Where, oh where, are the journalists who can not only tell it like it is about faith, but do so with humor and invective? I’d give a million Krista Tippetts for one H. L. Mencken. This quote, from Minority Report, H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks (Knopf, 1956, p. 232), was brought to my attention by alert reader Eli. If you think that in-your-face atheism and mockery of religion was invented by the New Atheists, you haven’t read Mencken.
We’ll have a nice Mencken quote every day for a week. Here’s the first, about accommodationism.
The effort to reconcile science and religion is almost always made, not by theologians, but by scientists unable to shake off altogether the piety absorbed with their mothers’ milk. The theologians, with no such dualism addling their wits, are smart enough to see that the two things are implacably and eternally antagonistic, and that any attempt to thrust them into one bag is bound to result in one swallowing the other. The scientists who undertake this miscegenation always end by succumbing to religion; after a Millikan* has been discoursing five minutes it becomes apparent that he is speaking in the character of a Christian Sunday-school scholar, not of a scientist. The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea, however fundamental it may seem to be, for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge, and only a Holy Roller in the mountains of Tennessee would dare to preach today what the popes preached in the Thirteenth Century, but this yielding is always done grudgingly, and thus lingers a good while behind the event. So far as I am aware even the most liberal theologian of today still gags at scientific concepts that were already commonplaces in my schooldays.
Thus such a thing as a truly enlightened Christian is hard to imagine. Either he is enlightened or he is Christian, and the louder he protests that he is the former the more apparent it becomes that he is really the latter. A Catholic priest who devotes himself to seismology or some other such safe science may become a competent technician and hence a useful man, but it is ridiculous to call him a scientist so long as he still believes in the virgin birth, the atonement or transubstantiation. It is, to be sure, possible to imagine any of these dogmas being true, but only at the cost of heaving all science overboard as rubbish. The priest’s reasons for believing in them is not only not scientific; it is violently anti-scientific. Here he is exactly on all fours with a believer in fortune-telling, Christian Science or chiropractic.
*Robert A. Millikan, who won the Nobel Prize for measuring the charge of the electron here at the University of Chicago and later became an ardent accommodationist.)