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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

Hanging around Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist website has been enormously beneficial to my quote-mongering predilections.  Every so often, someone posts something brilliant, and, good little word-thief that I am, I have to grab it up.  Sometimes, though, the cited quote is part of a larger piece, which only increases the value of the find.

Such was the case just a few minutes ago when I happened on the following.  Both the following segment and the full article are well worth your perusal, and I invite you to do so.  That said, here we go:

The inferior man's reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex - because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. All superstitions are such short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious. So on what seem to be higher levels. No man who has not had a long and arduous education can understand even the most elementary concepts of modern pathology. But even a hind at the plow can grasp the theory of chiropractic in two lessons. Hence the vast popularity of chiropractic among the submerged - and of osteopathy, Christian Science and other such quackeries with it. They are idiotic, but they are simple - and every man prefers what he can understand to what puzzles and dismays him.

The popularity of Fundamentalism among the inferior orders of men is explicable in exactly the same way. The cosmogonies that educated men toy with are all inordinately complex. To comprehend their veriest outlines requires an immense stock of knowledge, and a habit of thought. It would be as vain to try to teach to peasants or to the city proletariat as it would be to try to teach them to streptococci. But the cosmogony of Genesis is so simple that even a yokel can grasp it. It is set forth in a few phrases. It offers, to an ignorant man, the irresistible reasonableness of the nonsensical. So he accepts it with loud hosannas, and has one more excuse for hating his betters.

-- H. L. Mencken, on the Scopes “Monkey Trial”

Complete article may be found here.

Views: 24

Replies to This Discussion

Thanks, Loren for the heads up on a smashing article. I know I shouldn't, but I love this period in American history. The people seem to be so much bigger than today's pygmies. 

I tend to agree with you

A counterpoint from some decades later, which seems to subtly dip into snark at the public's (il)literacy level. Some highlights (bolding added):

It's hard to quarrel with that ancient justification of the free press: "America's right to know." It seems almost cruel to ask, ingenuously, "America's right to know what, please? Science? Mathematics? Economics? Foreign languages?"

None of those things, of course. In fact, one might well suppose that the popular feeling is that Americans are a lot better off without any of that tripe.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way throughout political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Politicians have routinely striven to speak the language of Shakespeare and Milton as ungrammaticaly as possible in order to avoid offending their audiences by appearing to have gone to school. [...] 

Grant us a free press, and a corps of independent and fearless investigative reporters, comes the cry, and we can be sure the people will know.

Yes, provided they can read!

As it happens, reading is one of those elitist subjects I have been talking about [...]

I contend that the slogan "America's right to know" is a meaningless one when we have an ignorant population, and that the function of a free press is virtually zero when hardly anyone can read.

What shall we do about it?

We might begin by asking ourselves whether ignorance is so wonderful after all, and whether it makes sense to denounce "elitism".

I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.

We can all be members of the intellectual elite and then, and only then, will a phrase like "America's right to know" and indeed any true concept of democracy, have any meaning. '

(Isaac Asimov, in the Jan. 21, 1980 NewsweekRead the entire op-ed.)

Great texts, both Mencken and Asimov!

H L Mencken was great. Joseph Lewis too. And if there was ever a priest to like, then, Jean Messlier is the candidate. His last will and testament is a what we would call a repository for quotes.

"Know, then, my friends, that everything that is recited and practiced in the world for the cult and adoration of gods is nothing but errors, abuses, illusions, and impostures. All the laws and orders that are issued in the name and authority of God or the gods are really only human inventions...." "And what I say here in general about the vanity and falsity of the religions of the world, I don't say only about the foreign and pagan religions, which you already regard as false, but I say it as well about your Christian religion because, as a matter of fact, it is no less vain or less false than any other."

Jean Messlier, (Author), Michael Shreve (Translator), (September 22, 2009). Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier

"a man of revolutionary sentiments who firmly opposes the governments of his day, (18th-century France) which he maintains keep the common people in ignorance, fear, and poverty through religion. Moreover, he urges his former parishioners to wake up and inform themselves about the truth of their governments and religion.This fascinating document, which is an early forerunner of many later critiques of religion, is must reading for freethinkers, skeptics, and anyone interested in the history of religion and dissent."

~ Amazon review. 

Thank you,  Onyango Makagutu, for the lead to this writer. 

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