Mencken and the preachers

I am reading William Manchester’s biography of H.L.Mencken just now, The Life and Riotous Times of H.L. Mencken. As everybody interested in these sorts of things knows, Mencken was a columnist for Baltimore’s Sun Papers for decades, and immensely controversial because of (among other things) his unapologetic contempt for the clergy.

At one point they organized against him, denouncing him by name from pulpits all across the city.

Mencken was ready. For weeks, with the aid of a clipping service, he had been collecting news stories of ministers accused of various crimes throughout the country. These he printed, with ripe insinuation, as the hubbub grew. At length, as the storm surged toward a climax, he scored an astonishing victory with the help of his old friends at police headquarters. A Methodist clergyman, head of the local vice crusade and an attacker of The Free Lance [Mencken’s column],” was seized at the local Y.M.C.A., closeted with a naked Boy Scout.

The more things change, the more …et cetera, et cetera.

At the turn of the last century, there was a freethought organization in New York that published an annual yearbook which chronicled the arrests of clergy, and just last year Jeri Massi published a book partially cataloguing the Baptist preachers arrested for sex crimes; my understanding is that she intends to update it annually.

Five or six years ago, for a period of about 10-months, I published a Web site by the name Piety, Inc., which was a daily update of links to news stories of clergy committing various crimes (usually sex-related).

Make no mistake: It is not a case of “Well, there are hypocrites everywhere,” or any such insipid apologia. The problem inheres in Christian thought, and the sort of person who is drawn to it; it is ontological.

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