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Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

H.L. MENCKEN, as quoted in James A. Haught's 2000 Years of Disbelief

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy

Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99% of them are wrong.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy

The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices: Third Series

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.

H.L. MENCKEN, "Minority Report," Notebooks

The opera ... is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.

H. L. MENCKEN, letter to Isaac Goldberg, May 6, 1925

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

H.L. MENCKEN, Baltimore Evening Sun, Sep. 14, 1925

The truth is that Christian theology, like every other theology, is not only opposed to the scientific spirit; it is also opposed to all other attempts at rational thinking. Not by accident does Genesis 3 make the father of knowledge a serpent -- slimy, sneaking and abominable. Since the earliest days the church, as an organization, has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. It has been, at all times and everywhere, the habitual and incorrigible defender of bad governments, bad laws, bad social theories, bad institutions. It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was the apologist for the divine right of kings.

H.L. MENCKEN, Treatise on the Gods

Journalism is to politician as dog is to lamp-post.

H.L. MENCKEN, quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations

God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in his arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.

H. L. MENCKEN, Minority Report

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.

H. L. MENCKEN, Prejudices

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

H. L. MENCKEN, Minority Report

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.


Citizenship in New York is now worth no more than citizenship in Arkansas, for it is open to any applicant from the marshes of Bessarabia, and, still worse, to any applicant from Arkansas.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Second Mencken Chrestomathy

Theology is the effort to explain the? unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.


An altruist is one who would be sincerely sorry to see his neighbor's children devoured by wolves.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Little Book in C Major

The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians -- and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse.

H. L. MENCKEN, "Clinical Notes", The American Mercury, Jan. 1924

My vanity is excessive: wherever I sit is the head of the table.

H. L. MENCKEN, Letters of H. L. Mencken

Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, Balderdash: A Treatise on Ethics

Temptation is woman's weapon and man's excuse.

H. L. MENCKEN, Mencken Chrestomathy

Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

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. Its evil effects must be plain enough to everyone. All it accomplishes is (a) to throw a veil of sanctity about ideas that violate every intellectual decency, and (b) to make every theologian a sort of chartered libertine. No doubt it is mainly to blame for the appalling slowness wich which really sound notions make their way in the world. The minute a new one is launched, in whatever fields, some imbecile of a theologian is certain to fall upon it, seeking to put it down. The most effective way to defend it, of course, would be to fall upon the theologian, for the only really workable defense, in polemics as in war, is a vigorous offensive. But convention frowns upon that device as indecent, and so theologians continue their assault upon sense without much resistance, and the enlightenment is unpleasantly delayed.

H. L. MENCKEN, Baltimore Evening Sun, December 9, 1929

Self-respect -- The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy

I ... hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense. If I had my way no man guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust or profit under the United States.

H. L. MENCKEN, Heathen Days: Mencken's Autobiography: 1890-1936

The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."

H. L. MENCKEN, Minority Report

Apparently he was convinced that exercise on the wooden horse and flying rings would cure my scholarly stoop, and make a kind of grenadier of me. If so, he was in error, for I remain more or less Bible-backed to this day, and am often mistaken for a Talmudist. All that the Y.M.C.A.'s horse and rings really accomplished was to fill me with an ineradicable distaste, not only for Christian endeavor in all its forms, but also for every variety of calisthenics, so that I still begrudge the trifling exertion needed to climb in and out of a bathtub.

H. L. MENCKEN, Heathen Days: Mencken's Autobiography: 1890-1936

Some people read too much: the bibliobuli ... who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through the most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.

H. L. MENCKEN, "Minority Report", Notebooks

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy

The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, Insults: A Practical Anthology of Scathing Remarks and Acid Portraits

A man of self-respect is one who still believes that nobody suspects him.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, 20,000 Quips & Quotes

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Book of Burlesques

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

H. L. MENCKEN, In Defense of Women

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

H. L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy

New York: A third-rate Babylon.

H. L. MENCKEN, attributed, Violence and Mediation in Contemporary Culture

The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate.

H. L. MENCKEN, "The Scientist", A Mencken Chrestomathy

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.

H. L. MENCKEN, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

Or send them to Arkansas to butcher the politicians and clergy? It is not only a way to get rid of them, and of the heavy expense of keeping them; it is a way to civlize Arkansas and the South Seas.

H. L. MENCKEN, Mencken Chrestomathy


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