On the surface they may seem to differ greatly, but what appears on the surface is not always religion. Go beneath it, and one finds invariably the same sense of helplessness before the cosmic mysteries, and the same pathetic attempt to resolve it by appealing to higher powers. Mencken is perhaps best known for his scathing political satire. But politicians, as far as Mencken was concerned, had no monopoly on self-righteous chest-thumping, deceit, and thievery. He also found religion to be an adversary worthy of his attention and, in Treatise on the Gods , he offers some of his best shots, a choreographed cannonade. He compares Incas and Greeks, examines doctrines, dogmas, sacred texts, heresies, and ceremonies.
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Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Treatise on the Gods by H. Treatise on the Gods by H. With a style that combined biting sarcasm with the "language of the free lunch counter," Henry Louis Mencken shook politics and politicians for nearly half a century.
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Nov 29, Nick rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy , religion. Comprehensive review of religion and a complete demolition of it. Should be required reading in schools to decontaminate minds corrupted by religious idiocy. Sep 01, Matt McCormick rated it it was ok. Like many people in history, the more we get to know them the more disenchanted we can become.
The book is way too long. Although Menken clearly spent the energy to consult the experts of his day, he himself was no expert in religious history or theology. I have no idea if his proclamations are accurate. Most I agree with from a rational and commonsense perspective. A few did make me utter a quiet hmmm.
Take for example how he traced again accurately? Or, his list of religious groups through history with a matriarchic figure using a derivation of the name Mary. Sure Menken enjoyably jabs at the priestly class and uses his often clever language to call out hypocrisy and irrationality. Through Mencken one can see the early Hitchens. But this book is a disappointment much like the disappointment one feels after getting to know Mencken too well. May 03, Graham rated it really liked it Shelves: non-computer-books.
Treatise on the Gods is a well organized trip through the beginnings and evolution of religion. He prefaces the book with his distaste for converts and conversion and states this book is not for believers. Also Mencken remarks that the Earth is large and there is enough room on its epidermis for all of us. The first chapter is speculative, but is a very plausible explanation of the origin of the occupation of the priest. Leveraging humans hyper-sensitive agent detection and lack of understanding Treatise on the Gods is a well organized trip through the beginnings and evolution of religion.
Leveraging humans hyper-sensitive agent detection and lack of understanding of causality and probability, priests managed to gain a position in the tribe through fighting natural forces, and sometimes winning.
The second chapter covers how the first priests learn to keep their jobs after their rituals fail to divert natural disasters and disease. The priest codifies a set of rules that he knows will be difficult to follow for most humans, and then invokes the breakage of said rules, anytime his rituals fail to provide favorable treatment by the gods.
Herein lies the origin of Hell. The third chapter is a lesson in comparative religion. This chapter serves to show the many similarities between religions new and ancient. Baptism is perhaps the best example, as such rituals even existed amongst the Aztecs prior to their conversion to Christianity. The chapter shows each religion as less of a unique idea, and more of a language, musical genre, or the genetic makeup of an complex organism in that it has many influences.
The fourth chapter is dedicated solely to Christianity and its origins. Mencken dedicates considerable resources to show how the Bible was put together, which parts were likely embellished, which parts were written far too long after the event to have been accurate, and how much of it given what we know about the historical Jesus is faithful to his character.
One of the more interesting excerpts in this chapter is on the Song of Solomon. It is clearly an erotic poem and contains references to fellatio and women's breasts, though the clerical stance of both Catholics and Jews is it is a metaphor for clergy and God or the church and God or worshipers and God. Quite an example of rationalization. The last and final chapter is more opinion.
Mencken details the mindset behind the true believer and how tribalism and lack of self-confidence play a large role. Strikingly similar to Eric Hoffers description in the book True Believers it may even have influenced Hoffer. Mencken also postulates that some humans are biologically more susceptible to religion than others and subsequently religion will survive for quite some time.
Mencken also dedicates some pages to what he feels is an irreconcilable conflict between science and religion. Definitely a proponent of the God of the Gaps idea, Mencken firmly believes that the area of knowledge for religion is becoming smaller and smaller as scientific knowledge progresses, and eventually the realm of knowledge for religion will disappear altogether.
He argues that religious adherents know this and as evidence quotes Martin Luther as saying that Reason is Satan's whore. Lastly, as did Dawkins, Mencken is very complimentary of the poetic qualities of the Bible.
Overall an excellent and very well researched read, I enjoyed it far more than On Religion by H. The middle chapters are driven almost exclusively by academic research into religion. For those more curious, there is an extensive bibliography in the back.
This is an entertaining and learned conspectus on the history of mysticism and religion that has perspicacious insights and a few dubious views. I'm not sure how accurate every fact is and how valid every observation is, but it is generally convincing and always written in Mencken's delightful, articulate prose style. It even has a lawyer joke, unusual for Mencken. Aug 31, Tyler Malone rated it it was amazing Shelves: religion.
An indispensable critique on the creation and rise of religions, to the then-state of the 'twenties Christian faith; as well as a book by a man who loved to think and read for himself. A fine testament to heresy. A wonderful, speculative history of the origin and development of religion. It becomes more Christianity centered as the book progressed -- understandable considering he was an American.
A must read for all interested in religion. I was disappointed. The book is both too long and too shallow, and the focus shifted from all religions to the practice of Christianity in the United States and then finally to some casual Jew bashing to better highlight the extraordinary beauty of the King James Bible pace its origins millennia ago in the culture of uncouth, barbaric Bedouin.
The elaboration of its evolution to encompass theological concepts of morality, metempsychosis, an eternal soul, heaven, hell, et al. The final chapters about the schism between Catholics and Protestants and their profusion of contentious sects were more invective than discussion or analysis. A book hardly worth reading. It's little more than a long form rant against religion.
In the introduction, Mencken tells readers who are faithful, go ahead and skip the book. And they would be well served to do so. Mencken warns the readers of priests' and pastors' struggles to lead their flocks' minds because of religion's use of conjecture, and filling in blanks for explanation -- and Mencken spends the entirety of the book committing the same errors. He often ignorantly misstates Catholic orth A book hardly worth reading.
He often ignorantly misstates Catholic orthodoxy to make his points. And he uses issues and settled heresies to lead the reader where he'd like their minds to be. I'm not one to destroy books - but this is one I'm leaving in the rubbish bin.
View all 3 comments. There are comments which are out of date—he wrote before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi texts—but his overall critique is solid, and many of his conclusions will surprise those who consider him simply an anti-Christian.
Treatise on the Gods by H L Mencken
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Treatise on the Gods
Treatise on the Gods is H. Mencken 's survey of the history and philosophy of religion , and was intended as an unofficial companion volume to his Treatise on Right and Wrong Wilson;  and the Marxist literary critic Granville Hicks called it "the best popular account we have of the origin and nature of religion. A year after publication the New York Times published another review, this one by Philip Wylie and accompanied by a caricature of Mencken by Covarrubias. Wylie referred to the book as a " tourbillon by the Burgrave of Baltimore ". Two more editions of the book followed, in and