; I ascribe it wholly to that singular kindness which fate always shows me. If I were free I d probably keep on, and then regret it afterward.
XLIIQUID EST VERITAS?
All great religions, in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or theAmerican gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely. "For who hath known the mind of the Lord?" asked Paul of the Romans. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past rinding out!" "It is the glory of God," said Solomon, "to conceal a thing." "Clouds and darkness," said David, "are around him." "No man," said the Preacher," can find out the work of God." . . . The difference between religions is a difference in their relative content of agnosticism. The most satisfying and ecstatic faith is almost purely agnostic. It trusts absolutely without professing to know at all.
XLIII THEDOUBTER S REWARD
Despite the common delusion to the contrary the philosophy of doubt is farmore comforting than that of hope. The doubter escapes the worst penalty of the man of hope ; he is never disappointed, and hence never indignant. The inexplicable and irremediable may interest him, but they do not enrage him, or, I may add, fool him. This immunity is worth all the dubious assurances ever foisted upon man. It is pragmatically impregnable. . . . Moreover, it makes for tolerance and sympathy. The doubter does not hate his opponents; he sympathizes with them. In the end, he may even come to sympathize with God. . . . The old idea of fatherhood here submerges in a new idea of brotherhood. God, too, is beset by limitations, difficulties, broken hopes. Is it disconcerting to think of Him thus? Well, is it any the less disconcerting to think of Him as able to ease and answer, and yet failing? . . . But he that doubteth damnatus est. At once the penalty of doubt and its proof, excuse and genesis.
XLIVBEFORE THE ALTAR
A salient objection to the prevailing religious ceremonial lies in the attitudes of abasement that it enforcesupon the faith ful. A man would be thought a slimy and knavish fellow if he approached any human judge or potentate in the manner provided for approaching the Lord God. It is an etiquette that involves loss of selfrespect, and hence it cannot be pleasing to its object, for one cannot think of the Lord God as sacrificing decent feelings to mere vanity. This notion of abasement, like most of the other ideas that are general in the world, is obviously the invention of small and ignoble men. It is the pollution of theology by the Sklavenmoral.
XLV THE MASK
Ritual is to religionwhat the music of an opera is to the libretto: ostensibly a means of interpretation, but actually a means of concealment. The Presbyterians made the mistake of keeping the doctrine of infant damnation in plain words. As enlightenment grew in the world, intelligence and prudery revolted against it, and so it had to be abandoned. Had it been set to music it would have survived uncomprehended, unsuspected and unchallenged.
XLVI PIAVENEZIANI, POI CRISTIANI
I have spoken of the possibility that God, too, may sufferfrom a finite intelligence, and so know the bitter sting of disappointment and defeat. Here I yielded something to politeness; the thing is not only possible, but obvious. Like man, God is deceived by appearances and probabilities; He makes calculations that do not work out; He falls into specious assumptions. For example, He assumed that Adam and Eve would obey the law in the Garden. Again, He assumed that the appalling lesson of the Flood would make men better. Yet again, He assumed that men would always put religion in first place among their concerns that it would be eternally possible to reach and influence them through it. This last assumption was the most erroneous of them all. The truth is that the generality of men have long since ceased to take religion seriously. When we encounter one who still does so, he seems eccentric, almost feeble-minded or, more commonly, a rogue who has been deluded by his own hypocrisy. Even men who are professionaly religious, and who thus have far more incentive to stick to religion than the rest of us, nearly always throw it overboard at the first serious temptation. During the past four years, for example, Christianity has been in combat with patriotism all over Christendom. Which has prevailed? How many gentlemen of God, having to choose between Christ and Patrie, have actually chosen Christ?
Thenotion that theology is a dull subject is one of the strangest delusions of a stupid and uncritical age. The truth is that some of the most engrossing books ever written in the world are full of it. For example, the Gospel according to St. Luke. For example, Nietzsche s "Der Antichrist." For example, Mark Twain's "What Is Man?", St. Augustine's Confessions, Haeckel s "The Riddle of the Universe," and Huxley s Essays. How, indeed, could a thing be dull that has sent hundreds of thousands of men the very best and the very worst of the race to the gallows and the stake, and made and broken dynasties, and inspired the great est of human hopes and enterprises, and embroiled whole continents in war? No, theology is not a soporific. The reason it so often seems so is that its public exposition has chiefly fallen, in these later days, into the hands of a sect of intellectual castrati, who begin by mistaking it for a subdepartment of etiquette, and then proceed to anoint it with butter, rose water and talcum powder. Whenever a first-rate intellect tackles it, as in the case of Huxley, or in that of Leo XIII., it at once takes on all the sinister fascination it had in Luther s day.
Do I let the poor suffer, and consign them, as old Friedrich used to say, to statistics and the devil? Well, so does God.
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