Mencken is not my idea of a theologian. Marva Dawn is my idea of a theologian. But Mencken is always amusing, provocative, and interesting to read. In this book, he suggests that religion began when, having developed a higher cortex, early humans made themselves unhappy by thinking too much. They were not simply scared by lightning any more, but could imagine horrible possibilities involving future lightning, and worry about the results of past lightning, and fear that the lightning had some evil motive. In hopes of gaining some control over the situation, Mencken suggests, our early ancestors made up religion.
He writes about dour and mystical Presbyterians, Baptists whose image of God has much in common with Neptune, and “vaguely Jewish” Episcopalians. I can’t help but feel that I am missing something, because of the eighty-some years since the book was written, but it is still intriguing.
#2 daughter went to something called “the Death Clock,” which shows the seconds of your (estimated) lifetime ticking away. She says it makes you feel like you ought to get up and do something. Mencken might see in this an example of that human failing, excessive thinking. As a response to thoughts of mortality, though, it seems to me to be pretty good.
The last book on religion I read, Lessons of St. Francis, was divided up into chapters on Creativity, Humility, and other such good uses of time. It took the position that creating, and caring for and enjoying God’s creation, were the best uses of our time. Mencken considers St. Francis an example of a mystic, that sort of person who threatens to make the priestly class unnecessary. He does not consider it likely that many of us will spend our time as St. Francis recommended.