More Skepticism About Facebook Graphics
A facebook entity called Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists recently blessed the digital world with a graphic. The image features a purported quote from Henry Louis Mencken, to the effect that “Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right?” A group with skeptic in it’s name shouldn’t object to a bit of fact checking.
Mr. Mencken was not a religious person. The Baltimore scribe was famous for his cynical sayings. He made up the story of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, and watched in horror as people refused to believe that it was a hoax. (Those who enjoy stories about bathtubs might enjoy this radio show, The Bathtubs or the Boiler Room.)
Mr. Mencken may indeed have said it. Wikiquotes does not have the quote, but they are not the last word. It would seem that as much of his written work survives, that, if the quote is genuine, there is a paper trail. PG does not have the inclination to search for this quote.
There is the sense that the poster quote may be a bit on the trite side, for the learned Mr. Mencken. It is a common rhetorical device, which some english teacher has a name for. The writing of Mr. Mencken that this reporter has seen has a bit more subtlety. As the Saturday Evening Post. wrote once, “Too many present-day Americans know Mencken solely through the occasional printed sound-bite which political writers pilfer in an attempt to appear erudite.”
One of the quotes that Wikiquotes turned up was “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.” This is credited to “Minority Report : H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956)” This says much the same thing as the poster, but with more style.
Mr. Mencken continues to be controversial, years after his death in 1956. Some of his letters have unflattering things to say about Jews, Blacks, Southerners, and a few other groups. On the one hand he said very rude things about Jews; on the other, he denounced the Nazi persecution of Jews years before it was fashionable. Perhaps this “premature anti fascism” was the reason for the FBI keeping a file on him. While he might not have said the poster quote in so many words, many of his writings showed the thought in action. Mr. Mencken might also look down at the vulgarity of facebook graphics, and bumper sticker wisdom. He might not want to be blamed for the words appearing on that poster. UPDATE QuoteFail says they can find no evidence that this is a valid quote.