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Treatise on the Gods

Treatise on the Gods

In Treatise On The Gods, Mencken takes on the history of religion from pre-history to the practice of Christianity in his own day. First published in 1930 (and revised in 1946), this book generated more controversy than any of his other books, but surprised some of Mencken’s most bitter critics with its genuine scholarship, sober tone, and admirably clear exposition. His aim in writing Treatise On The Gods was to consider religion in general (and Christianity in particular) realistically and dispassionately. Mencken (an agnostic) uncovers an open and often unapologetic hypocrisy among adherents, and finds that in the end, none of the world’s religions withstand his scientific scrutiny. Long out of print, Treatise On The Gods will be enthusiastically welcomed by a whole new generation of freethinkers and skeptics.

H. L. 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. Mencken examines religion everywhere, from India to Peru, from the myths of Egypt to the traditional beliefs of America’s Bible Belt. He compares Incas and Greeks, examines doctrines, dogmas, sacred texts, heresies, and ceremonies. He ranges far and wide, but returns at last to the subject that most provokes him: Christianity. He reviews the history of the Church and its founders. “It is Tertullian who is credited with the motto, Credo, quia absurdum est: I believe because it is incredible. Needless to say, he began life as a lawyer.” Mencken is no less interested in the dissidents: “The Reformers were men of courage, but not many of them were intelligent.” Against the old-time religion of fellow countrymen, Mencken posed as a figure of old-time skepticism, and he reaped the whirlwind. Controversial even before it was published in 1930. Treatise on the Gods remains what its author wished it to be: the plain, clear challenge of honest doubt.

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